Showing posts from September, 2007

Royal Mistress - Katherine Swynford

I was inspired to write this post after realizing that so many people learned about Katherine Swynford by reading Anya Seton's classic novel Katherine which was re-released several years ago in a trade paperback edition. She lived in the 14th Century, and until Anya Seton rescued her from obscurity, was nothing more than a footnote in the life of her brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer. She doesn't even have a name in Shakespeare's play, Richard II. Yet her descendants include several kings of England, and a dukedom that still exists today. Recently two new biographies have appeared about her, the most recent to be released this month, by noted Tudor biographer Alison Weir. Why has Katherine captured the imagination that she not only has a blog related to her but also a society named her? Perhaps because unlike other royal mistresses who either died young (Nell Gwynn, Madame Pompadour), beheaded (Madame du Barry), died in poverty (Mary Robinson, Dorothy Jordan) or were banishe

Scandalous Queens: Catherine Howard

It seems we can't get enough of the Tudors lately with with the Showtime miniseries starring a very un-Henry like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and the new movie The Other Boleyn Girl starring Scarlett Johansen as Mary Boleyn, future grandmother of Lettice Knollys. And the great Cate Blanchett continuing the story of Elizabeth I in The Golden Age (just saw the preview this weekend, lots of interesting wigs and Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh!) It seems like new books appear daily. Philippa Gregory has been writing a popular series of books, and now Carolly Erickson, and Alison Weir are writing historical novels based on this dynasty founded on the wrong side of the blanket (Owen Tudor was the lover and secret husband of Henry V's widow Katherine of Valois). The focus on the Tudors tends to be on the larger than life Henry, and his second wife Anne Boleyn, but what of the other wife that he beheaded Catherine Howard. What was her story and what made her so scandalous that she lost h

The Case of Madeleine Smith

"I would sooner have danced with her than dined with her," John Inglis, Dean of Faculty. It was called the Trial of the Century. Imagine if you will, an attractive young woman from an upstanding and wealthy family stands accused of murdering her lover by poison. Passionate love letters are found giving the most intimate details of the lovers. Spectators line up daily outside the court room for a chance at the few available seats. The best legal minds in the country have been hired for her defense. The case captures the attention of not just the local media, but newspapers from as far away as London, Paris, New York. Media interest in the case is so great it bumps news of the Mutiny in Calcutta off the front page. Sound familiar? Like something ripped from today’s headlines, or the lead story on Court TV? Well this case took place 150 years ago this year in Scotland, and the accused was named Madeleine Smith. The Case of Madeleine Smith reads almost like a film noir. It’s exa

Lucrezia Borgia, Passionate Poisoner or Virtuous Victim

Say the name Lucrezia Borgia, and you get an immediate reaction, even if they don't know the whole story, they know that Lucrezia Borgia was though to be scandalous in some way. Some will tell you that she poisoned her lovers with a special ring and her families political enemies, as the Borgia's clawed their way to the top in Renaissance Italy. Others consider the Borgias to be the first crime family, even deadlier than the Medicis in Florence, for their ability to eliminate anyone who got in their way. But was Lucrezia Borgia as bad as the histories have made her out to be? Or was she an innocent pawn used by her families to cement alliances and to raise money to wage war? Many recent biographies have taken a revisionist tact with Lucrezia. While it's certain that her father Rodrigo also known as Pope Alexander IV and her brother Cesare were ambitious men, who were more than willing to murder their enemies, Lucrezia seems to have been a good woman who was subject to the w

Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset

This post starts a whole series of Scandalous Women of history here at The Lady Novelist. I was actually inspired to write this post after reading Victoria Dahl's post over at History Hoydens about poisons. The lovely woman on the right is Lady Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset. She was an English noblewoman who was the central figure in a murder scandal during the reign of James I of England. She was born Frances Howard, the daughter of the second son of the Duke of Norfolk. He was later made the first Earl of Suffolk which made her then Lady Frances Howard. Her father was apparently a wealthy and powerful noble, despite being a second son. When she was 13, she was married off to Robert Deveraux, 3rd Earl of Essex, son of the infamous Lord Essex, favorite of Queen Elizabeth and great-great grandson of Mary Boleyn. His grandmother was Lettice Knollys who married Queen Elizabeth's other favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Jean Plaidy wrote a wonderful novel about her

Scandalous Women - The Beginning

So why start a blog highlighting some of the most notorious wives, Queens, courtesans, murderesses, actresses and adventurerers in history? The answer is: Why not? These were women who fascinated the chroniclers, and biographers of their time, and their lives are still as fascinating today as they were during the age in which they lived. Sure, some of them seem less scandalous today what without our relentless news coverage of the celebrities, but in their time, they stepped out of the rigid confines of their world, and stepped boldly forth into the unknown, some by necessity, and some because they just could not live comfortably in the chocolate box of life proscribed by society. First of let me start by saying I'm not a historian by any stretch of the imagination although I am a history geek. From the moment I picked up a copy of Anya Seton's book Katherine , I was hooked on reading about women in history. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II's Queen, Matilda who waged war agai