10 Questions with Leslie Carroll

Today is the release date for author Leslie Carroll's 6th book of non-fiction entitled Inglorious Royal Marriages. Scandalous Women is happy to welcome Leslie once again to the blog.

About the book:

Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them! To satisfy your schadenfreude, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES offers a panoply of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history….some of which are mentioned below.

When her monkish husband, England’s Lancastrian Henry VI, became completely catatonic, the unpopular French-born Margaret of Anjou led his army against the troops of their enemy, the Duke of York.

Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands—but at least they weren’t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses.

King Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed Louis XIV’s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did.

Compelled by her mother to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania—a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—emerged as a heroine of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Marie’s younger sister Victoria Melita wed two of her first-cousins: both marriages ultimately scandalized the courts of Europe.

Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start.

      1.       This is your 6th book about royalty.  What is about royalty that we Americans find so fascinating?

It’s axiomatic about human nature that we seem to want what we don’t have. And Americans are fascinated by the glamour and glitz of royalty—the external trappings, such as the palaces and coaches and tiaras and bling. And of course we’re not the taxpayers funding these monarchies, which in Western Europe (my literary bailiwick, for the most part) are now largely constitutional, with primarily ceremonial duties nowadays. For Americans, royalty is fantasy. Even though we fought a war not to be ruled by a monarchy, what we like about royalty is not the governmental aspect of it, but the fairy tale. For example, the nuptials of Charles and Diana, and William and Kate are so often described by our media as “fairy tale weddings.” However, in my books about royalty, I humanize the royals. After all, they were, and are, actual people, however iconographic some of them became—with foibles and flaws and frailties and failures, just like other mortals—except they have better jewelry, larger homes, and nicer clothes than most of us.

2. What prompted you to write about Inglorious Royal Marriages? 

In a word, schadenfreude: the vicarious thrill derived from the misfortunes of others. My books about royal relationships tend to be the most popular, and my last book was titled ROYAL ROMANCES, so I decided to do a 180-degree turn and write about some royal mismatches and matrimonial debacles. There really isn’t a shortage of those, because so many royal marriages were arranged. There is only a shortage of research material on some of them.

3. Out of all the royal couples that you have written about who is your favorite and why? Which Royal Couple was the most surprising to you?
I have favorites from each of my books: in ROYAL AFFAIRS, I’ve always had a fondness for Nell Gwyn (she was a feisty redheaded actress who really was in love with Charles II and not solely in it for the money). In NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, I remain fascinated by the hellacious union of George I of England and Sophia Dorothea of Celle, because both took lovers, but George openly sparred with Sophia Dorothea; her lover was brutally murdered and his body mysteriously disposed of; and she was exiled, shut in a tower for the remainder of her days, divorced from George, never again permitted to see their kids, and all acknowledgments of her were expunged from the Hanoverian court. When George became king of England, his two mistresses (The “Elephant” and the “Maypole”) were his hostesses because there was no queen.  In ROYAL PAINS, I just adore Princess Margaret, the wild child and younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II. She’s someone who lived during my childhood, so I kept up with her glamorous antics in the tabloids; and my mother told me all about her doomed relationship with Group Capt. Peter Townsend because it was a huge news item of her young womanhood as well. And in ROYAL ROMANCES, my favorites are a tie between the twenty-plus-year affair of Louis XIV and Mme. de Montespan, the blond voluptuary who bore the king several children and earned the title “the real queen of France” (plus there were all those scandalous accusations of poisoning), and that of Catherine the Great and Potemkin (what an incredibly sexy couple they must have been—SO tempestuous!).

As for a favorite from the new book, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, it’s tough to beat the dysfunctional unions between a pair of gorgeous Medici cousins and their adulterous, macho, wife-beating husbands who decided that their wives were too flamboyant and needed killing. The double murders, which occurred within two weeks of each other during the Italian Renaissance, were pretty much swept under the rug by the women’s own relative in his capacity as Grand Duke of Tuscany. I know that seems to be a “spoiler,” but one has to read the chapter to get the horrors of it all. 

4.     Are there any couples who didn’t make it into the book and why?

The marriages that I selected for the book are all interrelated in that a royal in each subsequent chapter is a relative or descendent of someone profiled in a previous chapter—so there’s a deliberate through-line in this book that there wasn’t in the previous books. I did have more couples in my original draft table of contents. Some were eliminated as I began my research process because there just wasn’t enough research available to tell a juicy story (such as Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, and her husband John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll). With the two of them, the chapter would have had a lot of traipsing across Canada: he loved it, she didn’t. Not a lot of excitement there, except for an auto accident. He was rumored to be gay. Okay, some potentially good stuff, but they were, well, Victorians, so it’s almost impossible to find credible anecdotal information to back up those allegations. You can’t write nonfiction based on rumor. So after reading a few bios on both of them, I had to scrap the chapter. I couldn’t use Louis XV and Marie LeszczyƄzka because so little is available on their marriage in the English language, and what is there shows that they were not ideally mated, but wouldn’t have qualified the marriage as “inglorious.” I also considered a chapter on Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark, but ran out of space, so they were set aside because of word/page count criteria. 

5.  What does your writing and research process look like? Do you research as you write?

It depends on whether the books I need have arrived by the time I need to do the research. I will get my table of contents approved by my editor before I begin to research and then order the books I need. More often than not, these books are out of print and/or not available in my local libraries. Because of deadline constraints, interlibrary loans aren’t usually helpful because (a) sometimes the books I need are not available anywhere; and (b) I have no idea when the books will arrive and how long it will take me to read them and take copious notes on them (which I do in longhand in violet fine point Pilot marker on notebook paper, marking the name of the book by author and title and page number when I use a quote, so that I know where it was sourced.) My editor demands hard photocopies of the pages I used for quote sources so that the copyeditor can check them to make sure I typed them correctly in my manuscript. Photocopying every page with a quote source is very time consuming and is another reason I end up purchasing the research books I need, so I can keep everything for as long as I want. Also, that way, I can write my chapters in any order. For INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, all the books I needed had arrived by the time I began to write, or had at least arrived by the time I needed them for the requisite chapter, so I wrote the chapters in chronological order. 

6.  You’ve also written several historical fiction novels about some famous and fascinating women such as Helen of Troy, Emma Hamilton, Mary Robinson and Marie Antoinette.  What are the differences you find between writing non-fiction and fiction? Which do you prefer?

I find that one genre feeds the other. I get ideas for my historical fiction from my nonfiction.  For example, my (Juliet Grey’s) HF trilogy on the life of Marie Antoinette was inspired by the chapter I wrote in NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES on her marriage to Louis XVI. I read so much about their lives and realized that they had been so traduced by history that someone needed to tell their story in a richly detailed way, which for once told the truth instead of continuing to promulgate the propaganda found in the history books and in many biographies of the past 225 years or so. As for the differences, of course you can’t “make stuff up” in nonfiction! With historical fiction the author is free to embellish and embroider between the historical events. Some HF authors really play fast and loose and “never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” as the saying goes, but in that case, why write about real people? In historical fiction I am firmly committed to the historical record, because it does a disservice to my characters to make stuff up when the truth/facts are usually much juicier than anything a novelist can invent. That said, a novelist can, and should, do what a historian can’t—which is to get under the figure’s skin and inside their psyche and help readers understand what made them tick, what made their hearts beat so quickly, how they felt about the actions they took. A novelist gets to have an opinion about the events that shaped her character’s lives, and about her characters themselves. By telling a well-known story from their point of view, she can depict them sympathetically, illuminating their world from their perspective, as, for example, Hilary Mantel did so brilliantly with Thomas Cromwell in WOLF HALL. Without too much monkeying around with historical events, Mantel put us inside (the usually villainous) Cromwell’s head and almost made us sympathize with Henry’s hatchet man, his Karl Rove, if you will.  

7. You’re a native New Yorker, and now you live in our nation’s capital.  What is your favorite historical place in Washington, DC?

If you have never visited Hillwood, which is the home of General Foods founder (and Dina Merrill’s mother) Marjorie Merriweather Post, you are in for a treat! This home museum tucked away in NW DC is a gem. If you’re a flower person, she collected rare species of orchids, which are in a greenhouse on the grounds. If you are a Russophile or Francophile, she amassed all sorts of artifacts belonging to those royal and imperial families. If you want to see Romanov memorabilia, Hillwood is the place to go. They have many lectures and exhibits throughout the year. And every July they have an 18th c. style festival on the grounds with costumed participants.  

8.  I just watched the first episode of Outlander on Starz this past weekend.  If you could time-travel to any period in history, where it would it be, and why?

I think the Restoration Court of Charles II would be my first choice. Although mid-18th c. France might be pretty cool as well.  I need an era when women’s wit was prized. And where I would look smashing in the clothes. 

9. What are your favorite things to do in your downtime?

I never seem to get much down time, but I find that it’s important to recharge my creative batteries by visiting museums, walking by the river, poring over issues of Architectural Digest and reimagining interior spaces, cooking or baking; and, if I am not currently writing historical fiction, reading my colleagues’ novels. I don’t like to read in a genre that I am writing in, unless it’s for research.

10.   What are you working on now? What is your next project?

I am currently writing a novel; historical fiction set during the mid-twentieth century. That’s all I’ll say about it for now. And I have been recording audio books this summer, another aspect of my career that I branched into a few years ago. It’s a performance skill in its own that, well, gloriously marries the ones I’ve acquired over the years in my two creative professions, writing and acting. It’s a lot of fun and I love making other authors’ work come alive aurally.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for inviting me, and for the opportunity to speak to your readers! As always, it’s been a pleasure!

About the author:

Leslie Carroll is the author of several works of historical nonfiction, women’s fiction, and, under the pen names Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot, is a multipublished author of historical fiction. Her nonfiction titles include Royal Romances, Royal Pains, Royal Affairs, and Notorious Royal Marriages. She is also a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit, and is an award-winning audio book narrator.

A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including MSNBC.com, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. She also appears as an expert on the love lives of Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon on the television series “The Secret Life of [fill in the name of famous figure]” for Canada’s History Channel. Leslie and her husband, Scott, divide their time between New York City and Washington, D.C.

For more information please visit Leslie’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.


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