Today at Novels Alive, we welcome live-long Anglophile and author of Lady Margaret’s Escape, Victoria Sportelli, to our site.
On your biography on your website, you mention that you “fell in love with the Anglo-Saxon and early Medieval languages and culture,” while attending college. What was it about that time-period that spoke to your soul?
The Anglo-Saxon and early Medieval periods fascinated me because I found so many parallels in American culture and history. Our jury system is based on the Anglo-Saxon one. Paying fines to a person whom we have hurt or for property damage is also Anglo-Saxon, as is 20-25% of our modern American English language. For example, “husband” and “wife” were pronounced differently then, but we kept the spellings and the meanings. The early Medieval combination of Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, and Latin is the start of Renaissance and modern English. Medieval citizens were a litigious people—very American don’t you think? I identify with those peoples’ lives and struggles because they were so much like our own.
You call yourself an Anglophile. What are some of your top British customs or folklore you’d like to share?
What caught my attention first is the dry wit for which the English are known. Monty Python and the Holy Grailwas my first exposure, and I howled as it included literary and cultural references. In high school, I feel in love with Charles Dickens’ works, then the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen. Ask me where I have been, and I will tell you what I ate. I love a good English breakfast and relish a proper English tea even more. I find refreshing that the English talk with me about our various travels, their hobbies and interests, and my research without asking my name or my profession because we have not been properly introduced. I follow Manchester United when I can locate them on TV.
You explain how it took 21 years to research, imagine, and develop Lady Margaret’s story on your website. You must have several years worth of stories left to tell! How many more books do you plan on writing about Lady Margaret?
After 21 years of enjoying researching Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England, I realized how treacherous were King Henry I’s early years and how successful a king he had been. Women were considered property, owned by their fathers and then their husbands, if they were not sent to convents often without their consent. I was dismayed but not surprised at how ill-treated women could be. I started to write a single book about Lady Margaret to reveal what life was often like for women of that era. My writing partner kept asking me questions. As I answered them, Margaret’s character became more developed and her story more complex. When I learned Queen Matilda had lost her first pregnancy, an heir, I asked myself three questions? Who did not want King Henry to have an heir? Could she have been poisoned? What would Henry have done if Matilda had been poisoned? Margaret’s and the royals’ stories became intertwined and a trilogy.
You say that you chose Lady Margaret’s name for your character in honor of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, because of her feistiness. Are there elements of Princess Margaret’s nature that your Lady Margaret shares with the Princess?
As a girl, I admired and followed Queen Elizabeth as did the rest of the world. However, Princess Margaret fascinated me. She was so different from her sister. Princess Margaret defied custom and tradition in search of her own path, her own life. She suffered disappointments and hardships. When I considered my main character’s name, I chose “Margaret” because she too was in search of a different life, suffered disappointments and hardships and was going to be as feisty as the princess I have admired for so long.
You chose to write about King Henry, the younger son of William the Conqueror because you felt “he was the rightful father of the English people.” What about King Henry’s character makes him so compelling?
King Henry I of England was intelligent, determined, cunning, hard driving, and could be ruthless when need be. While Henry failed in his attempt to name the Catholic Church’s bishops in England, he succeeded in every other endeavor. Before Henry chased the traitor Lord Robert de Belleme, he first created the laws he needed. Then he charged his enemy with breaking 45 laws, including treason, and chased de Belleme and his army. Once de Belleme fled England, Henry declared all de Belleme’s lands and wealth forfeit. After that, no other lord dared challenge Henry for the crown.
Henry revamped the legal system in three ways. He created his Royal Courts and revamped the laws to better reflect the good laws of his father plus many he devised. Henry created traveling judges, called justiciars, who ruled over disputed cases that were not solved in the Saxon courts for Saxon to Saxon offenses or for Normans in all other cases when one party or both parties were Norman. Saxons who committed offenses against Normans were tried in the king’s Norman courts. In Medieval England the Chief Justicair’s position became more like a prime minster’s.
In Anglo Saxon England, murder was a private matter between two families. The murderer and his family owed the murdered person’s value to his family. Henry declared, as all citizens were his subjects, murder was now an offense against the crown and must be tried in Henry’s new Royal Court.
When Henry died in 1135 C. E., Henry had turned a Norman army of occupation into citizens of law. King Henry I left behind peace between Normans and Saxons, a stable country of laws, a burgeoning economy, and a secure money system. I consider him to be the father of the English system of laws.
Can you tell our readers more about the dangerous time period in which King Henry reigned?
On 2 August 1100 C.E. King William II of England (also called William Rufus for his ruddy complexion) died in what was termed “a hunting accident.” When Henry heard of his brother’s death, he raced to Winchester, grabbed the royal treasury, and declared himself king. Henry promised the Saxons better treatment and a Charter of Liberties he would write if they supported him; they did. The first Earl of Warwick, Henry de Beaumont, supported Henry’s claim to the throne with his influence and his men, who occupied Winchester on Henry’s behalf.
On 5 August, Henry was crowned king in Winchester Cathedral in London, but he was not safe. Three factions wanted Henry dead or a subject to be ruled. Lord Robert de Belleme, First Earl of Shropshire and Shrewsbury, wanted the crown and had slowly been massing an army in his three English estates. Henry’s older brother, Robert, Duke of Normandy, was rushing home from the First Crusade to claim the crown his father had denied him. The Catholic Church expected to rule England no matter who was king, and Henry had no intentions of submitting to the Church ruling England.
Henry fought the Catholic Church, acted against de Belleme, and prepared to fight his brother. By the time Robert invaded in July 1101, the Archbishop of Canterbury had left in self-imposed exile, and Robert de Belleme supported Robert in his fight for the crown. De Belleme fled when he saw Henry defeating Robert. Henry bought off his brother’s claim by paying Robert 30,000 pounds a year. Then Henry wrote the laws that enabled him to charge de Belleme with treason and other crimes. Henry’s realm was not safe until 1106 when he relented and let the Church choose its own bishops and after he defeated Robert in the Battle of Tinchenebrae where Henry took Robert prisoner for the rest of the duke’s life.
Book one of your Henry’s Spare Queen Trilogy, Lady Margaret’s Escape, follows Lady Margaret as she is placed as the protector and midwife to Queen Matilda, Henry’s wife, and has the sole responsibility to ensure the safe delivery of the possible heir to the throne of England. Can you tell us more about this first book in the trilogy?
Lady Margaret’s Escape begins in 1101 C.E. Queen Matilda is again with child. King Henry finds the Norman Lady Margaret, a trained midwife. Margaret offers to help the queen deliver a healthy child in exchange for three boons. Henry agrees but adds that, if she fails, Henry will take her head. Desperate to raise her rank, Margaret agrees.
Queen Matilda births a girl and switches her for a Saxon boy. When she is found out, she blames Margaret for the plot. Margaret fears for her life and is shocked when King Henry forgives her. Matilda knows she must bear a son or she will be replaced, and she suspects Henry has chosen Margaret to be his new queen, thus the subtitle “Henry’s Spare Queen Trilogy.”
Book two of the trilogy, Lady Margaret’s Challenge, follows Lady Margaret after she leaves Queen Matilda’s side and learns King Henry hasn’t exactly been fair or honest with her. Can you tell us more about the second book in the trilogy?
In Lady Margaret’s Challenge, King Henry awards her great wealth and a large estate for a dowry. Thinking she will soon be wed, Margaret arrives at her estate to find it had been stripped bare, her villeins are starving, and no crops had been planted. She works hard to ready the estate as King Henry sends her one unsuitable prospective husband after another. When Margaret appears at Christmas Court to ask King Henry for better suitors, she overhears “So that is the king’s spare queen.” Margaret locks herself inside her estate as she plots how to escape Henry.
Book three of the trilogy, Lady Margaret’s Future, finds Lady Margaret in dire need of a good match, but the King has found a match not exactly made in heaven. Can you tell us more about the third book in the trilogy?
In Lady Margaret’s Future, Queen Matilda finally births Prince William, Henry’s heir.
Matilda gains Henry’s permission to choose Margaret’s husband and orders Margaret to court. Margaret learns she will be wed so far below her rank and to so unsuitable a man that even the king’s favor will help her not. Unable to escape the future Queen Matilda is forcing upon her, Margaret weds. As Margaret tries to adjust to marriage, she learns someone wants to murder her new husband and her too.
Having written three books about King Henry and the medieval time period, what’s next for you? Do you have more medieval books in your future?
My next book is placed in early 18th century Venice and is about an orphan girl who has perfect pitch and becomes a famous singer. I have not set a publication date for The Songbird of Venice. After I publish Songbird, I will write a novel placed in 14th century York, England, about a woman who flees her abusive husband and what becomes of her. The book after that, starts during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It may turn out to be a saga, because it ends in mid 20th century England. Between all this, I write short stories as they pop into my head.
Thank you so much for joining us today! It has been such a pleasure learning more about this compelling and quite dangerous time in history!
Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for permitting to write as much as I wished. I deeply appreciate your participation in my sharing my novels with others. Thank you.
Henry’s Spare Queen: Book One
Release Date: September 24, 2020
A Desperate Midwife Bargains with a King
After suffering the loss of her first pregnancy, a son and heir to the English throne, Queen Matilda is once again with child. Overjoyed but cautious of another loss, King Henry seeks a skilled midwife to assist his wife throughout her pregnancy and labor. His search leads him to Margaret.
Margaret, once a woman of rank and leisure, has been betrayed by her father and made a common slave. The king’s dire need for a midwife provides her with an enticing opportunity to escape a life of servitude and return to her previous station, but first she must prove her worth and make a bargain with the devil.
King Henry is reluctant to haggle with the midwife, but when Margaret reveals her suspicions of foul play being the cause of the queen’s previous loss, his mind is made up. Not only will Margaret attend the queen, her fate with be tied to the queen’s – and that of their unborn babe. Deliver a healthy heir and King Henry will reward Margaret with the return of her rank, social status and wealth. Fail, and her life will be forfeit.
The two women are sent to a secret forest retreat to wait out Queen Matilda’s confinement away from the conspiracies and dangers of court life. Meanwhile, Henry’s brother Robert invades England to seize Henry’s crown and Margaret begins to fear she has allied herself with the wrong ruler.
Will Margaret earn her freedom…or a severed head?
Pick up Lady Margaret’s Escape today and experience the perils of living in medieval England.
Note: This novel includes the death of an infant which may be a trigger for some readers.
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Ms. Sportelli, who loves to share her knowledge of English history, has concluded that Henry I was an under-rated king who struggled to keep his throne amid conflicts between Normans and Saxons. She writes of the era in novels featuring Lady Margaret, King Henry and Queen Matilda.
A life-long Anglophile, Ms. Sportelli loves British manners, folklore, customs, history, and humor; she watches every British film, television, show and documentary she can find.
Ms Sportelli has both children and grandchildren. She has taken seven trips to eight western European countries and loves England and Italy the most.
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