Hello, Nicola here, reporting from a very autumnal England! I've finished the revisions to my latest manuscript, I've sent in a new book proposal and now I have no excuse to put off all those chores and appointments that I've been neglecting for the last few months. So it was that I found myself in the dentist's waiting room last week, flicking through a glossy magazine to pass the time and trying to block out the sound of the drill in the surgery next door. Fortunately there was an article in the magazine that distracted my attention. It was called "my weird crush" and it consisted of various celebrities naming the unlikely objects of their desire. So being a romance writer and an historian I decided to improve upon this game by trying to come up with a list of my "weird historical crushes." This was not simply a case of choosing my favourite figures from history. I decided it would be much more fun to choose those historical characters for whom I developed a crush as a result of my fiction reading. Most of these "tendres," as we might say in a Regency romance, spring from the days of my youth and the books I read then. The dictionary defines a crush as "puppy love: temporary love of an adolescent, or a usually temporary infatuation." That said, these books are on my keeper shelf and these characters are in my heart.
Here is my list of weird historical crushes and the novels that inspired them.
Merlin – Weird in the sense that he probably didn't exist and so was not a historical figure at all, but hey, I'm not letting that stop me. This list is a combination of fact and fiction, after all. The book, or rather the series that set me off on this crush was Mary Stewart's Arthurian trilogy, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. The Merlin of those stories was cool, considered and intellectual. Where Arthur was always dashing about in a blaze of glory doing reckless and ill-considered things, Merlin was the thinker. That works for me. Merlin was also very attractive but he was unobtainable, wedded to his magic. Even more intriguing. Throw in some of that Dark Ages mystery and I'm gone. There's a legend at Ashdown Park that the stones that litter the field in front of the house are an army Merlin turned to stone. A useful man to have around. Oh, about the picture. It felt like a travesty of my crush to post up a pic of the stereotypical Merlin with the pointy hat and beard so I thought I'd go for the bird of prey instead. He (or she) is handsome.
King Richard II – Yes, another weird choice and hardly the most obvious person if you're looking for a hero amongst the English Kings. Richard ruled through favourites, was reputedly arrogant and autocratic, bore grudges and had no political acumen. Hmm. I blame Margaret Campbell Barnes' book Within the Hollow Crown for this particular crush. In it Richard comes across as handsome, charming, and so desperately in love with his wife Anne that this romantic heart was quite swept away.
King Richard III – Yes, I do like the name Richard but it's not simply all in a name. A controversial choice to say the least, since many believe him to to have been a ruthless murderer. But then I come from Yorkshire, the county that adopted Richard as one of its own. The declaration made by the city of York in 1485 in defiance of their new ruler Henry VII, summed it up for me with great poignancy: "King Richard, late reigning mercifully over us, was…. piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city." I think I must have developed my crush on Richard through any number of books, starting with Josephine Tey's fabulous crime novel The Daughter of Time, via Margaret Campbell Barnes (again) and Margaret Abbey and bursting into full crush mode with Sharon Penman's wonderful book The Sunne In Splendour. Again it seems to be Edward IV who is the swaggering hero of this book, a dazzling, golden warrior. Yet Richard is always there, loyal to a fault, courageous and clever. I hate that it all ended so badly. Maybe that's why I have so little affection for the Tudors. These youthful crushes are powerful things and not as temporary as the definition of the word might suggest.
Twm Sion Cati – Going out on a limb here. I've no idea if anyone else ever read the book Hawkmoor by Lynn Hughes or remembers the BBC series. Twm Sion Cati (Thomas Jones) was "the Robin Hood of Wales," a sixteenth century outlaw who took on the sheriff and wooed the widow of his greatest enemy (and boy did he do it in dashing style!) In addition to all the romance of the good versus evil, taking from the rich to give to the poor etc there's the added glamour and mysticism of the Welsh Celtic angle. Very seductive. This picture is the cave in which Twm apparently hid from the authorities.
George Boleyn – Remember that Corgi series about the wives of Henry VIII? The books had gorgeous gold covers. My grandmother had the set and I loved them so much. Series 2 of the TV show The Tudors portrayed George Boleyn as decadent, cruel and creepy. The book about Anne Boleyn in the Corgi series depicted George as handsome, dashing and totally charming. I know which I prefer. For me it was a close run thing between George and Thomas Seymour in book 6. One series, two crushes, great value! Here's a photo of Hever Castle. There's no way I was going to post up a picture of either of the two guys who have recently played George. Neither do justice to my crush.
Anne Boleyn – It's definitely okay to have a girl crush and I developed for Anne an admiration similar to the one I had for the captain of my school lacrosse team. Anne was stylish, witty and clever. I wanted her to be my friend or even better, my sister (not that I was keen to take on the role of Mary Boleyn.) Again the fact that it all ended so badly seems to have contributed to my devotion. Hmm, I'm beginning to see a theme here, a fierce, romantic attraction to those characters who went down fighting their hardest against disloyalty, danger and overwhelming odds. That said, my youthful crushes on both Anne Boleyn and Richard III have developed into a full-scale and rather more objective historical interest over the years.
I could go on (Prince Rupert of the Rhine in Diana Norman's book The Vizard Mask, anyone?) but now it's your turn. There's a definite UK-centric bias to my crushes and we need to be more international here. I'd like to hear about your historical crushes, weird or otherwise, and the books that inspired them.