Anne here, interviewing three of the seven authors who contributed to a Harlequin Historical anthology called Royal Weddings Through the Ages — Terri Brisbin, Michelle Willingham and Elizabeth Rolls. It's a fascinating idea — looking at royal weddings from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century — and even one about Napoleon's royal wedding.
Anne: What was the brief for this anthology? Whose idea was it ? Did you each choose your own Royal Wedding or were they allocated to you?
Terri: The idea for the anthology came from the London editors who wanted to do something to celebrate the (then) upcoming royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton last April. They decided to commission a collection of short historical stories about real royal weddings of the past and invited Harlequin Historical and Mills&Boon Historical authors to write them. Each author chose their royal wedding, though I know I was specifically asked to write a medieval one.
Anne: Terri, your story was about the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future Henry 11 in 1152. Could you tell us a little about it, please?
Terri: It's called WHAT THE DUCHESS WANTS. Eleanor, the wealthiest woman in Europe, has just been freed from her marriage to Louis of France and knows she must find a suitable husband quickly. Her wealth attracts many suitors and this time the decision lies in her hands. Who should she choose?
Henry of Anjou is hungry—for lands, for titles and especially for the woman who could help in his quest to gain the ultimate position—King of England. Though years separate them, Henry understands that beneath the titles she carries and the wealth and power she controls, Eleanor is a woman. . . a woman who must be wooed to marriage.
They would establish a dynasty that would be among the most famous in history and it would all begin with a simple decision – what did the duchess want?
Anne: Royal weddings aren't the easiest of topics for a romantic story — what was the main challenge of your story?
Terri: For me, the challenge came because I chose to use the actual royal couple for my story. To stay accurate to the real history of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and yet make it a love story required walking a narrow path while making it entertaining. I truly believe that there must have been some softer feelings, at least an attraction, between Eleanor and Henry that made him her choice of husband and lord.
Anne: Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you?
Terri: I did discover that it was quite the practice to kidnap heiresses to gain control of their persons AND their fortunes. Eleanor herself was the target of at least one kidnapping attempt on her way back to Aquitaine from Paris after her divorce. The perpetrator was Henry’s younger brother who wanted Eleanor as his bride….and her wealth, too.
Anne: Thanks, Terri. Michelle, you chose the marriage of Richard the Lionheart. What influenced your choice?
Michelle: I chose Richard and Berengaria because I’ve always loved that era in history and it held a strong connection to my Irish medieval series.
Anne: What was the main challenge for you in telling Richard and Berengaria's story?
Michelle: For me, one challenge was Richard the Lionheart’s sexuality. It’s a gray area and historians argue about whether or not he was bisexual, gay, or why his marriage to Berengaria was so challenging. It makes for a challenging happily-ever-after, considering he and Berengaria were separated after the Crusade and they never had any children. I ended up using a different hero/heroine, based off my Irish medieval MacEgan Brothers series, and framed their love story around Richard and Berengaria’s wedding.
Anne: That's a clever solution. Tell us about the story.
Michelle: Princess Berengaria's lady-in-waiting, Adriana, takes her duty to the future Queen of England seriously—she will defend her to the death! When their sea voyage to the Holy Land ends up in shipwreck and capture Adriana knows her only hope lies with the mysterious Irishman, Liam MacEgan.
Liam escapes to reach Richard the Lionheart and together they plan a rescue mission. Nothing will stop these warriors from succeeding—their future brides are captive on Cyprus and they'll raise hell to claim them!
Anne: Did anything of interest pop up in the research that surprised you? Something you had to leave out of the story?
Michelle: I never knew that Richard and Berengaria were married on the island of Cyprus. (That's Cyprus on the left.) It was quite an adventurous story in real life, with Berengaria shipwrecked off the island, and Richard had to overthrow the emperor of Cyprus to take back his bride. I did leave out Richard’s experiences on Crusade but was able to use it as material for a future story (in my anthology Warriors in Winter that comes out next December). Apparently Saladin and Richard couldn’t come to an agreement, and out of rage, Richard ordered the execution of over 2700 Muslim men, women, and children. His ruthless nature was surprising, but I was able to use that event in a later story because the hero Liam refuses to kill the women and children.
Anne: Thanks, Michelle. Now we'll jump a few centuries to the marriage of the Prince of Wales, later to become the Prince Regent in 1811. I must admit, Elizabeth Roll's story was the first in the anthology I turned to, precisely because I couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly make the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline's wedding romantic. Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: I deliberately chose the wedding of George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfen-Buttel, precisely because it was so awful. Their first meeting and courtship – using the term loosely! – were truly scandalous. Prinny really did send his current mistress, Lady Jersey, down to Greenwich to meet the Princess. The main challenge was in portraying Prinny and Caroline very much as the historical record gives them to us, warts and all, from contemporary accounts and contrasting it with the way Kester and Linnet dealt with their own forced marriage of convenience. I thought all the scandal and drama around the royal wedding could create a good backdrop. And let's face it, we all love a good dollop of scandal<g>.
Anne: We do indeed. And I have to say, I thought the interweaving of the romance story with the royal wedding story worked really well. Did anything of interest pop up in the research that surprised you?
Elizabeth: Not so much that surprised me. I read fairly widely in that period and I was reasonably familiar with all the nasty little ins and outs of that particular royal marriage. There was no way I could get in much about Prinny's suspected prior and illegal marriage to the Catholic widow, Maria Fitzherbert; I had to allude to it, though, otherwise the way the poor Archbishop of Canterbury conducted the marriage didn't make a whole lot of sense. I'll admit to getting a belly laugh out of the accounts I read of the actual wedding.
Anne: So, tell us about your story, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Kester, Duke of Severn, has recently contracted a marriage of convenience to an heiress in order to save his family from his father's crushing debts. So he feels a certain sympathy with the Prince of Wales, who is being forced into marriage to settle his own debts. Being begged by Lord Malmesbury to intervene between the bickering royal couple leads Kester and Linnet to take another look at their own marriage.
Here's a short excerpt from Elizabeth's story, a conversation between Lord Malesbury and the hero of the story, the Duke of Severn.
"Lord, what a mess. Severn, if you can, try to see the prince. Represent to him the. . .the folly of continuing to insult his bride. She is not, I fear, of a governable or tractable temper. This, on top of sending Lady Jersey as a lady-in-waiting to meet her at Greenwich."
"Oh, yes, he did," said Malmesbury. "Apparently the queen was behind it. And the blasted woman was late! Lady Jersey that is—not Her Majesty." His teeth actually ground. "Furthermore she had the temerity to attempt to sit beside the princess in the carriage. Claimed the motion made her unwell if she sat facing backwards!"
"Well, quite apart from Prinny's rudeness in sending his mistress to receive his bride," said Severn, "why the devil did Lady Jersey accept the appointment if she can't sit in a carriage backwards?"
Malmesbury's smile was pure acid. "I asked her that myself. Anyway, look Severn, if you can talk with the prince, try if you can to get him to see reason. He likes you. And haven't you recently married?"
"I returned from my honeymoon yesterday." And he didn't want to talk about it to anyone, least of all Prinny. "I'm surprised you knew anything about it."
The baron nodded. "Oh, yes, someone mentioned it in a letter. The thing is, he might listen to you. Voice of experience and so forth." Malmesbury looked apologetic. "After all, there are parallels, if you will forgive my bluntness."
Severn forcibly relaxed his hands. "At least His Highness is marrying to settle his own debts." he said coldly. "Then, at Malmesbury's steady regard, he sighed. "Oh, very well. I'll try what I can do, but I'm not making any promises."
Terri, Michelle and Elizabeth are each giving away a copy of Royal Weddings Through the Ages to someone who leaves a comment, asks a question of our guetsts, or leaves an answer to the following question:
— Which wedding, royal or otherwise, would you like to see as the subject for a story?