14 May 2015

Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien ~ Inspiration to write the dramatic story of Elizabeth of Lancaster

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The gripping tale of Elizabeth of Lancaster, sibling of Henry IV. Packed with love, loss and intrigue’ - Sunday Express Magazine

What inspired me to write the dramatic story of Elizabeth of Lancaster?

It all began, quite simply, through a moment of shameful ignorance, when Elizabeth had slipped beneath my historical radar.

I was invited by a local historical society here in the Welsh Marches to give a talk on Elizabeth's life together with a guided tour to the tomb of the 'Plantagenet Princess' at Burford, just over the county border in Shropshire, near Tenbury Wells.  Being a recent 'incomer' to the area at that time, I was forced to admit that I knew nothing about this princess buried in the depths of the Welsh Marches.  I soon discovered who she was, but still knew very little about her other than her Plantagenet connections, her illustrious parentage, a sister who became Queen of Portugal, and that the famous - or infamous - Katherine Swynford had been employed as her governess.

Not enough here for an informative or even an interesting lecture.

Some investigation and a personal visit to her tomb were essential. Tomb first (I like tombs!).  I was prepared to be interested.  Even impressed. The Plantagenet  Princess took my breath away.  There she was at Burford, the heroine of my new novel, in vivid colour.  I think I knew that I must write about her as soon as I saw her life-size effigy. 

Clad regally in red with a purple cloak trimmed with ermine, she is every inch a Plantagenet Princess (the tomb is referred to locally as the Princess tomb).  Her hair is fair, her face oval and her nose long. Plantagenet features, I suppose. She wears a ducal coronet and her hands are raised in prayer, an angel in red and white supporting her pillow and a little dog holding the edge of her cloak in its mouth.  She is quite lovely.  And here is the inscription carved around the edge of her tomb:

Here lyeth the body of the most noble Princess Elizabeth, daughter
of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, own sister to Henry IV, wife of
John Holland, Earle of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter, after whose
death she married John Cornewayle, Kt. of the Garter and Lord
Fanhope, and died in the 4th year of the reign of Henry VI, 1420.

The date of her death is wrong - Elizabeth died 24th November in 1425 at Ampthill Castle - and she had been 'repainted' in a Victorian make-over, but it was sensitively done and believed to be accurate.  The whole is most impressive and well worth a visit.

So here she was: the subject of my novel - if my subsequent investigation could come up with a dynamic and interesting life.  Characters in historical novels need tension and human interest to engage the empathy of the reader.  At first, discovering more than the basic detail about Elizabeth's life did not prove to be easy.  Yes, there was the element of sex and scandal and medieval stalking within her second marriage to John Holland, but historical novels need more than sex and scandal.  Her elder sister Philippa had life documented in far more detail than Elizabeth.  I almost abandoned my attempt to track down this Plantagenet princess.

But there eventually was the clue to Elizabeth when I placed her into the context in which she lived in the latter years of the 14th century and the turbulent days of the reign of Richard II.  Hers was the story of a family ripped apart by war with Elizabeth in the thick of it.  A story of love and betrayal, of ambition and war and bloody deeds, of treason and ultimate redemption, with Elizabeth torn between those who meant most to her.

This was to become Elizabeth's story as 'The King's Sister.'

Anne O'Brien 
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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters degree in education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on. Leaving teaching, she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. To date nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, have been published internationally. Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history. Virgin Widow, published in 2010 was Anne's first novel based on the life of an historical character, Anne Neville, wife of Richard Duke of Gloucester. Her second novel tracks the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, through marriage, crusades and divorce, not to mention scandal, as Devil's Consort (In the USA published as Queen Defiant.)  Other novels depict the scandalous life of Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, who broke all the rules as The King's Concubinefollowed by Katherine de Valois as The Forbidden Queen and now Elizabeth of Lancaster as The King's Sister.  Find out more at Anne's website www.anneobrienbooks.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

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