20 August 2019

Guest Post by Sarah Kennedy: City of ladies (The Cross and The Crown Book 2)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Henry VIII’s England has not been kind to many of the evicted members of religious houses, and Catherine has gathered about her a group of former nuns in hopes of providing them a chance to serve in the village of Havenston, her City of Ladies

When I began my novel series, The Cross and the Crown, I wanted to present Tudor England from the perspective of a woman who was not noble, not royal, not famous—but who is intelligent and resourceful. Staying away from the famous characters, whose stories we all already know, gave me some wiggle room to create Catherine Havens, my heroine. 

I wanted to explore what might happen to a “regular” woman who is confronted with the upheavals of Tudor England under Henry VIII. In the second book, City of Ladies, Catherine moves away from the convent but not away from her struggles with belief

Historical fiction is an important way of seeing the past in new ways, and since I’ve always had an interest in “real” history, I have mixed feelings about how rigorous historical novelists must be in recreating their periods. It does allow, I think, for imaginative re-creation of a distant place and time, and it can, in doing that, provide a fresh perspective on the present—how we got here from there. (I believe good science fiction does this as well—just in the opposite direction in time!)

I do blend fiction with the facts of my Tudor series, though I wouldn’t change the well-known details of the monarch or well-researched historical figures. I’m more interested, generally, in the development of character than in plot, so I have chosen to create Catherine as a character who has only passing (though significant) interaction with the famous people.

Of course, I love the famous people. My interest in Tudor England comes from an inherent fascination with turbulent times in the past and in charismatic leaders, and how they affected the people “under” them. My doctoral work focused on the late Renaissance, so I have a long personal background in reading and teaching Tudor literature, and that’s probably why I set my story in the 1500s.

But when I turned to fiction after seven books of poems, I wanted to “flesh out” the culture, and so I created Catherine Havens. She’s entirely a fiction, a novice who, by this second book, has been thrown out of her home, the convent, during the English Reformation. She is given permission to marry. 

Did this happen? Not that I’m factually aware of, in any particular instance. Could it have happened? It certainly could have. The laws of England were firm, including the stricture against marriage by former nuns (of course, mine is a novice—more wiggle room) but those laws were also subject to interpretation—and to twisting by clever lawyers and people with access to money and influence.

I wanted to dramatize about how the centralization of power in the English court after the seizure of the religious houses might have changed people who struggled to understand how and why the new religion and the court could control their everyday lives. People revolted. They challenged authority. They went on with their lives, sometimes in spite of the king (or queen).

Half of these ordinary people were women. We have many more records about men, but women worked and prayed alongside their brothers, husbands, and fathers, and I wanted to re-imagine these invisible foremothers into flesh-and-blood life. They raised families, healed wounds, treated the sick, and washed the dead. They oversaw households and undermined expectations.

I travel frequently, and I love to be in the spaces where people lived, because I can feel their lives when I can see where they lived. Even ruins seem to talk to me, and though I rarely take photographs (I prefer my own faulty memory) experiencing these places alters the way I perceive the lives women lived. I particularly like looking at kitchens (Hampton Court and Sutton House are favorites), because I can see the women (and men) who sweated and labored in them to feed the people above, who might not even know their names.

Catherine is not unknown to her “betters,” but she still wants the sisterhood that she lost when she lost the convent. The title of the book alludes to Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies, a sort of catalogue of good women. Catherine is given a copy and she treasures it. Like me, my Catherine hungers for answers to the past. She is on a journey to understand herself, and what she believes and what she will do about it if her opinions conflict with the powers that be. She, like many of us, wants understand her history. And don’t we all wonder about the people who came before us and want, in finding out some answers, to better understand how we have come to be who we are today?

Sarah Kennedy

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About the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the novels The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, and The King’s Sisters, Books One, Two, and Three of The Cross and the Crown series, set in Tudor England, and Self-Portrait, with Ghost.  She has also published seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.  Find out more at Sarah's website:  http://sarahkennedybooks.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @KennedyNovels

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