4 May 2022

Book Launch Guest Post by Toni Mount, Author of The Colour of Rubies

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Murder lurks at the heart of the royal court in the rabbit warren of the Palace of Westminster. The year is 1480. Treason is afoot amongst the squalid grandeur and opulent filth of this medieval world of contrasts. Even the Office of the King’s Secretary hides a dangerous secret.

Researching a Historical Novel by Toni Mount

In writing a murder mystery novel set in fifteenth-century London, I start with an idea for a crime. When I was first thinking about The Colour of Rubies, the tenth Sebastian Foxley adventure – I have to write to suit the title because this is already agreed in my contract – I had just finished reading a biography of Christopher Marlowe, an Elizabethan playwright and a spy who was murdered during a pub brawl, although the circumstances of his death were mysterious even at the time. So this gave me a very basic background for my sleuth, Seb Foxley, to investigate a crime and tell a story. I researched secret codes, couriers and go-betweens mostly from the Tudor era as this period is better documented, especially regarding Catholic spies. 

King Edward IV [r.1461-70 & 1471-83]

 Medieval monarchs also employed spies but of course, in the fifteenth century, Christendom was still entirely Catholic, officially, at least, so religion could not be the cause of international espionage. But war is always a possibility so I researched scenarios for 1480, the year in which Rubies is set. The treaty between King Edward IV of England and the King of Scots had just expired and we know Edward did in fact send his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to wage war against the troublesome Scots in the near future. Also, the ‘Old Alliance’ between Scotland and France was a real issue, stating that if any enemy, i.e. the English, made war on one, the other would either invade England from the opposite direction, creating two battle fronts for the English to deal with, or send aid in terms of men and weapons, etc. to assist their ally. This didn’t happen at this time but was something the English king had to bear in mind and other European nations knew of it.

In recent Seb Foxley novels, his brother Jude has introduced an Italian element to the stories by marrying a young Venetian girl. His reasons were mixed but he always likes to stress it was a noble deed in that he saved her from a hateful marriage to a vile old uncle by eloping with her and was then conned into making her his wife. Whether readers believe anything Jude says is up to them. So, the groundwork was already done to introduce an Italian spy and – how lucky can an author be? – I discovered through my research that the Duke of Milan and the King of France both had a fancy to take the little alpine dukedom of Piedmont, lying between their own territories. Duke Sforza of Milan wanted the French to be looking north and, while their attentions were elsewhere, he could grab Piedmont… if only the English would attack the French. So that was the political research behind the plot, requiring a dark deed to cause the English to invade northern France.

Researching the procedures of day to day government was much more difficult because of the intricacies and convoluted workings of the Exchequer, the Signet Office, the Chancellor’s Office, various secretaries’ offices and all the other departments in the Palace of Westminster. I knew the king had a real French Secretary, Oliver King – I changed his name to just Secretary ‘Oliver’ to avoid confusion with King Edward – but how were the clerical staff organised? Did clerks work for a particular office or did they deal with whatever paperwork was next on their desk? I couldn’t discover how the system worked: the Civil Service has always been secretive about its functions, staffing levels and even the length and number of staff tea-breaks used to come under the Official Secrets Act. So the way things are done in the King’s Scriptorium, like the name of the office, is down to invention and guesswork on my part. 

I try to use real historical people in my novels. King Edward, Lord Chamberlain Hastings and other noblemen are all real, as are the bishops and the Lord Mayor of London. As best I can, I attempt to have them where they were at the particular date, if it’s known. Even some of my common folk actually lived in London at the time. Dame Ellen Langton has been a recurring character from the first Seb Foxley adventure and she is based on Ellen Langwith, a London silk-woman whose will I researched some years ago. William Fyssher, who gets a mention in passing but was a more significant character in earlier novels, was the Deputy Coroner in 1474 but for how many years he served I don’t know. Who else is real and who is my creation, readers can decide for themselves but by now, I admit, Seb Foxley and his brother Jude have become ‘real’ individuals, often surprising me with actions and speech I never expected, twisting the story so I don’t know what will happen next. 


An artist’s impression of Seb Foxley [Dmitry Yarkovsky 2018]

The portrait of Seb [above] was commissioned by my sons for me on a special birthday. He now hangs above the mantelpiece, just like a member of the family – eccentric, I know. 

I’m definitely not an author who plans every detail in advance. How can I be when my characters have ideas of their own? Like Stephen King, I ‘wind ’em up, put them in a situation and let them go’. I love to see what happens and, after all, if I don’t like the way the story is going, I am god: I can rewind time, revive the dead, undo disasters and rewrite.     

To give flavour, I use a few Italian phrases in Rubies and various translation websites were invaluable. Jude’s Italian wife calls him rude names in her native tongue, though she would have spoken a Venetian dialect and the spy would have used Milanese. I had to make do with modern Italian for both since translations into medieval Italian dialects are not to be had on the internet that I could find. For readers who don’t speak Italian, Jude always demands a translation of his wife’s insults and Seb’s mistakes in translation add to the perils of the plot. To readers who do speak Italian, I apologise for any errors.

Because of the book’s title, the story had to involve ‘rubies’ and Seb’s fascination with colour and beauty made stained glass a good premise for his first visit to Westminster, to see the gorgeous ruby-red glass in St Stephen’s Chapel there and so the tale begins. The spy signs himself ‘the Esquire of the Ruby’, a pen-name I’ve borrowed from the Pretender, Perkin Warbeck, who signed his secret letters as ‘the Merchant of the Ruby’ in the 1490s. And then there’s King Edward’s gift of the precious Ruby Ring! 

If you want to join Seb, his family and friends on their exploits in medieval London and Westminster, stealing down dark alleyways, waiting nervously in opulent chambers and freezing their fingers off in the icy scriptorium where a murderer lurks, or to know more about the significance of that jewel, the spying and other dirty deeds aplenty, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book: The Colour of Rubies, by Toni Mount, published 5th May 2022.           

Toni Mount

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About the Author

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript. Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to MedievalCourses.com.  As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies. Find out more at Toni's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @tonihistorian

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