Thursday, 4 May 2017

Blog Tour: Author Anne O'Brien's Top 6 Medieval Women with Style

Today I am delighted to welcome Anne O'Brien along on the publication day of 

The Shadow Queen,

 to discuss her 

Top Six Medieval Women with Style...

1340. Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, learns that she is to marry William Montagu, heir to the Earldom of Salisbury, an alliance that will redeem their family after her father’s execution for treason. But Joan cannot marry her childhood friend Will. At just 12 years old, she has fallen in love with, and secretly married Sir Thomas Holland, a humble knight who is currently fighting in France with the King. Furious, her mother and the Montagu family convince Joan to marry Will, despite her feelings of guilt. But when Sir Thomas returns, he is determined to win back his wife, no matter what. Joan must quickly learn to navigate the dangerous and seductive world of the royal court, with its treachery, subterfuge, and power-hungry families… A tale of betrayal and ambition, and of love and loyalty, The Shadow Queen is the untold story of the beautiful, quick-witted and scandalous Joan of Kent, who would ultimately go on to mastermind the reign of the Child King, her son Richard II.

Six Medieval Women with Style

 Here are six medieval women who put pen to parchment, which is interesting in itself, but who also wrote with such elegance and forthright use of words.  Their letters and books shine with clarity and conviction, opening for us a window into the lives of these women who expressed themselves with confidence on all manner of subjects.  Love, sexual desire, education and the role of women in government at the side of their husband, nothing is outside their scope of interest and experience.  It is all here for our delight.

Christine de Pisan 
Widowed at an early age, Christine, living in France, turned to the pen as a way to support her children, writing both prose and poetry which was well received in the highest circles in an age when women had relatively no voice.  Christine worked to refute the negative ideas that scholars were spreading about the education and role of women, showing the elite women of her time how they could navigate most successfully through what was a man's world.  Her main work, The Book of the City of Ladies, stood as a testimony to the greatness and accomplishments of women, putting them on the same level as men.

Women particularly should concern themselves with peace because men by nature are more foolhardy and headstrong, and their overwhelming desire to avenge themselves prevents them from foreseeing the resulting dangers and terrors of war. But woman by nature is more gentle and circumspect. Therefore, if she has sufficient will and wisdom she can provide the best possible means to pacify man. 

Famous for her scandalous relationship with Peter Abelard, Heloise celebrated their forbidden love with a series of love letters.  A tragic story, Abelard and Heloise were cruelly separated, Abelard becoming a monk and Heloise a nun.  How firm and finely judged were Heloise's words to her lover whom she never met again, how full of conviction when the world was set against them.  Her words uplift the down-trodden spirit.

I think you are not unaware, my sweet light, that ashes placed on a sleeping fire never put it out ... and so not for any reason will external events be able to wipe out the thought of you, which is bound to my heart with a chain of gold

Julian of Norwich
This famous anchoress, closed off from the world in her simple cell, wrote an account of her visions and her understanding of God's love and compassion for humanity.  In a world that portrayed God as the One who judged and punished, this was a very personal interpretation of an all-gracious God in whom there was no anger.  Julian is responsible for perhaps the most famous of all medieval quotations.  So simple and so encouraging in a dangerous world.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Margaret Paston
Margaret was a superb letter-writer.  Wife of John Paston, a London solicitor, she was left to manage the estates in Norfolk while he pursued land claims.  The letters are detailed, entertaining and informative: family fall-outs, marriage alliances, parental nagging, clashes with the aristocracy and parties thrown while parents were away from home.  Further afield she writes of local gossip, the problems of cash-flow, the local wool trade and the shortage of good servants.  Margaret has an engaging style, and sometimes, delightfully, touches on the personal, as in this letter to her absent husband.

I pray that you will wear the ring with the image of St Margaret that I sent you for a remembrance till you come home.  You have left me such a remembrance that makes me to think upon you both day and night when I would sleep. (a pregnancy!)

Margery Kempe
Written probably in the late 1430s, The Book of Margery Kempe, dictated quaintly in the third person, is one of the most astonishing documents of late medieval English life.  From the merchant class, Margery was a wife, a mother and widow, experienced sin and conversion, who conversed intimately with God and travelled on pilgrimage.  Margery might be considered the first English Mystic, but she was not beyond giving strong advice, even to Archbishops, and relishing it when dictating it to her biographer.

Then the archbishop said to her (Margery!): I  am told very bad things about you.  I hear it said that you are a very wicked woman.  And she replied:  Sir, I also hear it said that you are a wicked man.  And if you are as wicked as people say, you will never get to heaven unless you amend while you are here.

Hildegard of Bingen
A German Benedictine Abbess, spending her whole life enclosed as a nun from the age of seven, Hildegard was a writer, a composer and a philosopher, writing plays and music as well as books of instruction and discussion of diseases and their cures.  What an astonishing breadth of education and knowledge and talent she had.  Nor did she neglect the vexed subject of human sexuality, and so powerfully, challenging the received medical opinion that women were more lustful (and thus more sinful) than men.

A man's love is a blazing heat, like a fire on a blazing mountain, which can hardly be quenched, while hers is more like a wood-fire that is easy to quench; but a woman's love is in comparison with a man's is like a sweet warmth coming from the sun which brings forth fruit.

What a multi-faceted view these writings allow us of the lives of these women who felt free to express themselves in such diverse ways.  Their ideas and thoughts have lasted though time to bring these medieval woman to life today.

The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien is published by HQ on 4th May (£12.99 hardback)


ANNE O’BRIEN was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years where she taught History. Leaving teaching – but not her love of history – Anne turned to novel writing and her passion for giving voice to the oft forgotten women of the medieval era was born. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth-century cottage in Herefordshire, an area steeped in history and full of inspiration for her work.

Anne Tweets here @Anne_Obrien

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