Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Introducing Debut Tudor-era Historical Fiction Author, Michelle Diener (Giveaway!)

Today I'd like to welcome a special guest, Michelle Diener to History Undressed.  Michelle and I met online a year or so ago through a mutual author friend, Kris Kennedy, and I was excited to meet her this summer in NYC at the Romance Writers of America national conference. Michelle is as delightful in person as she is online, and on top of that, she is an amazing writer. Without further ado, I'll let Michelle take the floor and tell you a bit about her upcoming novel IN A TREACHEROUS COURT and the vibrant historical figures she's written about...

Thank you to Eliza for inviting me to blog! I thought I'd talk about the heroine of my Tudor-set historical as I count down to the release of my debut novel, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, which is set in the court of Henry VIII.

The main characters in IN A TREACHEROUS COURT are based on real people. My heroine, Susanna Horenbout, was trained in her father's studio in Ghent (in modern day Belgium), and art historians are sure she was sent over to Henry's court ahead of her father and brother. The hero is John Parker, one of Henry VIII's 'new men', courtiers who were not noblemen, but in the meritocracy Henry began to establish, loyalty, and usefulness, could definitely overcome a lack of blue blood. They are both outsiders, but talented enough, and intelligent enough, to find a place for themselves in the world they find themselves in.

And what a world it is! Aside from the fact that historians know Susanna was sent to London before the rest of her family, and that she worked for her father in his studio, and that her work was highly praised by one of the most eminent artists of the day, Albrech Dürer, there is no record of what she did for Henry VIII as an artist that remains. This gives me a lot of leeway in my work, which is a great plus, but it saddens me that there are no records or works that remain that can be attributed to her. There is a brass plaque in All Saints Church in Fulham, London, which commemorates her mother, and art historians think it is likely the piece is by her, but that is the only thing we have of hers left. We know she was given a gold cup at Christmas by Henry on two occasions, something he gave to those who had rendered him great service during that year, but we don't know what that service was. I have made up something full of intrigue and danger, of course :) .

However, if she did work for Henry as a painter, which seems the obvious conclusion to draw, then she would have been one of only three women who did work personally for Henry at the time - the other two were Anne Harris, who did his laundry, and Mrs Cornwallis, who made the King's puddings. There were four other women employees, but they worked in the laundry as well, and washed the Queen's clothes. Everything else was done by men. It puts into perspective the kind of attitudes and prejudices Susanna would have encountered. And on top of that, she was a foreigner.

All of this, of course, leads me to another mystery, and that is how Susanna and Parker came to meet and marry. The way art historians were able to work out that Susanna preceded her family was a record of her marriage to Parker, which pre-dated the time when her brother entered Henry's employ. How did she come to marry a courtier who, as the Keeper of the Palace of Westminster, held the King's personal purse? Parker was also Yeoman of the Crossbows, and was later promoted to Yeoman of the King's Robes. Henry would usually marry off the daughters of his courtiers to other courtiers, manipulating and balancing the power of his court through these connections. So for Parker to marry an artist from Ghent, with no connection to court? Very intriguing!

As you can tell, I had a great deal of fun writing the books, and loved how much real history I could use to do so. To celebrate the upcoming release, I'll be giving away a copy of IN A TREACHEROUS COURT to one lucky commenter, and I'd love to know, what is your favorite historical period?


Michelle Diener is the author Tudor-set historical fiction. Her debut, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT releases August 2011 and the second book in the series will release in early 2012. Ms. Diener was born in London, raised in South Africa and now resides in Australia. Visit her website for more information on her books (pre-order available!) her writing and her!  http://www.michellediener.com/

16 comments:

Loni Lynne said...

Eliza and Michelle,
Good morning! What a great historical idea and such research to find someone connected to the time frame, yet with very little to go on (great 'what if'--which I am very fond of myself).

I love history--period! English and Colonial American especially. I am an avid fan of our Ren Faire in which tells the story of Henry VIII each year (depicting and rotating through his various wives). Lots of fun! (In fact the picture of me (if it comes up) is in my Ren. dress.

Take care and good luck to you and IN A TREACHEROUS COURT.

Undine said...

Very good luck to you with this book--it sounds much more original than the usual run of Tudor novels, and I like that you're using such an interesting, but relatively unknown, real figure from the period.

I don't have one favorite period from history. When I was five years old, watching a TV show about Henry VIII led to an interest in him and his era that's lasted ever since, but my passion is for history in general, rather than any particular person/time.

Angel C @ Mermaid Vision Books said...

As a kid, I used to obsess over World War II. To be honest, I still don't quite understand why I loved that time period so much haha.

These days, I'm heaping a lot of love on the late 1700s and mid-1800s. I won't lie and say that the gorgeous gowns aren't a big part of that.

Thanks for the giveaway!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Michelle,

Your book sounds fascinating. I had no idea that there was a woman artist at the court of Henry VIII. I love finding out new things about a period of history that I think I know. I'll definitely have to pick up a copy of your book.

My favorite period of history is the late Victorian era, from 1880 to 1900, also known as The Belle Epoque in Paris. I love the clothes and the art, as well as the music and theatre. To have seen Sarah Bernhardt or Henry Irving on stage!

Jennifer Dahl said...

I'm a certified Tudor Era junkie... Elizabeth I, certainly, but not so much as her father. Hal was the reason I ended up with a double major in college many years ago - Psych and English History. I even dated the prof! :) Good luck on your novel (I confess I've written one set in the same era... perhaps your heroine has bumped into mine...) :D

Jena Lang said...

Hi Michelle! I love the Tudor Era and can't wait to read your debut book, which sounds wonderful. I especially like that it's based on actual people.

Besides Tudor England, I adore the Middle Ages, the Victorian Era, and the 1940's during WWII.

Thanks for the giveaway!
jenalang@live.com

Michelle Diener said...

Loni, like you, I have a hard time narrowing it down. I love so many historical periods.

And yes, Susanna was a 'gift' in being a real person with so little known about her. Just right for a writer! :)

Thank you for the congratulations and good wishes.

Michelle Diener said...

Undine, thank you. And yay, another lover of all things historical. :)

Michelle Diener said...

Angel, I am fascinated with WWII as well. And WWI. I have so many research books on those two wars, and I have a book I'd love to write set between them. We'll see when I have time to do that!

I also love the Georgian / Regency time period. Not so much for the gowns, lol, as for the interesting socio and economic conditions of the time. I'm actually almost halfway through writing a book set in that period.

Michelle Diener said...

Elizabeth, thank you, and I agree there is something wonderful about discovering something new in a period that you know.

And what an interesting period the Belle Epoque was. I know a little because I took French at university, and read some of the literature of that time - absolutely fascinating!

Michelle Diener said...

Jennifer, what a lovely thought! I hope our heroines are good friends *g*.

Thank you for the good wishes.

Michelle Diener said...

Thank you, Jena!

Another WWII lover! We should start a club :) . I am fascinated by the Victorian era as well. Part of that is because I grew up in South Africa and had to live with consequences of colonialism, and study the history of it from the 'losing' side, so to speak.

May-Day_Aura said...

This book sounds fascinating! I love that the characters were real historical figures but little is known about them. I've read various stories about famous people of certain time periods, so it's refreshing to see books about lesser known individuals. You can still tell a great story and learn about that time period, but you see history through a different state of eyes. Congrats, Michelle, on your debut release and good luck on your future writings!

I'm a huge history fan, but my favorite historical period would have to be the Victorian era.

Michelle Diener said...

Thank you, May-Day. I also prefer books where the main character is less well-known. Thank you for the good wishes.

Eliza Knight said...

According to a random drawing, the winner of Michelle Diener's book, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, is Undine! Please email me with your address :) Congrats and thanks for visiting!

Carol N Wong said...

It is very difficult to choose a favorite historical period. Seems like I am excited by them all and in any country!!! Lately, I have been reading books set in United States World II. Think I am interestes because of my parents. I have an old leather suitcase full of letters that my mother and father wrote to each other before, during and after the war. If you give me a well written historical fiction book to read, I will promptly fall in love with that period.

CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com