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/

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Author Vonda Sinclair on Scottish Crofts and Cottages

Today on History Undressed, I'd like to introduce you to a new special guest author, Vonda Sinclair, whom I've known for several years. She travels yearly to Scotland, and writes amazing Scottish historical romances. Today she is bringing us some of the knowledge she's come across over the years on Scottish cottages and crofts. I'm very excited about this post! I've always been fascinated with cottages and she has shared some fantastic pictures she took while visiting Scotland.

Scottish Crofts and Cottages with Vonda Sinclair

Cottage at Culloden Battlefield
When I began writing My Fierce Highlander, a historical romance which takes place in the Highlands of Scotland in 1618, I realized I needed to know more details about the cottage the English heroine had lived in for more than three years.


I was fortunate to get to visit the Museum of Island Life on Isle of Skye and also the thatched cottage on Culloden Battlefield which served as a primitive hospital during the battle.

These homes as seen today are primarily reconstructions of nineteenth century homes, or perhaps they were altered over the years. They have windows and higher walls, as well as fireplaces.

Cottage at Culloden Battlefield

Originally, most Highland homes had very low walls, no fireplace, no windows, and only one door. The builders would've used whatever stones were locally available that they could transport. If they had access to fewer suitable stones, then the walls would've been lower. They "cemented" these together with mud and sand, but sometimes they were dry-stacked. The walls were about three feet thick, or sometimes more, especially on the islands. If the rock walls were low, sometimes sod was used to create the rest of the wall height. Neighbors and communities pitched in to help build houses because it would've been a huge job to transport all those stones.

The roof was a more important and valuable aspect of the homes because they required timber framing, and wood was scarce in the Highlands because of so few trees. On the islands or near the coast, people would pull in the wood from ship wrecks that washed up on shore and use that for framing the roof. When they moved, they would often take the timber framing of the roof with them because it would've been very expensive (or perhaps impossible) to replace this without resources. It was reported by Buchanan in the late eighteenth century that in the Hebrides the resident owned the roof timbers, which he provided himself, but the tacksman or laird owned the stone walls.

On the islands, hip roofs were common, rather than roofs with gable ends, which helped the cottage withstand the strong winds common on the islands or coast. On the Mainland, gable ends were seen more often.

To make a roof, the builders created an A frame with large timbers, with smaller pieces of wood between to secure them together. These frames were raised into place and covered with branches and sod, and then finally thatch, which was usually locally available reeds, rushes, heath, or grasses.

Thatch roof
The floors would've been dirt with a fire pit in the center of the floor. An offset opening in the roof allowed some of the smoke to escape. Still, it would've been a very smoky home. Dried peat was burned and the fire was kept going all the time. The people who lived there would've sat around the fire pit on low stools. This was the center of the home and all the cooking was done here.

Inside a cottage at Culloden Battlefield

The cottages were generally one room, but partitions of wattle and clay were installed to create one or two separate "rooms." Box beds were used to sleep in and families would've slept closely together for warmth, especially in winter. The box beds had either a curtain or doors they could close to keep in the warmth or perhaps for privacy. The mattresses were stuffed with straw. Blankets were handmade and woven of wool. Other cloth items were made of locally grown flax and the linen woven by hand.


A separate room or section of the home was for the livestock, especially cattle, to stay in winter. This section was lower than the rest of the cottage to allow for the drainage of waste. It was so cold, keeping the cattle indoors all winter was the only way they could survive. Often there was not enough food for either the people or the cattle, and in spring the cattle were so weak they had to be carried outside so they could start eating again.



Vonda Sinclair’s favorite indulgent pastime is exploring Scotland, from Edinburgh to the untamed and windblown north coast. She also enjoys creating hot, Highland heroes and spirited lasses to drive them mad. She is a past Golden Heart finalist and Laurie award winner. She lives with her amazing and supportive husband in the mountains of North Carolina where she is no doubt creating another Scottish story. Please visit her website to learn more.  http://www.vondasinclair.com/

My Fierce Highlander
By Vonda Sinclair

Gwyneth Carswell, an English lady banished by her father to the harsh Scottish Highlands, wants nothing more than to take her young son away from the violence of two fighting clans--her own distant kin, the MacIrwins, and their enemies, the MacGraths. She risks everything to rescue the fierce MacGrath warrior from the battlefield where he’s left for dead by her clan. She only knows she is inexplicably drawn to him and he wants peace as she does. When her clan learns of her betrayal, they seek
vengeance. Dare she trust the enemy more than her own family?

Laird Alasdair MacGrath is driven to end two-hundred years of feuding with the MacIrwins. But by taking in and protecting Lady Gwyneth and her son, he provokes more attacks from his mortal enemy. As the danger and conflict surrounding them escalate, Alasdair and Gwyneth discover an explosive passion neither of them expected. With the arrival of a powerful man from her past, a horrible decision confronts her--give up her son or the man she loves.

My Fierce Highlander ©2011, Vonda Sinclair

Breathing hard, Gwyneth burst through the door, the bitter scent of peat smoke and tangy drying herbs replacing that of fresh air. “Mora, did you hear the battle?”

“Aye, I reckon they were fighting the MacGrath. ’Tis always a blood feud betwixt them.” Her friend and fellow healer bent over her knitting, her gray head wrapped in a white kerch. The fire smoldering in the center of the room provided little light.

“One man still lives. He’s been knocked out, but his breathing is strong. We must bring him here and see to his injuries.”

“Who is he?” Suspicion laced through Mora’s thick brogue.

“I know not.”

“One of the enemy?”


“Mmph. I won’t be helping the MacGraths.”

“A dozen men are dead. For what purpose? All this fighting is madness!”

“Easy for you to say, English. Lived here nigh on six years, you have, and still you ken naught of our Highland ways.”

She knew enough about their violent way of life and hated it. Gwyneth glanced at her five-year-old son sleeping in the box bed on the other side of the room and lowered her voice. “I would die before I’d let Rory become one of them, giving up his precious life over a senseless dispute.” She had to find a way to take him out of the Highlands before Laird Donald MacIrwin forced him into the ranks of his fighting men. “And you’re right, I cannot understand so much bloodshed over nothing.”

“’Tis not for naught. The MacGraths killed Donald’s brother ten years past. Then there was the time the MacGraths claimed a goodly portion of MacIrwin land. We don’t take the stealing of land lightly.”

How could her friend be so cold? “This man who yet lives is carrying a peace treaty. He wears a seal ring and appears to be the chief. Aside from that, he’s human and we’re healers. If I can save a life, I will, whether he is friend, foe or beast.”

“Aye, you with your gentle lady’s heart. You’ll get us killed. What if Donald finds out?”

A chill raced through her at that thought. “He rarely comes here.” Though the clan chief was her second cousin on her father’s side, no fondness existed between them.

“’Tis a bad feeling I have about this. You’ll regret it.”

“Do you not think the MacGraths will exact a severe revenge against us all if the MacIrwins kill their chief? He wants peace, as we do.”

“Well, this is not the way to go about it. I’ve been around a few years longer than you have, Sassenach.”

“I will drag the big brute up here myself, then.” She yanked a blanket off the bed, left the cottage and strode down the hill once again toward the glen. The stones slid and rolled beneath her slippers and bit into her feet. If Mora wouldn’t help her, she’d do what she could for the man.

Something all-consuming rose up from her soul and railed, refusing to allow him to lie there and die. Though his body looked powerful, he was helpless now. As helpless as a child, helpless as little Rory. All this man’s fearsomeness at her mercy, she was awed by the power she held over him, to help him reclaim his strength and his life…or let it drain away. That would be a sin far worse than any she’d ever committed, of which she had many. The peace treaty and something deep within her proclaimed his life was worth saving a hundred times over.

My Fierce Highlander by Vonda Sinclair available now in ebook from Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Queen is With-Child...er Not?

To think one is with-child seems a relatively easy situation to figure out--just take a pregnancy test right? See a physician? Well, yes, today, that is what people generally do... unless you are one of those women on that show about never knowing you're pregnant until the baby happened to pop out... sigh...

But in Tudor times, there were no pregnancy tests. For a queen, noble, or any other lady, she had to keep track of her menses. If she missed two or three in a row, she was most likely preggers.

For Mary Tudor, aka Mary I of England, aka "Bloody Mary," the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, defining one's self as pregnant would not be so easy.

Poor Mary suffered terribly with her menses from the time of her youth until the time of her death. Horrible cramps (dysmenorrhea), missed periods, megrims (migraines), mood swings, etc... If a GYN doctor were to take a look at her today, she may have suffered from endometriosis and maybe uterine fibroids. It is documented that stress can make a woman's menses more severe--and Mary was under A LOT of stress.

At long last, after suffering for decades at the hands of others, at aged 37, Mary was proclaimed Queen of England and it appeared that all of her dreams may be coming true. She was even going to get married to a handsome Spanish prince, Philip (whom the English had not taken a fancy too). Young Philip was eleven years her junior and a recent widow. His age did send Mary into a bit of worry, having her say, he was "likely to be disposed to be amorous, and such is not my desire, not at my time of life, and never having harbored thoughts of love."

And why would she be amorous? She'd been threatened with death and pain for nearly her entire life? Beginning when she was about 9-12 years old (exact year is questionable) and her father met the infamous Anne Boleyn.

But now, being betrothed to a handsome young prince, and being Queen of England, life was starting to finally look good to Mary. While she still suffered from her menses, she was also still having them which meant she was fertile and could potentially, with much prayer and sex with her new husband, conceive. Philip and Mary were married on July 25, 1554, and by September her physician's announced that she was with-child.

After finding out she was with-child, Mary went gangbusters on the English people, and set about returning the realm to Catholicism, and heresy laws were returned to parliament. No way did she want her unborn heir to grace the earth on the day of his birth if it were not in a Catholic realm. And so the burnings began with the swell of her abdomen.

In April of 1555, Mary went to Hampton Court for her lying-in, also called confinement (a period of 1-2 months where a woman is confined to her rooms to prepare for the birth of her child). Nurses for the unborn child were hired--some for feeding, some for rocking, some for cleaning--a whole slew of ladies who would take care of this long awaited prince of the realm.

Apparently there was some speculation within the court that Mary could not possibly bear a living child--she did not eat enough, her belly was not large enough, she was not healthy enough, she was too old... on and on they went, but no one actually made these specualtions to the queen or the people outright, just little rumors here and there. But her belly did swell, apparently she did have emissions of milk from her breasts, she no longer had her monthly women's curse, all signs of being with-child.

Late in April a rumor broke out that Mary had given birth to a son, some even going so far as to describe the child's robust figure--but these were quickly quelled as rumors only.

The child who should have been born no later than June, still did not arrive, and physicians and midwives told the queen they must have miscalculated, perhaps the child would arrive in July or August. By September there was still no babe, and Mary and her courtiers realized that she was in fact not with child at all, that it had simply been a phantom pregnancy, conjured up by the intense desire to have a child. It is believed that she may have been pregnant and either miscarried or the child died and was not properly expelled. Signs of her pregnancy soon disappeared. The subject was never to be brought up in the queen’s presence.

Philip left then for Spain that early fall of 1555 and did not return until spring of 1557 and only for a few months this time before he left once more and did not return. At the age now of 42, Mary was again declared to be pregnant. She went into confinement in February of 1558. After what happened with her first pregnancy many around her had doubts as to this one's validity. On March 30th she wrote her Will in which she made it clear she was pregnant. After a month past her due date, in April, and no baby, Mary realized she was again mistaken. Her pregnancy symptoms dissipated, but her health declined until she died later that year, some say from stomach cancer--a large tumor within her abdomen. Her phantom pregnancies and the symptoms she had along with them included lactation and temporary eyesight loss, were indicative of a hormonal disorder or a tumor in her pituitary gland.

It is a sad end for a woman so devoted to her religion, to her God. She was pious, devout, and suffered so very much--and because of this, I think she wanted others to suffer too. Perhaps she'd grown quite mad. I wouldn't blame her for it.

What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Write a Historical Romance

Today I am writing at Romancing the Past, where I blog regularly on the 25th of each month, on how to write a historical romance. If you are so inclined, please join me there :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Historical Romance Review: Just One Season in London, by Leigh Michaels

Last week we had the fabulous Leigh Michaels, romance author, on History Undressed for an interview, and today I'd like to post my review of her wonderful latest Regency release, JUST ONE SEASON IN LONDON.

But first...


A family that courts together…

Viscount Ryecroft has a beautiful sister he needs to marry off… if only he had the money for her Season in London.

His family is in financial ruins, and his mother is willing to do anything to help her children, including sell herself to the highest bidder…

Finds passion on their own…

Sophie Ryecroft will sacrifice love to marry for the good of her family… but instead finds passion and solace in an attractive alternative.

With so much riding on their one and only Season in London, Rye, Sophie, and Miranda can’t help but get hopelessly entangled with all the wrong people…


I really enjoyed Leigh's first Regency, THE MISTRESS' HOUSE, which came out earlier this year, and I admit to being worried about whether or not her second release with Sourcebooks would be as good! I mean, how could she top it? Well, she did. I love how Ms. Michaels can take us into the heads of several different characters without losing us.  I like getting the perspective of so many, it really does show you how differently people can think and how differently one person might react to a situation, or how they may feel about it versus another.  This is one of the reasons I like Ms. Michaels work so much. Her books are truly character driven, and by characters who leap off the page. We want to be their friends. We want to join them at the ball, or for tea to talk about what fascinating things they are going to do that day. They are larger than life. We laugh with them, gasp with them, worry over them, cry with them.

So did she top THE MISTRESS' HOUSE with JUST ONE SEASON IN LONDON? I wouldn't say she topped it--I can't because I loved them both so much. Once again Ms. Michaels put out a fabulous book! A witty, tantalizing, addictive confection for the reader's mind, which I highly recommend!

AND I am super excited to have just received the ARC to her next Regency release, THE WEDDING AFFAIR.  Looks like another fabo book! Will let you know :)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Leigh Michaels Interview, Author of Just One Season in London

Today on History Undressed, I am supremely excited to offer you the fascinating interview I had with romance author hall of famer, Leigh Michaels. Leave a comment (and your email address) for your chance to win a print copy of Just One Season in London (a witty, tantalizing, addictive confection for the reader's mind, which I highly recommend!), two winners will be chosen. (US and Canada only)

Without further ado... I give you the interview...

Eliza: The majority of your backlist is contemporary and non-fiction—a few romance writing books of which I personally have in my library—but within the last year you've had historicals released. Have you always liked writing historicals? What was the reason for the change and why did you choose Regency England? And might I also add, that I am loving them!

Leigh Michaels: I loved writing my sweet traditional contemporary books, but after 80 of them I was getting pretty burned out, and I didn’t feel I had anything new to say. In order to make the job exciting again, I needed a big change – which I got by switching from contemporary to historical, from sweet to spicy, and from short books to long. I’ve always loved reading historicals, especially those set in the Regency period, and I’d been tinkering with a Regency story for years (but I expect that particular book will stay on my closet shelf forever). I’m having a great time, and I’m glad that readers are enjoying the books too.

EK: Your books are very well researched and true to life, but not in a way that readers feel you're trying to teach them a history lesson. Readers get a good taste for history and the real-life settings and only adds to the flavor of the book. You’ve captured the essence of the Regency mentality in your characters, their language, their clothes, their morals, actions. What is your research process like? How do you decide what stays and what goes?

LM: Thank you! I make every effort to create characters who are realistic to their period, and then let them talk and act and think for themselves. I’ve been researching the Regency period forever, starting by reading Georgette Heyer’s novels when I was a teen, and then branching out into biographies and histories and books about the time period. My trips to England have been very helpful in terms of seeing buildings and clothes from that time, and also getting a feel for the geography. I have a good library of Regency resources and when I’m at loose ends I’ll pick up a book at random and refresh my memory – because I don’t always know what detail I want to use until I spot it. Then I keep only the details that the reader needs in order to form a picture in her mind – enough that she can hear the characters talk and see what’s going on around them.

EK: What is your favorite bit of history you learned while researching The Mistress’ House, Just One Season in London and The Wedding Affair?

LM: I learned that corsets in the Regency period weren’t always like the ones we see in the movies – the wearer couldn’t put one on by herself. Later, in the Victorian era, corsets had hooks up the side, so once it was properly laced, a woman could get in and out of her corset without help. Not so during the Regency.

EK: What piece of advice would you offer to writers in the historical romance genre?

LM: One thing that makes me grind my teeth as a teacher and a writer is when a book gets the titles wrong. It’s not that hard to understand the peerage, but it does take careful handling. Another is when characters from Regency or Victorian times think like we do today, complete with all the psychological jargon that comes so naturally to modern minds.

EK: What is your writing schedule like?

LM: I start my day with email and a quick visit to the romance writing classes I teach online for Gotham Writers Workshop, and then I turn to the current story and see what’s happening to my characters today. Early in the process with each book I spend fewer hours a day actually writing and more thinking and planning and researching; later on I’ll write for eight or ten hours a day. Evenings are for relaxing, researching, and commenting on student work.

EK: What writer was most inspiring to you on your career path to becoming an author?

LM: I was a fan of romance from the time I could stretch high enough to pull those books off the library shelves. Emilie Loring was an early favorite, with her romantic suspense. And of course Georgette Heyer – the would-be Regency writer can get a pretty good education on the period just by reading Heyer from start to finish.

EK: On your website you have pictures of a dollhouse you made. I love dollhouses, we had a beautiful Victorian one at my grandmother’s house we used to play with when I was growing up. Did you make your own furniture? And how many dollhouses do you have?

LM: I love dollhouses and miniatures! The Georgian house that’s pictured on my website was a labor of love for my husband and me. He did most of the building, furniture included, and I did most of the finishing. Those walnut floors all have three layers of varnish, sanded between coats  and the windows open and close. And even the toothbrush handles are hand-painted. Right now I have a couple of room boxes – an antique store, and a Christmas room – as well as the Georgian house which is my prize piece.

EK: And since you are an author many others look up to, what is your take on the changing industry?

LM: I’m excited by the new developments in publishing. I’ve been releasing the books which have reverted to me as ebooks, and it’s fun to see them gain an entirely new audience. We’ve always been in the business of sharing stories with readers, and only the format and distribution method is changing. I don’t think books on paper will ever disappear, because there are many advantages to a physical book – for instance, it’s so much easier to flip back a few pages in a physical book, to remind yourself what Susie said to Joe. But Nooks and Kindles and Kobos may make us a nation of readers again, because they’re so convenient – and what’s not to like about having more readers in the world?

EK: Is there anything you'd like to share with readers? A question you want to pose to them?

LM: I treasure my readers – many of whom are friends as well as fans – and I look forward to even more friendships. And my question: What Regency romance would you like to read that nobody’s written yet?

Thank you so much for visiting History Undressed! My readers and I really appreciate you taking the time for us to pick your brain :) Best of luck and many well wishes on your new releases!


A family that courts together…

Viscount Ryecroft has a beautiful sister he needs to marry off… if only he had the money for her Season in London.

His family is in financial ruins, and his mother is willing to do anything to help her children, including sell herself to the highest bidder…

Finds passion on their own…

Sophie Ryecroft will sacrifice love to marry for the good of her family… but instead finds passion and solace in an attractive alternative.

With so much riding on their one and only Season in London, Rye, Sophie, and Miranda can’t help but get hopelessly entangled with all the wrong people…

Celebrated author Leigh Michaels effortlessly weaves three tales of unexpected romance with surprising twists you won’t soon forget.


Leigh Michaels is the author of nearly 100 books, including 80 contemporary novels and more than a dozen non-fiction books. More than 35 million copies of her romance novels have been published by Harlequin. A 6 time RITA finalist, she has also received two Reviewer's Choice awards from RT Book Reviews, and was the 2003 recipient of the Johnson Brigham Award. She is the author of On Writing Romance, published in January 2007 by Writers Digest Books. Leigh also teaches romance writing on the Internet at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Ottumwa, Iowa, where she is working on her third book from Sourcebooks, The Wedding Affair, which will be in stores in September. For more information, please visit http://www.leighmichaels.com/.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest Author Richard Warren Field: Was Richard the Lionheart Gay?

Today on History Undresseed, I am pleased to introduce you to a new historical guest author, Richard Warren Field.  I think you will find his post today quite fascinating, I certainly did!  And congratulations Mr. Field, on your Independent Publisher Book Award!

Was Richard the Lionheart Gay?
by Richard Warren Field

Thanks for hosting me today at “History Undressed,” a stop on my blog tour to celebrate the Independent Publisher Book Award for my novel, The Swords of Faith (about the Third Crusade/the confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin). In this post, I will address a question that has arisen in recent years about Richard the Lionheart, a topic I think is appropriately addressed at my stop at your blog.

When I first decided to write about the Third Crusade, the novel was called Richard and Saladin, and was to be focused around these two characters. I started my research by getting an overview looking at the articles about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in my old Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 edition. As I read the Richard biography, I made notes on key dates and periods, to focus my research. Everything was routine until the last two sentences: “In striking contrast to his father, and with King John [his brother] he was, there seems no doubt, a homosexual. He had no children with Queen Berengeria, with whom his relations seem to have been merely formal.”

I’ll admit it; I’d never heard this. In further checking on the issue, I saw it had been around. But I had known nothing about it. Now please don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against gays. If Richard the Lionheart was gay, then that would be the character I would write about. This would change the story, intended to delve into the lives of both of these iconic men. It might even become the most memorable aspect of the book, depending upon how significantly I emphasized it. I would need to be careful, as I wanted the story to focus on religious fanaticism. I needed to decide how I would address the Richard-was-gay issue.

So was Richard Lionheart gay? No. I don’t believe so. The two most recent Richard the Lionheart biographers came to the same conclusion. And as I address this issue, I will rely on biographies of Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham and Anthony Bridge, as well as other research materials like the thin biography of Richard’s wife, Berengeria: Enigmatic Queen of England.

A few words about Berengeria are important. Like most royal marriages of that period, Richard’s marriage to Berengeria was a political one. In that context, the marriage was very successful. Sancho of Navarre, the Basque king who was Berengeria’s father, helped Richard secure his territories in southern France. But the most important reason for Richard to get married was to produce an heir. With his brother John trying to usurp his throne for much of his reign, an heir was a must. But Richard’s marriage with Berengeria never
produced one. And as we see in the Encyclopedia Britannica, this is cited “Exhibit A” arguing for Richard’s homosexuality.

No one is available to examine this definitively. We’re not going to get access to Berengeria’s gynecological records, or to Richard’s sperm count. They didn’t spend a lot of time together, but were together at their
wedding and for months after, enough time for a fertile couple to produce a child. Was Berengeria “barren?” Possibly. Did they simply not couple together enough? Possibly, and that gives us the argument that Richard was gay. But it is well-documented that Richard had an illegitimate child, Philip of Cognac. So Richard was fertile with someone, and had the desire necessary!

When considering Berengeria, we find no raves about how beautiful this Queen of England was. Instead we find phrases like “she was sensible” or “she was pleasant.” This sounds like the old response, when the guy
asks how his blind date looks—“well, she has a nice personality.” Classic “damning with faint praise.” History’s biggest distinction for her seems to be that she was the only Queen of England who never set foot in England. Richard’s mother was the renowned Eleanor of Aquitaine, hailed for her beauty and intelligence. Eleanor of Aquitaine loved her son Richard, possibly the most of all of her sons. Could Berengeria ever measure up to this? And when she couldn’t, and heirs didn’t come in a hurry, did Richard lose interest?

There is evidence that when Berengeria and Richard met years before their marriage, Berengeria was taken with him. Eleanor of Aquitaine brought her to Sicily to join Richard on his way to the Middle East for the
Third Crusade. The idea was to celebrate a glorious wedding in a newly captured Jerusalem. Then a storm carried Berengeria off course, off to Cyprus. Richard and his men stormed the beach at Cyprus, and before even finishing his conquest of the island, Richard married Berengeria and got right to the honeymoon. There
was gossip that he had started the honeymoon early. This does not sound like a reluctant gay man.

Richard fended off marrying the sister of Philip II of France for years. Was this the reluctance of a gay man? No. Rumor was that Richard’s father Henry II had already had sex with Alice, and she may have even
had a child by him. This was not the type of princess Richard had in mind for his wife. Once Richard had settled with Philip, extricating himself from his marriage pledge to Alice, he married Berengeria within a few months.

Let’s take a look at a few other reasons for this recent assertion (Richard’s biographer John Gillingham points to 1948 as the first expression of this idea).

Richard and Philip II of France shared a bed together.
During the Middle Ages, sharing a bed with someone of the same sex, even sharing a bed among entire family members, was not uncommon. There are references to both Henry II and William Marshall, robust heterosexual men of the same period, similarly sharing beds. The instance of the two men “sharing a bed” referred more to their political-military union against Richard’s father than to any sexual behavior.

Richard made a public confession of sins in 1195.
Some have read into this that Richard made this public confession to address homosexual behavior. But it is more likely he was addressing profligate heterosexual behavior, the type that led to Philip of Cognac, his illegitimate child. There was reference to “Sodom” in the record of Richard’s confession. But the idea of a “sodomite” as referring to gay behavior is a more modern idea. The Sodom and Gomorrah story referred to all sorts of sexual sins, and the simple reference to “Sodom” does not mean Richard’s “sins” were homosexual.

Women were not admitted to Richard’s coronation.
Sorry ladies—standard practice at the time. This does not prove Richard hated women, or wasn’t attracted to them.

The idea that Richard the Lionheart, that dashing warrior of the Middle Ages, that larger-than-life epitome of bravery in battle, was gay is an intriguing tabloid-style shocker. It’s a delicious tidbit to challenge
long-held ingrained images about this iconic figure from the past. But when stepping back from the titillation, and looking at the real evidence, I have to agree with Gillingham and Bridge—Richard was most likely not gay. I portrayed him in The Swords of Faith as a heterosexual man with a healthy interest in Berengeria at first. Richard’s relationship to Berengeria is not the major focus of The Swords of Faith, but I do address it, and get into Richard’s head for possible reasons why the marriage was only successful politically, never producing an heir to the throne for Richard the Lionheart.

Sorry Encyclopaedia Britannica, I think you got this one wrong!

Richard Warren Field was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Los Gatos High School in 1972, and from the University of the Pacific with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Political Science in 1976. Richard, known as “Rick” by his friends and family, lives in Southern California with his wife Carrie and his two children, Michelle and Ryan—and three cats. Richard Warren Field is the name on his published writing, most recently his novel, The Swords of Faith, and a novel he co-wrote with chiropractor Dr. Alan Fluger, Dying to Heal. Recently, two of his essays were published in the Opposing Viewpoints series (see Richard Warren Field's Internet Column for details). He has described himself as a creative eccentric with serious interests in both writing and music since he was a child. His blog and this website reflect his many interests. http://www.richardwarrenfield.com/