* * *
Dear Dr. Castor,
I just finished your wonderful book, SHE-WOLVES: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and had to write you to rave. Also, I'm pretty annoyed at you because my book bill is about to go sky-high(er) and frankly, you might want to think about starting fundraisers for your readers, because I doubt I'm the only one with this problem.
I've been into the Tudors for years, especially Henry VIII and his wives, long before Showtime cast a slender brunette of medium height to play Henry. I read everything about them I could find and eventually started to get Tudor-ed out (there were only so many takes on Ann Boleyn's fall, and Henry's growing sociopathy and waistline, before I needed a break). So I started reading about the gang who came before (Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III) and the Wars of the Roses, which is how I discovered Margaret of Anjou. In a word: whoa! (It's wrong that I want to see her and Elizabeth I in a cage match, right?) I couldn't believe the woman's courage, audacity, determination, and focus. So I started reading books about the Wars specifically to find out more about Margaret, though I also loved reading about Warwick losing his *hit when King Edward had the audacity to a) choose his own queen and b) be king. Which is how I ended up with SHE-WOLVES.
I'm embarrassed to say it sat in my TBR pile for a year. It wasn't entirely my fault--my eldest started college which I dealt with by re-reading all her favorite YA novels ("Remember reading the last Harry Potter book?" "I remember you wouldn't let me near it until you finished it, Mom, you harpy." "Oh the memories!"), and I got hooked on WORKAHOLICS, which is a terrible American comedy that is my walk of shame. Then I went through a graphic novel phase. (All right: another graphic novel phase. I go through about four a year. Don't judge me.) Then Philippa Gregory's THE WHITE QUEEN hit TV and reminded me how much I loved learning about the House of York, whose tenacity and courage was only exceeded by their inability to not devour each other.
Once the TV show had run its course, I remembered there was another kind of TV: books! And there was SHE-WOLVES, where it had held pride of place on my bookshelf for a year, nestled snugly beside Stephen King's DR. SLEEP and back issues of Fine Cooking magazine (I highly recommend the grilling issue!). When I picked up SHE-WOLVES, I was tempted to start at the end: with Margaret's story, since she was the reason I bought the book in the first place. Then I thought, well, Dr. Castor is probably going somewhere with Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France. (I'm embarrassed to admit I only knew of Eleanor from being played by Glenn Close in a remake, and the only royal Isabella I knew of was Catherine of Aragon's mother, and the only famous Matilda I knew of was from Roald Dahl's book. I've got to stop telling you things I'm embarrassed about. I need to keep my humiliation to myself.) Their stories, I figured, might be relevant to Margaret's, or why else would you include them? On the other hand, why would you do any of the things you do? I don't know you. You could be an enigma. Or a Tory. (They still have those in England, right?) So maybe you had a plan when you included queens who weren't Margaret. Or maybe you didn't. I had nothing to go on, and in the end, I figured if their stories didn't grab me I'd just skip to Margaret.
Which brings me to my increasing book budget, since of course you made Matilda and Eleanor and Isabella pretty much leap off the page (a good trick in those medieval gowns). By the time you got to the White Ship disaster I was hooked--and that was only page 26! Of all the dumb ways for Henry I to lose his heir! The guy conquered Normandy but lost his son when a bunch of drunks tried to steer a ship through a rock, which was probably the twelfth century equivalent of losing your kid to a party bus crash. All that before we even got to Matilda, who proved that her father didn't just pass the badass gene to his son.
And then Eleanor of Aquitaine! History should just rename her Eleanor, Never To Be Messed With, and get it over with. She makes pretty much everyone who wasn't queen of at least two countries look like a slack-ass. Queen of France? Sure, but not enough of a challenge. Also, the king of France was great if you like amiable eunuchs, which she didn't, so buh-bye, King Louis. Queen of England? Sure, why not, she got all her queen practice out of the way in France. Oh, the king of England would like his line to continue? Sure, Eleanor says, here are five sons and three daughters. Go nuts. Eleanor was on board with pretty much everything King Henry II needed done, as long as she didn't have to choose between her sons and her husband. Oh. Whoops. Well, at least she didn't have to pay the price by being imprisoned for over a…oh. Whoops.
But then! Henry, known throughout history as King Grouchypants, was kind enough to die of a fever, leaving his son Richard in charge. King Richard made Son Of The Century by basically saying, "Mom, I gotta go force my religion on people I've never met who've never done me any harm, so: heeeeere's England! Have fun running the place." The Crusade thing was annoying, but as a mom, I appreciated his "no, really, my mom can have whatever she wants, including England, so stop bugging me because I have to go repress another culture" attitude. Eleanor did more in her last decade than I've done in three, which I should resent, but mostly I just admire.
Then: Isabella, married to a paranoid crybaby who held grudges like dragons store treasure, a guy who had no interest in letting his wife into his man cave (figuratively as well as literally). Nightmare. Isabella of France should be studied and admired solely for not strangling Edward II before their first anniversary. I know the movie BRAVEHEART is riddled with inaccuracy, but whenever I picture Edward II, I picture the weasel-face actor who played him, and I just want to punch things. Things like his face. Also, Isabella of France should be renamed Isabella of Awesome. So: Isabella of Awesome got to watch her husband/king do the medieval equivalent of passing notes in class to a guy he had a crush on, except instead of passing notes he was passing tons of land and money and titles. But at least Piers Gaveston, King Weasel-Face's man-crush, was mature and dignified and didn't use his influence to…yeah, I can't finish that sentence without giggling. But then Piers bit the big one, courtesy of the medieval equivalent of high school teachers cracking down on kids passing notes: they ran him through and cut off his head. That would teach King Edward II to pass notes! Except it didn't.
Queen Isabella decided deja vu all over again wasn't acceptable, so she put on the medieval equivalent of big girl panties and deposed King Weasel-Face and arranged a nasty death for Hugh Despenser (or as I call him, Piers Gaveston 2.0), and if she'd stopped there it would have been terrific but if she'd stopped there, she wouldn't be Isabella, Stomper of Weasel-Face. She went too far and had her ass handed to her (politely), but lived to tell the tale. The worst thing I can say about her is that she shouldn't have been surprised to find Edward III was his mother's son.
Finally, the reason I bought your book, Margaret of Anjou. By then, my Amazon wish list had increased by 12 books (damn you, Dr. Castor!) and I hadn't even finished SHE-WOLVES. And yep, by then I'd realized you had a plan when you told Matilda, Eleanor, and Isabella's stories first, because even I, with my American high school education, lack of college, and gross amount of TV watching (Do they have Game of Thrones in England? It's terrific.), could see the parallels in their lives. As a fan of watching medieval royal houses pretty much eat each other, I loved Margaret's story. As a mom, I ached for her when the one time she let her son leave her side and fight, he died. In battle, fighting for his father's crown, if that comforted her. It wouldn't have comforted me, but I wouldn't have lasted a week in any of their courts. There's a reason there isn't a book called SHE-BITCH: Why MaryJanice Davidson Should Never Have Been Allowed To Write.
Which brings me to…well, me. I'm fortunate enough to be published; most of my books are romantic comedy and paranormal chick-lit, and I threw some YA books in there, too, for the heck of it. When I'm on deadline I like to read the opposite of what I'm writing. So I'd ask myself, what is the literary opposite of a fluffy romantic comedy where everything works out perfectly for the feisty heroine…medieval English history! Emphasis on queens in a primitive patriarchy where you could get put to death for picking your nose in church! Where often nothing worked out and if you got a splinter it sometimes killed you! Perfect. Which is how I started with the Tudors and, a decade later, found SHE-WOLVES.
All that to say your book was wonderful and I'm assuming you are, too. I've got BLOOD AND ROSES on the way via Amazon, and I have my fingers crossed you're taking a break from writing another wonderful book to read this. Scratch that: I hope you're taking a break from finishing another wonderful book. Like, reading the galleys finished. It's about to be published finished. Because I'm hooked, and I've got to have more. You showed me an entire area of history I'd willfully ignored for years; I'm kind of hoping you'll be able to teach me trigonometry next. Many, many, many thanks.
UNDEAD AND UNWARY, October 2014