I’d like to welcome Judith Arnopp, to the blog who has written many a grand story about Medieval women. Here she talks about what drew her to her characters.
The Women in my Fiction
I started writing Peaceweaver about fifteen years ago, at a time when strong female leads were few and far between in the historical fiction genre. The motivation to write both Peaceweaver and The Forest Dwellers was to illustrate historical events from a woman’s perspective, something that continues to inspire my writing today.
Eadgyth is barely mentioned on the historical record but we know she was queen to both Gruffydd ap Llewelyn of Wales and Harold II of England. It is likely she played a traditional domestic female role. Although some women in history led men into battle, few actually fought, most remained at home, ‘holding the fort’ so to speak. There are even instances where a queen stepped in as regent and governed the country in the king’s absence. Unfortunately, even when women assumed a greater role they were often side-lined by chroniclers, even those like Aethelflaed who defended her lands during the Viking incursions and influenced the shaping the country.
In the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings, Eadgyth played a key part in events, both marriages sealing a political treaty between her father, Earl Aelfgar of Mercia and Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, and later between her brothers, Morcar and Edwin, and Harold Godwinson. She could easily be written off as a pawn but I think to do so would denigrate the female role, which although different to that of her male counterpart, was equally vital.
Endurance requires a great deal of courage. To travel as a child into a foreign land where few people speak your language also requires courage. To bind yourself in marriage to a man you’ve been raised to despise, to share his bed and bear his children is little short of valiant. Medieval childbirth in itself was as risky as riding into battle yet women are given little credit for it. Then, as now, children of the period were loved and valued; think of the angst we experience when our teenagers leave home for university, and then imagine the terror of negotiating them through pestilence, war and politics (unfortunately, thinking about it, many people still know that pain today). The majority of our children reach adulthood but in the 11th century child mortality was unimaginably high and death is never easier because it is commonplace
In Peaceweaver, Eadgyth begins her journey as a spoilt twelve year old sent into the wilds of Wales (and it was pretty wild then) to marry her father’s former enemy, Gruffydd ap Llewellyn who was then the leader of all Wales. She is head strong and unlikeable but as the story unfolds she matures into a brave and intelligent woman. She ends the story as a twenty four year old mother to five children, widow of the recently defeated King of England, Harold II. Defeated, dispossessed and desperate to escape the clutches of the Norman king she goes into hiding but she doesn’t give up. She has sons to defend, boys to shape into warriors who will continue the fight in their father(s) names. I see nothing of the pawn in Eadgyth at all.
This theme of resilience persists through all my books. The Forest Dwellers follows several women through the minefield of early Norman rule; Aelf utilises the skill of the bow while Alys employs different, more feminine means but both require intelligence and subtlety. Often, my protagonists find themselves disempowered but they all endure, and ultimately all wield real power, utilising diplomacy and stealth rather than a sword. Before her fall, Anne Boleyn employs her sharp wit and intelligence to manipulate Henry VIII; Katheryn Parr withstands the last years of Henry’s reign, like her predecessor Catherine of Aragon, standing regent over England and running the country efficiently while he embarks on an expensive and misguided war with France. After the defeat of her house, Elizabeth of York puts aside inbred prejudice to blend her blood with that of Tudor to create the new dynasty. And you can be sure Margaret Beaufort never picked up a sword in her life but I’d defy anyone to stand before her and denigrate her influence on English history.
The male role is not and has never been superior to the female. Deny it all they like, masculine strength and valour depended on the foundation of strength and resilience provided by their wives and mothers.
When Judith Arnopp began to write professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.
Sisters of Arden
The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers
Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines.
For more information:
Author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks