Monday, December 24, 2007

Call it the Royal "WeTube"

"Her Majesty never changes--she adapts," said a Buckingham Palace commenter on CNN this morning, in reference to Queen Elizabeth II's announcement of The Royal Channel on YouTube, from now on, the go-to location for all things royal.

Her Majesty's official site currently boasts a number of video clips, including her coronation and rare silent footage from the 1927 royal marriage of the queen's parents, the Duke of York (and future George VI) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

This year, the 81-year-old monarch will wed tradition with technology as her fiftieth annual Christmas broadcast will be viewable on The Royal Channel's YouTube url.

Happy Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Well done, Your Majesty!

Not an affair to remember in the annals of British royal history -- but certainly a date to remember.

As of this morning, Queen Elizabeth II, who was born on April 21, 1926, has surpassed Queen Victoria as Britian's oldest reigning monarch. Victoria was 81 years, 7 months and 29 days old when she died on January 22, 1901. She had ruled for sixty-three years, seven months, and two days.

Elizabeth I

True, Victoria ruled for more years than Elizabeth II has (to date), and has an entire era named for her (the Elizabethan era is of course named for Elizabeth I (1533-1603), but her reigning majesty's milestone should be recognized nonetheless.

Elizabeth II ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952. Since her mother lived to be 101, it's quite possible she may outlast her heir apparent, Prince Charles, who will turn 60 next November 14. And if Charles is still Prince of Wales on that date, he will have surpassed Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir, the future Edward VII, who was 59 years old when he finally became king.

Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, there have only been a handful of queens regnant (queens who rule in their own right, as opposed to being the consort of a king--a "queen-consort" through her marriage to him).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833) by 19th c. French romantic painter Paul Delaroche

The teenage Lady Jane Grey (known as the "Nine Days' Queen") was never crowned, but ostensibly ruled England in the brief window of time between July 10-19, 1553, as the puppet of a conspiracy to keep a Protestant on the throne and prevent the Catholic Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, from ascending the throne. The hapless Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, was judicially executed within the precincts of the Tower of London on April 12, 1554.

Mary I

Elizabeth I's older half-sister, Mary, ruled England as Mary I from 1553-1558. Mary earned her nickname "Bloody Mary" for the numerous executions of Protestants. carried out in her name.

Elizabeth I acceeded to the throne on Mary's death, and it was not until 1689, after the successful "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 led to James II's abandonment of his throne and the coronation of William III of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart (James II's elder daughter) that England saw a regnant queen once more. William and Mary (she was Mary II) ruled jointly, although they had both taken a parliamentary oath swearing that William would be the primary ruler.

Mary II

However, William was a warrior-king and during the spring and summer months when he was out of the country on military campaigns, Mary was fully in charge of the kingdom and rose to the occasion. She died in 1694 and William continued to rule alone until his death in 1702.

Queen Anne

William's successor was his wife's younger sister, Anne, under whose reign England and Scotland were united, thereby becoming the first monarch of Great Britain.

After Anne, there was not another regnant queen until the barely eighteen-year-old Victoria acceded to the throne in 1837, on the death of her uncle, William IV.

So, here's to Queen Elizabeth II, the second longest serving head of state in the world after King Bhumibol of Thailand. Her reign has seen 11 prime ministers, starting with Sir Winston Churchill. Long may she reign over us (well, them). God save the queen.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The High Cost of Being Camilla

I woke up this morning to a news item (if one can really call it news) on my AOL home screen, which broke down the annual cost of maintaining the makeover responsible for turning the Duchess of Cornwall from Barbour Shop belle into Belle of the Ball. Relying on an article published on December 9, 2007, in the online edition of The Sunday Times [of London], the AOL article breaks down the cost of hair, makeup, wardrobe, jewels, and of course her Philip Treacy hats (among other items, such as facials and lunches).

The grand tally came to £507,321.58. Since the pound is running a few cents higher than $2 these days--you do the math.

Gee, my hairdresser and colorist (did I say colorist?) would be so delighted if I spent $60K a year at their salon. The owner would surely give me an even bigger smile when he sees me check in. Evidently she gets a blow-out every day. With all that concentrated heat, she'll need some heavy duty conditioning to prevent her straw-colored hair from feeling like it. And I wonder how much a Philip Treacy hat goes for on ebay?

But now that the flower girl has been successfully passed off as a Duchess, thanks to a bevy of Henry Higgginsesque beauty experts and fashion emporia from Mayfair and Kensington, has she found more favor in the public's eyes?

Speaking of concentrated heat, Camilla is still feeling it from the unwashed masses. Some of the public responses posted after the AOL story include:

"You can dress the woman in the finest clothing money can buy....but underneath she's still the whore Charles cheated on Diana with."

And "I'm very surprised that it didn't cost far far more to makeover this thoroughly ruthless, cruel and unkind woman. What the aged Camilla Parker-Bowles looks like now is irrelevant. She remains what she is - the implacably ruthless woman who demeaned her own husband and family and children; who destroyed young Diana's marriage and family; who kept poor weak Charles on a leash; and who is now delighting in her undeserved media fame as she (isn't this true?) dances on Diana's grave. "

Then there were the kinder comments--the ones that merely mentioned that she looks like a drag queen. Care to weigh in, Lypsinka or Hedda Lettuce?

Drag queen Hedda Lettuce (infinitely more glamourous than Camilla)

But there were also some comments from those who have clearly not put their penny in the Princess Diana Canonization Fund boxes: "Diana knew that Charles loves Camilla. Camilla helped pick Diana out. It was arranged. She married her anyway because she wanted to be Princess. Not to mention she admitted throwing herself down the stairs when she was Pregnant. It is wonderful that Charles got to married her true love, and didn't just marry somebody because of some silly rule that you had to marry a virgin."

So, how do you feel about Camilla? Ruthless hussy, or patient Griselda? Do you blame her for wrecking Prince Charles's marriage to Diana?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Magna Carta ... Going once... going twice...

It's not a royal affair per se, but it is a royal shame: the mother-document of English Common Law is going up for auction.

The only privately-owned copy of the Magna Carta in the United States is on the block. My husband and I had the privilege of seeing it last June on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. -- which is where it belongs -- just steps away from the original manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. Who knew the Magna Carta only had a temporary visa?

Billionaire pie-chart magnate Ross Perot, who owns it, has decided he doesn't have enough money already and the law is for sale. Come to think of it, many people think that's business as usual in the U.S. Capital. So, on behalf of the Ross Perot Foundation, which bought it in 1983 for $1.5 million, Sotheby's is holding an auction on December 18, 2007.

King John (b. 1166. Ruled England 1199-1216)
The Magna Carta was the birth of the concept that nobody - including the king - was above the law, and that a fair trial was a right of all. The document was first written in 1215. King John (the wicked king of Robin Hood legend) was on the throne, and yes, he was quite the bully. His barons didn't appreciate such autocracy, however, and at the risk of losing his throne in a civil uprising, King John signed the document in a convocation held at Runnymeade in 1215.

Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements among Pope Innocent III, King John and the English barons about the rights of the King. Magna Carta required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the king's subjects, whether free or fettered — most notably the right of Habeas Corpus, meaning that they had rights against unlawful imprisonment.The document was revised throughout the 13th century. It wasn't confirmed as English law until 1297, when it was signed by King Edward I (the wicked king of William Wallace ["Braveheart"] legend). Of 17 copies of the Magna Carta that still exist, all but this one are publicly owned. The only other copy outside England is on show in Australia's Parliament.

Edward I (b. 1239. Ruled England 1272-1307)

With only two small holes in the animal skin it was written on, what is now being referred to as "Sotheby's Magna Carta" is considered in great condition. The Perot/Sotheby's copy, 2500 Latin words long, was written in 1297. This copy is signed by Edward I, known as "Edward the Lawgiver," the reigning king at the time.

Sotheby's expects the Perot Magna Carta to fetch at least $30 million. So you CAN put a price on the law!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Researching and Writing Historical Nonfiction

Nell Gwyn (or is it Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine?) with one of her her royal bastards by Charles II

My first book as a newlywed is all about adultery. I should qualify that by explaining that my first work of nonfiction (as a newlywed) is all about adultery.

Actually, as a novelist, by the time that ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy hits the bookshelves on June 3, 2008, I will have seven works of contemporary fiction published under my name and four published works of historical fiction under my pen name for that genre, Amanda Elyot.

I spent the spring, summer, and autumn of 2007 as a fly on the wall in the glittering, debauched court of King Charles II, cavorting with Windsor and Wallis, and with Charles and Camilla, with The Fair Rosamund, and with The Jersey Lillie. For most of August, I climbed into bed with the Tudors .
NAL, my (Amanda's actually) historical fiction publishers have afforded me the opportunity to flex my authorly muscles, with my first non-fiction contract.

Writing ROYAL AFFAIRS has been, and continues to be, as I deliver the revisions, a daunting task, made no less scary by a tight deadline, a mandated page count, and the vast amount of research necessary to do the job.

Nearly every morning since the middle of May, I shuffled from my bedroom to my home office and glanced (and sometimes glared) at the piles of books on and around my desk and wonder how the heck I’m going to do this job to my own demanding standards.

My initial thoughts as I sat down to structure the volume were: given the parameters of the contract, how do I deliver 50-plus entries with (doing the math) a proscribed page count for each entry, when there’s often so much juicy information about these royals and their paramours? How do I decide what to keep and what to (very reluctantly) omit because of time and space issues? How do I deliver a delicious-but-nutritious bit of amorous history, full of flavor and spice, in an appetizer-sized portion? And most importantly—how do I get it right? And what if there’s just no “there” there?

My publisher asked for a table of contents before I began my research in earnest, so I pulled together a list of more than fifty affairs. I reminded them that the list was just a draft because my research might uncover some juicy liaisons I hadn’t previously known about (and therefore weren’t listed in that table of contents). Conversely, I cautioned that I might have to scrap some of the relationships if I just couldn’t find any legitimate sources to confirm them.

Richard I

The love life of Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionhearted, was one such case in point. He may, or may not, have had a passionate relationship with King Philip II of France. I added Richard to the table of contents based on scenes from the film The Lion in Winter, and from historical tidbits I have read for years about Richard’s homosexuality. This is not what is considered legitimate research!

I'll be blogging about the Hollywood versions of some of these libidinous royals as time goes on. Suffice it to say that their celluloid counterparts tend to be anywhere from mildly inaccurate to wildly inaccurate!

So far, I have not found a single credible source (though I keep looking) to substantiate the supposition, other than a lone paragraph written by a medieval historian, which can be parsed to suggest that Richard and Phillip were lovers, but is more easily explained by many other historians as exemplary of the customs of the day between two monarchs demonstrating their d├ętente. And the rest of their story—political adversaries during the bloody and brutal Third Crusade—does nothing to suggest that the two of them shared a romantic backstory. Yet, history is colored by the times; no one in 1199 was about to eulogize their late king as a great gay warrior. Yet a historian looking back from 1999 might have an agenda they want to promote, and consequently will look for, and manipulate, what little facts exist in order to support the tale they wish to tell.

Well, obviously, a non-fiction book cannot be written based on scenes from a movie, or chapters of historical fiction. So, after giving myself a good amount of time to look for it, I found no solid academic justification for an affair, and jettisoned the entry from the Table of Contents.

In historical fiction we have the privilege and the joy of making things up, of filling in the gaps in a person’s life story with colorful scenes of “what if?” We are novelists, not historians, who bring our own prejudices to the narrative and put our own spin on it. In fiction, when we choose to illuminate the lives of characters whom history has judged more harshly than we do, we give them vulnerable warm and fuzzies, so that readers will feel for them. You don’t get to do that in non-fiction.

What I’m getting to is, I can’t make stuff up. Obviously. And yet that’s one problem I have encountered in the numerous research books and biographies I have been poring over, and will continue to plough through: how do I know they’ve got it right? We all know that internet research is dodgy. In this most democratic arena, anyone can post something, regardless of their credentials, and very often the information is not entirely bona fide. If a date is wrong, is it because of bad research, or is it a typo that no one bothered to catch? Online, there’s an abundance of blatantly incorrect information slyly masquerading as truth.

As I did my research, I was never confident of what was accurate unless I checked several sources. Given my short deadline for ROYAL AFFAIRS, I resorted to internet research, but only as a backup for vetted and published works of non-fiction.

Yet, who vetted the books I was poring over? Academics, journalists, novelists—suddenly all of these people are considered historians because they have a non-fiction work on the bookshelves. How good is their research? Editors and copyeditors are supposed to make the manuscript read well; it’s not in their job description to make sure the author got it right. Chances are, no one reviewed the manuscript as a fact-checker, unless the book is a published version of someone’s PhD thesis, where the candidate was severely grilled by a committee. And how am I to know that the research done by these so-called scholars is impeccable? How do I prevent myself from regurgitating “bad history” in my own book?

Among the pile of books on my desk was a book about European royal scandals. This one is now collecting dust because I’m afraid of using it any more, wondering what else the author got wrong. Here’s why: as soon as I got the volume, I turned to the alphabetical index at the back of the book and looked for the name of someone I “knew.”

In the course of my research for my next historical novel, ALL FOR LOVE (to be published by NAL on Feb. 5, 2008), I spent more than two years with the 18th-century actress and royal mistress (and oh-so much more than that) Mary Robinson. I’ve read at least a half dozen biographies of her, including her own memoirs. The author of the non-fiction book I refer to in this paragraph gave Mary Robinson a child by the Prince of Wales!

Well! That just didn’t happen! And it’s not even a tiny gaffe on the part of the writer—it’s an egregious error of fact. So, because I’m not an expert on the lives of the other people discussed in that book, how do I know that anything else in it is valid research bolstered by solid facts? I don’t, unless I review several other sources and get a concurrence. I just have to do the best I can, and promise my readers that I am doing my due diligence—all within the time frame I have been given to write the book.

My goal is to make it juicy and racy, informative and entertaining--and as right as I can get it.