March 24, 2014

Speaking for the Silent: Medieval Women in Historical Fiction

by Christy English

Who on Earth is Princess Alais?
This is the question that I was often asked as I was writing my first novel THE QUEEN'S PAWN. Unless someone had watched The Lion in Winter, the 1968 film about Henry and Eleanor fighting it out, using their sons as pawns, no one would ever have heard of the young French princess who was one of the volatile king and queen's many game pieces. Princess Alais is Henry's lover in the film, but she has very few scenes, and is something of a nonentity. When I saw the film in high school, I was more interested in how Alais was used on the chess board of Henry/Eleanor's political moves, and barely noticed she was a person at all.
Until the character showed up in my head one day while I was on my way to the subway, and changed my world.
Her voice was very quiet. I almost didn't hear it over the screech of the train stopping in the station. If I had not been desperate for a new idea to offer my agent, I might not have heard her at all.
            "Do you remember the French princess in the Lion in Winter? Would you like to hear her side of the story?"
            With those two questions, I was hooked, and set out on a two year odyssey to give Alais a voice.
Princess Alais is not famous. Save for her run in with Henry II, she might not have been remembered at all. Her birthday is only known because it was the day her mother died, a situation which forced her father, Louis VII to marry for a new queen a bare three months later. For Louis had only girls, Alais included, and no woman was strong enough to hold the throne of France.
In my novel, Alais is taken under the wing of Queen Eleanor and ends up taking some outrageous political actions of her own. I loved watching her maneuver and plot among the Plantagenets, all of whom far outmatched her in cunning and venom. She comes away from her time at King Henry's court wounded, but whole. It seems that in giving Princess Alais a fictional voice, I also gave her the opportunity to make some political waves of her own.
            The historical Alais was sent away from Paris at the age of nine to become the betrothed of Henry and Eleanor's younger son, Prince Richard. No doubt, history would have been reminded of her existence if the famous Richard had married her, but once she was used as a mistress by his father, Richard would not think of holding to the betrothal. Alais was left to rot in a nunnery from the age of 16 until she turned 35, and Richard, fresh from his time as a prisoner in Germany, finally saw fit to let her go.
            Alais went home and married at her brother's bidding, and ended up having at least two children, one of whom, a daughter named Mary, inherited the County of Ponthieu. We do not know if Alais' later life was a happy one, but I hope it was. I hope she found love, and joy, and peace in abundance, far from the madness of political machinations, tucked safe at last among people who loved her.

Author Bio:
Christy English is happiest when she is dreaming. Her dreams have taken her to the royal court of Henry II in THE QUEEN’S PAWN, to medieval Paris in TO BE QUEEN, and now to Regency England in MUCH ADO ABOUT JACK, LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT, and HOW TO TAME A WILFULL WIFE, where she loves to watch her characters find true love, often in spite of themselves. Please visit her on her blog , on Twitter , or on Facebook

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