Wednesday, September 01, 2010

HFBRT Guest Post by Susan Holloway Scott "THE COUNTESS AND THE KING"

Announcing the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table event for September, please give a warm welcome to the wonderfully exciting Susan Holloway Scott to Historically Obsessed.  Susan has graciously written an amazing guest post on the new leading lady of her upcoming release "The Countess and the King" which will be available everywhere September 7th. "The Countess and the King" is this months feature for the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table so be sure to check out the group site and other members sites also for other cool posts, giveaways, and much more. Thank you Susan for paying a visit and enlightening us on Katherine Sedley, we are all in high anticipation of the release. With out further adieu please take it away Susan.

Introducing Katherine Sedley, 
Countess of Dorchester
By Susan Holloway Scott

At first glance, Katherine Sedley (1657-1717) doesn’t seem like heroine material. In most English history books, she’s not mentioned at all, and even in histories that concentrate on the Restoration (1660-1685), she’ll merit just a footnote if she’s lucky. She didn’t come from a stellar royal family, or one with notable talent or power. She wasn’t a great beauty, or a queen or princess who changed the course of history.  

Yet still I made Katherine Sedley the heroine of my new historical novel, The Countess & the King, and in the perverse ways of writing, all those reasons why Katherine shouldn’t merit a book turned out to be exactly the same reasons why she made for such a wonderfully contradictory heroine.  Katherine was always unpredictable, and always determined to go her own way – not something most 17th c. English ladies would dare to do. 

Katherine was born the only child of privelged teenaged parents who weren’t much more than children themselves. In another time period, their families would have likely exerted a steadying influence, and seen that the young family followed a responsible path through life. But Katherine was born just before the grim Puritan ways of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate were replaced by the much merrier ones of Charles II, restored at last to his throne. With the king’s return, wealthy young aristocrats like the Sedleys flocked to join the free-wheeling court. 

Respectability was out of fashion; exuberant excess was the new style, and young Sir Charles became a well-known libertine, famous for drunken debauchery. His young wife, however, remained at home, sinking deep into madness. Against such a background, Katherine’s upbringing reads like something from a modern tabloid. Her father treated her more like an amusing pet than a daughter, taking her with him to playhouses and taverns and introducing her to his notorious friends. She was both adored and spoiled, and learned how to drink, swear, and tell off-color jokes, and was equally comfortable with actresses like Nell Gwyn and with the king himself.  With such connections, and as the heiress to her father’s large fortune, Katherine should have been primed for a splendid dynastic marriage. 
 Except, however, for a few sizable stumbling-blocks. First, Katherine was considered shamefully plain. In a court that prized languid, voluptuous beauties, she was pale, thin, and angular, with heavy brows and a wide mouth.  She was also intelligent, her wit quick and sharp. (Her first portrait, by Sir Peter Lely, shows how she didn’t fit the fashionable ideal, yet still captures the sense that she was a lot of fun.) Most of all, she had no wish to wed and give control of her life to a husband. From her own mother to the queen herself, the court was full of neglected, lonely wives, and Katherine was far too independent for that. She had her own fortune, and was determined to choose her own loves.  The first two men she gave her heart to very nearly broke it, choosing prettier women to wed instead, and another who she rejected proved to be a fearsome enemy at court. 
But finally Katherine found a man who appreciated her: James Stuart, Duke of York, and heir to the throne of England. Katherine didn’t care that James was married, or that he was much older, or that the rest of the court regarded him as a poor second in comparison to his brother the king. James found her witty and outrageously amusing and beautiful, and Katherine gleefully gave herself over to the role of a royal mistress. Her portrait by Godfrey Kneller from this time shows her unadorned elegance, her expression seemingly bemused by her good fortune. 
Even as a prince’s mistress, Katherine couldn’t be conventional. She delighted in the scandal she caused, enjoying every moment of it. But the carefree days were short-lived. James had always been a polarizing figure at court, and before long his religious beliefs made him a politically dangerous one as well. Katherine was thrust into the intrigue, torn between her royal lover and England itself, and her cleverness was valuable not for amusement, but for survival. When Charles suddenly died and James became king, Katherine’s position at court grew all the more perilous. The last portrait, by the studio of Godrey Kneller, shows her soon after James has been crowned, and after he has made her Countess of Dorchester. Formally posed on the edge of a gilded bed, lifting aside the bed curtain in a royal mistress’s welcome, her earlier merriment has vanished. Instead she appears reserved and self-contained, as if she already knows the difficult choice before her, a choice that will determine both her fate, and that of The Countess and the King 

Here’s a link to an excerpt from The Countess and the King on my website. I hope you’ll also stop by my blog with fellow author Loretta Chase, where we discuss history, writing, and yes, even the occasional pair of great shoes: Two Nerdy History Girls

Many thanks to Lizzy for having me here today!

Thank you Susan it has been a pleasure and I look forward to seeing what the event holds in store for "The Countess and the King".
Amazon Links
The Countess and the King: A Novel of the Countess of Dorchester and King James II
The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth and King Charles II
Royal Harlot: A Novel of the Countess Castlemaine and King Charles II
The King's Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II
Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill
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  1. I'm sold -- she does sound like a great figure for a novel. I can't wait to read this one. I'm curious -- is the portrait featured on the book cover of her? She's very striking looking!

  2. Thank you, that was fascinating and she is someone I was not aware of.

  3. I am almost finished with the book and am loving it!
    Thanks for your guest post. I like knowing your thoughts about Katherine as I read your novel.
    I will post my review on my blog next week.

  4. Over at the main page for the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table, there was a comment wondering how, based on Katherine's portrait, she could have been considered plain. Since there are two more portraits here, I thought I'd answer here, too - and besides, Lizzy and I have discussed this via email! :)

    I don't think that ultimately Katherine was that plain; I think she simply had the misfortune to have been born in the wrong time period for her looks. The 1670s ideal was Charles II's mistress, Louise de Keroualle, famous for her plumpness, her baby face, her rosebud mouth and sleepy eyes. Here's a portrait of her:

    By comparison, the descriptions of Katherine stress her long legs, her wide dark eyes and strong brows, her cheekbones and wide, full mouth. Worst of all, apparently, was that she was so unfashionably thin that her collarbones showed! As Lizzy said, her description makes her sound like a 17th c. Angelina Jolie.

    I also suspect the unspoken part of the criticism was that Katherine was smart, and not afraid to show it. In her portraits, she LOOKS smart - and probably threatening to gentlemen accustomed to Louise's passively sweet looks.

    But some things don't change. My publisher dismissed these portraits of Katherine as being too plain to sell books, and put another lady's portrait on the cover. Poor Katherine! Three hundred years later and she's still being dissed!

  5. Wonderful post! Katherine truly lived a life that not many women had the chance to (and I'm not too sure that many would have taken that chance either). She was a blast to read about!

  6. Audra, I wish it was her on the cover but sadly it is not Susan graciously covers that in her comment because it was one of the first things I asked her about the cover. I love the cover of this one it is so so so pretty and I have the final copy and it is a jewel of a book to hold in your hands. Well worth the money to purchase new.

    Pricilla, I was unaware of her too but I think I kind of figured the spiritual Duke of York was a goody goody when it came to morality and did not have a mistress. I am impressed with Susan giving Katherine her voice.

    Kathy, right on it does make for excellent reading, I hope you love it like I did.

    Susan, so nice to have you visit! I am heading to the HFBRT site after I finish up here. I still stand by my first initial feelings on Katherine I think she was beautiful but a had looks ahead of her times. I enjoyed this books so much more because she was different from the rest and it made her more real to me because her life was not perfect. Sounds like she fits in with my first lovely leading lady Anne Boleyn, smart and a unconventional beauty, it is the ones you never expect you have to watch out for. I agree poor Katherine she deserved her moment in the sunlight. Thank you for the wonderful piece Susan it was lovely to share, as always it has been a pleasure.

    Dolleygurl, I loved Katherine too she really is someone I could relate to because in reality I too have a foul mouth and a quick wit to catch people on. She was ornery and I like ornery a lot.

  7. Susan, just got an e-mail confirmation that my copy of COUNTESS is on its way to my house. I'll be dropping everything to read it. :)

  8. Hehe Christine, I know you will love it! It is worth dropping everything.

  9. Oh I cannot believe they put another lady's image on the cover...I didn't realize it until you said something, Susan.

    She's lovely enough based on today's standards, and looking at portraits from this time period I have noticed that they all seem to look alike - features, dress and even body type.

  10. Areligh, you are right to me the other ones all look alike but Katherine stands out to me I love the second picture of her she is lovely there.

  11. It is wonderful that you were able to find such an interesting person and rescue her from obscurity. She sounds like a very different person and I look forward to reading about her.

  12. Librarypat, I have to second your statement. That logic is my exact reason I love HF so so dearly. I love it when an author like Susan can dig deep and really portray a heroine in realistic light. I love it when the heroines are not perfect it makes it much more real to me because I know for dang sure I am not perfect either.


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