Too much History for Historical Fiction

What does a writer (unpublished) do when told by someone in the publishing industry that although she (the writer) has an impressive knowledge of history, there is far too much of it going on in her Historical Fiction novel?

And – that her Main Character is not famous enough for anyone to EVER be interested in reading her story?

My main character – Marie de Rohan – helped drive a fundamental change in 17th century European history. Her story can’t be told without this ‘history’ aspect. She was interesting enough for Alexandre Dumas to write about her and for Marcel Proust to mention her in his Remembrance of Things Past. Also – Queen Victoria was on the throne when the last major study of her life happened.

Both comments have utterly floored me for a while now. Are these industry wide thoughts?
Is there no room anymore for the new subject – a Scarlett O’Hara rather than sweetie-pie?
No room for the pure, un-PC historical without pages of velvet bodices and excruciating post- Freudian self-examination?

I don’t – I can’t – believe that this is true. Am I wrong? Do you have any thoughts about marquee names and watered down history? Help, please!

Picking myself off the floor now.
I’m stubborn enough to carry on regardless. Just not sure which way to turn!!

Marie de Rohan

So great is the Crowd

As a contrast to the previous post about solitude, here’s a wonderful quote from a dispatch written by the Papal Nuncio Bentivoglio  to Cardinal Borghese. He describes the early 17th century French court…

It is impossible to imagine how great the confusion is at present. They seem fond of a grandeur full of tumult and noise intruding not only in the audience chambers and in public view, but on the King himself. I sometimes despair of being heard, as there is scarce space between my words and the ears of the king, so great is the crowd.’

Court of Louis XIII

Court of Louis XIII

17th Century Gossip Column

from Tallemant, sieur des Réaux 1619-1692…


One of M. d’Orléans’ followers was Sauvage. He was a very agreeable fellow, whose god was his belly. He used to give admirable imitations of the songs of the Pont Neuf.


When Monsieur had gone away to Lorraine, he was anxious to seek him out, and, in order to get hold of boots cheaply, he ordered a pair from each of ten or twelve different shoemakers, giving them different hours to call. To each one he declared that one boot was too tight, and then gave them all one time at which to bring them back. When they came – they found nobody!

From Brussels Sauvage used to send gazettes full of inventions to spike the wheels of Renaudot, whose Gazette de France was beginning to circulate. (1631) The gazette of Sauvage was much more popular than the other. Moreover, for the sake of diversion, he used every day to contrive some imposture or other.

It was he who had engraved the representation of a fish which he styled ‘the Adriatic Carp,’ in the body of which had been found, according to the inscription, I know not how many muskets, halberds, crosses etc. This circulated throughout France.

His last imposture was an edict of the parliament of Grenoble, whereby a certain child was declared legitimate, although the mother confessed that it was conceived during her husband’s absence, on the grounds that it was done by the force of imagination, she thinking that he was living with her. The names were given, and those of the doctor and midwife too.

Plenty of good folk believed it.

It was written in the true style of Grenoble, and the Procurator-General of Paris wrote to that of Grenoble concerning this edict.

The parliament there issued one against the author, whereof the latter only made mock.

In the medical schools the question was debated whether the force of imagination could suffice to produce a conception.

Sometimes Sauvage concocted also satiric gazettes, as that one in which he said: ‘The God of the Charente who appeared to Balzac has arrived here, as little of a God as ever.’

Assassins and the Vatican

In 1604 Denis lebedy de Batilly wrote a 64 page tract titled Traict de l’origine des anciens assasins porte-couteaux. He gave it the subtitle – With examples of their attempts and homicides against certain kings, princes, and lords of Christianity.

The pamphlet was produced in Lyon and gained a wide audience including Camillo Borghese otherwise known as Pope Paul V(1552-1621).

It is said that the passage in the book that this Pope most admired was…

‘Fly from the man who carries the death of kings and princes in his hands.’

Pope Paul V

Pope Paul V

The book was not entirely accurate, historically, but it made certain observations and gave certain revelations which contributed to the knowledge and understanding of assassins to 17th century Europe.

Batilly was one of Henri IV of France and Navarre’s officials and he would have been aware of the attempts made on Henri’s life after he abjured Protestantism to become king of France.

Paris is worth a Mass

Henri IV if France and Navarre

Henri IV of France and Navarre

Henri (husband of Marie de Medici and father of Louis XIII and Henrietta Maria) was certain that, one day, he would be assassinated and took precautions for a time.

But, on 14th May 1610, the king had meetings to attend. He went, despite the fact that an unsealed letter had been found in his rooms – ‘Sire, under no conditions go out this afternoon.’

The story of the assassination of Henri IV is well known. As his coach became caught between a wagon full of hay and one full of buckets in the narrow rue de La Ferronnerie, a man climbed on to the running board and stabbed at the king.

The first strike was to the chest and superficial. The second pierced a lung, cutting the aorta.

It was 4pm, 14th May 1610.

Jean-François Ravaillac, the assassin was caught, brought to the palais de Retz and searched. In his pockets were found eight silver coins, a rosary, a paper with the name Beillard and a strange octagonal piece of parchment with Christ’s name on each side and, in the centre, ‘Prepared for the pain of torment, in God’s name.’

Ravaillac had known associations with the Jesuits, and the Holy Alliance – a secret Vatican agency who employed spies and assassins across Europe.

Pope Paul V held a solemn Mass in the memory of the late King of France . And in secret spaces inside the catacombs of Rome another Mass was said for the Catholic Martyr – Jean François de Ravaillac.

Golden Lilies of France

In French Fleur de Lis means literally ‘lily flower.’

Whilst the lily flower is most often thought of in relation to France , the shape appeared long ago on a cylinder seal of the Pharaoh Rameses III.

It is possible that the emblem came to France through contact with the Saracens of the Middle East and, since its first introduction into Europe, is has been used as a potent symbol of royalty.


The entry of the fleur de lis on the arms of France is miraculous. Legend says that the lily was the emblem of the Virgin who sent her flower by an angel to Clovis, the Frankish king, at his conversion in 493.


The golden lilies on an azure ground came to symbolise all the Christian Frankish Kings, most famously Charlemagne.

In the 12th century, Louis VII (1137-1180) used the lily as an heraldic device on royal seals. He divorced his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who then married Henry II of England and so began the long wars between the two countries for the throne of France.

Louis VIII (1187-1226) formally adopted the device as the arms of France on a shield – azure, semé de lis or – a blue field strewn with golden lilies and the beauty of it tempted Edward III of England so much that he put them in the first quarter of his royal arms.

Arms of Edward III

Arms of Edward III

Edward was entitled, through his mother Isabella of France, to place the fleur de lis with his three lions in the second and third quarters of his shield but instead he placed them in his first and fourth quarters, giving them precedence over the lions of England.

Henry IV

Henry IV

Around 1365, Charles V of France reduced the number of lilies in the French arms to three – to symbolise the Trinity – or maybe to differentiate them from those carried by the English. In this he did not succeed for in 1405 Henry IV of England also reduced the lilies to three in each of the French quarters of the English arms.

It was only on the accession of James VI of Scotland to James I of England that the fleur de lis was diminished as the Royal Arms of Scotland and England merged.

James I

James I

Outside of heraldry, the lily is most often associated with the Madonna and as the attribute of a messenger.

Botticelli - Madonna and Child with Eight Angels

Botticelli - Madonna and Child with Eight Angels