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History Buff is a site for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author

As an historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
large quantity of time searching for news in archaeology and history. Once in a great while a new archaeological discovery will act as an inspiration for what I'm currently writing. But most of the time the news stories I read are simply interesting tidbits of history. Unfortunately, I have disallowed comments because I travel so frequently that I can neither monitor nor respond to them. But I would still love to share the history that I find fascinating each day. So welcome! And feel free to visit my website at or contact me at authormichellemoran at hotmail dot com.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Susan Holloway Scott
French Mistress

* In your latest historical novel, THE FRENCH MISTRESS, a poor young lady from the country arrives at the court of Louis XIV. What are some of the things which would have shocked your protagonist, Louise de Keroualle, upon her arrival?
I’d guess that the hardest thing for Louise to accept about the French royal court would likely have been its patent insincerity. The provincial Keroualles were pious and honorable, and Louise had been raised to be the same. She soon found out that life at Court was all about power, titles, and wealth; without any of them, she was virtually invisible, despite her beauty. Louise realized, too, that a great many unsavory secrets (marital infidelity and abuse, bisexuality, and homosexuality, were only a few that would have shocked a well-bred Catholic girl) hid behind handsome faces and beautiful clothes, and that if she wished to prosper, she must listen, observe, and adapt. In time the hard lessons she learned at Versailles and the Louvre carried her to great success in the English royal court in London.

*What drew you to the courts of King Louis XIV and King Charles II?
Louise de Keroualle’s position was a unique one. Once Charles II had admired Louise in the retinue of his sister, Henriette d’Angleterre, Duchesse d’Orleans, the French king was quick to see an advantage in his English cousin’s desire. Louis swiftly sent Louise to the English court, ostensibly to serve the queen, but really as a “gift” to Charles. Louis hoped the young girl would become a useful agent for France, directing the English king towards French interests by way of the royal bed. While Louise’s influence as a political agent proved limited, her unusual role did earn her the trust and confidences of both kings, and made her keenly observant of both royal courts. I’ve always been fascinated by the many differences between France and England, differences that have led the two countries to war so many times throughout history. For me, Louise became the perfect vehicle for describing this conflict in the late 17th century, and showing the differences between Louis and Charles, their courts, and their cultures. And, more importantly, her life makes such a great, real-life story!

* How much of the novel is based on fact and how much is fiction?
All of the public scenes are historical fact. Royal courts thrive on gossip, and many of the best scandal-mongers of the time, both French and English, kept diaries and wrote letters that have fortunately survived for eager researchers like me. Even the raucous evening where Charles finally claimed Louise’s virginity after a drunken mock-wedding was lasciviously reported by several witnesses. In addition, newspapers and scandal sheets were beginning to raise their tattling heads, and Louise and the king were fair game. As for what exactly took place when the palace doors were shut and Louise and Charles were alone together –– that’s where my imagination took over. It’s an educated imagination, well-stocked with a great many facts from my research, but it’s still imagination. Which is why I write historical fiction rather than history.

* Tell us something surprising about women in 17th century France.
In London, the women involved in Charles’s extramarital intrigues were generally regarded as the king’s whores. No words were minced, not even if the lady were beautiful, rich, and raised to the peerage. Across the Channel in the French court, however, Louis’s chosen mistress was given the official title of maîtresse-en-titre. It was publicly considered a great honor (though likely the catty whispers were less kind), a way of serving king and country, and was rewarded with respect, regard, great wealth, and lavish apartments in the palace. As one court hanger-on declared, “Every [French] woman was born with the ambition to become the King’s favorite.”

* What are you working on next?
My next heroine has already made her appearance in The King’s Favorite as a ten-year-old girl, dancing jigs in the moonlight with Nell Gwyn. Catherine Sedley was the only daughter and heiress to the libertine poet Sir Charles Sedley, and grew into one of the most scandalous ladies of her time. Though her fortune made her much desired as a bride, she refused to marry and let any man take control of her life. Instead she remained independent, becoming mistress to a king, wife to a general, and a countess in her own right, keeping her place at the English court for nearly forty years and through five monarchs. Look for Catherine’s story next summer in The Countess and the King.

Thank you, Susan! And feel free to visit Susan Holloway Scott online for more information about her amazing new novel THE FRENCH MISTRESS.