My cover

My cover
Nell and her oranges

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Castles, Customs & Kings Blog Hop!

I had the privilege of being a contributor to the newly-released book Castles, Customs, and Kings, a compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog by more than fifty authors on real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their books. You can buy the book here:

Today, many of these authors are participating in a blog hop, each writing a post related to castles and giving away a historical novel.

My subject today is Codnor Castle in Derbyshire. Bess of Hardwick, one of the most interesting and striking figures of the Tudor era, who ended up the most wealthy and powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth, began life inauspiciously. Her father had died when she was a baby, her mother remarried, and by the time Bess was twelve years old, her stepfather was in debtor's prison and her mother was struggling to raise the five children still at home. The crown had seized control of the estate upon the death of Bess's father, until her brother James came of age. Bess's mother was entitled to a widow's dower of a third of the proceeds from the estate and to lease another third of the land, and she must have despaired of how she could keep from losing the family's property.

One thing she could do was to ensure that her daughters had a chance at a better life, and this she did by sending them off to serve as ladies in waiting in the households of distant relatives who were better off. This was a common way for young people to meet potential mates and influential patrons who would help them rise in the world.

When Bess was about twelve years old, she went to serve Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, at Codnor Castle, about twelve miles from her home at Hardwick. There was probably a fortified on the site soon after the Norman invasion. The Codnor Castle that Bess knew was built in the thirteenth century and was the seat of the powerful De Grey family for about three hundred years, but in the fifteenth century, it passed to the Zouche family through marriage. The castle grew and transformed over the year, and by the time Bess arrived there in about 1539, it no longer served its original purpose as an armed fortress, but it still retained imposing round towers with battlements and a moat. Outbuildings that served the estate such as the brewery, bakery, and dairy no longer had to be within the protective walls of the castle but had spilled outside to the south courtyard.

Bess's mistress Lady Zouche and her husband Sir George Zouche had served in the household of Anne Boleyn before she became queen. They managed to stay in the good graces of King Henry VIII, and in about 1540 Sir George became one of the king's Gentlemen Pensioners, the prestigious few men chosen to guard the king and remain in his company both at court and during his summer progresses around the country. In this position, he would have had to spend much time in London.

Bess's service in the Zouche household certainly set her on the path to success, and in my novel Venus in Winter, based on the first forty years of Bess's long and eventful life, I chose to have Bess accompany the Zouche familiy to London in time for Bess to witness the king's marriage to Anne of Cleves and the resulting upheavals.

Today, Codnor Castle is one of only two castles in Derbyshire retaining its original medieval architecture, thought only ruins are left of the three-story keep, curtain wall, and ditch, flanked by round towers.

Post a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of the mass-market paperback edition of The Darling Strumpet, my five-star rated novel about Nell Gwynn! Tweet or post the link to the post for extra entries! Below are links to some sites with more information about Codnor Castle, and to the other blogs on the blog hop. .