108th Birthday: Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert

plaidyarticlesept1Each year on September 1st I endeavor to write a post, a review or some other type of remembrance for Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert’s day of birth, September 1st, however this year–though I’ve had some ideas rolling around–I’ve not had the time to execute a well-written piece. Since joining the Historical Novel Society editing team in June, I’ve had to spend most of my free time learning the ropes and committing to a schedule, which is not an easy feat with a full-time job and two kids now in school. My review schedule has also been filled as I am trying to make sure all of my books get coverage. And so, today’s post will be a simple update on my Jean Plaidy World over the past year (and Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, Eleanor Burford, Kathleen Kellow, Elbur Ford, Anna Percival and Ellalice Tate).

Books reads since last year include The Prince and the Quakeress (Plaidy), Daughters of England (Carr), Perdita’s Prince (Plaidy), and Louis the Well-Beloved (Plaidy). I am amazed (and saddened) that I have only read four, but reading my own books has always been a challenge since I started reviewing. My goal for the next year is to read a more diverse selection of her pseudonyms, as I truly enjoyed the Carr book and I have several rare books from her early writing career I’m itching to read.

REVIEWS THIS YEAR:
The Prince and the Quakeress
Daughters of England
Louis the Well-Beloved
Perdita’s Prince

ARTICLES THIS YEAR:
Mistress of Mellyn, Ladies Home Journal (April 1960)
Myself My Enemy or Loyal in Love
Eleanor Hibbert: Letter About Jane Shore in The Goldsmith’s Wife
Daughters of England by Philippa Carr: The Last Book Penned Before the Author’s Death
The Italian Woman: Author’s Note

Over the past year I have found a few items for my collection, the most exciting being a copy of Book Collector magazine with a multi-page article. It can be seen in detail here. I also came across new articles and photos online, including the one posted with this article.

The best remembrance I can offer my favorite author is to continue reading, reviewing and sharing her works. There was a recent inexplicable influx of “likes” on the Royal Intrigue Facebook page and I continue to search and share rare finds and great deals on books, autographs and memorabilia. Please join us on the FB page if you’ve not done so!

On this 108th birthday, I’d like to post a few quotes from the Book Collector article:

“It’s nicer to be read than to get nice reviews.”

“I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born and raised in London, and to have had on my doorstep this most fascinating of cities with so many relics of 2,000 years of history still to be found in the streets. One of my greatest pleasures was, and still is, exploring London. Circumstances arose which brought my school life to an abrupt termination, and I went hastily to a business college where I studied shorthand, typewriting and languages. And so I had to set about the business of earning a living.

For the next two or three years I filled many posts. I have handled unique opals and pearls of great price in Hatton Garden, and was once engaged as an interpreter to French and German patrons of a city cafe, where, luckily for me, no Germans ever came, and the French who did were very gallant.”

“I found that married life gave me the necessary freedom to follow an ambition which had been with me since childhood; and so I started to write in earnest.”

“I love my work so much that nothing would stop me writing. If I take even a week’s break, I just feel miserable. It’s like a drug.”

review: Rochester, the Mad Earl by Kathleen Kellow

rochestermadearlRochester, the Mad Earl

by Kathleen Kellow

The adventures and exploits of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, are resurrected in this 1957 novel by Jean Plaidy, under one of her lesser-known pseudonyms—Kathleen Kellow.

Rochester’s father, Henry Wilmot, was responsible for cutting the Roundhead-pursued Charles II’s curls, helping him escape the country incognito during Cromwell’s rule. The 1st Earl of Rochester was steadfast by his side, while his wife ran a Puritan household in order to hang on to some family assets. Though he died before Charles was restored to the throne, the King did not forget the man who shared his impoverished exile.

Rochester, true to the Royalist cause, came of age just as the King returned to England, and thus was rewarded with the King’s friendship. Being handsome, of clever wit and sparkling intelligence, Rochester quickly became a favorite in the court circles and set out to marry an heiress. His courtship and attempted abduction of Elizabeth Malet is an unexpected humorous love story. ‘Bessie’ is herself a smart and level-headed young woman, who truly stole Rochester’s heart even while it seemed to others he courted her vast fortune.

Though he seemingly had it all—youth, talent, a title, money and the King’s ear—Rochester’s inner demons were continually at the forefront of his mind. Shakespeare held the standard for him, and he wished to be immortalized in verse—but he couldn’t keep cynicism and barbs toward others from his writing. He is best known for scurrilous poems about fellow courtiers and the King (who amusingly accepted the true enough quips).

Perhaps most scandalous were the outrageous pranks he pulled: setting himself up as a quack doctor, disguised and diagnosing ills of the court, being a landlord of an inn with Buckingham, dressing as beggars and commoners (even with the King in tow). His driving ambition to become a great in the theater world had him searching for an actress to support. He found both Sarah Cooke and Elizabeth Barry, though neither paved his way to fame, and he was never considered a serious asset to the playwrights, other than a wealthy patron.

Rochester’s insistence on logical thinking, sparked by studying the writings of Thomas Hobbes, formed his mind against religion—and this is something he battled throughout his life. He was always questioning the meaning of life and the existence of an afterlife. He welcomed all experiences to further his understanding of the world—one can see why he succumbed to wine and debauchery, for he felt that if a person is only to have the present life, he must live it to the fullest.

Having read many, many novels by the author, I assumed her writing style would be similar with this book from her early career, but it read more clearly and without so many of the obscure ‘Plaidy words’ you find in her subsequent works. Her attention to detail and infallible historical accuracy is prevalent as ever, and I really enjoyed this reimagining of the life of such an intriguing Restoration character. Rochester has always interested me in other novels of the era, and I believe Plaidy went above and beyond in recreating an honest and admirable protagonist.

review: Louis the Well-Beloved

louisLouis the Well-Beloved
by Jean Plaidy

First in the French Revolution trilogy, followed by
The Road to Compiegne and Flaunting Extravagant Queen

Louis XV, the Well-Beloved, became the King of France at the age of five, upon the death of his great-grandfather, The Sun King, Louis XIV. Raised by a set of serious-minded tutors, Louis started as a solemn child with much promise, but developed a fierce revulsion to uneasy situations, and so allowed his ministers to rule while he enjoyed pleasurable pursuits. This the people forgave him in his youth, but as the years passed, and his mistresses became more demanding, the songs and pamphlets began and a dissension, the precursor to the French Revolution, started to brew in Paris.

Louis was a charming bridegroom and faithful throughout most of the Queen’s childbearing years, but when she turned him away in exhaustion, courtiers, such as the Duc de Richelieu, took the chance to arrange his amours. The first succession of mistresses were sisters, though each different in personality. His most celebrated paramour, Madame de Pompadour, makes her entrance and continues in the next book. The mood of the people is violently set against certain aspects of the Old Regime, but is not yet at its zenith.

“There should be a road from Versailles to Compiegne which skirts Paris. There shall be such a road.” The story continues with The Road to Compiegne.

There are several back stories related, such as Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender to England’s throne) and his romance with Louis’ second daughter, Anne Henriette. Louis was like George III of England in that he preferred his daughters unmarried, only allowing the eldest of eight to marry. The odd Etiquette of Versailles is described as a character in itself, along with eccentricities of court life. I’ve often wondered why the author didn’t write a novel in the voice of Madame de Pompadour, as she did with Madame du Barry, but as she plays a significant role in this trilogy, perhaps the story was thoroughly covered. Madame du Barry’s story surpasses Louis XV’s and ends during the bloodiest days of the French Revolution.

Book Description for THE ROAD TO COMPIEGNE:

“Wars, riots, religious dissension, the enmity of Parlement, the intrigues of the Dauphin, and the hunger of his people left Louis XV unmoved.

No longer the Well-Beloved, he ignored the dangers facing France, seeking refuge from any unpleasantness in extravagance, folly and undisguised sensuality.

After the death of Madame de Pompadour, a succession of lovely girls brought Louis temporary forgetfulness, until the voluptuous du Barry made the King once again feel young and in love…”

The Italian Woman, Author’s Note

italianwomanThe middle book of Jean Plaidy’s Catherine de’ Medici trilogy, The Italian Woman was first published in 1953. Below is the author’s note on the subject:

“In The Italian Woman I have endeavoured to portray Catherine de’ Medici in the middle stages of her career, when she was no longer the neglected wife and the most humiliated of all the Queens of France, but the powerful mother of kings. At this stage Catherine was not yet the infamous woman she was to become towards the end of her life, but she was already beginning to show definite signs of that ruthless monster.

To a certain extent much of her life must remain a mystery, for no amount of research can tell us whether or not she actually committed all the crimes which have been laid at her door. In this respect the novelist is in a more delicate position than the biographer, for the latter can present a theory as a theory, while the novelist must make up her mind one way or another, since the object of a novel–a work of fiction–is to create an illusion of reality; and the novelist must naturally be in no doubt as to her characters’ motives and actions.

In view of Catherine’s character as it gradually emerged through acts which undoubtedly she did commit, and through views expressed in her own letters and in the reports of her contemporaries, I do not think that, in The Italian Woman, I have been unfair to her. There was no doubt that she was a callous murderess; and even those judges who are clearly biased in her favour have never attempted to exonerate her from responsibility for–for instance–the murders of Coligny and Lignerolles; nor has it been possible to excuse the part she played in that most horrible of crimes–the mass murders of the St Bartholomew.

It has become the fashion among modern historians to frown on the most colourful passages of history. We are told that Francis, the Dauphin, died not of poison, but of pleurisy, and that Jeanne of Navarre died of consumption and not through wearing gloves supplied by Catherine’s poisoner-in-chief. And yet, Catherine was obsessed by her longing for power; and Francis did die after drinking from a cup presented by his Italian cupbearer who had come over in Catherine’s suite; and by Francis’ death Catherine was immediately Dauphiness of France, later to be Queen. As for Jeanne, she did die rather suddenly and mysteriously when she was away from home, and she became violently ill after visiting the sinister little shop on the quay opposite the Louvre. Her death did occur after she had signed her son’s marriage contract, to so which Catherine had lured her to the court; and it must be admitted that her end came speedily after she had served Catherine’s purpose. Moreover, it cannot be denied that Catherine was a murderess.

I have studied various opinions–those of her friends and her enemies–including the Catholic and the Protestant point of view, for it is a fact that the religious controversies of her day still echo about Catherine.”

Mistress of Mellyn in Ladies Home Journal, April 1960

LHJBefore the age of the internet, how did a new author market his or her novel? One popular method was to publish segments in women’s magazines (called “serials”), and it happens that the very first Victoria Holt novel was published in the April 1960 issue of Ladies Home Journal. The magazine, pictured here beside my paperback version for size comparison, is much larger than today’s magazines. Other than a vague few lines on the index page, it is entirely story and nothing at all on the author. In fact, the pseudonym Victoria Holt was at first kept a great secret.

“From the author of our new serial, The Mistress of Mellyn, beginning on page 44: “It is essential that I hide my identity under the pseudonym, Victoria Holt, for reasons I cannot at present disclose. My husband and I live in London, with Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park just across the road. I have tried to write a story which will excite readers as much as it excited me.”

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The story has a full page image of the book cover, and spans over 20 pages, mostly in half or quarter pages with the rest covered in various ads.

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In another magazine article published shortly after the author’s death–Book and Magazine Collector No. 109–it is said that Eleanor Hibbert had published short stories anonymously or under unknown pen names in Daily Mail and Evening News, and possibly other publications and magazines.

Myself My Enemy or Loyal in Love

myselfmyenemyloyalinloveWhen Jean Plaidy’s novel on Henrietta Maria, wife of England’s Charles I, was republished by Three Rivers Press/Crown in 2007, they chose to omit the author’s foreword. I’m posting it here for those of you who have this edition and are interested in Plaidy’s thoughts on the subject. It reads more like a personalized jacket description than her opinion on a controversial topic, as is usual when she includes an author’s note. But I do see where they found their new title.

“This is the story of a tragic queen told as though by herself during what is undoubtedly the most turbulent period of English history.

Henrietta Maria’s father was murdered a few months after her birth and she grew up in a court of intrigue which was constantly on the verge of conflict until the arrival of the future King of England on a romantic visit to Spain.

Eventually Henrietta Maria herself was betrothed and embarked on the stormy years of a marriage which seemed doomed to failure overshadowed as it was by the malevolent Buckingham.

But out of these tempestuous beginnings grew one of the greatest love stories of all times and Henrietta Maria fiercely loyal in love, impetuously ruthless in hatred, stood beside her husband through his tragic progress. This is an account of a most successful yet disastrous marriage between a man of honour determined to do his duty as he saw it, and a woman entirely devoted to helping him. Blindly they blundered through the years, watching the fall of Strafford and the rise of men such as Cromwell, Hampden and Pym, unaware even of the spies in their own household; and so came the inevitable march towards ware, Englishman against Englishman, Cavalier against Roundhead, the sequel of which was played out on a cold January day in Whitehall.

At the centre of the disaster stand the King with his unswerving belief in the Divine Right of Kings and his Queen, warmhearted, passionate Henrietta Maria who was her own greatest enemy and that of those whom she loved best.

There is that other Charles, witty, calm, inscrutable refusing to be influenced by his mother, coming back to claim his rights; there are Mary, James, Henry and Henriette all determined to go their own way; and so Henrietta Maria must retire to the chateau of Colombes, a lonely doubting woman to brood on the past and ask herself How much was I to blame?”

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Eleanor Hibbert: Letter about Jane Shore in The Goldsmith’s Wife by Jean Plaidy

letter3**This was originally posted on my other website (historical-fiction.com) on 2/6/2013.**

Just days after the announcement that confirmed Richard III’s remains were found, I received this correspondence (purchased from a document seller on eBay) between Eleanor Hibbert (Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Ellalice Tate, Anna Percival) and a reader from the University of Illinois English Department on Jane Shore, and along with her a mention of “the enigmatical Richard III”.

This prompted me to compare my 1950 edition of The Goldsmith’s Wife with my 1979 edition, in which an Author’s Note had been added. Did this inquiry have anything to do with the curious addition to later printings? Re-reading the Author’s Note, it does not seem as though she had added any further thoughts relating to Mr. Harner’s questioning, though you can read it at the end of this post. It does, however, have much to do with Shakespeare’s version of Richard III, which is so much in the news right now.

The letter from Hibbert is typed on a thin pre-folded page that is made to seal and mail, and has a stamp with Queen Elizabeth II’s image and “Ninepence Postage”. There is one inserted word in ink and several places where a letter or part of a word were erased and typed over. I think this shows that while Hibbert was a perfectionist with her writing, she was more lax (though not sloppy or lazy) on personal correspondence, most likely due to the time restraints from her writing career. It is said that she answered all fan mail personally and did not employ a secretary.

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The address, Hibbert’s penthouse opposite Hyde Park, is at Albert Court, Kensington Gore. Having never been to England, I am only able to visualize via maps and images online, but it looks to have been a building next to the Royal Albert Hall.

I am very surprised by Hibbert’s final words: “As for reviews, my books are rarely reviewed, particularly nowadays.” However, reviews in 1970 (at the time of this letter) were in the form of newspapers, periodicals and probably fan letters. Had she lived to see the age of the Internet, she would find generations of readers who still adore her and newly made fans every day, and a plethora of reviews.

I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the author’s life as much as I have!

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Dear Mrs. Hibbert,

I am presently at work on a study of the use of the Jane Shore theme in literature. A few days ago I came across a copy of your Goldsmith’s Wife which makes use of the legend; before this I had thought that the two books (one by Paget, the other by Thompson) which appeared in the 1930’s were the most recent treatment.

One chapter of my thesis will concern the appeal (in general terms) of the legend. Would it be too much of an imposition to ask how you became interested in writing about Jane Shore? I am particularly interested in what prompted you to write the book (whether it be a literacy source or whatever).

Also, I would be interested in reader reactions (perhaps in the form of letters to you about the book) to your treatment. I have not yet searched for reviews of the book—most of my research is still confined to the sixteenth century treatments.

I realize that I am imposing on your privacy, and I apologize. However, any information that you might find time to communicate would be gratefully appreciated.

Sincerely,
James L. Harner

signedEleanorHibbert

Dear Mr Harner,

In answer to your queries about my book THE GOLDSMITH’S Wife I have always been interested in Jane, the only child of a mercer of Cheapside London, who not only became the mistress of a profligate king but kept her position until his death. She seemed an excellent subject for a book, and so I investigated and became more and more interested. It was not only Jane of course but the period itself which is so fascinating as she was surrounded by such significant figures. There is Edward himself; the affair of the princes in the Tower and the enigmatical Richard III.

I notice you refer to the ‘legend’. I wouldn’t call it that. There seems ample evidence that Jane actually lived; and she is listed in the Dictionary of National Biography.

I have now published about 45 historical novels and I get a constant stream of letters from readers. I don’t think this book has been singled out from the rest. As for reviews, my books are rarely reviewed, particularly nowadays.

I hope this information is of use to you.

Sincerely,
Eleanor Hibbert

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MY REVIEW

The Goldsmith’s Wife

by Jean Plaidy

Jane Shore, notorious mistress of King Edward IV, is a refreshingly honest person. She is a beauty and knows her charms, but she is also very moral, but not overly religious. She always wants to do what she feels is right and stands by her convictions even at her own peril.

Jane unwillingly enters a marriage with one of her merchant father’s connections, a goldsmith named William Shore. She wanted to marry for love, but found being a young, wealthy and beautiful woman attracted too much attention from men who wanted other than honorable marriage. Running from a particular stalker, she thought she would be safe with a ring on her finger.

Marriage to Will was nothing like her romantic dreams and she found herself susceptible to the charms of other men. She soon came to the notice of the King and against her better judgment moved to court to play the role of favorite mistress. Never asking for anything for herself, she used her influence for the good of others and became a fast favorite of the people. She was even on friendly terms with the Queen, who was grateful King Edward had such a selfless mistress who didn’t get involved in politics or empty the royal coffers.

Near the end the story turns from Jane’s unfortunate fall from grace to the story of the Princes in the tower. I’ve read so many takes on this particular part of history and didn’t think I would be surprised, but Plaidy actually had a little spin on the conspiracy that I haven’t read before. It also seems very plausible.

I enjoyed Jane’s ending (as an old woman), even though it is different from what I’ve read before. Even Wikipedia has her ending her days with Thomas Lynom and the birth of a daughter. A book I read earlier this year, Figures in Silk, also had her marry Lynom and have a child. I do wonder why Jean Plaidy decided to write the story a bit differently, but I am not unhappy with the ending she created. It seemed to compliment the personality that she gave to Jane.

I really enjoyed this book very much and now count it as one of my favorite Plaidy novels.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

“It is unfortunate that Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, with its misstatements and distortions and exaggerated character-drawing of the central figure, should be generally accepted as history. But such is the case, so that if Richard is written about from any other angle an explanation seems advisable.

Handicapped as he was by living under Tudor rule, Shakespeare naturally dared not contradict the historians of the day, whose concern it was to vilify Richard in order to applaud the Tudor usurpation, and in so doing lay the blame for the foulest crimes of the period upon Richard.

Since the Tudors guiltily destroyed any state papers which might confound their falsehoods, it is not easy to discover the truth of what happened during Richard’s brief reign. The evidence obtainable has been sifted and analyzed, and I am sure that the fair-minded will agree that the picture of Richard as presented in The Goldsmith’s Wife is a balanced one.

As for Jane’s discovery of Anne Neville, that is entirely fictional. How Richard discovered his future wife is a mystery; but, taking into consideration Jane’s adventurous and warm-hearted nature, together with the fact that, owing to her upbringing in Cheapside, it is more likely that she, rather than any other at court, would have been in touch with the humbler citizens of London, my theory of Anne’s rescue seems plausible.“

Daughters of England by Philippa Carr: the final book penned before the author’s death

Today, on the 21st anniversary of Eleanor Hibbert’s death, we take a closer look at the book she was supposedly in the midst of writing–and may have even passed without finishing.

daughtersofenglandebookDaughters of England
Book # 20

My Synopsis:

This is the story of a mother and daughter living in the volatile times of the late 17th century in England.

Sarah had a puritan upbringing during Oliver Cromwell’s decade of governance, and when Charles II takes the throne she is introduced to an actress who is visiting the manor where her parents are employed. One small role leads her London, and eventually she is installed at Drury Lane. There she meets Lord Rosslyn, who deceives her into giving up her virtue.

Kate is raised by her mother, but eventually travels to her father’s ancestral home in Somerset, where she discovers many things about the man who had always been as a stranger to her. Weaving in and out of the storyline is the political unrest brewing in the country due to religion and the succession. Upon the Duke of Monmouth’s uprising, the events extend a blow to Kate’s personal circle of family and friends.

From the 1995 American Hardcover edition:

“Copyright 1995 by Mark Hamilton as Literary Executor for the Estate of the late E. A. B. Hibbert”

This 13 chapter, 308 page book is the final book produced under the pseudonym Philippa Carr and one of three posthumously published, the others being The Rose Without a Thorn (changed from Kisses of Death) by Jean Plaidy, 1993 and The Black Opal by Victoria Holt, 1993. I have read Plaidy’s novel on Katherine Howard and believe it to be entirely written by the author. Daughters of England, on the other hand, has given me some doubts.

The first thing that struck me is that this book, marketed as the 20th in a series, has broken the flow in both characters and setting. The first Carr—Miracle at St. Bruno’s—is set in Reformation England and lends its characters’ descendants to each book after. Each book presents a new generation, set around the great events that end with the 19th book—We’ll Meet Again—during WWII. Why, then, does the presumably next in the series travel back to Restoration England with completely unattached characters?

The next thing I noticed is the title is off and seems to have no meaning to the story. Any Plaidy fan will know that her titles were chosen with specific meaning (excepting the “new” titles being republished in the past few years—obviously not of her choosing). “Daughters of England” … the two women in this book were not royal or noblewomen. Their nationality was never called upon to distinguish them, since they never left England. I cannot think why this book was given the name of Philippa Carr’s entire saga when its contents have nothing to do with the other books.

Finally, after realizing this book was published two years after the author’s death, I began to ponder the possibility that perhaps it was left unfinished. I dragged through the last quarter of the book looking for the author’s signature wording and sentence structure. While I couldn’t pinpoint any specific part where the book seemed to veer from the writing style, the ending was very abrupt with 3 years tidied up into two and one half pages. There was no suspense leading up to or genuine closure with the ending. In fact, the supposed antagonist, if you read the jacket synopsis, is not really too bad throughout the story. This, I feel, is another mistake made when presenting the author’s final work to her fans. The history and political intrigue within its pages make this book more than just a story about love and deceit.

I strongly feel that the author would have recommended this book to be published under the pseudonym Jean Plaidy and titled differently. However, at the time being, I am at a disadvantage as I have not read any other Carr novels in which to compare with this one. The synopsis and character list for each book is listed here. I’ve been told that they need not be read in order to enjoy them.

In conclusion, I can’t say for certain if my theory is true, but offers another tidbit to ponder on the author’s well-guarded personal life.

review: The Prince and the Quakeress

princequakeressThe Prince and the Quakeress

Fourth Book in the Georgian Saga

by Jean Plaidy

This is the story of the young George III, when he was not yet considered significant—only the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, Frederick, and grandson of King George II. If you’re not familiar with England’s King Georges’, you may find parts of the story hard to follow, as it alludes to characters from the previous books in the Georgian series, Queen in Waiting and Caroline the Queen.

Old King George II is in his winter years, bad tempered and constantly lamenting his deceased wife, Queen Caroline, whom he reveres more in death than he did in life. At the forefront is Frederick, Prince of Wales, his wife Augusta, and their “good friend” Lord Bute, a Scottish peer who sees his way up with this particular friendship.

Young George is malleable, honest and earnestly wishes to do well by his people. Lord Bute takes him under his wing, and begins to implant his designs in the young Prince, which are not considerably harmful to England, but are against the foreign policy and empire expansion ideas of the leading man, William Pitt. As the story plays out politically, these events are touched on, while George’s love life is more closely focused on.

George’s loves include an extended affair with a beautiful Quaker girl, a flirtation with a silly society belle (and descendant of Charles II through his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille), and a proposed marriage with the German Princess his mother chose for him. As these three relationships form and shift, George’s own personality changes gradually, and by the end of the book he seems a great protagonist and ready to become an ideal King of England.

I found the mystery of the Quaker girl, as explained in the author’s note, to be one of the most interesting facets of the story, and a satisfying explanation as to the later depiction of George in the next in the series, The Third George.

“The story of George III and Hannah Lightfoot is admittedly one of the mysteries of history. No one can be absolutely certain of what took place. There are even some who declare that Hannah Lightfoot never existed. There is, in my opinion, too much evidence from various directions for this to be likely. I believe that Hannah Lightfoot not only lived but was the mistress of George III, as Prince of Wales. There is even a report that Queen Charlotte at one time believed that the King had made a previous marriage and insisted that a second marriage ceremony should take place between her and the King, and that this was done ‘under the colour of an evening’s entertainment’. There is also the Reynolds portrait at Knole. I have based my findings on the available evidence and the character of the King; and I think my version has a good chance of being the true one as any other. J.P.”

With Plaidy’s signature style of including back stories on the supporting characters, this is one of her more intriguing novels. The Quaker mystery has a romantic suspense feel–very much like the author’s Victoria Holt titles. I greatly enjoyed this look at one of my favorite eras!

A birthday remembrance: September 1st, 1906

onthenightoftheseventhmoonToday marks Eleanor Hibbert’s 107th birthday, and I’m giving away a copy of On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt. To enter, you’ll need to visit the Royal Intrigue Facebook Page and comment on the post. I have a paperback copy for a US resident, or a Kindle version for anyone wishing to enter. The giveaway ends September 7, 2013 and will be announced on the Facebook Page. Good luck!

This year I have been attempting to read one book per month by Hibbert, and while I haven’t quite kept up, I have read a great mix of the pseudonyms: Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt, Alexa by Eleanor Burford, The Young Elizabeth, The Young Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Jezebel, Meg Roper, and (started) The Lion of Justice by Jean Plaidy — and plan to read Saint or Sinner? by Eleanor Burford, Such Bitter Business by Elbur Ford, another Holt novel, and finally begin the Carr series!

I have many, many more years of reading Eleanor Hibbert’s entire works ahead of me–her contribution to readers of historical fiction is priceless. In remembering her on her birthday, along with the giveaway, I am re-posting the most complete author bio (for those who have not read it), printed on the Book-of-the-Month editions. Enjoy!

Born in London in 1906, Eleanor Hibbert was the unusually reclusive “real person” behind three of the most popular pseudonymous authors of our time–Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, and Philippa Carr. The Identity of Victoria Holt was such a well-kept secret, for instance, that many readers assumed she was Daphne du Maurier. If Hibbert herself was little known, her work was well loved: she wrote some 200 books that have sold 100 million copies worldwide.

Hibbert began writing in her teens and in her early twenties married a man deeply supportive of her career. History was her first love, and her well-researched historical novels, published under the name Jean Plaidy, brought Hibbert her first devoted readers. In England, some of the Plaidy books became required reading in history classes.

Best-seller status came in 1960 with Hibbert’s first romantic suspense novel, Mistress of Mellyn. An effort to recreate the atmosphere of Jane Eyre, it marked a new direction for the novelist, who signed the book Victoria Holt. Philippa Carr did not have her debut until 1972, with The Miracle at St. Bruno’s, in which Hibbert sought to mingle history and fiction in a new way, bu focusing on the life of a family caught up in famous historical events.

Hibbert shunned publicity, dedicating most of her time to the writing she loved. She wrote in a penthouse overlooking Hyde Park in London. She also owned a thirteenth-century home, King’s Lodging, where both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I once were guests. Considering the success of her work, Hibbert’s lifestyle was modest, and she reportedly paid 98 percent of her income to the British government in taxes.

Though critics tended to ignore Hibbert’s work, a number were impressed by her skill. One New York Times reviewer, after reading a Victoria Holt book that he did not consider as strong as her others, still found himself captivated. “It’s hard to say objectively, just why…this is so intensely readable and enjoyable.” he wrote. “But somehow the magic…is still there.”

Hibbert was untroubled by the prolific pace she set for herself. “Writing excites me,” she said, “It’s the most stimulating thing I can do. I live all my characters and I never have any trouble thinking of plots or how people would have said something or other because I’m them when I’m writing. I’m not me at all.”

Hibbert died in January 1993.