By Blythe Gifford
A man of secrets…
He shares a king’s blood, but his mother’s shame means he’ll never claim his birthright. Now, disguised as a smuggler, he is a spy in a city of enemies.
And a woman of lies…
She hides her hair under the veil of a married woman to protect her father’s weaving business. Desperate for the banned wool, she opens her home to the alluring smuggler.
Sleeping under the same roof.
They fight temptation at every turn. In a town where no one feels safe, she makes him yearn for things long forbidden, but can he trust her when the truth may mean betrayal---and death?
What sparked INNOCENCE UNVEILED? A character? An historical event?
This book was sparked by a very specific incident in 1337, reported by the chroniclers. As King Edward III was trying to gain support for his claim to the throne of France, he sent an “embassy,” or diplomatic mission, to the Continent to recruit allies. Along with the diplomats traveled a number of “bachelor” knights, each wearing an eye patch and swearing not to speak until he had performed some deed of arms in France.
My hero is one of those knights, but instead of staying with the group, I saw him ride off alone. Of course, I had to follow him.
This is your third book set in the 14th century. What similarities, and differences, does it have to THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN and THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER?
As in my previous books, one of my main characters is illegitimate; in this case, it’s my hero, the secret son of an English princess. The biggest difference is that this one is set in the Low Countries, specifically, in the city of Ghent, Flanders. It’s a beautiful city of canals and waterways and still has lovely medieval buildings.
Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?
This is a book I’ve been working on for a long time. Over the years, I’ve done major, major research on Ghent, weaving, and the political and military history of the time. It’s a somewhat obscure little corner of history. Fortunately, several academics have made reputations writing about Ghent and the Low Countries during this period, so there were solid sources.
Many things surprised me, among them the power that the guilds had in Flanders. Unlike our visions of medieval despots, the Count of Flanders had to keep his burghers happy. They had the power to overrule his decisions and, during the course of my book, they finally did. I’ll be writing more about that in my history post on Thursday.
Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?
This book presented a series of plotting challenges. First was making my heroine a weaver and staying true to the guild regulations of the time. Like unions, the guilds were very strict about what could and couldn’t be done – and by whom. I think the situation I created would have been plausible, as women were allowed to take over the business when the man of the family died.
The other constraint was that the events and the shifting alliances during this period were complex. Flanders was only one of the duchies that Edward was cultivating. I tried to convey the flavor of the time without going into too much detail.
Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?
I’ve become gentler on myself as I’ve written more books. I’m now convinced that it’s more important for me to be authentic than to be accurate. After all, this is a work of fiction, and not history. While I try not to commit flagrant violations (and I really am a nut about tracking down accurate details), I no longer worry about streamlining events and characters for the sake of a story, as long as I feel I am being true to the period. I hope a few of my readers will be inspired to do further reading of their own.
But to come clean, my hero is a figment of my imagination. We have no evidence that the Duchess of Brabant (an English princess) had any illegitimate children. Her husband was famous for his bastards, however, and I hope the lady will forgive my literary license. (Of course, if she HAD any illegitimate children, she would never have let us know, would she?)
Narratively, I condensed the events of two years into one and chose some locations that better suited my story. (I’ve confessed all in my author’s afterward.) The biggest whopper was that I put Edward III in Flanders in disguise! But I feel justified because we know that he DID visit France disguised as a merchant during this same time period so he COULD have visited Flanders the same way, right? That’s the authentic versus accurate part. I only dared because there was historical precedent.
We’ve talked a lot about history. What can you tell us about your characters?
Renard is a real wounded hero. He has spent his life hiding his parentage because of his mother’s shame. While the son of a prince could be openly acknowledged, as the son of a princess, he can never be honest about his royal blood. The identity of his father is a mystery to him. Now, he is in Flanders working as an undercover spy for his king. Literally everything he is must remain hidden. His life depends on it.
That sounds serious! How about something fun about him, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.
It’s funny you should ask. There’s a little childish secret about him that I knew, but didn’t put into the book. My hero was born in one of the Duchies of the Low Countries, Brabant. The flag (see picture) is of a lion, rampant, and I could imagine my hero as a child, seeing that flag and calling the lion “Baba,” a four year old’s attempt to say “Brabant.”
What about your heroine?
This heroine is as close to the working woman of today as a 14th century woman can get. (I identified strongly with her and I hope readers do, too.) She runs a weaving business and is passionate about her work. This was not an acceptable occupation for a noblewoman at that time, so she has secrets of her own.
Any “Easter Eggs” hidden in this book your readers might enjoy?
Hoydens who read my interview here last fall know that Anya Seton’s Katherine introduced me to the 14th Century. Katherine fans among the Hoydens (I know you’re out there) will enjoy knowing that I portray the birth of Katherine’s John of Gaunt in this book. “Gaunt” was really Ghent, where he was born, and where this story takes place. And I named my heroine in honor of Katherine Swynford.
What are you working on now?
I’m hard at work on my next “royal bastard” book. This time, it is the story of Jane, the sister in The Harlot’s Daughter.
Many thanks for having me back! I always enjoy a visit with the Hoydens. And check back on Thursday, when I’ll be talking a little more about medieval Flanders.