Two Queens. Two Epitaphs. Lots of Speculations.


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Comparing and contrasting the epitaphs for Hildegard and Fastrada, Charlemagne’s third and fourth wives, can lead some misreading between the lines.

When they died—Hildegard in 783 and Fastrada in 794—Charles treated them the same. He had them interred with honors within a church, the most desirable of hallowed ground. He donated land to the Church and paid for Masses on behalf of their souls, and he commissioned epitaphs. Paul the Deacon is loquacious in his praise for Hildegard. What Theodulf wrote for Fastrada is shorter:

“Here lie the glorious remains of Queen Fastrada, whom cold death snatched away in the bloom of life. Noble by birth, she was united in marriage to her mighty husband, and nobler still, she is now united to the King of Heaven. The better part of her soul, King Charles himself, she left behind, to whom a merciful God may grant long life.”

Theodulf was famous for a lengthy poem lauding the royal family, so scholars have speculated on whether the epitaph’s brevity means something.

Was Fastrada so awful that Theodulf had a hard time finding something nice to say about her and was being tactful? If Theodulf had also written Hildegard’s epitaph, I would give credence to that.

Queen chess piece

A 19th century queen chess piece inspired by Charlemagne (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Instead, I’ll provide a little speculation of my own. It is possible Paul’s grief drove him to write verse upon verse while Theodulf’s impaired him. Having supervised an obit desk, I can attest that grief affects everyone differently. Theodulf’s later poem praising Charles’s family was crafted under different circumstances. We don’t know how long it took the poet to compose or how many revisions he made.

Theodulf’s attitude toward women comes into play as well. He did write “A Woman’s Wiles,” urging men not to be manipulated by their wives. But when he refers to the king as “the better part of her soul,” he likely is referring to Fastrada and Charles’s close relationship—the original meaning of “better half.”

Perhaps, we are complicating something simple. Theodulf might have been acknowledging the grief of a bereaved husband while trying to comfort him. He says Fastrada is “united with the King of Heaven” yet left her husband all too soon.


Who Was the Real Queen Fastrada?


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Was Queen Fastrada, Charlemagne’s fourth wife, truly cruel or was she the victim of a backlash against strong-willed, influential women—a backlash we’ve seen in the 20th and 21st centuries with Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton? That question launched me into writing Queen of the Darkest Hour and making Fastrada my heroine.

I first heard of Fastrada while researching my debut novel, The Cross and the Dragon. Charlemagne’s biographer Einhard attributes attempted coups to “the cruelty of Queen Fastrada.” What did this woman do? I thought.

Einhard never elaborates, and since Hildegard was Charles’s queen at the time of my first two books, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I set the question aside, figuring that whatever it was, Fastrada must have been a bad person. That is, until I encountered Fastrada again in the Royal Frankish Annals, when she and Charles were overjoyed to see each other upon his return to Worms from Rome.

Maybe there was more to this story. Like how Thuringians might have resented Charles making peace with a Saxon leader who had wreaked havoc on them. Or an eldest son destined for the Church when he really wanted to be a future king like his brothers.

The royal family in Pippin the Musical, with Barry Williams (Pippin), I.M. Hogson (Charlemagne), Louisa Flaningam (Fastrada), and Adam Grammis (Lewis) (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

What’s known about Fastrada: She married King Charles in October 783, a few months after the deaths of Queen Hildegard and Queen Mother Bertrada. She was joining a family with seven children and possibly an eighth on the way. She was from East Francia, an area where Charles needed an alliance during his ongoing wars with the Saxon peoples, but we don’t know where exactly in East Francia. We don’t know when she was born or what she looked like.

Documentary evidence indicates she and Charles loved each other and that she was influential—only people with power or influence attract enemies. Fastrada died in 794, possibly before her 30th birthday. The cause of her death is not disclosed. There is a clue of a chronic illness in a 791 letter, in which Charles asked her to write to him more often, specifically about her health.

She and Charles’s marriage produced two daughters, both of whom became abbesses. Unlike Hildegard, Fastrada was not the mother of future kings, and the lack of sons might have contributed to the posthumous trashing of her reputation.

Allegations of her cruelty come years after the deaths of Fastrada and Charles. In addition to Einhard, the anonymous writer of the Revised Royal Frankish Annals cited her bad behavior as the reason eldest son Pepin conspired to overthrow his father. Like Einhard, the Reviser doesn’t specify the alleged atrocities, and he implies skepticism about the rebels’ motives.

Cruelty, by medieval standards, was persecuting one’s own people—massacring the enemy was something to brag about. In the primary sources, the closest we come is blinding Thuringian rebels. But in the medieval mind, that brutality is justice for people who deserved death. Nor was this punishment unique to the Franks. The Romans and the Byzantines used this technique on political enemies.

A novelist can make any decision in portraying Fastrada, including a harpy. However, I believe she made a scapegoat to explain the plots against her husband. I chose to make her a true medieval woman with the beliefs and biases that come with her time, yet a sympathetic teenager who wants to be a good wife to her much older husband, a good mother to his children, and a good advocate for her people in East Francia.

Launch Day for ‘Queen of the Darkest Hour’


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When I was considering Queen Fastrada’s story for my third book in the days of Charlemagne, I knew it would be different from anything else I had written—and that was a good reason to do it.

My heroine and antagonist, Fastrada and her stepson Pepin, were real people, and I needed to tread carefully. Fortunately for this novelist, not much is known about them, and the history has gaps that an author can fill with whatever best suits the story.

And now after several years, on and off, of research, writing, and revising (and revising again and again), I am proud, excited, and thrilled to announce my third novel is out in ebook and print. In Queen of the Darkest Hour, Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys everyone and everything she loves.

Queen of the Darkest Hour

The story opens in 783, the day before her wedding to Charles, king of the Franks and a widower with seven children and an eighth on the way by a concubine. Fastrada is haunted by the Saxons’ attack on her home fortress, and more wars loom. Yet her greatest peril lurks within the castle walls: Pepin, Charles’s son by his embittered former wife. Blaming his father for the curse that twisted his spine, Pepin rejects a prize archbishopric and plots with his uncle and mother to seize the throne.

Based on historic events during Charlemagne’s reign, Queen of the Darkest Hour is the tale of a family conflict endangering an entire country—and the price to save it.

Queen of the Darkest Hour is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. If you’d like a preview before you decide, you can read an excerpt and the first chapter at

Alcuin: the Palace Schoolmaster in Charlemagne’s Court


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When Fastrada married Charlemagne in 783, she was joining a court full of intellectuals, most of whom were foreigners. For the sake of storytelling, I couldn’t include all those scholars in my latest novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, but Alcuin of York appears as a secondary character. He is the master of the Palace School, teaching King Charles and his family.

Ever since I started researching 8th century Francia and Saxony, Alcuin has fascinated me. Although he lived more than 1,200 years ago, some of his ideas are relevant today. Below are a couple of gems I’ve come across.

In a letter to Meginfrid the chamberlain (although the real audience is King Charles), Alcuin outlined how the process of converting pagans to Christianity should work: teach first, then baptize, then expound on the Gospel. “And if any one of these three is lacking, the listener’s soul cannot enjoy salvation. Moreover, faith, as St. Augustine says, is a matter of will, not of compulsion. A person can be drawn to faith but cannot forced to it.”

Regarding the arts, he said, “My master Ecgberht used to tell me that the arts were discovered by the wisest of men, and it would be a deep and lasting shame if we allowed them to perish for want of zeal. But many are so faint-hearted as not care about knowing the reason for such things.”

That got me wondering: how did Alcuin become such a wise man? What was his origin story? See today’s post on English Historical Fiction Authors for the answer.

Charlemagne and Alcuin

Detail from 1830 painting by Jean-Victor Schnetz (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


What Does the Medieval Night Sky Tell Us about God?


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Medieval astrological charts

From a 9th century manuscript (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Charlemagne’s day (748-814), astronomy was a blend of natural philosophy and religion, a study of the creation—and the creator.

Medieval people saw God’s hand in everything, from providing a good harvest to feed them through winter to healing the sick to deciding the victor of the war. So they would do what they could to gain God’s favor. Three days of litanies were part of the military strategy. In the medieval mind, searching the night sky for clues to God’s will made sense.

The universe had to be orderly, and Carolingians relied on Roman books to explain it: Pliny’s Natural History, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Martianus Capella’s Marriage of Philology and Mercury, and Calcidius’s Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus. Early medieval intellectuals placed Earth at the center of the universe and the sun, moon, and seven planets revolving around it in eccentric patterns—that is, circles within each other but not sharing the same center—and at different angles to the Earth’s plane. Planets, the keepers of God’s time, could also move in epicycles, loops along a circle.

King Charles himself took a keen interest in astronomy and corresponded with scholars about phenomena such as eclipses and the size of the moon. His biographer Einhard elaborates, “He learned how to calculate and with great diligence and curiosity investigated the course of the stars.”  Charles passed on his interest in astronomy, along with the six other liberal arts, to his children, both sons and daughters. In a poem, the scholar Alcuin mentions a daughter gazing at the night sky and praising God, who created it.

The pursuit of knowledge fit into Charles’s imperial ambitions. In 780, he recruited foreign intellectuals, and in the decade that followed, workers were converting the royal villa at Aachen to a palace, one of many construction projects Charles would undertake.

Astronomical events were important enough to record in the annals. The year 810 saw two eclipses of the sun and the moon, and 812 had a midday eclipse of the sun. To Einhard, those eclipses, spots on the sun lasting seven days, and a ball of brilliant fire that fell from the sky during a war were among the signs that Charles was near the end of his life.

Einhard says Charles ignored the omens. Perhaps the emperor decided not to make a big deal of them publicly. But a year after that last eclipse, the 65-year-old monarch in declining health appeared to be putting his affairs in order. He invited his son Louis, the king of Aquitaine, to the assembly in Aachen, placed a crown on Louis’s head, and named him co-emperor. Charles also ordered that his grandson Bernard be called king of Italy, succeeding Louis’s late brother.

A few months after the assembly, a high fever and pleurisy sent Charles to his bed. He died a week later on January 28, 814. The annals say nothing about the sky that night.


Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel

Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers

P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, by Pierre Riché, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Planetary Diagrams for Roman Astronomy in Medieval Europe, Ca. 800-1500, Volume 94, Part 3, by Bruce Eastwood and Gerd Grasshoff

A History of Western Astrology Volume II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds by Nicholas Campion

Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe by Stephen C. McCluskey

Ordering the Heavens: Roman Astronomy and Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance by Bruce Eastwood

This post was originally published July 27, 2016, on Unusual Historicals.

The Prince and the Courtier, a Medieval Mystery


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During my research for Queen of the Darkest Hour, I encountered Osulf, a pupil of the scholar Alcuin and part of Prince Karl’s retinue. (Karl, also called Charles the Younger, stood to inherit the bulk of Charlemagne’s empire but preceded his father in death.)

The poet and courtier Theodulf alludes to Karl and Osulf in a parody of Virgil’s Second Eclogue, about the shepherd Corydon and his love for the boy Alexis. What is a novelist to do?

My answer: whatever works for the story. The parody is one poem by someone who saw Alcuin as a rival and likely saw a vulnerability in Osulf. Not many people know about the poem, and it doesn’t prove anything. For my tale, I needed Karl to be interested in women. So here is how I handled the matter, as my heroine, Queen Fastrada, worries about her stepsons’ intentions with the daughter of count:

Karl was a different story. Courtiers had complained he was too close to a British Saxon man in his retinue, one of Alcuin’s pupils, and she had felt relieved when his guards told her they had seen him with a harlot from time to time. “He hasn’t threatened a noblewoman’s chastity,” she said. “How was he with Richilde during the hunt?”

If another novelist were to portray Karl and Osulf as lovers, I wouldn’t argue with the choice. This type of work is called fiction for a reason, and it allows plenty of room for speculation.

For more about Karl and Osulf (and Alcuin and Theodulf), see my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Charlemagne's court

By Jean-Victor Schnetz, 1830 (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Intellectuals: The Start of the Carolingian Renaissance


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In 780, Frankish King Charles might have been thinking about his realm’s long-term future and wanted to give his empire an intellectual foundation, one to associate Francia with ancient Rome and rival the Byzantines.

At that time, the man we today call Charlemagne had ruled for 12 years and had conquered Aquitaine and Lombardy. Although he was still warring with Saxon tribes, he had gained significant territory. The father of six (with No. 7 on the way) was 32, no longer a young man by medieval standards.

He and his queen, Hildegard, who was from a long-established, powerful family, started a journey to Rome, perhaps with empire-building on their minds, judging by what happened in Rome the following spring.

But first the royal family needed to spend the winter in Pavia. There, Charles might have met Paul the Deacon, a Lombard who wrote Historia Romana and other works and had taught in the overthrown court of Pavia, and Peter of Pisa, a deacon and poet who would later teach the king Latin grammar.

1499 depiction of Charles and Hildegard

1499 depiction of Charles and Hildegard (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


When the Frankish royals resumed their journey in warmer weather, Charles met Alcuin in Parma. Alcuin, a Saxon from Britain, already earned a reputation as master of the cathedral school at York, and Charles invited him to lead the Palace School in Francia. Alcuin agreed, after he got permission from his superior upon his return to York.

In Rome, the pope anointed Charles and Hildegard’s three- and four-year-old sons as subkings, and their six-year-old daughter was betrothed to the child emperor of Byzantium. The Frankish king and the pope apparently discussed Charles’s uneasy relations with his cousin the duke of Bavaria, resulting in high-level diplomatic talks later.

After Easter, Charles and Hildegard returned to Francia in the company of intelligent men: Peter of Pisa; Paul the Deacon; Paulinus of Aquileia, who would later write about theology and play a role in converting the conquered Avars in the 790s, and Fardulf, a poet who in the 790s exposed a plot to overthrow Charles and was rewarded with the abbey of Saint-Denis.

Charles’s intellectuals would come and go in fulfilling their other roles, and his circle of scholars would expand to include other nationalities such as Theodulf, a Visigoth from Hispania and leading satirist, poet, author, and bishop of Orléans, and Dungal from Ireland. The circle had a few Franks such as Angilbert, Charles’s trusted aide, diplomat, poet, lay abbot of Saint-Riquier who would transform the place into a center for learning, and later almost-husband (technically a Friedelmann) of Charles’s daughter Bertha.

Charlemagne and Alcuin

1830 painting by Jean-Victor Schnetz of Charlemagne and Alcuin (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

These thinkers and writers were sometimes rivals who were not above teasing and sniping at each other in their poetry. But thanks to them and others, Francia produced more literary work than before.

Charles’s own education level in the 780s is unclear, but it was higher than most of his illiterate countrymen’s. Likely, his mother taught him his first lessons, and she hired a churchman to tutor him as he got older. By the end of his life, he could read but not write. He could converse in Latin in addition to his native Frankish and understood Greek better than he could speak it. He enjoyed the liberal arts ranging from literature to math to music and astronomy, studied philosophy, and had his sons and his daughters educated.

He never stopped learning, and in old age, he tried his hand at writing. He didn’t need that skill. He had clerks for that as did the rest of the nobility. But this hunger for knowledge might been another reason he recruited intellectuals.

Originally published on Unusual Historicals.


Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel

Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne by Pierre Riché, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, edited with an introduction by Peter Godman

Queen Hildegard: Short but Influential Life


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Queen Hildegard, Charlemagne’s third wife, is portrayed as beautiful, pious, intelligent, and benevolent. But don’t let those virtues mislead you into thinking she was a sweet, little flower. Although young, she knew how to wield influence and had savvy a veteran politician would envy.

I encountered Hildegard during research for my novels, and she has a presence in all of them. In The Cross and the Dragon, she is Alda’s friend. My heroine looks to Hildegard’s marriage as the way husband and wife should treat each other and envies the queen’s fertility while she struggles to conceive. My Saxon peasant family in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar watch her haggle with a merchant, and Deorlaf, my heroine’s son, entertains the royal family when he is part of a merchant party.

Queen of the Darkest Hour starts shortly after Hildegard’s death. My heroine, Queen Fastrada, compares herself to her predecessor, wondering if she’ll measure up and burdened with the knowledge that a woman she had admired would not approve of the marriage. The thoughts and feelings are my speculation, but Hildegard might have preferred her widower have concubines rather than marry again. Her reason is inherent to noble families: she wouldn’t want her husband to sire a rival to her sons’ inheritance, one she worked to secure.


19th century lithograph (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As with many early medieval queens, little is written about Hildegard. She was probably 13 or 14 when she wed Charles in 772. Although they were fond of each other, the marriage was foremost a political alliance. She came from the Agilolfing clan, one of the most established and prestigious in the realm, and was a kinswoman of the duke of Bavaria (who also was Charles’s first cousin). Hildegard’s family controlled lands in a part of the kingdom ruled by Charles’s brother, Carloman, who had died in the previous year. Charles took over his brother’s former kingdom, and his marriage to Hildegard made that possible.

No matter that Charles was already married to a Lombard princess. His repudiation of her enraged the Lombard king—and likely Queen Mother Bertrada, who had negotiated Charles’s marriage to the Lombard. Hildegard was joining a household with a (possibly) irritated and (definitely) strong-willed mother-in-law, a husband who had divorced two wives, a 3-year-old son named Pepin from Charles’s first marriage, courtiers like Adalhard who disapproved the repudiation and remarriage, war with the Saxons underway, and another war with the Lombards on the horizon.

She succeeded against all these obstacles. It helped that she conceived quickly and bore her first son, Charles (whom I call Karl in my novels), in late 772 or early 773. The birth of a healthy heir solidified her position as queen. During her 11-year marriage, she would bear nine children, six of whom—three sons and three daughters—survived to adulthood.

She and Charles might have been a like-minded couple. He certainly wanted her around. He would send for her to join him, even when he was at war in Lombardy, and she often traveled with him. Might they have shared aspirations for an empire? Did she play a role in bringing foreign scholars to his court? Maybe.

Charlemagne and Hildegard

By Karl Baumeister, 1895 (GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 781, we see Hildegard’s power. In Rome, she witnessed her middle son, 4-year-old Carloman, be baptized and renamed Pepin, even though Charles had a child by that name. The younger Pepin (whom I call Carloman in my first two novels and Little Pippin in Queen of the Darkest Hour) and her youngest son, 3-year-old Louis, were named subkings of Aquitaine and Italy. Her daughter Hruodtrude, was betrothed to another child, the Byzantine emperor (his mom was regent). Like most medieval noblewomen, Hildegard was ambitious for her children, making sure her offspring, and not another woman’s, would succeed her husband.

Hildegard’s life was short. Those multiple pregnancies might have taken a toll on her health. She was in her mid-20s when she died in 783, shortly after the birth of her ninth child. Charles would endure more personal losses that year. The baby, named after her mother, lived only 40 days, a death Paul the Deacon described as “stabbing your father’s heart with a dagger.” On top of that, Bertrada passed away.

No doubt Charles was heartbroken, but he could not take a break from his responsibilities. He was still at war with the Saxons to the east and needed to bolster alliances with that part of the realm, and a few months later, he married Fastrada, an East Frank.

Fastrada and Charles were fond of each other, even though she was controversial (the reason I wrote Queen.) Yet Charles maintained his alliance with his late wife’s family. Hildegard’s brother, Gerold, played an important role when Charles ousted the Bavarian duke and warred with the Avars. Hildegard’s influence lived on.

Grand Plantations Inspire Novels’ Setting



I am pleased to host my friend S.K. Keogh as she launches The Driver’s Wife, a tale about the redeeming power of love for two outcasts in 1690s Carolina. I had the privilege of reading the novel before publication, and only the need to sleep forced me to stop turning the pages. What I particularly enjoyed was how Susan showed good and bad among all people, in all classes from slave to plantation owner. Here, she talks about the real plantations that inspired her vivid setting.—Kim

By S.K. Keogh

S.K. KeoghIf you’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina, no doubt you visited at least one of the famous plantations located in the region. Boone Hall, Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place Plantation, and Drayton Hall are the four that I visited during a couple of research trips several years ago while writing my first three novels. The latter two plantations struck me the most, so much so that I patterned two of the plantations in my historical novels after them, albeit using a little cross-pollination.

Middleton Place, set on a rare prominence alongside the meandering Ashley River, is a true showplace. Not only does the plantation still grow the Carolina Gold rice which made the Middleton family wealthy in the 18th century, but it boasts an elaborately-designed garden encompassing several acres, including a large reflecting pool.

Middleton Reflecting Pool

Interpretative programs on subjects like rice cultivation and slavery are a staple. Middleton is also the annual site for the finale of the Spoleto Festival every summer, where visitors fill the large greensward for a concert and fireworks over the river. The building you see in the photo below is one of the surviving flankers and serves as a museum today. The manor home itself was larger and actually looked similar to Drayton Hall. The main house was burned down by Union troops during the Civil War.

Middleton Festival

Originally, the land belonged to an heiress, Mary Williams. In 1741, Mary married Henry Middleton, who already owned The Oaks plantation and 1,600 acres on the Cooper River, which flows on the opposite side of the Charleston peninsula from the Ashley River. (Charleston was known as Charles Town until 1783.) Henry represented South Carolina in the First Continental Congress and was later elected its president.

The gardens at Middleton are the oldest landscaped gardens in the country. The layout of the 65-acre gardens was inspired by the designs of Andre Le Notre, the principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France. Symmetry and geometry are the rule, balance, variety, and sculptures adding further elements. Hydrangeas, roses, magnolias, and azaleas are just a few of the flowers blooming at various times of the year at Middleton. A constant feast for the eyes and perfume for the nose.

Middleton Garden

The Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, which took place during the Revolutionary War, has a scene shot on the grounds of Middleton.

Drayton Hall, shown below, is the earliest example of Palladian architecture in the United States. Like Middleton’s gardens, the design of Drayton’s wonderful, unrestored manor home is all about symmetry. If you split the house down the middle, each side would have equal numbers of rooms in the same location, equal numbers of windows, chimneys, etc. Also like Middleton, Drayton Hall was built in the 1700s.

Drayton Hall

Drayton is managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was opened to the public in 1977. It was founded by John Drayton in 1738. The family also owned Magnolia Plantation, just next door, up the Ashley River.

If you visit Drayton, make sure you take a tour of the house. In the photo above, it looks huge, but when you go inside, it manages to have an intimate feel, a real lived-in atmosphere. The main floor has a central hall, off which the other rooms open. Broad window seats make it easy to imagine one of the Draytons seated there, reading a book on a chilly winter evening with a fire roaring in the fireplace. The second floor has a matching layout.

Drayton Hall Room


In the region’s early years, particularly during the timeframe of my novels, which take place in the 1690s, there were no roads leading from Charles Town to the interior plantations along the Ashley River or along the many other rivers in the area. The rivers served as the areas highways, where vessels large and small ferried people and commerce to and from the interior. Because of this, the front of the plantations faced the river, not today’s modern driveways bringing visitors to the sites. During the early days, the area was a vast wilderness, dotted with large plantations like the ones featured in this article, as well as the more common smaller plantations. Modern folks hear the word plantation and automatically picture something on the grand scale of Middleton Place, but the majority of the plantations were much smaller and certainly less grand affairs.

Rice was not the main crop of the region until the early 1700s. Many plantation owners made their money from cattle farming and producing Naval stores including timber for British ships, as well as tar and hemp. But once rice was introduced to the low country, where the abundance of water was ideal for its production, Charles Town and the region grew rich.

Rice Field

Rice is still grown today at Middleton, as shown in the above photo, and visitors can even help plant some of it, using the age-old technique of the thousands of Africans enslaved on the region’s plantations. Besides things like rice cultivation, visitors to these plantations today can learn about the history of these slaves. Without those slaves from the “rice coast” of Africa, places like Middleton Place would never have flourished. These plantations today offer valuable insight into their suffering and contributions to the region’s success, both then and now.

I hope the picture I paint of plantation rice culture in my novels offers a bit of insight and education for those who may read it. And I hope my novel as well as this short article will encourage you to visit these wonderfully preserved plantations.

Photos by S.K. Keogh and used with permission.

About The Driver’s Wife

A story of redemption and unconventional love.

The Driver's WifeLeighlin Plantation offers Edward Ketch a new life, an opportunity to forsake his violent, troubled past and become a man worthy of respect and trust. But when a slave named Isabelle arrives, Ketch is drawn into a turbulent relationship that threatens the very peace he has struggled to attain.

Isabelle has her own desires for a fresh start, but scurrilous gossip about her past undermines those hopes. She struggles to be accepted by Leighlin’s other slaves and hopes marriage to a popular man will aid her cause. But her situation worsens when her husband becomes abusive. She discovers, however, one unlikely ally—Ketch, who is as much an outcast among Leighlin’s white population as she is among her people.

A stranger to love, Ketch cannot recognize the true feelings that draw him to Isabelle. To rescue her from the dangers of her marriage, he risks losing not only his position at Leighlin but the affections of the woman he strives to save.

Set against the backdrop of 17th century Carolina, The Driver’s Wife explores the lives and relationships, from Big House to slave settlement, of those who labored upon the wilderness plantations near Charles Town. Rice cultivation and the task system of slavery provide a much different landscape from the aristocratic Old South of cotton plantations and gang labor familiar to most modern-day readers. The Driver’s Wife is a tale of the transcendent power of love.

To find out more about S.K. Keogh and her writing, visit her website and look for her latest novel, The Driver’s Wife. You may also find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as her blog.

Jack Mallory Triology


A Timeless Tactic: Trash Your Political Rival


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In Life of Alfred, Bishop Asser was supposedly trying to explain why kings of Wessex didn’t bestow their wives with the status of queen. Then he went on to recount a queen who lived decades earlier: Eadburh, who conveniently came from a family that had competed with Alfred’s grandfather for power.

Objective reporting of known facts is a relatively modern concept. Using the pen to trash your (or your master’s) rival isn’t, and medieval readers would have known that Asser had a definite point of view.

Asser tells a story of murder and justice, but I simply cannot believe him. His tale did inspire a post about Eadburh. See English Historical Fiction Authors for more.

Life of Alfred

Facsimile of Asser’s Life of Alfred (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)