Monday, March 16, 2020

Blog Tour Q&A with Catherine Meyrick, Author of The Bridled Tongue

Please join me in welcoming Catherine Meyrick to Let Them Read Books! Catherine is touring the blogosphere with her newest release, The Bridled Tongue, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about her story inspiration. I also had the pleasure of offering Catherine some editorial assistance, and I designed the cover! Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of The Bridled Tongue!

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

England 1586

Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was–unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft.

Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than mutual courtesy and respect.

As the King of Spain launches his great armada and England braces for invasion, Alyce must confront closer dangers from both her own and Thomas’s past, threats that could not only destroy her hopes of love and happiness but her life. And Thomas is powerless to help.

‘People never forget. When the fancy takes them, they bring the old stories out and embroider them further.’

Hi Catherine! Thank you for visiting Let Them Read Books!

What inspired you to write The Bridled Tongue?

The spark was my own experience as the subject of gossip, a very long time ago. What struck me was the way a minor incident or slip of the tongue can be twisted, embellished and shaped into something else altogether. And while gossip, for us, is uncomfortable, I started thinking of how dangerous it was in other times, particularly if that gossip resulted in an accusation of witchcraft where normal evidential rules were set aside and the most dubious hearsay evidence could be enough to bring a person to the gallows. As the story is one of women living in the sixteenth century, I wanted to look at the corrosive effect on women’s relationships when they are valued mainly for their ability to produce healthy children and the poisonousness of favouritism in families.

Were the characters of Alyce and Thomas based on real historical figures?

Thomas and Alyce are entirely fictional, but I have drawn on elements in the lives of a number of contemporary men and women. Margaret, Lady Hoby, the author of the earliest known diary written by a woman in English, particularly interested me, and it is her industrious life I have used as a model for Alyce’s at Ashthorpe. Margaret began writing her diary as a religious exercise, and while it includes details of her religious practices, prayer and reading, it also provides a glimpse of the busy domestic life of a woman managing a large household and estate, often in her husband’s absence. It also gives a strong sense of the breadth of skills possessed by women in these positions, from entertaining guests, sewing, preserving foods and making sweetmeats, to pulling hemp, weighing and dying wool and spinning, as well as distilling medicinal salves and tinctures and treating the household, labourers and tenants, keeping the household accounts and managing the wider farm.

When trouble arose, women often had to face it alone. This is seen in the lives of Sabine Saunders, dealing with the local minister in 1549 over who had the right to collect the local tithes, and Margery Paston, in 1469 holding out against the depredations of an over-mighty neighbour. The unruly behaviour of a group of the Hobys’ neighbours gave me the idea for Alyce’s uninvited guests, though the Hobys’ experiences were not so dramatic. Margaret’s marriage to Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby in 1596 also shows the pragmatism involved in decisions to marry in this period. Margaret was deeply grieving the sudden death of her second husband but reluctantly agreed to marry Hoby because of the promise of support from Hoby’s influential relatives, such as Lord Burghley, in a property dispute over the Manor of Hackness, which had been settled on her at her first marriage and was a place she clearly loved. Unfortunately, she does not touch on her emotions and feelings in her diary, matters fascinating to the modern reader for the insights they could give into the workings of a marriage that was not a love match.

It is particularly with Thomas’s backstory that I drew on the varied lives of a number of English gentlemen who served with foreign armies, or on the seas in support of the Dutch, or as privateers in the 1560s and 1570s, men such as Christopher Carleil, Humphrey Gilbert and William Wynter.

Life in sixteenth-century Norwich is so vividly depicted in your story. What kind of research did you do to help bring it to life?

When I first started the novel, I was worried about writing about a place I had never visited and even considered making it a fictional town that was like Norwich but not Norwich, but it would have been a cop out and shown what could be seen as a fatal lack of faith in my research abilities. So I began reading everything I could lay my hands on about the history of the city, including travellers’ descriptions of their visits to Norwich in later periods. I pored over contemporary map, but they are often not as helpful as they could be and are more ‘picture maps’ than accurate cartography. In William Cuningham’s 1558 map, not only are a number of churches missing but also the important public building, the Guildhall. I looked at drawings of the buildings and made use of online interactive 360-degree panoramas of both the buildings and the city itself.

In 2016, we went to Norwich during my first visit to the northern hemisphere. I walked around Elm Hill, an area of Norwich with cobbled streets and many Tudor buildings, strolled through the market and visited St Peter Mancroft. I stood in places where I thought Alyce would have stood and took in what I could see, trying to strip away the changes of the last four hundred and thirty years. I visited Norwich Castle and its dungeons, but while I got a strong sense of its dominating presence from the outside, its interior has changed so much that it was hard to get a sense of what it would have been like as a prison. I didn’t get to go inside the Guildhall but found an interactive panorama of its interior. The Mayor’s Court is still set out and furnished as a Tudor courtroom. Through the story I have tried to give a sense of what caught Alyce’s attention in the familiar world around her, not provide the detailed impressions of someone who was new to Norwich. And while we were in Norwich we stayed at the Maid’s Head Hotel, though our budget didn’t stretch to the Queen Elizabeth suite where Elizabeth I is reputed to have stayed on her visit to Norwich in 1578.

The threat of a Spanish invasion looms large in the background of the story. How would this have affected the day-to-day lives of people in Norwich?

News moved far more slowly than it does today, so there would have been a great sense of foreboding, and the ever-present fear that comes with not knowing what is happening—fertile ground for rumour and suspicion. Even actions intended to strengthen defences, such as the repairs made to Norwich Castle and the city walls and the increased recruitment to the trained bands, would have brought the reality of invasion closer. The trained bands were the local militia which were supposed to be in readiness at all times, but outside London they were often poorly organized and armed. The threat of invasion led, throughout the country, to more recruits and increased drilling and hopefully better arms and organization. The trained bands of Norwich exercised in an area called Chapelfield, not only in the use of musket and pike but also with artillery. With more men joining the bands, more families were faced with the realization that one of their own could be killed or maimed. It would have made the threat of invasion real. When invasion was imminent the trained bands from all of Norfolk were ordered to London to assist with its defence. There was concern that this would leave the county undefended, especially as Norfolk is a coastal county, no doubt adding to a sense of helplessness and fear in those left behind.

I did not uncover much in my research about the effect on the daily activities of ordinary townsfolk but, no doubt, just like people today when faced with threats, there would have been acts of kindness and of selfishness side by side. The relief felt when the danger had passed is apparent through the immediate celebrations and those that continued for years after. Across the whole country bonfires and bells greeted news of the defeat of the Armada. On 2 October 1588, the ‘great guns’ of Norwich fired salvos all day long from dawn to dusk. There was no permanent national day of celebration, but Norwich, like a number of other large towns, observed a Day of Thanksgiving on 29 November (St Elizabeth’s day) each year until the end of Elizabeth’s reign. This was marked with bonfires, the ringing of church bells, sermons, special prayers and Norwich’s town waits played music on trumpets, sackbuts, hautboys and recorders.

In the story, Alyce is accused of witchcraft. Are there historical accounts of similar witchcraft trials in Norwich?

While there were witchcraft trials in Norwich, there are none that mirror Alyce’s situation. I have drawn on the elements common to many witchcraft accusations and trials in England in the sixteenth century. The women most often accused of witchcraft were poor and old with reputations for a nasty tongue that they used to get begrudging charity from their neighbours. Women of Alyce’s status were not usually accused, but there were two gentlewomen tried at the Lancaster Summer Assizes of 1612 – Alice Nutter, tried as one of the Pendle witches, and Jane Southworth, one of the Salmesbury witches. In both cases it seems that religion was the reason the women were drawn into the accusations.

Jane Southworth, a protestant widow, was accused by Jane Sowerbutts who had been coached by a Jesuit priest linked to Jane’s husband’s Catholic relatives. Alice Nutter, not directly connected to the other Pendle witches, is believed to have been part of a network of Catholics in the area and spoke little during the trial, possibly so that she wouldn’t incriminate others. There is an alternative suggestion that Roger Nowell, the local justice of the peace deeply involved in the trial, had designs on Alice’s land. So accusations could be used for reasons other than ridding the countryside of witches. In both cases the main accusers were children who gave evidence against their own families as well. Jane Southworth’s case was dismissed, but poor Alice Nutter was hanged at Gallows Hill in Lancaster on 20 August 1612.

What are you reading for fun at the moment?

I have just started The Mirror and the Light. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Thomas Cromwell books and this one is an absolute delight. I just love Hilary Mantel’s use of language.

What are you working on now?

I will be taking a break from the sixteenth century and exploring Tasmania around 1880. ‘Unspoken Promises’ is a story based on a period in the life of my great-great-grandparents, Henry Woods and Ellen Thompson. They were both children of convicts and belonged to the lower end of the social scale, where life was a struggle and middle-class virtues not held in high regard. At this time Hobart was a vibrant town drawing people from every corner of the earth, where a person’s history wasn’t closely questioned. I am enjoying writing this as in some ways it is easier because I don’t have to worry about working out which season is when, what the weather is like or where the sun sits in the sky. Although I know I will have to make changes, I am writing the type of Australian English spoken by my grandfather who was born 1887. It is a pleasant change of pace, but I will definitely be returning to Elizabethan England in the future.

About the Author:

Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways not unlike ourselves.

Although she grew up in regional Victoria, Australia, she has lived all her adult life in Melbourne. She has worked as a nurse, a tax assessor and finally a librarian. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also a family history obsessive.

For more information, please visit Catherine Meyrick’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Bridled Tongue is available on Amazon

The Bridled Tongue is on a blog tour!


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two paperback copies of The Bridled Tongue! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on March 26th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.
Bridled Tongue


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