This title post was originally blogged on the Macmillan Children's Blog, but the link no longer works, so I'm reposting here.
You can’t spend much time in the medieval world without bumping into Eleanor of Aquitaine. Outliving all her contemporaries and most of her children, she must have seemed as immortal as her legend would become. Medieval history fans are also familiar with her husband and sons—Henry, Geoffrey, Richard the Lionheart and John—from such iconic works as The Lion in Winter and the various legends of Robin Hood. But Eleanor also had daughters. Imagine the expectations! And yet, these unfortunate neglected girls end up meriting a sentence or two in Eleanor’s numerous biographies and often don’t figure at all into historical fiction. These princesses, countesses, and queens are all but invisible, hidden in their mother’s shadow.
So, did I decide this was an injustice, pick a princess, and decide to tell her story? Not exactly. I’m equally guilty of being dazzled by Eleanor and never really noticing the daughters.
I was reading about far-away Toulouse and the crusade against the Cathars when I first encountered Joan. I was startled and intrigued to discover she was Toulouse’s countess. I knew Count Raymond of Toulouse as the tragically romantic quasi-hero of crusades. What a wonderful protagonist for a love story! But what about the girl? I don’t know what I expected to find as I looked into Joan’s history, but certainly not the child bride of the last great Norman king of Sicily, a young woman who accompanied her brother King Richard on crusade. Joan not only lived a life of her own, but it was an emotionally complex, adventure-filled life that in many ways paralleled her mother’s. Now, I thought, Joan really needed to be nudged out of the shadow. Her story needed to be told.
I wondered if Joan compared herself to Eleanor. How was her later life influenced by watching her mother and brothers make war against her father? The fun of historical fiction is you can explore the questions the historical record leaves blank. What if Joan, despite everything, loved her family deeply? And what if the right person could show Joan the true meaning of love?