What first drew you to the royal court of France?
The roots of my love of French history lie in two things. First, when I was young I got hooked on Alexandre Dumas (père), one of the grandfathers of historical fiction. I read everything he wrote. Then when I was nineteen I had the chance to study French abroad and to travel extensively in France. The Chateaux of the Loire—which I’ve revisited several times since—and the royals who inhabited them got into my blood during those travels, and stayed there. So when I decided to begin writing novels, exploring the intrigue and history of the French Court seemed a very natural place to start.
In your first book, The Sister Queens, you focus on Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence. In Médicis Daughter you write about Marguerite of Valois. What drives you to tell the stories of these lesser-known historical women?
The very fact that too many of them remain invisible.
History is so much more than battles. I come at history from the perspective of a “social historian,” from the idea that what happened to the people who are underrepresented in traditional history texts not only matters but can give us a deeper understanding of pivotal events.
Sadly in the case of women it is not necessary to look among the great masses of “average people” to find the overlooked. A significant number of women who were recognized as important players in their own times are no longer included in the backward-looking historical glance. Eleanor of Provence, from my first novel, The Sister Queens, is a classic example of this. During her lifetime Eleanor and her family were accused of “running” the King of England by a number of his Barons. She was up to her elbows in the politics of the time and acted as regent for her husband. This was not a shy, retiring, embroidery-only queen. Yet over the centuries she somehow slipped out of the recounting of history. When I stumbled upon Eleanor and her sister Marguerite in a footnote, she fired my imagination, and I wanted to share her.
Marguerite de Valois, the voice of my latest novel, Médicis Daughter, is an illustration of another sort of historical wrong commonly done to women.They are turned into one-dimensional caricatures based on gossip.We know instinctively from our own lives that people are complicated. Very few individuals are just one thing (good/bad, godly/profane, chaste/wanton). Why then are so many historical women portrayed in such broad strokes? As I say in my author’s note to Médicis Daughter I think it’s is because historically if you wanted to denigrate a woman and get her dismissed you simply called her a whore. Look at poor Marie Antoinette and the vicious gossip that surrounded her in her lifetime. The same thing happened to Marguerite de Valois, and also—though the slander was on different grounds—to her mother Catherine de Médicis: contemporary detractors wrote vicious attacks on them. Those partisan attacks became the accepted history of the maligned women. But we have a chance to look again and in a more nuanced way.I hope that is what I do with both Marguerite and Catherine in Médicis Daughter.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and what one question would you ask?
I would most like to meet Elizabeth I of England, because as a girl I was convinced I’d been her in a past life (isn’t every strong-willed little girl convinced of that?). I would ask for her advice to young women today who wish to be powerful and dominant in a man’s world.
What’s in your TBR pile?
One of the best things about writing is getting to know so many other writers personally. My TBR pile is always chock full of books by friends and colleagues. I can’t read when I am drafting or editing a manuscript for fear that I will become a bit of a voice-parrot (picking up the sound or style of my reading). So my TBR pile tends to teeter before I get to it. Currently I am very much looking forward to reading the last installment of Nancy Bilyeau’s brilliant Tudor thriller series following the adventures of former novice nun Sister Joanna, The Tapestry. In fact I can see it from where I am sitting—taunting me. I’ve also got a special place saved for the not-yet-released but much anticipated novel of Patsy Jefferson, America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. It is out this month.
ABOUT SOPHIE PERINOT
Sophie Perinot is a “recovering” attorney who now writes fiction fulltime. Her debut novel, The Sister Queens (March 2012/NAL), was set in 13th-century France and England and wove the captivating story of sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens. Perinot's latest, Médicis Daughter (December 1, 2015/Thomas Dunne) travels forward three-hundred years to the intrigue-riven French Valois court, spinning the tale of beautiful princess Marguerite, who walks the knife edge between the demands of her serpentine mother, Catherine de Médicis, and those of her own conscience.
An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of the group's North American Conferences and served as a panelist on multiple occasions. When she is not visiting corners of the past, she lives in Great Falls, VA. Keep up with Sophie’s literary endeavors—or contact her—by visiting her website, or by following her on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.
Thank you, Sophie!
This interview first appeared in our quarterly newsletter, Books Worth Reading, together with other news and an excerpt from Medicis Daughter. You can sign up for future issues of the newsletter on our Contact page.