One of the questions I am most often asked is, How much of the book is true? The answer? Quite a lot.
We debated on whether or not to put an author’s note in the book, but ultimately decided against it because it was a trilogy, and not everyone likes to be bumped out of the fictional world by learning the true facts behind the story. So I am putting the author’s note here on the website. Do be warned that it may contain spoilers, although I will try very hard to keep it from doing so.
All the major historical events and people in Grave Mercy are based on true events, from a twelve year old inheriting the duchy of Brittany, to her having been betrothed to at least a half a dozen suitors in return for the aid in Duke Francis II’s ongoing struggle with France. Just before his death, the duke was forced to sign the Treaty of Vergers, which gave France the right to approve any marriage Anne might make. Immediately upon his death, France sent emissaries to Anne’s court claiming that the French Regent would act as guardian and oversee both her and her kingdom. That was in direct violation of the Treaty of Vergers.
And so Anne assumed the mantle of her father’s long battle for independence from France.
The political intrigue and switching alliances in the book was also historically accurate, although in the interest of not swamping the story—or the reader—I left quite a few additional alliances and machinations out. Suffice it to say there were about twice as many schemes going on in real life as I used in the book, including additional suitors, competing claims for the throne, and additional double crossing.
With the exception of one completely fictional character, all of Anne’s councilors in the book are actual historical figures, all of whom betrayed her in real life just as they did in the book, including her tutors Marshal Rieux and Madame Dinan.(Highlight text to view spoilers.)
Anne had five ‘natural’ siblings, which was a polite word for bastards. The mother of her natural siblings had indeed been the mistress of the former king of France before becoming mistress to Duke Francis and bearing him five children. Gavriel Duval was not among them, for he is a wholly fictional character. Francois however, was one of Anne’s knights and did indeed swear fealty to her before a council of barons. One of the fictional liberties I have taken is having Madam Hivern still alive at the time of our story. In real life, she died before Anne was born.
Count d’Albret is also an historical figure. He was described by the chroniclers of his time as fifty years old, large and ugly, with many children from a previous marriage. He was also devious and cunning and by all accounts so repellent to Anne that she ultimately issued an edict proclaiming she would not marry him. For someone so dedicated to her country, this struck me as an extreme measure that made great fodder for the story.
The book takes place on the very cusp of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Another writer working in this exact same time period might very well call it the Renaissance. However, since my story focused on the spiritual preoccupations such as patron saints, relics, etc., and they were such hallmarks of the medieval period, I refer to the story as taking place in the Middle Ages.
The castles, the towns, and homes were all researched, although very few maps of the time exist. Or if they did, I did not have access to them. Castles were moving away from the earlier design of one great hall and one giant room for all to sleep in. Privacy, at least for the noble family itself, was coming into vogue.
Over the centuries, as the Church struggled to convert an entire population to Christianity, as a matter of policy they adopted pagan deities as saints, painting over the original myths with their own Christianized narrative. They also built churches on pagan holy sites, and organized their own festivals and celebrations to coincide with earlier pagan celebrations to make them more palatable for the local populace. It has been said that Brittany in particular, fought harder than other kingdoms against the loss of their own deities and form of worship.
While the nine old gods in Grave Mercy did not exist in the exact form they were portrayed in the book, they were constructed from earlier Celtic gods and goddesses, about whom we know very little. I have added a few embellishments of my own.
Sadly, the convent of Saint Mortain does not exist except in my imagination, but the Ile de Seine was known to have been the home of the last nine druidesses who served the old gods and ways and bears a small, ancient chapel built right next to a pagan standing stone.
Note: If you are interested in my general thoughts on historical accuracy for these books, read this post.
Anne of Brittany
Anne of Brittany was a real historic person. At twelve years old, upon the death of her father, she inherited one of the last remaining duchies in Western Europe. By all accounts, she was a remarkable girl. Groomed since birth to inherit the duchy, she was reading and speaking Greek and Latin by the time she was five years old.
Her substantial inheritance was complicated by two things. One, she was a woman at a time when traditionally women did not inherit kingdoms. Since the time of Charlemagne, Salic Law had been invoked to prevent women from becoming rulers. When Anne became Duchess of Brittany, it defied all the conventions of that time. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, not only was she unmarried, but her father had promised her hand in marriage to at least half a dozen European nobles, if not more. As he plotted and strategized, trying to keep his lands and title safe from the French Crown, he dangled his daughter (and her substantial dowry) as bait for the aid he needed from other princes and dukes. Consequently, when he died, she had been promised to more than one suitor.
To say that this created problems for her in keeping her duchy independent is an understatement. Which is why she needed the help of assassin nuns. What? Doesn’t everybody call for assassin nuns when they’re having political difficulty? If not, they should….