Title: A Phoenix Rising: The House of the Red Duke, Book One
Author: Vivienne Brereton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Come and party like it’s 1520!
Set against the backdrop of the extraordinary Field of Cloth of Gold, ‘A Phoenix Rising’ is a tale of ambition, love and intrigue, with Thomas Howard at the centre of this intricate tapestry.
Thomas Howard. Charismatic head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician: a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII.
“If I have anything to do with it, we Howards will live forever.”
Will Thomas’s bold vow be fulfilled? Danger stalks the corridors of the royal courts of Europe. Uneasy lies the head beneath a crown. Every other ruler – a fickle bedfellow…or sworn enemy.
The action takes place in England, Scotland, and France. On either side of the Narrow Sea, four young lives are interwoven, partly unaware of each other, and certainly oblivious to what Dame Fortune has in store for them.
“Nicolas de La Barre laid his lute to one side, hardly bothering to stifle a yawn of boredom. Nevertheless, he couldn’t escape the fact he’d agreed to take on a new wife…”
Explosive family secrets are concealed behind the ancient walls of castles in three lands. But… “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”
I love food and cooking so of course it was natural that my Tudor novel included a lot about feasting back in the sixteenth century. I’ve even added some recipes to go with the events of the book. Enjoy! Here, one of the main characters, a little girl, Valentine de Fleury, is in the kitchens of her house in Picardy. La Colombe is in turmoil preparing for the Feast of Epiphany on the sixth of January, 1512.
“The King and Queen are coming to La Colombe for the Feast of Epiphany! Together with their girls and the Angoulêmes.”
How many times had Valentine heard that in the past few weeks? Royal fever had seized the manor house, affecting every member of the household from her parents, now the Baron and Baroness de Fleury (since the King rewarded her father for his bravery during the Battle of Agnadello)…to little Louis, the newest kitchen galopin. Valentine only wished it could be over and everything return to normal.
Today, it was the turn of Phélix, the pastry cook, to behave like a cornered bull in the nearby field when a tiny corner fell off his confectionary masterpiece. ‘A subtlety is made entirely of sugar and used to amuse,’ he told Valentine and her younger sister, Charlotte, as he impatiently pushed the piece back into place. He pointed at some large, conical sugar loaves in the corner of the room. ‘One pound of sugar costs more than I make in an entire month. But you know how it is with those who have money - they like to show it off to others.’
Valentine knew the longing on her face must be obvious; Phélix often teased her about her love of confectionery. ‘You can either eat a subtlety,’ he said, ‘except in March when we may eat nothing sweet - or, if I use wax, they make a wonderful table decoration. But judging from your face, Demoiselle Valentine, like my own daughter, Barbe, I’ve no doubt which one you’d choose.’
‘Oh, eat it please!’
Now his masterpiece was fully restored, the pastry cook’s mood was lighter. ‘Come, mes demoiselles, and look at these colouring materials. You shouldn’t always have white as your colour. If you want to have violet, you heat the flowers in a mortar with a little hard sugar and then soak them in rose water and gum tragacanth. Blue lichen magically turns a dish red or blue depending on what I mix it with. You can use cinnamon to give you the colour of walnuts but if you want a lighter brown, you have to blend the cinnamon with ginger. Or use sandalwood. I use saffron to make yellow and young barley blades. And parsley to make green. Carrots or leaves from the Dragon’s Blood plant make a sanguine colour which, as you know, is the colour of blood….’
Leaving Phélix to his sugary duties, the two little girls advanced deeper into the heart of the kitchens. They were always a haven of comfort and warmth - from where, thanks to Maître Jacques, the head cook, Valentine would leave with her belly satisfyingly full.
Even from the other end of the house, the commotion from within could be heard, and the appetizing aroma of a multitude of different dishes would waft in all directions. On Christmas Day, following a day of fast, and before the feast, her mouth had positively watered from inhaling the rich aroma of roasting meat, spices and newly-baked bread. The kitchens had been a hive of activity, with a variety of servants bearing silver salvers, scurrying to their destination, much too preoccupied to cast so much as a glance in the direction of Valentine or her younger sisters. It was the same today; neither her mother nor her father had any time for them, not with all the preparations for the Feast of Epiphany banquet making the adults behave as if they’d sat on a nest of wasps.
With time on her hands, Valentine had brought Charlotte to the kitchens, knowing they’d find a warm welcome there. On their left, hung Maître Jacques’ armour: countless rows of frying pans, colanders, cauldrons, hanging kettles, copper and brass boiling pans, wooden stirring spoons and holed spoons, as well as saucepans and skillets, meticulously arranged in order of size. Nearby, stood a battalion of perfectly sharpened knives: each one a trusty soldier waiting to go into battle. From the shine on the pewter spoons, horn spoons, and silver ladles, anyone could see how much pride the cook took in his collection of cooking utensils.
Valentine had heard chilling tales of how the terrifying English might one day come and kill them in their beds. It was bad enough that one of the fearsome Talbots was Deputy Governor of Calais. Sometimes, when she remembered, she sank to her knees and offered up a prayer: ‘Please God, may the only army in Picardy be the one in our kitchens, hanging on Maître Jacques’ wall.’
Arranged neatly around the kitchens were vital pieces of equipment: hampers, baskets for carrying foodstuff, pot-hooks, oven shovels, roasting spits and skewers. A large sack of unshelled almonds stood in one of the corners, just below a little statue of Saint Gertrude.
‘Why’s she there?’ asked Charlotte.
‘She’s supposed to be protecting the kitchen from rats and mice.’
Valentine was pleased she knew the answer; after all, she’d be nine in a few months and Charlotte still only eight. Walking past several shelves of plates of wood, silver, pewter and gold, and some cupboards containing fine linen and white cloth, Valentine suddenly came to a standstill in front of another one. She loved this shelf.
‘Look at those books, Charlotte.’
There, in pride of place (as if they were members of the nobility) sat two heavy tomes on cookery: presented to the cook the previous two years by Tristan d’Ardres’ father. It was a running joke between Valentine’s father and the Count that the Fleury cook was the Baron’s most valuable possession, much coveted by Guy d’Ardres. Charles de Fleury had jested that the Governor of Picardy’s extravagant New Year’s gifts to Maître Jacques were intended as a bribe to leave his present employer and move across to the Castle.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
If you love the Tudors and all the glamour and want to discover about the equally charismatic rulers who sat on the thrones of Scotland and France, then this is the book for you.
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Winner will be drawn on January 24, 2020.
Born between historic Winchester and Southampton in the UK, I have been passionate about the Tudors for as long as I can remember. This led to a degree in Medieval History at university, and the growing desire to write a novel.
However, life took over somewhat and only after stays, short and long, in six countries I called home did I finally settle down to finish my novel.
Words have always played an important part in my life, whether it's been writing, editing, teaching English, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for my Tudor series, I did an enormous amount of research. I also visited most of the places in the novel, seeing it as an opportunity to step back in time, and use all six senses to reproduce life as it really was back then.
Having three sons came in very handy when I had to write about squabbles between Nicolas and Tristan. Not so handy when I took my boys to Hampton Court and one of them got lost in the maze! I also used the men in my life as guinea pigs for my Tudor cookery attempts (recipes included) with varying degrees of protest (abuse)!
Seeing 'A Phoenix Rising', the first book in the series 'The House of the Red Duke' in print for the first time was a moment of great joy for me. I hope anyone reading it will enjoy the end result as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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