When Nancy Northcott is here it's usually to talk about someone else's book in one of her reviews. But today, Nancy joins us to talk about one of her books! She recently visited England and is here today to take us on a visual journey of the places her characters might have visited in the 17th century. Welcome back, Nancy!
Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance.
She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level. Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society. She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about that king. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”
In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures, and the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.
Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.
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Touring the 17th Century
with Nancy Northcott
Some of you may have seen this book before. Falstaff Books reissued it this past month, in Kindle, paperback, and (major thrill!) hardcover editions.
The Boar King’s Honor Trilogy
A wizard’s misplaced trust
A king wrongly blamed for murder
A bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name
Book 1: The Herald of Day
In 17th-century England, witchcraft is a hanging offense. Tavern maid Miranda Willoughby hides her magical gifts until terrifying visions compel her to seek the aid of a stranger, Richard Mainwaring, to interpret them. A powerful wizard, he sees her summons as a chance for redemption. He bears a curse because an ancestor unwittingly helped murder the two royal children known as the Princes in the Tower, and her message uses symbols related to those murders.
Miranda’s visions reveal that someone has altered history, spreading famine, plague, and tyranny across the land. The quest to restore the timeline takes her and Richard from the glittering court of Charles II to a shadowy realm between life and death, where they must battle the most powerful wizard in generations with the fate of all England at stake.
I like to walk the ground my characters walk. Sometimes that’s not possible. Outcast Station doesn’t exist, and I have yet to explore the hidden depths of the Okefenokee Swamp. Where the place isn’t real or has vanished or just isn’t accessible, of course, there’s always imagination to fill the gaps. But being there is a real treat.
Lucky for me, bits of 17th-century England, the setting for The Herald of Day, remain. I set out to find as many as I could, and I had more luck than I expected.
The book opens in Dover. The hero and heroine, Richard and Miranda, have an important conversation on the headland of Dover Castle, near the an ancient church and the shell of the Roman lighthouse. The church, St. Mary in Castro, was built in the 11th century AD and is thought to have replaced an even older church. Of course, it has undergone substantial restoration through the centuries.
When Richard and Miranda stood on the headland, however, the buildings would have been much as they are now.
There are indications of a Bronze Age hillfort around the area where the church and the lighthouse stand. Saxon churches often supplanted places of pagan worship, so it wasn’t a stretch to say the headland had been a sacred spot in King Arthur’s Day.
From Dover, Richard and Miranda travel to London. In 1674, when the book is set, the only bridge across the Thames was London Bridge, which was narrow, crowded, and lined with houses. Fires often broke out on the bridge. So did quarrels among those traversing it. The southern end was adorned by the severed heads of those executed for treason. It was a far cry from London Bridge today.
When Miranda and Richard reach the bridge, soldiers are limiting the number of people who can go through at any time because of a recent fire. The traffic backs up into Borough High Street and the yard of St. Savior’s Church, which is Southwark Cathedral today.
Although it doesn’t show here, the road now is far above the churchyard. That’s because old London Bridge was level with the original roadway and the churchyard. When the bridge was replaced, it was built higher and with bigger arches underneath so ships could sail past it.
Not far from London Bridge stands the George Inn, the last of the galleried coaching inns that once lined Borough High Street. There has been an inn on this site since the 15th century. The current building dates to the late 17th century. Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor. A couple of friends and I had lunch there and enjoyed gawking at our surroundings while we ate.
Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims set off from another such inn nearby, the Tabard. A window in Southwark Cathedral commemorates the story.
The house where Miranda and Richard live, at #36 Bishopsgate, is entirely imaginary. It sits on the site of Crosby Place, medieval home of a wealthy London merchant. When Richard III was Duke of Gloucester, he rented Crosby Place as his London base. Putting Richard Mainwaring, the hero, there, was a nod to King Richard. The Herald of Day is the first book in a trilogy, The Boar King’s Honor, about his reputation.
The only surviving part of Crosby Place is the great hall, with its glorious hammerbeam roof. It was moved to Chelsea in 1910 and is now in private hands, alas.
In the 17th century, Westminster was the seat of government, but the City of London was, as it is now, the seat of business and finance. In The Herald of Day, Richard and his friend Jeremy ride from Lambeth Palace, in Westminster, into the City of London on an urgent errand. Lambeth Palace, of course, is still there and still the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as it was then.
There was a gate into the City of London at the junction of Fleet Street and the Strand as early as 1293. By the time of The Herald of Day, the gateway was a magnificent structure designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Statues of James I, Anne of Denmark, Charles I, and Charles II adorn it. Richard and Jeremy ride through this gateway.
In the 19th century, the street needed widening. The gateway was preserved and eventually was re-erected in Paternoster Square, near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The photos above were taken there. A gryphon statue in the street median replaced it at its old site (note HM Queen Victoria in the base).
Miranda and Richard attend a ball at Whitehall Palace, where they have an unpleasant confrontation. All that remains of the palace now, at least as far as public accessibility goes, is the Banqueting House. Here are a view of it from the rear, one of the interior, and one of the beautiful ceiling.
Toward the end of the book, there’s a running battle from the Palace of Whitehall, which burned in the late 1600s, down to Westminster Abbey.
The characters race full tilt past St. Margaret’s Church (just visible at the left edge of the photo) and into the west door of the Abbey, shown here.
I’ll never be able to walk the streets of 17th-century London, but the sites I visited gave me a taste of that city. I had a blast visiting them. I hope you enjoy the photos.
What place in what era would you visit if you could? Would you want to live there or only visit?