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Sharon Kay Penman (born August 13, 1945) is an Americanmarker historical novelist. Penman has written two trilogies, the Welsh Prince Trilogy and the Plantagnet Trilogy. In addition, Penman is the author of six medieval mysteries, the first of which, The Queen's Man, was a finalist for the Best First Mystery Edgar Award in 1996. Penman's novels and mysteries are set in Englandmarker, Francemarker, and Walesmarker, and are about Englishmarker and Welshmarker royalty during the Middle Ages.

Penman's first novel, The Sunne in Splendour, is a stand-alone novel about King Richard III and the English War of the Roses. Written when she was a college student, Penman lost the manuscript to the novel which she later rewrote entirely. Penman is best known for meticulous research of the characters, settings, and events she presents in her fiction.

Career

Born in New York Citymarker, Sharon Kay Penman grew up in New Jersey. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austinmarker, where she majored in history. She also received a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers Universitymarker School of Law, and later worked as a tax lawyer. She currently lives in New Jersey. In the UKmarker Penman uses the name Sharon Penman.

As a student, Penman researched and wrote the manuscript of the historical novel The Sunne in Splendour that chronicled the life of [Richard III]. The manuscript was stolen from her car, never found, and she found herself unable to return to writing for six years. Unbelievably, eventually Penman entirely rewrote the novel, which was published in 1982, after which Penman turned to writing full time.

After the publication of The Sunne in Splenour, Penman began work on the Welsh Trilogy, primarily set in Walesmarker. The "Welsh Trilogy" was followed by the "Henry II Trilogy" that revoles around events the during the life of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
When I first visited [Dolwyddelan], I had to park my car off the road, ask at the farmhouse if I could see the castle, and then trudge up the hill, dodging sheep. Today there is a large parking lot, a café, souvenir shop, a well-marked path to the castle, and a display of the Welsh princes in the keep. I know there are those who’d prefer to have kept the castle in its uncommercial isolation. But the changes enable many more people to visit Llewelyn’s castle, and I think that matters the most. I am also very fond of Rhaeadr Ewynnol, today’s Swallow Falls, which looks much as it did in Llewelyn and Joanna’s time…
—Sharon Kay Penman
In 1996 Penman published the first in the series of four medieval mystery novels. Penman's first mystery, The Queen's Man, the first of the Justin de Quincy series, was a finalist for an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America. Penman is also the winner of the Career Achievement Award for Historical Mysteries from Romantic Times.

Setting

Penman's novels about Walesmarker in the Welsh Trilogy has spawned interest in North Walesmarker to the extent that visitor information and driving tours to locales presented in Penman's novels has been researched. Although set in the 12th and 13th centuries, Penman sets the characters and narrative in her novels in medieval sites that still exist and can be visited, including castles, churches and archeological areas. Areas such as Aber Fallsmarker and Dolwyddelan Castlemarker have important scenes in Penman's novels.

In Devil's Brood, Penman sets the characters in scenes in a variety of medieval royal residences, castles and abbeys, both in Englandmarker and present day Francemarker, many of which still exist such as Chinon Castle, Fontevrault Abbeymarker, and Chateau de Lochesmarker.

Debut novel

Richard III
Penman's first novel The Sunne in Splendour (1982) is 936 pages long and presents the final act in England's War of the Roses. King Richard III is characterized as a healthy, albeit misunderstood ruler. The Sunne in Splendour's characterization of Richard III can be considered revisionist history, but Penman explains she was captivated by an account of Richard III she read in college and admits, "I wanted to find out more about him." After conducting meticulous research both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Penman found herself believing that "his was a classic case of history being rewritten by the victor."

Welsh Princes

Here Be Dragons

Flag of Gwynedd
Here Be Dragons (1985) is the first of Penman's trilogy of novels about the medieval princes of Gwyneddmarker. One of her most popular novels, about which Penman states, “I think Dragons is so popular because it was virgin territory for most readers. The saga of the Plantagenets was much better known, but not many people were familiar with medieval Wales or its princes. And then, too, the story of Llewelyn the Great and Joanna, King John’s illegitimate daughter, is a remarkable one, which struck an emotional chord with many readers.”

The central love story of Joanna and Llewelyn the Great is juxatoposed against the tapestry of medieval conventions, wars for territory, and the conflict between Llewelyn's fight to maintain an independent Wales and to appease the English King John. Of her research and characterization of Joanna, Penman explains:“All we know about Joanna…are the bedrock facts about her life. I took those facts and did my best to breathe life into them, seeking to create a woman who would have acted as we know she did.... Joanna is a rare exception, a woman who made an impact upon her times and who is still remembered today in Wales as Llewelyn’s Siwan.”

Penman's characterizatons are vivid, and often innocuous historical figures are woven into the story's tapestry. For example, Penman takes the slight historical mention of a character, such as Llewelyn's brother Adda, and adds him to the story. As she explains: "All we know of Adda is his name.”Moreover, Llewelyn's seneschal Ednyfed Fychan, the forebear of King Henry VII, is important in the characterization of Llewelyn's trusted friends. Of Fychan, Penman remarks: “I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know that Ednyfed was the ancestor of Henry Tudor. I assume I must have encountered that fact early in my research. Despite his dubious descendants, I was rather fond of Ednyfed as a character.”

Penman's casts characters in midst of conflict, develops them fully, and invites readers into their lives. The result is a complexity and richness of characterization that readers come to care deeply about them.The remains of the Palace of Aber [Garth Celyn], the home of the Princes, are on a hill, Bryn Llywelyn, Garth Celynmarker, on the east side of the river in what is now Abergwyngregyn. The Llys, taken over by Edward Longshanks in 1283, was converted into an Elizabethan manor house by the Thomas family. The watchtower dates to c.1200, the time of Llewelyn the Great.

Simon de Montfort


Falls the Shadow

In Falls the Shadow (1988) Penman chronicles the family relationships of King Henry III and his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. Falls the Shadow can be considered a "bridge novel" as Penman uses the Simon de Montfort rebellion to lead her to the conclusion of the trilogy in The Reckoning. As Penman explains: " '“After I’d finished Here Be Dragons, I knew I wanted to continue the story....At first I’d planned to write one book in which Simon de Montfort would share top billing with Llewelyn Fawr’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, who later wed Simon’s daughter. I soon realized, though, that this was too much to tackle in one book, that Simon and Llewelyn each deserved his own novel. So I decided to devote Falls the Shadow to Simon and The Reckoning to Llewelyn.' ”

An important English baron, Penman's characterization of Simon de Montfort is that of a man increasingly disillusioned by his sovereign and who rebels in 1263, becomes regent to Henry III, and attempts to reestablish rights granted under the Magna Carta. In addition to the story of Simon de Montfort and his wife, Eleanor the Countess of Pembroke and sister to King Henry III, the novel presents characters such as the Welsh ruler Llywelyn Fawr and London's FitzThomas.

Of her extensive research for Falls the Shadow, Penman explains: “ 'I did a great deal of on-site research, visiting the castles and battlefields that figured in Falls the Shadow, visiting the Reading Room at the British Library, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and local reference libraries....Here at home, I made use of the University of Pennsylvania Library in Philadelphia, which has an excellent medieval selection. But it really helped to see the scenes for myself. At Lewes, we actually walked along the same path that Simon de Montfort and his men would have followed. It was breathtaking to stand on the Downs, gazing out upon the same view that he would have seen.' ”

The Reckoning

Llywellen's the Last Arms
The Reckoning (1991) chronicles the reign of England's King Henry III in Penman's final volume of the trilogy that began with Here Be Dragons. In The Reckoning Penman focuses on the final generation of characters following those presented in the previous two novels in the trilogy. The conflict between the Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd who is the grandson of Llewelyn the Great of Here Be Dragons, and England's King Henry III is one subplot. Additionally, Penman chronicles the life and character of Ellen, daughter of Simon to Montfort's and niece to Henry III, her betrothal to Llewellyn that was negotiated prior to de Montfort's death, and the conflict between Ellen and her cousin Edward, soon to become King Edward, who opposes the betrothal. Historical and fictional characters are well-researched.

The Plantagenets

Eleanor of Aquitaine
In the Plantaganet Trilogy Penman chronicles King Henry II's life, beginning with his childhood in "When Christ and His Saints Slept." Of Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Penman explains: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine were larger than life, legends in their own lifetimes. He was one of the greatest of the medieval kings, and she was the only woman to wear the crowns of both England and France. They loved and fought and schemed on a stage that stretched from the Scots border to the Mediterranean Sea. Their children were branded by contemporaries as "The Devil’s Brood," but they founded a dynasty that was to rule England for three hundred years.

My first novel in their trilogy, When Christ and His Saints Slept, traces the beginning of their tempestuous union. Time and Chance continues their story at high noon. From the greenwoods of Wales to a bloodied floor at Canterbury Cathedral, theirs was an amazing story, and I very much enjoyed being along for the ride!

When Christ and His Saints Slept

When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995) first of the Plantagnet trilogy. When Christ and His Saints Slept introduces the genesis of the Plantagnet dynasty as Queen Maude battles to secure her claim to the English throne, ultimately more for her young son Henry Plantagnet, than for herself. Moving away from Wales into early Norman England, Penman chronicles the story of cousins Maude and Stephen who fight for England’s throne. Filled with personal and political conflict, "deep and richly evocative…Saints is also a favorite of many of Sharon’s readers."

Time and Chance

Time and Chance (2002) is about King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the rift between Henry II and Thomas à Becket. It became a New York Times bestseller. Time and Chance is the sequel to When Christ and His Saints Slept and spans a fifteen year period from 1156 to 1171. Penman brings alive for the reader the period as King Henry II becomes increasingly estranged from his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (although Eleanor and Henry have eight children during the eight years), and from his close friend and advisor Thomas a Becket. King Henry's decision to elevate Becket to the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fulcrum for discord between Henry and Eleanor. Moreover, Becket must reconcile duty to his sovereign and duty to his God which ultimately leads to his death and martyrdom and stains King Henry II's reign.

The Devil's Brood

The Devil's Brood (2008) is the final volume in the Plantagnet trilogy. The Devil's Brood concludes the story Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Devil's Brood opens with the conflict between Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their four sons, which escalates into a decade of warfare and rebellion pitting the sons against the father and the brothers against each other while the mother spends the period imprisoned by her husband. Once again Penman places the characters against a tightly woven rich tapestry of medieval life, personal conflict, and dramatic characters.

Justin de Quincy (mystery series)

Richard the Lionheart
In 1996 Sharon Kay Penman released the first in her medieval mystery series. Penman explains her reasons for turning to the mystery genre after writing only historical novels: "By the time I'd finished researching and writing When Christ and His Saints Slept, I was in danger of burning out. For the first time in nearly two decades, my boundless enthusiasm for the Middle Ages had begun to flag. So I decided I needed a change of pace, and since I am a long-time mystery fan, it occurred to me that a medieval mystery might be fun to write. Once that idea took root, it was probably inevitable that I'd choose to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine, surely one of history's most memorable women."

Set in the 12th century, Penman's medieval sleuth, the young Justin de Quincy, is introduced in the first mystery of the series, The Queen's Man. Eleanor of Aquitaine elevates de Quincy to the status of her "queen's man" in the novel. The Queen's Man and Cruel as the Grave depicts the period after King Henry II's death, as Eleanor at age 70, sits on the throne with one son in captivity, and another son (John) hovering at the edge of power. The third novel in the series, The Dragon's Lair, is set during the same period, but Penman shifts the locale to northwest England and north Wales. And finally in the last novel of the series, Prince of Darkness, Penman continues to show the conflict between mother, sons, and weaves in de Quincy's conflicts as well.

Themes

Penman's approach to her novels is to present meticulously researched medieval life and history as everyday life; and to present the nobility as fallible. Set against a backdrop of political tension, power struggles, war, and hardship, the main characters confront personal drama such as conflict in love, conflict between family members, conflict between one's God, and conflict in friendship, as well as conflicted loyalties between family, self, king and country.

Bibliography

  • The Sunne in Splendour New York : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, c1982 ISBN 0-03-061368-X London: Macmillan, 1983, c1982 ISBN 0-333-34463-4
  • Here Be Dragons New York : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, c1985 ISBN 0-03-062773-7 London: Collins, 1986 ISBN 0-00-222960-9
  • Falls the Shadow New York : H. Holt, c1988 ISBN 0-8050-0300-2 London: Joseph, 1988 ISBN 0-7181-2923-7
  • The Reckoning New York : H. Holt, 1991 ISBN 0-8050-1014-9 London: Joseph, 1991 ISBN 0-7181-2948-2
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept New York : H. Holt, 1995 ISBN 0-8050-1015-7 London: Joseph, 1994 ISBN 0-7181-3585-7


  • The Queen's Man New York : H. Holt, 1996 ISBN 0-8050-1015-7 London: Joseph, 1996 ISBN 0-7181-3981-X
  • Cruel as the Grave New York : Henry Holt, 1998 ISBN 0-8050-5608-4 London: Joseph, 1998 ISBN 0-7181-4307-8
  • Time and Chance New York : Putnam’s, c2002 ISBN 0-399-14785-3( London: Joseph, 2002 ISBN 0-7181-4308-6
  • Dragon's Lair New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, c2003 ISBN 0-399-15077-3 London: Penguin, 2005 ISBN 0-14-025098-0 (pbk.)
  • Prince of Darkness New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, c2005 ISBN 0-399-15256-3
  • Devil's Brood New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons, c2008 ISBN 978-0-399-15526-0 London: Joseph, 2009 ISBN 0-7181-5465-7


Footnotes

  1. Devil's Brood Castles Sharonkaypenman.com. Retrieved 2009-06-24.
  2. Simon de Montfort IV, Earl of Leicester Simon de Montfort Society. 2008. retrieved 2009-06-08
  3. Author Interview Reading Group Guides.2009. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  4. O'Conner, Parker. Cruel as the Grave The Mystery Reader. Retrieved 2009-06-08.


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