Cynthia Haggard, author of Thwarted Queen
Sicily is an island, and so seafood is very plentiful. That is why Sicilians cook squid, shrimp, clams, mussels and various kinds of fish, especially swordfish.
In Sicily, it is impossible to go anywhere without seeing orange and lemon trees. So it is no surprise that Sicilians are famous for oranges, especially the blood-red variety, which are succulent and juicy, and a tad bitter. The most famous salad is the Aretino salad, which is made with...oranges. Oranges are so cheap, it is a mistake not to buy them, especially from a local farmer standing by his stall.
What I remember most about Sicily is the wonderful drinks that people made. Apart from the spremuta d’arancia (freshly squeezed orange), people made me a mix of orange and lemon (freshly squeezed). And then, when I was in Catania, I discovered a local drink called limone-limone, which consisted of lemon syrup put in the bottom of the glass, two squeezes of fresh lemon juice, and selzer water spritzed on top. Made without ice. (Italians don’t like ice in their drinks). It was wonderful! Very refreshing on a hot afternoon.
The other pleasant surprise were the panini (sandwiches). The best sandwich I got was from a rather chaotic bar/cafe in the train station at Palermo. It was a ham and cheese sandwich, but what made it stand out were the green pitted olives stuck into the top half of the sandwich. Delicioso.
Where the Sicilians are not as good as their northern Italian counterparts was with desserts. As someone born in Britain, I consider myself something of an expert. But the tiramisu in Sicily was watery. The cassata (a kind of Sicilian sponge cake) was very green when they presented it to me that first night in Taormina. (They had obviously gone overboard with the coloring). And when I asked for a Macedonia (a fruit cup) I was given a dish or rather sour and watery strawberries. So, if you want dessert in Sicily, I suggest you head to the local gelatteria and treat yourself to a locally-made gelato, which was always heavenly!
All of these experiences are food for thought (quite literally) for my forthcoming novel, to be set in Sicily in the early Middle Ages.
Thwarted Queen Synopsis
Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.
The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.
But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War - during which England loses all of her possessions in France - and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.
This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.
Richard urged his palfrey into a gallop so that he could catch up with Gloucester, riding east to the city. What is he going to do now, thought Richard, following Gloucester along the Strand towards Saint Paul’s Cathedral. As soon as they got to the churchyard, Gloucester vaulted off his horse, threw his reins to a groom, and mounted the steps of Saint Paul’s Cross.
The Londoners were enjoying themselves in the spring sunshine, it being that time of day after the main meal when people come out to pay visits, shop, and enjoy a fine afternoon stroll. In one corner of Saint Paul’s churchyard, a number of well-dressed citizens fingered the leather covers and the crisp pages of those new-fangled printed books. There were goldsmiths and silversmiths. There was a woman selling spring flowers. There was even a horse merchant, whose restless charges stamped their feet, tossed their heads, and added a pungent odor to the scene.
Just outside the door of the church stood a group of London merchants. The soft leather of their boots and gloves displayed their wealth, as did the exotic and colorful material of their robes, their jewel-encrusted collars, and the many rings on their fingers. They were outdone only by their wives, who wore as many necklaces, rings, and brooches as possible crammed onto their costumes. Richard bowed to one beldame passing by. She had so much cloth in her headdress, her husband must belong to the clothier’s guild.
As Gloucester arrived at Saint Paul’s Cross, the people immediately began to gather, separating Richard from his mentor. “Good Duke Humphrey!” they shouted. “‘Tis Good Duke Humphrey!”
Gloucester bowed. A tapster from a nearby alehouse ran up to hand him a mug of ale.
He looks years younger, thought Richard, glancing at his friend basking in the approval of the crowd. How ironic that it is the people of England who respect him, not his aristocratic peers.
The crowd gathered around Saint Paul’s Cross, buzzing with excited anticipation as the horses neighed.
“I wonder what he’s got to say,” said the bookseller.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the flower seller. “Most of them fancy people never bother with the likes of us.”
“Duke Humphrey, he’s good,” said the horse merchant. “He talks to us. Tells us what’s going on.”
“He’s become a champion of good governance,” said a well-dressed gentleman.
Duke Humphrey held up a hand, and the crowd fell silent.
“My friends, I have come here today to tell you about a piece of treachery. Nay, I can scarce believe it myself, and if any of you had told me this, I would think I had had a bad hangover from the night before.”
Some youngsters in the crowd erupted into laughter. Their elders grew watchful and silent.
Richard accepted a tankard of beer and stood by Gloucester. He looked at the faces tilted up before him. They don’t seem overawed, he thought, sipping his beer. This country is not like France, where the common people grovel before the aristocrats. These people seem to know that their voices count for something.
Gloucester raised his hand again. “Would you believe it, but in return for Margaret of Anjou, the Earl of Suffolk negotiated a marriage settlement in which we give away Maine and Anjou to the French.”
The crowd recoiled. “No!” they shouted.
Richard grew uneasy.
“Yes, good people. Yes: I am sorry to tell you so, but there it is.”
“What does this mean for trade, sir?” asked a man, a fashionably dressed woman on his arm.
“You lose the revenues from the counties of Maine and Anjou,” replied Duke Humphrey. “You lose revenues from wine.”
“Is our wine trade going to dry up?” asked one merchant with a red nose.
“Not unless we lose Bordeaux. So far, we are just talking about Maine and Anjou.”
The crowd responded with a harsh bark of laughter.
“But I can tell you,” continued Gloucester, “that the loss of Maine and Anjou means the loss of goodly fruit.”
“No more pears!” exclaimed a young girl with golden hair hanging out from an upstairs window. “But that’s my favorite fruit.” Her high voice sailed over the noise of the crowd.
“No more Anjou pears, madam,” said Gloucester sweeping her a low bow.
“Jacinda, do not shout out of the window. It is not ladylike.” A woman with an elaborate horned headdress appeared and gently pulled the child away. “Please accept my apologies, my lord Duke,” she called down. “She is very free.”
“Do not worry, madam,” said Gloucester bowing again with a flourish. “You have a charming daughter.”
Applause and cheers greeted this remark.
“What about the landowners of Maine and Anjou, my lord?” asked a merchant dressed in fine crimson silk, rubies winking from the collar around his neck. “What about their lands and holdings?”
“A good question.” Gloucester held up his hand to still the whispers and murmurings of the crowd. “They will be obliged to give up their lands. They will be forced to come home with nothing and start afresh.”
The crowd erupted into boos and murmurs, which grew louder. Richard looked at his friend.
“I see you look puzzled, good people,” remarked Gloucester, as the restless crowd grew silent. “Let me spell out the terms of the Treaty of Tours by which our king gained a wife. By this treaty, we give up Maine and Anjou. In return, we get exactly—nothing. That’s right. Nothing. The queen did not even bring a dowry with her. Can you believe it? Can you believe that Suffolk would be so stupid, so asinine, so treacherous, as to throw away something that we gained in a fair fight for nothing in return?”
Their roar threw Richard backward. He moved closer to Gloucester. “They’re getting upset,” he hissed.
Gloucester ignored him. “And all for a queen worth not ten marks,” he remarked, holding up his tankard of ale. “I feel personally betrayed.”
“We are betrayed!” roared the crowd. “A queen worth not ten marks!” They turned and hurried down Ludgate Hill in the direction of Westminster, shouting as they went.
“What are they going to do?” asked Richard.
Gloucester chuckled. “They are going to Westminster Palace, to shout insults at the queen.”
Born and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Yes, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of the author’s great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society. You can visit her website at: http://spunstories.com/
posted by The Self-Taught Cook