The Dangers of Armchair Time-travel – Guest Post by Sandra Gulland

mistress-of-the-sunMany thanks to Sandra Gulland for joining us here today on her blog tour for “Mistress of the Sun.”  I have not yet read and reviewed this book, but will be doing so this summer.  If you’re curious as to why I haven’t read this yet, just keep reading Sandra’s guest post and you’ll soon see.

The Dangers of Armchair Time-travel: How to Safely Explore the world of the past

Part of me longs to experience the world of the 17th century, but another part is very happy to live in this one  . . .  and one of the main reasons for this has to do with health, especially with respect to birthing.

I research my novels intensely, and my favorite research is into the details of daily life, the daily realities of women in particular. The heroine of Mistress of the Sun, my latest novel, is Louise de la Vallière, a true-life mistress of Louis XIV, the charismatic, handsome, and athletic Sun King. Louise — more familiarly known as Petite — was, in the words of the day, his “shadow wife” (although a highly unlikely one: she was a Tomboy with a slight limp, of lower nobility, an intellect, and devout). As such, I had to do a great deal of research into the daily life of Court at that period of time: the manners, the clothing, the food, the service, the transportation. In short: everything.

But Petite was much more than a member of the Court. She was also an avid horsewoman — reputed to be more daring on horseback than even the King (who was himself renown for his equestrian skills). Researching 17th century horsemanship was one of the great pleasures of writing this novel. Safely from my office chair, I explored all manner of horsemanship, including the details of “Bone Magic” — the diabolical charm used to tame unruly horses.

In spite of what one might expect of a mistress to a king, Petite was also extremely devout, and that led me into deep and surprising research into the convent worlds of the time. A number of scenes of the novel were written, in fact, during a week I spent at a silent monastery. Safe, indeed.

“Like most women throughout time, the most significant role in Petite’s life was as a mother. She bore the King four children (possibly more — although this is not mentioned in the novel because there is historical uncertainty in this respect).  But given all the other research I had done — into the clothing, the manners, the horsemanship and religion — this was the one aspect of Petite’s life that I found, literally, hair-raising. I had read 17th century manuals on manners, horsemanship, cooking, sex — but it was the 17th century manual for midwives that made me grateful — very grateful — to live in the 21st century. For example, this detail:

“If the child come headlong with one hand thrust out, then she must put the Child back… If it would come forth arsewards, the buttocks first, she must return it back with her hands….”

It’s estimated that approximately one in ten women died from childbirth, often from an infection which brought on violent convulsions (rigors).

It was because of such details of Petite’s life that I suggested that Jen, author of this wonderful blog, read Mistress of the Sun after she’d given birth — safe and sound, with her newborn in her arms: a timeless moment for all ages.”

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