1. How did your understanding of Frances Stuart change from the day you first learned about her to the day you finished revising the book?
At first I saw her as many historians saw her, as a simple girl who eloped to avoid sleeping with King Charles II. When I read her letters and read what the French ambassadors and poets and diarists thought of her, I realized she was a very complex person. As I studied the historical events and the kings she interacted with, I realized how close she was and how involved she might have been. By the time I finished the book and realized the sacrifice she made might have saved England from disaster, I had developed a deep respect for Frances Stuart.
2. How did the general public of the time view Frances Stuart and her relationship with King Charles?
Letters between ladies in waiting indicate that, at first, Frances Stuart was celebrated as a fresh-from-France beauty, with the best clothes and jewels, the petted sister-figure of Charles II. As time went on, John Evelyn complained in his private diaries of the king's lewd behavior with mistresses. Ambassadors respected her as a woman with insider-knowledge of the king's business. Another famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, wavered between utter fascination with Frances Stuart's beauty and contempt for her position as the king's mistress. Poets and playwrights praised her beauty, not only because of her good-looks, but because the English respected her elevated rank as Duchess of Richmond.
3. Have you seen an actual golden coin bearing Frances's image as Britannia? Was this what sparked your interest in her?
Never in person, but the British Museum does have one of the Gold Medals struck with her image to commemorate the Peace of Breda. You can find it in their on-line database. This same image was used years later to mint England's copper coinage. I actually own a 1675 copper farthing.
The fact that she modeled as Britannia definitely sparked my interest in her. But it is because her choices matched the spirit of the Restoration Age that wrote her novel. She stood up for her beliefs and strove for independence, just as England was trying to do during the seventeenth century.
4. A stunning portrait of Frances Stuart graces the cover of the novel. Can you tell us about it? Did you request this image be used?
Thank you! That portrait of Frances Stuart was painted by Sir Peter Lely and is part of the “Windsor Beauties” in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court Palace. I actually did suggest the use of this portrait for the cover… along with about ten other suggestions! But I was delighted to see it used. Some historical fiction fans complain when the face of a portrait is "cut off" on book covers. But in this case I wasn't upset by it. Lely portraits were known at the time for their elegance, but also for bearing a poor likeness of the subject. So, while this is the most famous painting of Frances Stuart, it doesn't look much like her.
5. Jacob Huysmans painted a portrait of Frances Stuart wearing a "buff doublet like a soldier" (as Samuel Pepys described it), and in the novel there is a scene where Frances wears breeches. Was it a common practice at the Stuart court for women to sport men's clothing?
Not until Frances started the trend! When she arrived in England, it was not common practice for any women to sport men's clothing. But King Charles had just decreed that females could act in public theaters, and playwrights had discovered that the most popular plays were ones in which the actresses dressed up as men. Frances Stuart's first portrait in male dress was completed around 1661, so she was likely the first woman to dress this way at court. I imagine it was a court game at first, similar to the mock wedding scene between she and Lady Castlemaine in the novel. After a few years, it did become more common. Court women even wore male riding jackets and periwigs in public, which shocked the people. Still later, Nell Gwynn became well known for her rolls in male clothing.
As a side note, for her portraits in male attire, Frances wore a masculine-style blonde periwig. I think it is because of these portraits that so many people think Frances Stuart was a blond in real life. But her other portraits and her effigy at Westminster suggest she was brunette.
6. How did King Charles die? What do you imagine Frances felt upon learning of his death?
King Charles likely had a stroke, but there is a theory that his scientific experiments with mercury might have triggered it. When he died, Frances and he were on very friendly terms – but that was all. Their romantic relationship had ended, and Frances was preoccupied with her duties as a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Catherine and helping with her sister’s children. I imagine King Charles’ death pained her deeply, for she was ill for some time after she received the news.
What is remarkable about his death is that he died a king. His father was executed. His brother would be forced to abdicate. But King Charles II, the underestimated “Merry Monarch,” was one Stuart who knew how to keep a crown.
7. If you had to write an entire novel about one of the novel's secondary characters, which character would you choose and why?
Prudence Pope is an entirely fictional character in the novel, and possibly my favorite. As a lady’s maid and a Quaker, she exists in a more subservient role and is more of an outcast than any other character. Yet, she defies Frances and the Royalist status of the house she serves to embrace freedom in a way Frances could not. When Prudence moves to the Americas, she starts a new life in a land that would give people like her unprecedented freedoms. Sounds like a grand adventure to me!
8. What was the most difficult scene to write?
All of the love scenes were difficult to write! They seemed technical and outrageous at the same time. But because there are differing opinions among historians about whether Frances really did-or-did-not sleep with the king, the physical progression of their relationship actually became important to my plot and her life as I imagined it.
9. Please share an interesting piece of research that didn't make it into the book.
I kept trying to work one of the London Frost Fairs into the story, but it just never seemed to fit. The Thames did freeze during her lifetime, and exciting winter fairs were held on its frozen surface. Frances certainly would’ve enjoyed them.
10. Could you discuss the bird imagery in the book?
Every bird reference in the novel was intentional. Personal liberty is a major theme for Frances Stuart and for Restoration England, and Frances did own an African Gray Parrot, so the use of birds to symbolize the progression of her independence came naturally. Although I planned the final scene for years, where Frances opens a letter from Prudence, the bald-eagle feather didn’t materialize in my imagination until the moment I finally wrote it. It just fell out of the letter, and I felt the whole theme come full-circle.
11. What do you hope readers come away with after reading GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN?
To celebrate the publication of GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN, St. Martin's Press has generously offered to send one reader, chosen at random, a complimentary copy of the hardback. Marci herself will add a pair of sterling silver and pearl drop earrings, like the ones Frances wears on the cover, to the package. To enter the drawing, please leave a comment with your email address on this post before 11 pm PST on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. Winner must be a US resident. Winner's name will be posted Thursday morning, February 13, 2014.
Good luck, and please help spread the word about GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN!