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A King Under Siege

Author Mercedes Rochelle brings Richard II to fascinating life

Novelist Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled that interest into gripping historical fiction. Her latest series,The Plantagenet Legacy, shines a light on the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings.

Her novel A King Under Siege tells the story of Richard II, crowned king at age ten, who was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. After a short triumph over the rebels, for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.

I invited Mercedes to join me today for a chat about her research, writing process, and the inspiration behind her book. Welcome, Mercedes!

AM: What’s the tagline or ‘elevator pitch’ for your book?

MR: Not once, but twice in his minority, young King Richard II struggled to save his crown.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

MR: Back in my college days, I watched the new BBC Shakespeare Production of Richard II with Derek Jacobi. I had never heard of Richard, but I watched this play with growing fascination and by the end, when he sat in prison bemoaning the fate of kings, I was hooked. You know, I carried him around with me for over forty years, intending to write his story some day.

AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

MR: I didn’t realize that Shakespeare only covered the last three years of Richard’s life in the play. I had no idea what I was in for: first the Peasants’ Revolt, then the Lords Appellant putting Richard’s friends and advisors to death. His story was much more complicated than I ever imagined. And of course, it helped explain the events in Shakespeare’s play—especially the exile of Henry Bolingbroke.

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

MR: The biggest challenge for me was describing the inside of the White Tower, where the climax of the Peasants’ Revolt took place. It took a lot of digging before I found an actual floor plan of the Tower, and had to reconstruct how the rebels tore through the building looking for Archbishop Sudbury (so they could murder him). At least this building has survived! Many of the other settings no longer exist: London Bridge, where the peasants crossed en-masse as they invaded the city; John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace which was burned to the ground; Richard’s getaway at Sheen palace which he destroyed after Anne’s death. I had to do a lot of extrapolating from the bits and pieces left behind by eyewitnesses.

AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?)

MR: My research drives my story almost 100%. During my first draft I carefully sort out the major events as best as I can from the conflicting source material. By then, I’ve pretty much determined what drives my characters, and in my second draft I tie everything together and explain their behavior. So in my world the fleshing out is the speculation!

AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research?

MR: Yes! Pay attention to the footnotes! There you will find the hidden gems. I’ve learned that the footnotes usually point you to very specific essays written by historians who have devoted an insane amount of time to minutiae. I’ve seen references to every single day of a king’s life when he is on the road, or every single knight who accompanied him on campaign.

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

MR: You know, originally I was only going to write the two books about Richard II. But I found I couldn’t stop there. The usurpation was just too interesting not to explore. And Henry Bolingbroke had his own story to tell, so I switched over to him in the next book (The Usurper King). Halfway through Usurper, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish Henry in one book, and then I thought about how popular Henry V was… Well, before I knew it, I resolved to bring the cycle all the way through Henry VI’s reign. I was hoping to avoid the Wars of the Roses—it’s so bloody complicated—but it only makes sense to see the dynasty through to the end. I anticipate at least four or five more books, but I won’t limit myself if the story is interesting enough.

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

MR: I love working in my garden. In fact, my writing tends to be seasonal. When the weather is beautiful, I’m outside. Most of my writing gets done in the winter when I’m stuck in the house anyway.

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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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  1. The Coffee Pot Book Club says:

    Thank you so much for hosting the tour stop for A King Under Siege. We really appreciate it.

    All the best,
    Mary Anne
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      It was my pleasure, Mary Anne!

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