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The Queen’s Scribe

history hunter's report

I’m excited to announce that my forthcoming novel, The Queen’s Scribe, is finished and now up for preorder. It’s the story of a young Frenchwoman who navigates a deadly game of cat and mouse in the glittering medieval court of Cyprus.

There’s so much juicy history packed into the story—I can’t wait to share it all with my readers.

Here’s what this History Hunter’s Report covers:

  • Why Cyprus? Who’s Queen Charlotta?
  • What’s the heroine, Estelle de Montavon, all about?
  • What’s special about fifteenth century Cyprus?
  • Why were people so obsessed with falconry in that place and time?
  • Pirates? Slavery? Is this stuff real or imagined?
  • What was the deal with languages in Cyprus back then?
  • How does this tie together with the other books in the Sea and Stone Chronicles collection?

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Why Cyprus? Why Queen Charlotta?

In 2020, I began research for the Sea and Stone Chronicles, a new series that I imagined would be set entirely in medieval Rhodes. But as I delved into books and articles about the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John, headquartered in Rhodes at that time, I learned they had a long history in Cyprus, too. In fact, one of the historical figures I planned to write about, Grand Master Jacques de Milly, had spent part of his career there. Curious, I dug deeper.

I was astonished to learn a teenaged, widowed queen had ruled Cyprus for a moment in time during the exact era of my research. In 1458, fifteen-year-old Queen Charlotta took the throne alone, held off her power-hungry half-brother’s massive siege and—when her second husband Louis of Savoy proved a weak leader—sailed around the Mediterranean entreating allies to help save her crown. Furthermore, she was in Rhodes visiting Jacques de Milly when he died in the summer of 1461.

When I unearthed the fact that, several years later, Queen Charlotta had her infant son interred in Jacques de Milly’s tomb, I became even more intrigued. Though the histories don’t reveal much about either of these leaders’ personal lives, this detail sprang out at me. Whatever their relationship had been like, she chose to bury her only child alongside him. I imagine her husband, King Louis, had no say in the matter. He was not in Rhodes at the time.

I was done for. I had to write about this woman and her world.

See my previous History Hunter’s Report about Charlotta here.

Paphos Castle, one of medieval Cyprus’s defensive fortresses

What’s the heroine, Estelle de Montavon, all about?

I chose a fictional heroine, Estelle de Montavon, for the novel because I love seeing history through the eyes of fictional people living alongside historical figures. I can unleash my imagination and create worlds that way. It’s how the magic happens for me.

Estelle, daughter of a falconer, has inhabited my heart since I first wrote a story starring her in an anthology a few years ago. She’s a minor character in Island of Gold (her parents take center stage), but she quietly waited her turn for a moment in the spotlight. I’m lucky she stuck around.

While I was writing these earlier works, I thought ahead to Estelle’s future role in Cyprus’s treacherous royal court. Estelle became a skilled scribe in childhood, and developed a talent for languages once she arrived in Rhodes with her family. Plus, as a French-born person, she offered value to the Lusignan court, which was steadily losing touch with its French roots all through the late medieval era.

Though Queen Charlotta grew up for all intents and purposes a Greek girl in a Greek-dominated court, she had to communicate with her husbands and potential allies in French. By all accounts, her French was terrible. The need for trusted interpreters only grew stronger as civil war loomed between the queen and her half-brother. While Estelle is fictitious, the royal court of Cyprus depended on skilled interpreters and scribes to carry out its diplomatic work, and there were undoubtedly people like Estelle working closely with the queen.

Ruins of a Lusignan Dynasty-era church in Cyprus

What’s special about fifteenth century Cyprus?

The French Lusignan kings, who took control of Cyprus and Jerusalem in the late twelfth century, had been bleeding money and power for a hundred years by the time Queen Charlotta ascended the throne in 1458. But during the dynasty’s glory days in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Cyprus was a magnet for travelers, especially pilgrims making the long sea voyage to Jerusalem. It was known for its luxury goods such as cloth-of-gold, silk, jewelry, and mechanical birds.

Famagusta became a wealthy port city and a haven for Christians from the Middle East and Africa (though it began a long period of decline when Genoa seized control of the city in the fourteenth century). There was a thriving community of Coptic Christians from Egypt and a Coptic monastery in the city. Famagusta and Nicosia were home to many other ethnic and religious communities, from Jewish to Armenian to Venetian to Maronite. Although Muslim and Christian forces were often at war, they also made allowances for matters of trade. Alexandria housed Western merchants of various European origins. Muslim merchants, diplomats, physicians, and other professionals worked or lived in Cyprus, too.

See my previous History Hunter’s Report about medieval Cyprus here.

Why were people so obsessed with falconry?

Hawking and hunting were extremely popular during the medieval era in Cyprus (it was fashionable all over Western Europe, too). Visiting travelers reported the kings of Cyprus owned hundreds of falcons, hawks, and hounds. Elaborate hunting expeditions took place in the forests and mountains. In addition to donkeys, mules, and horses, the kings of Lusignan used camels to transport their supplies on such trips. They also used cheetahs (though they called them leopards at the time) to help track and kill prey. I referred to these cats as leopards in The Queen’s Scribe.

The fifteenth-century French knight Jean de Francières wrote a hunting/hawking manual that included plentiful advice from three famous falconers, two from Cyprus and one from Rhodes. I found the manual digitized online in the French National Library, and its descriptions of ‘dragon’s blood’ as a curative for falcon ailments inspired a pivotal scene in the book.

The rulers of Cyprus possessed hundreds of hawks and falcons, plus camels and cheetahs to help with hunting

Pirates? Slavery? Is this stuff real or imagined?

One of the villains of The Queen’s Scribe is based on an actual Catalan pirate known to haunt Famagusta and surrounding waters during the era of my story. Piracy was a huge problem in the area during the fifteenth century. That’s why merchant galleys traveled in fleets and were armed with mounted guns and crossbows.

The hero of The Queen’s Scribe, Gabriel Bayoumi, is fictional. But his story as the son of a wealthy Latin man and a slave is imaginable because slavery was a big part of life in medieval Cyprus. Since Christian and Muslim forces were continually at war in the area, there were always captives that needed ransoming on both sides. I found instances of Latin (Western European Catholic) men bequeathing money, homes, and goods to slave women in these Mediterranean islands—or freeing them after years of captivity. Their households included children from both legal wives and slaves.

What was the deal with languages in Cyprus back then?

As I mentioned above, Cyprus was a true melting pot, and its languages reflected this.

The majority of the nobles in Cyprus throughout the Lusignan era were French. French was the language of high administration while Latin was used for writing trade contracts. But as the years wore on, the nobility began speaking both French and Greek. The locals spoke a blend of Greek, French, Arabic, and Italian (all essential for trade). I refer to this language in the book as “the Cypriot dialect”. By the fifteenth century, Cypriots who claimed French roots used an oddly accented, archaic French of the middle ages. Travelers visiting the island in that era from France could not understand them. This is why Estelle’s status as a French-born person was so unusual in the Cypriot court, as was her ability to speak, read, and write the French that Westerners used.

A page from a hawking manual written by a French knight in the fifteenth century and featuring falconers of Cyprus

How does The Queen’s Scribe relate to the other books in the Sea and Stone Chronicles?

All the books in the collection can be read as stand-alone stories. I consider Island of Gold to be Estelle’s origin story, but it does not have to be read before The Queen’s Scribe. Sea of Shadows features Estelle’s best friend, Anica Foscolo, a talented and courageous artist based in Rhodes. There is a novella in the works that will round out the collection.

To preorder The Queen’s Scribe, click here. Launch day is April 25, and after that paperbacks can be ordered in bookstores and libraries. Look for an audiobook this summer.

*Note on historical sources: the author’s note and acknowledgements page in The Queen’s Scribe list the key books and authors used in my research. The most important works of all— the papers and chronicles that truly fired my imagination—were authored or translated by Nicholas Coureas of the Cyprus Research Centre. 




  1. Ju says:

    I find this historical detail SO fascinating!!! Great work, brainiac.💗💗💗

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      I knew it would be up your alley!

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