Monday, 25 June 2012

Guest post: Sexuality, Physicality, Power and the Medieval Woman by Laura Navarre + Giveaway

Today I'm happy to cede the blog to Laura Navarre author of the highly anticipated new historical romance to be released by Carina Press on July 2nd: By Royal Command. Today Laura stops by to share with us some of the tidbits she dicovered during her research for the novel, please give her a warm welcome!

Sexuality, Physicality, Power and the Medieval Woman
by Laura Navarre

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing historical romance is that I get to begin every book with a good long wallow in historical research. I choose my settings very deliberately, down to the year and even the month, because political intrigue and seething tensions between nations tend to figure prominently in my plots. Finding exactly the right moment in history to start my story is a critical choice for me as an author.

That’s why I chose the turbulent period of Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest as the setting for By Royal Command (Harlequin/Carina, July 2012), my epic medieval romance about two brothers, one woman, and three hearts at war. My heroine is exiled royal Katrin of Courtenay, who believes she murdered her husband when she prayed for his death—and she doesn’t mourn him. He was cruel and controlling, and she doesn’t need a husband to hold her northern keep. But her vengeful uncle, the King of England, has other ideas: intent on marrying her off, he’s ordered his Viking-bred warrior to return her to court.

Katrin’s dilemma made me curious about the quandary of highborn women in the medieval world. How much power could they really hold? What did men really believe about them and their sexuality? As I researched the medieval world of By Royal Command, I unearthed many interesting nuggets:

1. Noblewomen had a significant physical advantage over their poorer counterparts, due to both genetic selection and diet: they were taller, but they couldn’t compete with their male partners, who stood at 5’7” (171 cm). The average medieval woman was only 5’2’’ (about 158 cm), with a shoe size of 1 to 3 (U.S.). So I made my heroine Katrin slight and slender, secretly intimidated by the monumental size of the armored men around her, but determined never to show it.

2. Due to the short life expectancy in medieval times, many noblewomen were betrothed not only in childhood, but even in utero. It wasn’t uncommon for two noble families to sign contracts binding their unborn children of either sex to marry, with an abrogation clause in case the children turned out to be the same sex. A woman could be legally married at twelve and was considered in her prime at seventeen. However, contrary to the “forced marriage” trope in some medieval romances, both parties must consent to the marriage. If a noblewoman was “in the king’s hand,” she yielded to the king the right to choose her partner, in exchange for his protection. That was Katrin’s situation as the king’s niece, wealthy but already widowed at the age of eighteen, when her story opens.

3. If a woman had the misfortune to choose a bad marriage, say with a drunkard or a bully, her legal options were limited. She was sworn to remain faithful—although her husband was not obligated to swear likewise—and would forfeit her dowry and all possessions if she left him. However, she could always pray to St. Wylgeforte, the patron saint of women plagued with bad husbands, to be “unencumbered” of her marriage. This was the only recourse for Katrin, wedded and bedded to the pious Lord Maldred in By Royal Command. In her case, someone must have been listening, because Maldred is mowed down by the scythe of pestilence—leaving Katrin in sole command of her northern lands, a linchpin in England’s defense against the Danes.

4. Theories on female sexuality were stuck somewhere around the third century, based on the teachings of Galen, who argued that women’s wombs were “cold” and need constant warming by “hot” male sperm. If women didn’t scratch the itch regularly, their “seed” might coagulate and suffocate their wombs. (No, I’m not making this up!) The solution was regular coupling—with one’s lawful spouse—as women were believed to be constantly aching for it.

Galen also taught that women must climax in order to conceive. Thus, the woman who claimed rape but became pregnant was dismissed as a liar, since she must have enjoyed the deed. Consequently, one of Lady Katrin’s primary perils in By Royal Command is sexual. Unwittingly she attracts the interest of Borovic, the charismatic earl of Argent, a cordial and charming bear of a man secretly obsessed by the one woman he cannot have—the promised bride of the brother he despises. On the night she weds his brother, Borovic vows to tame Katrin, swearing she will be confessing him to her priest within a month.

5. Despite the many drawbacks, a medieval woman enjoyed some advantages. Noblewomen like Katrin shared the position and rank of their husbands, could inherit land in their own right, and could carry on their husband’s trade after his death. When the king summoned men to war, the medieval woman need not throw her life and health into the fray of combat; she could stay comfortably home. If a husband and wife turn to a life of crime and commit a hanging offense, only the husband hangs. His wife need only plead that she was obeying her husband.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at sexuality, physicality, and female power in the medieval world! If you’re curious to learn more about the conflict-ridden world of Anglo-Saxon England and the challenges faced by a daughter of royalty who must negotiate the delicate balance between survival and happiness, you can check out the first chapter of By Royal Command here at I also recommend The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, the handbook from which I drew my research for this article.

I love hearing from readers, so you can always find me at Facebook and Twitter.

Happy reading!

Follow the blog tour, discover more about Laura and By Royal Command and win prizes!

In her other life, Laura Navarre is a diplomat who’s lived in Russia and works on weapons of mass destruction issues. In the line of duty, she’s been trapped in an elevator in a nuclear power plant and has stalked the corridors of facilities churning out nerve agent and other apocalyptic weapons. In this capacity, she meets many of the world’s most dangerous men. Inspired by the sinister realities of her real life, Laura writes dark medieval and Renaissance romance with a dash of political intrigue. A member of Romance Writers of America’s Published Author Network (PAN) and a 2009 Golden Heart finalist, she has won the Emily Award for Excellence, the First Coast Romance Writers Beacon Award, the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award, the Golden Pen, the Duel on the Delta, Hearts through History’s Romance through the Ages, and other awards.

Previously published with Samhain and Dorchester, Laura’s newest releases are her epic medieval romance By Royal Command (Harlequin/Carina, July 2012) and her sexy romantic intrigue The Russian Seduction (Affluent Press, August 2012, as Nikki Navarre). She teaches writing workshops on “Sympathy for the Devil: Dark Heroes in Popular Fiction.”

Laura holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. Living in Seattle with her screenwriter fiance and two Siberian cats, she divides her time between her writing career and other adventures for U.S. government clients.

Connect with Laura here at her website / Facebook / Twitter

By Royal Command by Laura Navarre

to be released by Carina Press on 2 July 2012

Two brothers. One woman. Three hearts at war.

Katrin of Courtenay's husband is dead—and she doesn't mourn him. He was cruel and controlling, and she doesn't need a husband to hold her northern keep. But her vengeful uncle, the King of England, has other ideas: intent on marrying her off, he's ordered his Viking-bred warrior to return her to court.

On the journey, the Viking captures her interest, and for the first time Katrin understands passion. But her guard is honor-bound to deliver her to the king, and so it is settled—she must wed the mysterious Rafael le Senay, the Baron of Belmaine.

A forced marriage to a stranger slowly becomes something more, and Katrin realizes she is in love with Rafael. But with the shadow of her former lover hanging over her, and Rafael's powerful brother making dangerous plans, can Katrin negotiate the delicate balance between survival and happiness?


There are two giveaways:

Blog Giveaway

Laura is giving away one $25 Gift Card to either or Barnes & Noble to one randomly drawn commenter from the tour.

To be entered just leave a comment along with your broken up email address below.

The contest is open worldwide and ends on 6 July 2012!

The more chances a person follows and comments on the tour, the greater their chances of winning. Follow the tour HERE.

Twitter Party and Giveaway

Twitter Party: Monday, June 25th from 9am – 10am PST (12pm – 1pm EST)
◦ #lauranavarre
◦ Theme: Woman in Medieval Times
◦ Pre-register at:

What you can win:

• Signed Print copy of The Devil’s Temptress by Laura Navarre for one random pre-registrant who signs up to attend the Twitter Party.

• A digital copy of By Royal Command by Laura Navarre to two random Twitter Party participants. (Participants must be in attendance.)

• A 30 page critique to one author who participates.

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