Elisabeth Hobbes is the author of six historical Romance novels, all set in Northern England in the Medieval period. Her latest novel, Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight, has just been published. Its heroine, Aelfhild, finds herself swapping identities with her mistress, Lady Sigrun, in order to protect her from an unwanted Norman suitor. But he isn’t what he seems either. What follows is a tale of intrigue, forbidden passions and, as we’ve come to expect from Elisabeth Hobbes, a brilliant recreation of the dangers of the medieval world.
I’ve been lucky to grab a few moments with Elisabeth to ask her about her writing.
The plot of Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight is deliciously complicated, involving mistaken identities and deliberate double-crossing. How do you go about planning your novels?
It is wonderfully confusing, isn’t it! I did enjoy writing this book for that reason. I always had a soft spot for mistaken identity and characters in disguise stories, whether Shakespeare or Roman comedies so wanted to try writing one myself.
I use a lot of post-its and flow charts with arrows so I know what is happening in which section. I always think I know where I’m going, then the characters stop behaving and send me down different paths. In the case of Forbidden Knight I also colour coded the word document so I knew whether it was from Gui’s perspective (in which case he had to refer to Aelfhild as Lady Sigrun) or Aelfhild’s (in which case she had to think of him as Sir Gilbert). At least the use of titles should give a reader a clue whose point of view it is, as Aelfhild calls Sigrun without the ‘Lady’ but Gui uses it.
I love your heroines because they’re feisty, passionate women who find themselves caught up in a violent (male) world. Where do your ideas for their situations come from?
People sometimes think of women in the period as wandering around in floaty dresses or sitting placidly doing embroidery but there were powerful and influential women who more than held their own while their menfolk were off fighting or just not up to the job. I’m thinking of women such as Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc and the thousands of unnamed and unremembered women who got on with daily life in a period when life expectancy was low and giving birth was as much of a risk as heading into battle.
I’ve written about the Norman Conquest before (in The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge) with a Norman heroine and Saxon hero so I wanted to switch their roles around. Aelfhild grew up as an orphan in a noble household close to York, which was still very much a Viking city, and grew up with tales from the Edda. She hates the people who invaded her country with a passion and longs to be able to fight in the way the women from stories did.
And what about your heroes? Where did your inspiration for Gui come from? (I like the fact that they’re not always specimens of utter physical perfection, by the way!)
I’ve always loved Tolkien’s description of Aragorn as ‘looking foul but feeling fair’. I loved writing Roger in Redeeming the Rogue Knight who started off as a charming lowlife with no regard for women. He came onto the scene right about the time when sexual harassment scandals were hitting the news and behaviour was being called into question, which was interesting timing.
Because of that, I wanted a hero who was the complete opposite of the confident womaniser. Originally Gui was going to be the nobleman coming to claim his bride in disguise as a servant but I realised that once he and the bride fell in love there would be no barrier, but if she wasn’t who she said she was it would make it more interesting.
Gui is one of the thousands of Frenchmen who came to England as footsoldiers with William’s invading army (by rights he should be a villain). He’s honourable and loyal but broken both mentally and physically by what he experienced during the Battle of Hastings. He’s suffering with what we would now call PTSD.
What is it about the Medieval period which fascinates you?
The Middle Ages gave us Chivalry and some of the greatest stories of Courtly Love. Tristan and Isolde, King Arthur and Guinevere, Lancelot and Guinevere (again), Robin Hood and Maid Marian: all familiar characters of legend from the Middle Ages and are great inspiration for characters.
I enjoy a good spot of blood and gore so I love the fact that life was dangerous. The period allows for grittiness and conflict that makes for so much excitement and drama. Characters can be put into dangerous situations that make their eventual victory and Happily Ever After even more satisfying. I sometimes think my books should come with a warning: not your average romance because I’ve included hanging, drawing and quartering; mass execution, mutilation and miscarriage in my stories so it’s no wonder my characters are determined to grab the opportunity for love so eagerly.
And a related question – the historical backdrop in your writing is always satisfyingly detailed – this one concerning the sacking of Yorkshire after the conquest – so I’m keen to know how you go about researching for your novels.
Thank you. I’m always careful to ensure the history is as accurate as possible and can lose hours following threads. Researching the aftermath of the Harrying of the North was fascinating because the main sources were written long after the time (Orderic Vitalis wasn’t even born until 1075) and historians have mixed views about how devastating it was. I didn’t want to diminish the effect it had on Yorkshire but I’m always conscious that I’m writing a romance not a textbook so have to be careful about which details to include. With my Conquest of England books I push the limits of what I can include in terms of the human cost more than my other stories without wanting to alienate readers.
Which scenes in ‘Beguiled’ were the most fun to write?
I loved writing the first encounter between Gui and Aelfhild where they surprise each other in the act of having a swim in what they believe to be a deserted river. The term often used for when the hero and heroine first set eyes on each other is a ‘meet cute’ but in this case he almost drowns her and she stabs him in the arm so there isn’t much cuteness involved! It also gave me the chance to slip in a Sound of Music reference. (I think I’ve spotted it…)
Another small scene is when Gui is reflecting that although he is part of the invading army, Aelfhild’s people (York was still culturally a Viking city until the Harrying of the North) didn’t exactly come to England peacefully. Growing up in York I’ve always been aware that Britain has been home to people from all over the world but since the lead up to Brexit I’ve become so furious at the rhetoric of ‘taking our country back’. Back from whom exactly! The Normans? The Vikings? How about kicking out those pesky people with Roman ancestry? I wanted to point out that there is no such thing as being pure English and hasn’t been for a very long time! Political rant over!
Fair point. Now, as with all your novels, I want to know what happens to the characters once the final page is over. Will we see Aelfhind and Gui again? Please?!
My editor asked the same question and whether I’ll ever write Sigrun and Gilbert’s story (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal there is a HEA for Gui and Aelfhild). We’re unlikely to revisit them I’m afraid because I have so many ideas lined up but if a story fits their circumstances who knows. I thought I’d seen the back of Roger Danby but he turned up demanding his redemption.
And that was a very satisfying read! What are you working on now?
I had been working on a continuation of my Danby Brothers miniseries dealing with Roger’s heroine Lucy’s son when he has grown up, but I have been asked by Mills and Boon to contribute to a continuity series of four linked stories so I’ve set that aside for the time being. My new story is set in Scotland shortly after the Battle of Flodden and involves feuding clans and a mystery spanning the centuries. It was a lovely honour to be asked and best of all I’m getting to work with three of my friends who are writing the other books. We’re having great fun working together and I can’t wait to read all four books myself.
Good luck with the new project – I’m looking forward to reading your next book. It sounds intriguing!
Read my review of some of Elisabeth’s other novels here
Elisabeth Hobbes grew up in York, where she spent most of her teenage years wandering around the city looking for a handsome Roman or a Viking to sweep her off her feet. Elisabeth’s hobbies include skiing, Arabic dance and fencing – none of which have made it into a story yet. When she isn’t writing she spends her time reading, and is a pro at cooking while holding a book. Elisabeth lives in Cheshire with her husband, two children and three cats with ridiculous names.