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Tuesday 2 April 2024

Coffee Pot Book Club Tours : Rosemary Griggs -The Dartington Bride

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About the Book
Book Title: The Dartington Bride
Series: Daughters of Devon
Author: Rosemary Griggs
Publication Date: 28th March 2024
Publisher: Troubador Publishing
Page Count: ~ 368 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Audiobook narrated by Rosemary Griggs

1571, and the beautiful, headstrong daughter of a French Count marries the son of the Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West in Queen Elizabeth’s chapel at Greenwich. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven...

Roberda’s father, the Count of Montgomery, is a prominent Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion. When her formidable mother follows him into battle, she takes all her children with her.

After a traumatic childhood in war-torn France, Roberda arrives in England full of hope for her wedding. But her ambitious bridegroom, Gawen, has little interest in taking a wife.

Received with suspicion by the servants at her new home, Dartington Hall in Devon, Roberda works hard to prove herself as mistress of the household and to be a good wife. But there are some who will never accept her as a true daughter of Devon.

After the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Gawen’s father welcomes Roberda’s family to Dartington as refugees. Compassionate Roberda is determined to help other French women left destitute by the wars. But her husband does not approve. Their differences will set them on an extraordinary path...

My quest for Roberda’s childhood home
by Rosemary Griggs

When researching for my writing, it is crucial for me to visit locations familiar to my characters. This enables me to gain a perspective of their sixteenth century world. It helps me see things through their eyes. Places change a lot and it's challenging to separate myself from modern life, but the effort is always worthwhile.

In this post, I will share a bit about my travels while looking for the inspiration for Roberda’s home as I have portrayed it. Join me on one of the many trips I took as I was planning my book. 

The inspiration for my novel, The Dartington Bride, is a French Huguenot woman named Roberda. She arrived at Dartington Hall in Devon, in 1572. However, Lady Gabrielle Roberda Montgomery spent her childhood at an ancient chateau in Ducey, Northern France. At least, it was her home when she was not being dragged through the countryside by her imperious mother, Isabeau. The whole family followed Roberda’s father, Gabriel, a Huguenot leader, on the campaign trail, even into the heart of battle. 

Roberda found comfort and refuge in Ducey during a turbulent childhood, while the French Wars of Religion tore the country apart. It was central to my story. I had to build a picture of her home in my mind. I needed to go to France.

Yet, even before I left England, I knew I might be disappointed in my search for the actual building Roberda lived in. After Roberda’s father died in 1574, some years passed before his sons had their lands restored. I had read that, by then, the old chateau at Ducey had been reduced to rubble. But it was still worth a visit. At least I could explore the site, see if any echoes lingered there. 

Today, Ducey is a quaint, rather sleepy little market town about twenty kilometres from Mont Saint-Michel in Northern France. In ancient times, the town was a centre for fishing and a link on the salt road from Paris to Granville. The River Selune still babbles beneath the arches of an ancient bridge. 

The scene would be familiar to Roberda, although the current bridge is a replacement from the seventeenth century. I stayed in a restored watermill, now a hotel, with windows overhanging the shallow mill leet. The mill, or its predecessor, may have hung over those same waters in her time.

The River Selune in Ducey
© the author (?)

During my desk research, I discovered that an ancient chateau and extensive lands around Ducey came to Jacques de Lorges, Roberda’s grandfather, when he married his first wife, Claudine de La Boissière. It’s possible that Roberda’s father, their son Gabriel, was born there around 1530. Twenty years later, Jacques gave estates including Ducey to Gabriel. These lands were Jacques’ gift to his son on the occasion of his own third marriage. His bride was Charlotte de Maile and it was a double wedding. On the same day, Gabriel married Charlotte’s daughter, Isabeau.

As I expected, no trace of the original building remains, except for perhaps a handful of stones on the riverbank near to the new Chateau Montgomery.  A fine new residence, constructed in the early seventeenth century by Roberda’s youngest brother, Gabriel II, now occupies the site of the old house. Incidentally, Gabriel II is an interesting character. He joined the household of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, when the Montgomerys found a refuge in England. That was after the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. Gabriel II became a companion to the Earl’s son, Robert, who would later become Queen Elizabeth’s ill-fated favourite. The boys were about the same age and  spent time together at Chartley Castle in Staffordshire and Lamphey in Pembrokeshire. They both went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1579 Gabriel II returned to France to fight for Henri of Navarre, the Protestant leader. After his elder brother Jacques died in 1609, Gabriel II, the last surviving son, inherited the estates and built the new Chateau.
Perhaps the second Gabriel re-used some stone from the ancient walls of Roberda’s home when building his elegant mansion. It remained hidden behind a nondescript distillery until it was restored recently. Unfortunately, an event was in progress when I was there. The building was hidden behind banners and flags. I wasn’t able to venture inside or take a good photo myself.

(?) Caption Chateau Montgomery, Ducey,
sourced via Wikimedia Commons, credit Xfigpower.

A biography, ‘Montgommery, le Régicide’ by Alain Landurant, published in 1988, provided me with lots of background information. I had to translate it from French, but it helped me to delve into Gabriel’s role as a leader of the Huguenot forces during the Wars of Religion. What made it even better was that it provided a brief description of the old chateau.

According to Alain Landurant, Chateau Ducey was a granite stone mansion, simple but strong, with a large hall, which boasted a very tall fireplace. There were three chambers above and attics for the servants. Extensive grounds surrounded the house, stretching along the banks of the Selune, all the way to Mont St Michel. From the description, the lands were more wooded than they are today. He suggests Ducey was much smaller that the ancestral home at Lorges, which, he says, was an imposing two story dwelling with twenty-eight chambers and extensive gardens.

Northern France has a wealth surviving castles, so as I explored other settings in my story, I looked out for those that would help me build a picture of Roberda’s home in my mind. 
No trip to this part of France is complete without seeing Mont St Michel. The first sight of the island shimmering over the waters of the bay is breathtaking.

Mont St Michel, Normandy
© the author

Crossing the causeway, I followed in the footsteps of countless pilgrims as I climbed the steep street to the magnificent Benedictine Abbey perched at the top and imagined the monks going about their duties in the cloisters. They would come under attack from Gabriel’s troops when they laid waste to Normandy in 1562. Sheep now graze on the briny marshes that bound the bay, producing the finest lamb.
Driving through the small town of Pontorson, I noticed the mansion house where Roberda’s mother, Isabeau, would live out her days. Jacques de Lorges is said to have built the place around 1526. It is now a creeper-clad hotel, where traces of the old building still linger.
The Chateau Domfront, where Roberda imagined ghosts of long-dead soldiers, lies in ruins. It stands high above the town of the same name, commanding wonderful views across the countryside. In 1196, Henry II of England held Domfront, but Philip II of France seized it a few years later during the reign of King John. During the winter of 1417-1418, the English commanded by the Duke of Clarence laid siege to Domfront. It remained in English hands until 1450, when the French took it back. Domfront is an important location in my story, but it held nothing to inspire my vision of Ducey.

A sunny day by the ruins of Chateau Domfront.
© the author

Roberda visits the fortified town of St Lo with her mother and siblings, as they accompany her father when the army passes through that area. This city at the heart of the Cotentin peninsula came under sustained and devastating attack during the second World War. Now restored to its former glory and I was able to walk along the ancient ramparts. I could imagine the house near much restored Eglise Notre Dame where Roberda was woken by the bells. But again I found no model for Chateau Ducey. 

On the walls of St Lo
©the author

Northern France has a wealth of ancient castles. Amongst all those I visited, it was at the impressive fortress of Josselin I discovered my version of Roberda’s home. The situation above the river, dominating the town reminded me of the location in Ducey.
The formidable stone walls overlooking the River Oust once held Jasper Tudor captive for three years, kept him from all communication with his exiled nephew Henry. Those towering walls and looming towers  looked as though they could hold anyone prisoner.

As I walked through the entrance the view that greeted me came as a complete surprise. Behind those string walls was a mansion house enlivened by many windows that sparkled even on a dull day. Set amongst well-kept gardens, although perhaps larger than Ducey, this was the model I’d been seeking.

The startling contrast between the forbidding outer walls and what lay within at Josselin, inspired me to write the following passage.

Just as we emerged from the shadows the sun broke through the clouds, sending bright slanting beams down onto the ancient house. It was as if a magician had waved a wand and suddenly an enchanted grey-stone mansion had risen up from nowhere. In that very moment Ducey became home to me.

I must have been there before because Maman told me I was born at Ducey. But I had no memory of it. It was not large; certainly not a palace; not grand in the latest style like our house in Paris. But the gardens were lush and green and a tangle of pretty roses grew round the door.

Rosemary Griggs
21 March 2024

[Helen: my apologies I'm not sure that I have the right © captions with the right images]

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Outside Chateau Josselin

About the Author 

Author and speaker Rosemary Griggs has been researching Devon’s sixteenth-century history for years. She has discovered a cast of fascinating characters and an intriguing network of families whose influence stretched far beyond the West Country and loves telling the stories of the forgotten women of history – the women beyond the royal court; wives, sisters, daughters and mothers who played their part during those tumultuous Tudor years: the Daughters of Devon. 
Her novel A Woman of Noble Wit tells the story of Katherine Champernowne, Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother, and features many of the county’s well-loved places. 
Rosemary creates and wears sixteenth-century clothing, a passion which complements her love for bringing the past to life through a unique blend of theatre, history and re-enactment. Her appearances and talks for museums and community groups all over the West Country draw on her extensive research into sixteenth-century Devon, Tudor life and Tudor dress, particularly Elizabethan. 
Out of costume, Rosemary leads heritage tours of the gardens at Dartington Hall, a fourteenth-century manor house and now a visitor destination and charity supporting learning in arts, ecology and social justice.

Author Links:

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Follow the Tour

Twitter Handle: @RAGriggsauthor @cathiedunn
Instagram Handle: @griggs6176 @thecoffeepotbookclub 

Hashtags: #HistoricalFiction #Devon #Elizabethan #FrenchWarsOfReligion #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Tour Schedule Page: 

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  1. Thanks so much for hosting Rosemary Griggs today, and with such a fascinating post about her research.

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

  2. Thank you for hosting my Blog Tour

    Best wishes



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