Author Interview: The Sister Queens' Sophie Perinot

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm very pleased to present my very first author interview for Ageless Pages Reviews and am very happy with how it turned out. I read  (and loved) The Sister Queens so it was a rare pleasure to get to virtually speak with such a talented new author.

1. Both women experience a wide variety of events throughout their lives - wars, regencies, children, affairs - but which do you think of the two were happier with her Queenly lot in life? Eleanor with her doting husband but bad King, or Marguerite with her pious husband and marital problems?

Of course when it comes to something like happy we can never know for sure, especially with people who have been dead more than 700 years, but I personally would say Eleanor was happier. She had considerable political influence in her court, she had personal wealth, she had members of her Savoyard family to support and advise her, and she built an incredibly close nuclear family. If the measure of happiness is being loved and loving in return (and that’s my personal measure) then Eleanor had every reason to be content. Yes, I am doing a little projecting—I know I would rather be Eleanor than Marguerite so I assume she was happy, but I also think we have some historical indicators of the sisters’ relative happiness. I’d like to present two—one for each sister—taken from the ends of their husband’s lives.

Historically we know that Henry’s care for his wife endured to the very end of his days. When he knew he was dying in the autumn of 1272, he once again thought of Eleanor’s future (this time without him), granting her custody of Windsor castle. And it was there – the sight of so many happy memories from their thirty-six years of marriage—that Eleanor went immediately after Henry’s death, to grieve for him and to find a respite from sadness by being with her grandchildren.

In contrast, we have powerful evidence that Marguerite remained angry with Louis even after his death. Almost immediately after Louis perished (on an ill-fated second trip to the Holy Land which Marguerite had opposed) proceedings were begun to canonize him. A committee of clergymen gathered at St. Denis to collect testimony on Louis’s saintliness. All of the royal family and the most important French nobles came forward to testify, but Marguerite steadfastly refused, even when her testimony was solicited by her son the King. If you want evidence of an unhappy married life I would say that qualifies.

2. Was there a particular character you enjoyed the most while writing their perspective? Or one who harder to articulate?

I love both sisters. That is one of the things that made writing this book such a joy. Who I loved the best at any given moment depended on who I was writing.

I think that to write a character in the first-person convincingly (and I hope I’ve done that) you really have to become that person just as an actor becomes a character. So when I was writing Marguerite I was fully immersed in her struggles and found many things I could identify with. Ditto the more outspoken and mercurial Eleanor.

Outside of the sisters themselves, I have a real soft spot for Jean de Joinville. Even though he is never the narrator in the novel I could hear his voice very clearly in my head, and I always looked forward to those portions of the book where he popped up. When he appeared in the garden while Marguerite and Louis were recruiting knights for crusade surprising the Queen I don’t know who was happier to see him Marguerite or me.

3. Who would you say is the better Queen for their time? Unassuming Marguerite who takes a backseat and accedes to the will of her lord and husband easily or the more involved, headstrong Eleanor?

Certainly Marguerite was more beloved by her subjects (who seemed to appreciate her considerably more than her husband did). And, besides being poised, she was capable of strong and determined action—as we see when she moves decisively to ransom Louis in the Holy Land. I wonder what she could have been and could have done had she been accorded more influence at her husband’s court (or subsequently at her son’s).

While Marguerite was revered in France, Eleanor (and her Savoyard uncles) made easy scapegoats for the English Baron’s. These noblemen doubtless resented the Savoyard influence over Henry—influence they would have preferred to wield themselves. I personally think that Henry’s rule would have been even less effective without Eleanor and the other Savoyards, but I don’t think that was recognized at the time. Rather, as you suggest, Eleanor was viewed as “virago” – which meant overbearing or domineering—in her own period. It’s not clear that we would think of her that way now. Probably the words we would use would be “ambitious” and “self-assured.” Or maybe not, the world sometimes still uses some downright unpleasant words to label powerful women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

4. I know the Count of Provence had four daughters, why did you choose to focus only on the oldest
two sisters?

The relationship between Marguerite and Eleanor moved me. I am a “big-sister,” and my relationship with own sister defines me and has since the day she came home from the hospital. Marguerite and Eleanor were the closest of the four sisters, despite being separated by the English Channel for long stretches of time, and their relationship of mutual support, tinged with rivalry, really spoke to me.

I wanted my book to examine the early reigns of these important queens (both France and England were major powers at the time), while they were finding their feet in strange lands and establishing roles for themselves as queens, wives and mothers. Therefore, my novel (which, as you know, covers a twenty year period between 1234 and 1254) actually ends before either Sanchia or Beatrice had achieved crowns of their own. So that effectively limited the roles of the younger sisters to supporting players.

5. What decided you on the endpoint of the novel, with the women only halfway through their long

I am not going to lie, book-length entered into my decision. Getting a five-hundred page novel published as a debut author is pretty extraordinary. Getting a thousand page novel published –well, it never would have happened. Given that I couldn’t put the sister’s entire lives into one book, I thought that their reunion after nearly twenty-years of supporting, counseling and consoling each other from opposite sides of the English Channel made an excellent place to end my novel. The Christmas visit of 1254 brought closure to many strands of my story and saw each of my sisters coming to terms with some big issues in her life. The meeting also gave them a chance, in person, to reaffirm their sisterly loyalties. At the same time this gathering of the royal families laid the foundation—with the sister queens’ help—of a lasting understanding between the crowns of France and England, so it was a political milestone as well.

6. Any considerations for returning to these two sister-queens for a follow-up novel down the line?

I would love to do a sequel if there was demand for one. There are plenty of adventures left in life for both Marguerite and Eleanor.


My thanks to Ms. Perinot for taking the time to write such lengthy, considered answers. This is a lovely book and one I heartily recommend to anyone fond of strong women in historical fiction. There are still more stops yet on the book tour for the Sister Queens, so don't miss those as well!


  1. GREAT interview! First, I must cheer: sequel, sequel! Would love to revisit these two! Second, I love the tidbit about Perinot's happiness at 'seeing' Jean -- that cracked me up.

    1. Audra, I am sweet on him--really I am. I haven't crushe on anyone like this since Philippe de Mornay the Seigneur of du Plessis-Marly

    2. I was really pleased at the way this turned out. I was fairly nervous but the author is (obviously) lovely and so personable.

      I have to admit, I did a cheer as well at the possibility of a sequel - I'd love to see what happens later on.


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