THE BRIDLED TONGUE: Five Questions for Catherine Meyrick [INTERVIEW]

Catherine Meyrick's THE BRIDLED TONGUE

Author Catherine Meyrick stops by to chat about her latest book, The Bridled Tongue. (Photo courtesy Canva/Courante Publishing/Catherine Meyrick)

Why do people get married? It’s a question many of us ask ourselves, before and after taking vows. Yet as sticky a question as that can be in modern times, back in 1586 England, the answers were even more complicated than they are now. Find out why as author Catherine Meyrick sits down to chat with us about her new historical novel, The Bridled Tongue. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview! —J&H

J&H: In 1586 England, how were women viewed and what rights did they have, if any? Why did this piece of history fascinate you?

CM: My interest in the Elizabethan period really began in my first year at university, mainly due to the witty and scholarly approach of the lecturers who truly brought the period to life. And while history at this distance is often about the big names and great movements, I have always been interested in the lives of ordinary people in the past—people just like us.

Women in England in this period, as in many others, lived with many limitations both legal and social. Ideally, they were expected to be obedient, sober, pious and industrious and not too talkative. Given the volume of written advice that has survived on how women should behave, it is clear that many did not fit this ideal.

Adult single women and widows often had more say in their lives than married women. They could enter into contracts and own land. Widows often continued running their dead husband’s businesses but women were excluded from university education and from the professions. Women from the higher levels of society were often well educated and many women could read and write, particularly the wives and daughters of merchants and gentry, but the further you went down the social scale this was less likely.

A married woman had few legal rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband. When a woman married, she lost not only her surname but could no longer freely choose where she lived and had no legal protection against violence from her husband. Her moveable property became her husband’s and he had control of any land she owned and its profits during his lifetime. If it was proved that she had committed adultery, she could lose her dower, the property intended to support her as a widow. While a man who killed his wife was tried for murder and if found guilty was hanged, a woman who killed her husband was tried for petty treason and a guilty verdict could see her burnt at the stake.

While this gives the impression that women’s lives were grim, there were many who had happy marriages and satisfying lives. Most advice manuals written for men contemplating marriage counselled kindness and respect and, increasingly, the idea of the wife as a helpmeet. A common proverb of the time said that ‘seldom doth the husband thrive without leave of his wife.’

J&H: What was it about Alyce Bradley that spoke to you most? What can modern women learn from the way she approaches life?

CM: I envisaged Alyce as a woman of her times holding the beliefs commonly held about women and their role in life. Most people expected to marry, men and women alike. When the novel begins Alyce is at a point where she believes that she is unikely to ever marry and have children. She is an intelligent woman who wants a useful role in life which she hopes to find as a waiting woman in a congenial household. The life she takes on after her marriage allows her to use the many and varied skills she learnt both from her grandmother and from her previous mistress.

I based Alyce’s role at Ashthorpe, in part, on Margaret, Lady Hoby (1571-1633), author of the earliest known diary written by a woman in English, who was almost an exemplar of the pious, sober and industrious gentlewoman of this period. Her diary provides a glimpse the busy domestic life of a woman managing a large household and estate, often in her husband’s absence. It also gives a strong sense of the breadth of skills possessed by women in these positions, from entertaining guests, sewing and preserving foods to pulling hemp, weighing and dying wool and spinning as well as distilling medicinal salves and tinctures and providing medical care for the household and tenants, keeping the accounts and managing the wider farm.

Many women fulfilled this sort of role and no doubt found a sense of purpose managing such large enterprises. Most people, men and women, seemed to accept the vicissitudes of life with stoicism such as Alyce shows in her own troubles. And, I believe, it is probably stoicism and kindness that will get us through our current troubles.

J&H: Thomas Granville is a force to be reckoned with. What is it about him that begins to intrigue Alyce? But why may he still prove dangerous and a threat to her future?

CM: While Alyce resents the pressure placed on her to marry, her unease is lessened by the courtesy and respect Thomas shows to her. She is a sensible woman of her time and has no expectation of a love match. In this period love matches were frowned upon and considered not to be the basis of a good marriage, romantic love being an unreliable emotion which marred judgement. Factors such as finances, character and parity of age and rank were considered more important in the choice of a spouse than affection. Still, by the end of the 16th century, most thought that a marriage should begin with a degree of liking, and that if the parties were well matched in other aspects, affection would develop later. The making of Alyce’s marriage was quite usual for the period.

I do not see Thomas as a threat to Alyce at any point within the novel or beyond its end; although he does show anger in one scene, there is no real danger of physical violence. Others may attempt to use Alyce as a way to harm Thomas, but I do not see that he can be held responsible for the behavior of those others. They choose to behave in the way they do.

J&H: As a modern writer living in Melbourne in 2020, do you think the ideals of marriage have changed dramatically since 1586 or are there aspects of it that seem timeless and remain very much the same?

CM: Melbourne is a modern city, home to people from many and varied cultures. Each has its own marriage traditions and expectations. I can only speak about marriage in the western Christian tradition. Alyce’s marriage took place using the Anglican rite found in the 1559 Book of Common Prayer. In this the husband promised to comfort, honour and keep his wife and to love her as he did himself. The wife promised to obey and serve her husband and to love, honour, and keep him. Both vowed to keep faithful to each other until death. When marriages were troubled or abusive there was no way out for most people. Today both parties repeat the same vows to love, honour, comfort and keep the other and to keep faithful for as long as they both live. The woman no longer promises to obey, reflecting the modern acceptance of equality between men and women. And when marriages fail, parties separate.

Marriage has evolved, slowly, in ways which reflect our times and our views of the way people should relate to each other. For us marriages are not arranged and romantic love is considered essential. The marriage service expresses the ideal of marriage which is in many ways similar to that of four hundred years ago. Even today I think people enter marriage with a similar hope that, beyond the headiness of romantic love, they have found someone with whom they can grow old together, sharing love, kindness and care that will see them through—a firm ally in life’s battles.

J&H: We are living in a very stressful time. What are five books you’d recommend to readers looking for something to help them escape and/or cope with life at this moment?

CM: I am a big believer in books which offer an escape. These are a few of my favourite books. I have read them all several times.

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Scarlett O’Hara. Need I say more?
  • Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman: The story of Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John, who married Llewelyn, Prince of Gwenydd (north Wales) in 1205.
  • Wintercombe by Pamela Belle: Silence St Barbe, the young wife of an older Parliamentary officer, has to deal with danger and her own personal conflicts when Royalist soldiers occupy her house during the English Civil War.
  • Harp in the South by Ruth Park: The story of a struggling working-class family in Sydney just after World War 2. This is a much-loved Australian classic.
  • The Once and Future King by TH White: An enthralling retelling of the Arthurian legend told with both wit and warmth.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: In 1922, a former Russian aristocrat is placed under indefinite house arrest in a Moscow Hotel. A truly uplifting story.

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ABOUT THE BRIDLED TONGUE

Catherine Meyrick's THE BRIDLED TONGUE

Courante Publishing

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

England 1586

Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was—unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft.

Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than mutual courtesy and respect.

As the King of Spain launches his great armada and England braces for invasion, Alyce must confront closer dangers from both her own and Thomas’s past, threats that could not only destroy her hopes of love and happiness but her life. And Thomas is powerless to help.

‘People never forget. When the fancy takes them, they bring the old stories out and embroider them further.’

Catherine Meyrick

Catherine Meyrick

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record —tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways not unlike ourselves.

Although she grew up in regional Victoria, Australia, she has lived all her adult life in Melbourne. She has worked as a nurse, a tax assessor and finally a librarian. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also a family history obsessive.

For more information, please visit Catherine Meyrick’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

THE BRIDLED TONGUE
By Catherine Meyrick
342 pp. Courante Publishing. $14.95

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours bannerPurchase The Bridled Tongue at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Bridled Tongue is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

3 Responses to THE BRIDLED TONGUE: Five Questions for Catherine Meyrick [INTERVIEW]

  1. Pingback: The Bridled Tongue – Some Background | Catherine Meyrick

  2. Darcy Fink says:

    1)This author was willing to come to your house? 2) this sounds like my kind of book, can I win it??

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