Could a girl born here, in the manor house at Fifield in Oxfordshire have journeyed across the ocean in Elizabethan times and found love here, on the Island of Roanoke, in the region then known as Virginia? I speculate that this might have happened in my novel ‘The Lost Duchess’ on the basis of one intriguing fact in the records concerning the first attempt to establish a permanent English colony in America.
Island of Roanoke
There is an ‘Emme Merrymoth’ listed among the 17 women (two of them pregnant), and 11 children, who formed part of the expedition of at least 113 colonists in total which left England for the New World in 1587. That name intrigued me.
Why would she want to leave a position of privilege in the court of the Queen? Well, life for the Queen’s ladies was actually pretty harsh. They were at Her Majesty’s beck and call all hours of day and night, with no freedom of action, and little hope of release. Ladies could not marry without consent, which was rarely granted because the Queen expected her ladies to remain virgins just as she was. Any lady who defied the Queen risked being subjected to the full force of her wrath which could include physical violence and imprisonment in the Tower.
The galleon Elizabeth at Roanoke Island
I think this kind of detective work in building character is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a novel. The handsome mariner, Kit Doonan, has an even more fascinating story behind him, but that’s for another place… I owe quite a bit to the Merrymouth Inn!
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‘The Lost Duchess’ has been shortlisted for the Readers’ Best Historical Read Award
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