Who Knew…… Sultana Raziya

Born in the early 1200s, Raziya was the only daughter of a Mamluk ruler of the Delhi of Sultanate. (Her father’s rise to power from slave worker to ruler is fascinating.)

Perhaps because of her father’s unusual background, Raziya, who had born free, had an unusual education for a female. She learned to read and write, saw how the government operated, and along with her brothers she gained the skills of martial arts and archery.

In 1231, her father left Delhi leading a military campaign. He also left her in charge of the government—a job she handled with ease.

When her father died in 1236 still on that military campaign, he named her his heir, a wish Muslim government officials ignored when they installed her half-brother on the throne. Her brother, a weak puppet for those nobles, lasted six months before his assassination.

In November 1236, Raziya became the first woman Muslim ruler in history, leaving purdah, dropping her veil, and dressing in men’s clothing. Coins issued in her reign proclaimed her “the pillar of women” and “Queen of the times.” She became known as Sultana Raziya.

She expanded the territory she ruled, but she also established schools and libraries. Her government built roads, dug wells, and encouraged trade. She advocated equal treatment and respect for her Hindu subjects. Raziya patronized the arts, encouraging artists of all kinds.

She proved herself to an efficient and effective ruler, and certain Muslim nobles could not abide living under the rule of a woman. They had accepted her accession to the throne because they thought they could control her. Some local rulers rebelled. Several of her brothers joined the rebellions, hoping to gain the throne for themselves. Sultana Raziya did not stay in Delhi, she faced her opponents on the battlefield, often leading her forces while riding on an elephant.


In 1240, while she was away from the capital of Delhi, Raziya’s half-brother seized the throne. During her attempt to regain it, her forces were defeated. Those who survived the battle abandoned her. She attempted to flee, but was captured and killed in October 1240.

According to a historian of the time, Sultana Raziya ruled for 3 years, 6 months, and 6 days.

And now you know….

As you might imagine, Raziya’s story had captured the imaginations of modern storytellers. A biopic came out in 1983, but in 2015 a historical drama series was made that was not very historic. On the air from March to November 2015, the series has been shown in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, several places in Africa and even made it to TV in Germany.

If you want to follow up on Raziya, know that there are variants on the spelling of her name. Just be flexible.

But you got to know the territory…

The musical The Music Man begins on a train with a group of salesmen talking about the changing marketplace. One section of the song has one salesman, named Charlie, declaring that no matter what, they need to know the territory.

For me, writing and publishing is a whole new territory that I am exploring. I am not sure how successful my exploration is, but I am continuing to learn. It is certainly not something I have mastered.

p2p coverI released Princess to Prioress at the end of June. Some people might think writing a book is the most difficult task. Others would quickly shake their heads and point out that rewriting and editing is a monumental chore. What outsiders might not realize is that marketing is also a huge undertaking, and in my case the marketing in primarily in my hands.

Unless you are an already well-known writer, getting word of your book out there is not always easy—unless you have a huge family and enormous circle of friends—or in my case, former students who might relish taking a red pen to my words. There are many services out there offering help in marketing in exchange for large amounts of money. Even a Goodreads book giveaway is expensive for the author.

cropped-adela_av_normandie_1062-1138_medium.jpgI did not write Princess to Prioress to become a New York Times best-selling author—although I wouldn’t object to being ranked higher than 1833 on Amazon. I wrote the book because the subject, Adele, Countess of Blois, is a remarkable woman overlooked by the traditional history books. This is her story written to be accessible for people who are not medieval scholars.

I envisioned Adele’s world and attempted share that vision with my readers. Writing is familiar and comfortable territory.

I am struggling with the marketing, but I won’t learn any younger. I also am working on another book, Hell Hath No Fury. It is a very different type of historical fiction, and I am pleased that the first chapter has been selected for publication this fall in the Petigru Review.

Still, I got to know the territory.

Admiration for another writer of historical fiction.. The Poison Bed


Unreliable narrators, psychological thriller. Who said history was boring?

In 1613 Sir Thomas Overbury was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the “request” of King James I. Five months later he died of “natural causes.”

Ten days later Lady Essex, nee Frances Howard, was granted a decree of nullity from her marriage to the Earl of Essex. Three months later, Frances married Robert Carr, a favorite of James I.

Beginning as a page in the royal court, Carr attracted the attention of James by 1607 and in the years that followed was showered with titles and gifts–so much so that he became the gatekeeper to the King. Thomas Overbury had been Carr’s friend and mentor who assisted him in the rise to the King’s favor.

The court was divided into two main factions fighting for the attention of the King–the Essex faction and the Howard faction. Overbury insisted that a marriage to Frances, Lady Essex would be the ruin of Carr. By marrying Frances Howard,Robert Carr no longer was neutral and those who opposed the Howards searched to bring him down.

By 1615, Carr and the King have a falling out.. and Carr as Duke of Somerset and Lord Chamberlain and his wife Frances are put in the tower and charged with causing the death of Thomas Overbury by poison.

Those are the facts.. Elizabeth Fremantle has told the story in alternating chapters–Her and Him. What is the truth? Who is truthful? What is real?

This is a fascinating look and interpretation of these events and the people involved.

Moving Beyond the Card Catalog…

…… and onto Amazon.

How many of you have googled yourself?  And found your name in unlikely places—no, not the most wanted list, but some place you did not expect.

Today that type of search yields many sites that offer you background information (and criminal records) or addresses or phone numbers—all that public information swirling in cyber space.  Some where in that list is a lesson plan I created twenty years ago for National Geographic. I hope some teacher, somewhere, found it useful.

Before I moved out of Massachusetts, I loved searching for my name in the catalog of my local library system and seeing my name pop up.  It was attached to a couple of videos on town history done for the town Historical Commission and the Tucker family history.   Multiple copies of the Tucker history were printed at the local copy store, shared with Tucker descendants, and placed by local libraries in their genealogical and local history collections.

Before I left, 200 Years and Still Friends made it into the catalogue. This for me was “big time.”  A limited run was printed, there was no ISBN number, and most copies were sold “in house” to Friends Academy families.  Still, I was and am still proud of the work that went into it.  I researched and wrote the text, but the layout was done by Geraldine Millham.

draft1In the next few days, I step up the game. My name will now be on Amazon and other book seller’s lists.  I am publishing under my own imprint (Stitches in Time Publishing) Princess to Prioress: The Story of Adele of Blois.

It will be in paperback form through Amazon and ebook form on Amazon and from other ebook vendors.  It actually will be available to library ebook programs.

I will not make a fortune on this venture.  However, Adele’s story needed to be told, and I wanted to do it.

So, if you like historical fiction, keep an eye out for my name on a cover. p2p cover

Crazy or Creative?

Recently I gave a presentation on Sarah Pardee Winchester whose home in California is publicized as one of the most haunted houses in America.  Website after website claim this woman who inherited half of the Winchester rifle fortune in 1880 was

Sarah Winchester

haunted by the spirits of those killed with the automatic rifle and spent the rest of her life building this home to placate and/or fool the spirits.  So cue the spooky music and show pictures of a house with at least 160 rooms, odd windows, doors that open to nothingness and talk of séances in the middle of the night.

But wait a minute.

Yes, the house is a labyrinth of rooms, built with no real overall plan.  Yes, doors open into nothingness, or into a wall.  There are staircases that lead nowhere.  There is a room inside another room. There is a skylight in a floor.

Did she construct this to confuse the spirits? Did a medium tell her she would not die as long as construction continued? Or could there logical explanations for this unusual house and the actions of its eccentric creator?

Sarah Pardee was born about 1840 in New Haven, Connecticut and by all accounts was intelligent and attractive. In 1862 she married William Winchester who was expected to inherit his father’s shirt manufacturing company, but the family sold that businesses and created the Winchester Automatic Rifle Company, the gun that “won the west.”  Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Annie Oakley, all used it.  And it turned a prosperous family into an incredibly wealthy family.

Sarah and William’s first and only child, Annie, died at six weeks.  Unable to take nutrition, the child starved to death.  I can only imagine how horrible that would be to experience. The couple never had another child.

William died in 1880 of tuberculosis leaving Sarah one-half of the Winchester fortune. Her income in today’s’ spending power would be about $1000 an hour. The couple had moved with his family when they married, so as a widow, she had never lived on her own and never been responsible for her own finances.

By 1886 Sarah left New Haven and moves to the Santa Clara valley in California. One of her sisters lived in San Francisco and two other sisters and their families came with Sarah. She had by this time developed rheumatoid arthritis and the climate in California was undoubtedly an improvement over Connecticut.

Winchester House early 1900s

Sarah bought an eight room farm house and began to build additions. She built onto; she built up, and she kept on building.

The story goes that she hired teams of carpenters who worked 24/7 until her death, but there seems to be evidence from journals belonging to the estate manager that those teams of carpenters did not work around the clock for close to forty years. However, she definitely had many people working on her additions over the years.

The question I grapple with is why.  Why did she keep building? Why all the oddities?

I know she had no overall plan.  She just ordered a room or series of rooms built. Sarah did all the designing herself. Her carpenters would get a drawing she made on a piece of ordinary paper. Then she gave other orders changing her mind. So why?

Yet, what options did she have as a wealthy widow with a crippling disease?  Travel was undoubtedly difficult.  She had no children, only nieces and nephews. The disease ultimately disfigured her enough that the woman once known as the ‘Belle of New Haven’ might not want to be seen in public.  In fact, when she went out, she wore a veil.

We know Sarah was intelligent with a love of math and science and based on her subscription to architectural magazines, she loved architecture. How could she fill her days?  Was the building of this house a creative outlet for her? Was the planning for the construction and the furnishings of this house the way she filled her days? Was she deliberately trying to provide employment for her workers, giving people paychecks and not handouts?

Or was she haunted by the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle? Did the spirits make

Winchester House today

her do it?

We may never know.

But I take the hype about the haunted nature of Winchester House with a large grain of salt.  A little voice inside me says if the house had been built by a man the narrative would be different.