The Truth Behind the Countess’ Captive

NOTE: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. 

Inventing The Fairytale Keeper

The Fairytale Keeper CoverThe premise for The Fairytale Keeper series came to me during a children’s literature class. While we compared the fairytales of different nations, the professor noted that most cultures had their own versions of Cinderella.

This fact peaked my curiosity. If so many cultures have a Cinderella story, did a real Cinderella—living hundreds or thousands of years ago—inspire the tale? Or is something so compelling about this legend that most cultures created their own?

I was more interested in Grimm’s fairytales—specifically Snow White. So my questions soon became: Could Grimm’s fairytales have a single origin? The Fairytale Keeper series assumes that they did, that Grimm’s fairytales are based on a real person. And I posit that person is the real Snow White.

Fact Versus Fiction

As I’ve explained in the author’s note of my previous novel, I write novels that I want to read. To market them, I must put them into a genre category. Historical fiction felt like the best fit. I think readers often don’t know what to expect from this genre. Some novels adhere to the facts, adding little more than dialogue to history. Others blend history and fiction to craft a unique plot. Either way, most readers–myself included–want to know what was real and what wasn’t. In the following sections, I separate fact from fantasy.

The Characters

Konrad Von Hochstaden

Image of Konrad Von Hochstaden, Archbishop of Cologne

The Countess’s Captive trails people from all treads of Medieval society. Sadly, thirteenth century peasants and the lower nobility are often—at best—genealogical footnotes. For this reason, everyone below the rank of duke or duchess is fictional. Even Galadriel.

Agnes of Bar, wife to Duke Frederick II, was a duchess of Lorraine. Besides a date of birth, marriage, and death, I have found nothing on her. Thus, her traits and appearance are all products of my imagination. Agnes died in 1226, but I really wanted Galadriel’s crotchety, dowager duchess mother-in-law to be alive. So if she is mostly fictional, why didn’t I change her name? Because I liked it. To me, the name Agnes is synonymous with the pompous, opinionated matriarch I created.

Ulrich is also fictional: the fourth son that Frederick and Agnes never had. Their first and second sons were dukes. Their third son was a churchmen. Frederick and Agnes likely would have steered Ulrich in the same direction as their third son. It benefited noblemen to have sons in both secular and church positions. Steering didn’t always work. Mothers had favorites, and sons didn’t always do as they were told. Luckily for the Duke of Lorraine, he had the lordship of Bitsch to gift his son.

Konrad von Hochstaden, who is only mentioned in this novel, is also real. He served as Archbishop of Cologne from 1248 to 1261.

The Plot

Though I’ve found no evidence of a great fever sweeping Europe during this time, terrible illnesses certainly existed. Bubonic plague hit Europe twice, once in the sixth century and again in the fourteenth. Historians debate whether influenza existed before the sixteenth century, but illnesses called “fevers” afflicted European cities throughout history, killing many people.

Galadriel’s rise from merchant’s daughter to countess would have been improbable. But Anne Boleyn rose from a steward’s daughter to queen of England, so such things were possible.

Lenten weddings were also rare as they were forbidden by the church. But in my research, I’ve found that people of the Middle Ages were just as good at bending their strict rules as they were at creating them.

I do believe that a countess with a chaplain certainly could have convinced him to perform a Lenten wedding. And if he refused, she could have cast him out and found a chaplain who would.

How likely is it that a countess would marry a shoemaker? Not likely—but also not impossible. Things like this did happen. In the fifteenth century, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, Jaquetta Rivers, married a squire. As punishment, the king fined her and cast her out of court.

So why wasn’t Galadriel punished? The Hohenstaufen kings lacked the central power that English kings wielded. The Holy Roman Empire spanned a larger area, housing powerful nobles and churchmen who wanted power of their own. King Conrad and his emperor father dealt with anti-kings and excommunications. I feel it’s safe to say that a countess’ marriage would have been a low priority to them.

So if you’ve noticed, a few plot points from The Countess’ Captive are unlikely. It was also unlikely that a French peasant like Joan of Arc would lead the French army to victory. Or that a queen consort of France like Eleanor of Aquitaine could divorce her husband and become queen of England two years later. These are only two examples in a sea of Medieval unlikelihoods. In my opinion, good stories aren’t composed from what is expected, but what is not.

The Setting

This vintage topographical map show the layout of Bitsch,Bitsch was a fiefdom of the Dukes of Lorraine. In 1297, Eberhard I traded three castle to Duke Frederick III of Lorraine for the area. From then on, Eberhard called himself the Count of Zweibrücken and Lord of Bitsch.

I’ve found some evidence that Frederick I, Duke of Upper Lorraine, was named Lord of Bitsch in the twelfth century and later Duke of Bitsch. Frederick was a second son and only inherited the Dukedom of Lorraine after his brother’s death in 1206. He had taken the fiefdom of Bitsch several decades earlier.

This makes sense. Frederick would have wanted land and a title of his own. Strangely, it appears that none of his many children inherited the fiefdom or the title of Bitsch.

If this is true, I feel it safe to assume that the fiefdom reverted back to the dukedom of Lorraine. This gap would have opened up a period of time for Agnes of Bar to gift Bitsch to her make-believe son, Ulrich.

Bitsch’s hill has held a castle, now a fortress, since the twelfth century. Its coat of arms is a white banner with two serpents coming out of a black diamond. I used historical maps and existing castles to recreate what I think Bitsch would have been like in the mid-thirteenth century.

With the settings, I strive for accuracy. Historical maps and descriptions inspired every place from Cologne, to Bitsch, to the stops Galadriel’s carriage made on its journey. That being said, the names of all the taverns are fictional.

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