Please meet Susan Abernathy who writes The Freelance History Writer. I discovered her blog early in my research in virtual space. After I decided to write my own blog about the women of the French Renaissance I screwed up my courage to ask her if she would be willing to do an interview. She has been wonderfully supportive ever since.
The Remarkable Susan Abernethy
Susan Abernethy, who is a remarkable historian and a blogger extraordinaire. Her expertise in Renaissance women, research methods, information sources, and blogging tips inspired me as I began my blogging journey. They amaze even more as I continue. Her output is prodigious. Moreover, it is always well-informed and well-written.
The Freelance History Writer—Susan Abernethy
Susan is the author of one of my favourite blogs, The Freelance History Writer, which she has been writing for several years. It is an excellent source for information on French history, Burgundian history and Early Modern History as well as many other categories that aren’t entirely in my area but are perhaps in yours. She often features women who are undeservedly not well-known. A recent article on Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury is a case in point.
Blogger and Historian Extraordinaire!
Susan’s blog articles on the Siege of Rennes, Anne of Brittany, Anne of France, King Louis XII and his quarrel with Anne of France and other topics have been of great value to me in my research for my current novel and planned series of novels set in the French Renaissance.
My current novel–whose working title is Promises to Keep–includes many of these people as central characters. On many occasions, I began my research by checking to see if she had articles about them on her Freelance History Writer blog.
A central issue in my novel is Louis XII’s lack of a son. During a time when the borders of Europe were determined by inheritance, the lack of a male heir was considered a state crisis as Tudor historians and novels/ TV series lovers well know. It was equally the case in France, though no queen lost her head [or king either ] over it. But it caused wars and stormy scenes as Susan’s blog [and my novels] reveal.
Welcome, Susan Abernathy!
Susan, what kinds of research do you do and where do you go to find your sources?
For the most part, I try to read two or more books on my subject if I can find them. I find it informative and instructive to read about other historian’s interpretations. We are really lucky, too, that we live in the age of the internet where it’s possible to discover sources and information so readily from the comfort of our own home. One of my favourite sources is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for British history. These entries are written by respected historians and they always cite primary sources.
Do you work through a group of related topics or keep a list of subjects for further research?
In fact, I do both. There is a list of related topics at the top of my blog, The Freelance History Writer. Tudor history is at the top of my list as it is my favourite subject. I have a long list of articles there and continue to add articles on this subject off and on. For a while, I worked on all the Stuart kings of Scotland and their wives and this topic is pretty much finished. I still have the intention of writing about all the Queens of England and France so this is an ongoing project.
Other topics of interest are English and French medieval and Renaissance history. I’ve also delved into the Anglo-Saxon and Viking eras. Overall, my favourite subject is women’s history so there will be many more articles regarding them. I actually have a long list of topics I plan to write on. I’m working my way through this.
Your Freelance History Writer blog covers a wide range of periods and countries, Susan. How do you decide what and who to write about?
My fascination with history is really pretty broad because I love it all! But in the interest of keeping myself focused and disciplined, I try to limit myself to a few topics. When I began, I focused on women’s history. My interest in history began with the Tudor era so I have written about women in this time period as well as medieval and Renaissance women. My second love of history was sparked in college when I took every course offered by my favourite history professor. He taught French history. And really English and French history are intertwined and related.
Along with the standard topics I concentrate on, I have a tendency to write about whatever topic heightens my interest with my reading. Recently I decided to read the four-volume series on the Valois Dukes of Burgundy by Richard Vaughan. For the most part, this is French history but it is interwoven with Dutch, Belgian and Holy Roman Empire history. I’ve written about the wives of Philip the Good and Charles the Bold and would like to do some articles on the wives of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless. I’m also looking into a mysterious woman who was the Duchess of Brabant in the 14th century. I’m really having too much fun.
You mentioned that Anne de Beaujeu [Bourbon] is one of your favourite historical personalities. What do you admire?
Anne’s father, King Louis XI of France is such an intriguing character. He was also quite the misogynist and even he said his daughter was the “least foolish of her sex in the kingdom of France which contained no wise ones”. If Louis believed this, she must have been pretty amazing. He thought enough of her to, for all intents and purposes, appoint her regent for her teenage brother, Charles VIII. Anne was the de facto Queen of France for about five years. And this was a country that went to great lengths to debar women from occupying the throne.
Anne was the quintessential politician. Many ambassadors of the time recognized her as the power behind the throne. She managed to maintain her power when there were many warring factions among the nobility. And Louis of Orleans’ mission in life was to unseat her and he never managed to do so. In fact, Anne got the best of Louis. One of Anne’s greatest achievements was instituting the process of annexing the Duchy of Brittany into the kingdom of France. Many kings had tried to do this and she actually managed it.
Even when Anne retired from the regency, she maintained her influence at court. Anne also worked tirelessly to carve out a small kingdom for herself (the duchy of Bourbon) which she hoped to pass on to her only surviving child, her daughter Suzanne. In doing this she created some problems for France but it was a remarkable feat. To top this all off, she wrote a book of lessons for her daughter that some compare to Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. She is one of the few Renaissance women to write a book that survives to this day. One can only imagine the recognition and place in history she would hold if she had been a man!
Susan, do you have a favourite bookstore? An excellent source of Renaissance historical materials? A library? Do you do much research online?
I do have a favourite bookstore. Barnes and Noble still has brick and mortar stores and I hope they continue to do so as well as having a full selection of books available online There are other websites which offer hard to find books such as bookdepository.com, bookfinder.com and ABEBooks.com. One other excellent source for books is Google Books. There are so many resources on this website it’s almost mind-boggling. I’ve found information from books that are 100 years old here! Even if they don’t have the entire book, you can find a place to buy it or locate it in a library close to your location.
Because I’ve been addicted to history since I was a teenager, my personal library is a precious resource to me. There have been countless times where I’ve been researching a subject and have found much-needed information in my own books.
Online research is valuable but can be tricky. Fortunately, I worked in the college library when I was studying for my history degree. This helped me learn how to do research and how to distinguish between valid and dubious sources. It’s important, whether researching online or in books, to know what sources to trust.
A pleasure, Susan
I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Susan Abernethy as much as I did. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I have learned so much–and continue to learn each time you post– not only about the subject but also about blogging successfully.
I invite everyone to read Susan’s blog at The Freelance History Writer,
Susan Abernethy also contributes to the following websites:
I am a faithful follower.