In 12th century France, women were generally regarded as useful only in the home – meant to run the household and raise children. It was men's work to handle politics and warfare. There have been exceptions to this unwritten rule throughout history, and one such exception was Ermengarde, viscountess of Narbonne. Her exceptional role in France's history was what drew author Phyllis Hall Haislip to write her first novel for adults.
"The Viscount's Daughter," published in 2013, is the first volume in a planned trilogy following Ermengarde's life.
Few facts are known about Ermengarde. She inherited her title at approximately the age of five, after the death of her father. Because she was too young to lead, another nobleman, Alphonse I of Toulouse, assumed regency of Narbonne. When Ermengarde reached adolescence, he married her to add her lands to his own. Other local landowners objected to Toulouse's greed, and the conflict soon escalated to violence. Through all this, Ermengarde fought both against the dismantling of her father's legacy and the undesirable advances of her husband.
Haislip conducted extensive research for her novel, even traveling to visit the places Ermengarde and her contemporaries once lived to ensure accuracy in her descriptions.
Much of the work is based on the author's own imagination, because many details of Ermengarde's life have been lost over the centuries, but the book remains true to the culture and region of France in the mid-1100s.
In her author's note, Haislip states that she was drawn to write about Ermengarde not only due to her incredible survival in such dangerous times, but also because her story was in such contradiction to the general role of women in medieval times.
In June 2013, "The Viscount's Daughter" was chosen as one of two finalists for Best Unpublished Novel by the James River Writers. It is available for purchase through Amazon.com in both Kindle and paperback formats. Prices range from $5 to $12. The second novel in the trilogy, "The Viscountess," is now available as well.
Haislip has a doctorate degree in history from Columbia University, and has taught the subject at the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond. She is now retired and writing full time.
"The Viscount's Daughter" is her first novel for adults, but she has previously written six historical novels for children, as well as many academic publications. She lives in Williamsburg, and when she isn't writing she enjoys going on long walks with her husband. More information about the author can be found at phyllishaislip.com.
Mary Kay Grimes lives in Newport News and in the evenings she likes curl up in her recliner with a good book.