Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part 2 of my Victoria Holt Series - The Jean Plaidy Novels

The Jean Plaidy Novels
By: Stephanie Burkhart

Part 2 of my 3 part series about Victoria Holt.

"Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience." – Victoria Holt.

The Queen of Gothic Romance was Victoria Holt. Her stories were populated with secrets, spooky castles/manors, heroines in distress, and 19th Century locales. Through the 1960-1980's she revitalized the gothic romance. Victoria Holt, however was a pen name for Eleanor Hibbert, and while it was her most famous pen name which earned her the most money, I believe Eleanor found the most enjoyment and fulfillment with the Jean Plaidy pen name.

My Own Personal Experience with Jean Plaidy

I had read Victoria Holt in high school, (1982-86) and at the time, I got my fix at the local library. I loved the Manchester, NH library with its open rooms. Then I joined the Army in 1986 and went to Germany for my first assignment.

In July 1988, I discovered my first Jean Plaidy book. I was sent a "care package" and Queen in Waiting was in it. It's the story of George II and Caroline of Ansbach. I took the book to Berlin with me, devouring it on the duty train.

I LOVED this book. To this day, it is one of my favorites. George and Caroline's romantic love story touched a chord in me. Fairytales do come true and while George II was not perfect, what I loved about Plaidy was that she made George II deliciously human and sympathetic, and I, as a reader, appreciated that. When I got back to the states, I went on a hunt for Jean Plaidy books. I simply could not get enough of her wonderful historicals that wove fiction and truth so effortlessly.

Author Jean Plaidy

During World War II, Eleanor Hibbets and her husband lived in Cornwall near a secluded yet picturesque beach called – Plaidy. The beach inspired Eleanor's new pen name: Jean Plaidy.

Her first Jean Plaidy novel was "Together They Ride" in 1945! It was set in the 18th century about Cornish smugglers. It was well written, but not very successful.

Plaidy's next novel was "Beyond the Blue Mountains" and established the relationship between her and her publisher, Robert Hale which would last until her passing in 1993. "Beyond the Blue Mountains" was over 500 pages and was rejected by several publishers before it was published in 1958. It spanned 3 generations of women and began in the mid-18th century.

Over the course of the next 15 years, Plaidy turned her attention to bringing history to life. Her earlier stories involved Jane Shore (Edward IV's mistress, I believe), Katherine Parr, (Henry VIII's 6th wife) and Henry VIII's sisters, Mary and Margaret.

Plaidy's career reached its height between 1960-70's, and she became one of Britain's most popular and accomplished authors. While fictionalized history, her novels were methodically and carefully researched. She loved reading dusty old history books and putting scenes into her words, making them vivid and exciting.

Eleanor described her writing as "pure entertainment," but she believed it was nicer to be read than to receive reviews.

One article in the Sunday Times summed up her success as such: "Jean Plaidy, by skillful blending of superb storytelling and meticulous attention to authenticity of detail and depth of characterization, has become one of the county's most widely read novelists."

For me, looking back, this is exactly why I enjoy Plaidy's novels.

The bulk of Plaidy's historical works is extensive. From 1967-1971 she wrote the Georgian Saga (which I've read) and in the 1970's she wrote the Plantagenet Saga (15 books! I've read most) and in the 1980's she wrote the Queens of England, which I've enjoyed.

So how historically correct was Plaidy? Very. She researched her writing well and if she mentioned a little known fact in her novels, then there was a historical basis for it. One of the most fascinating little tidbits I read? In "The Queen's Secret" about Henry V and Katherine of Valois, Plaidy mentions that a fortune teller told Henry V if his son was born at Windsor Castle then his son would live long, but lose everything Henry V won. If his son was NOT born at Windsor Castle, he would not live long, but would hold onto what Henry had won. Henry V believed this down to his bones and when Katherine was pregnant, sought out her reassurances often that she would not have their children at Windsor Castle. Katherine's favorite castle however, was Windsor Castle. She firmly intended to honor her husband's request not to have the child at Windsor, but stayed too long. A winter storm struck, and she had the child at Windsor. When Henry V was told, he fell to his knees and wept. He died 8 months later.

His son, Henry VI, was haunted by what we now know was schizophrenia. He lived long, but lost everything Henry V had won in battle.

You rarely find this depth of research in other historical novels.

Starting in 1952, Plaidy published 2 novels a year, but in 1981, raised her output to 3 novels a year. In 1983, Eleanor was in her late 70's. Her last Plaidy novel was "William's Wife" about Queen Mary II, which was released in 1992.

Do you have a favorite Jean Plaidy book? What drew you to Eleanor's Jean Plaidy pen name?

NEXT: Part 3 of 3: Eleanor Hibbets other pen names and her legacy.


  1. Thanks for that really interesting post, Steph! I most remember the Tudor series, in particular Murder Most Royal. Learned more history from her novels than at school! But I still preferred the Victoria Holt books.

  2. Rosemary, Amen! I did learn more history from Plaidy and it was fun, too. She made history fun for me! Haven't read Murder Most Royal, but I'll put it on my list.


  3. I have read all of Victoris Holt's and Jean Plaidy and loved them. But this is my perferable genre..thank you

  4. Although I'ld read most of Victoria Holt's books, I'd never heard of Jean Plaidy. Another trip to the library is in order.

  5. Sharon, Jean Plaidy makes history fun, trust me!

    Vonnie, I think you'll enjoy the Plaidy novels very much!

  6. Very, very interesting. I've read all of Victoria Holt's novels and loved them. I didn't know until now that she was Jean Plaidy. I've heard of Jean Plaidy but never read her books. You've made me want to read them. I have fond memories of reading Victoria Holt and I still have all her books. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  7. Thanks for this wonderful post. I haven't read many of the Plaidy books, but you make them sound so intriguing, I will have to check some out! My favorite Victoria Holt is "Spring of the Tiger." It's a wonderful "antihero/hero in an exotic setting (Victorian India)" novel.

  8. I loved her- read all her books in all her pen names. I've always been a history buff and her historical research was always spot on- I also loved the way she humanized the kings and queens for us!

  9. The Holt/Plaidy books were very different. I was quite definitely a Holt fan, but never read Plaidy. I might give it a try now though. Thanks Steph.

  10. Cara, if you love history, you'll enjoy her Jean Plaidy pen name.

    Linda, ditto. I don't remember reading "Spring of the Tiger" so I'm going to put that on my reading list!

    Jillian, yes, that's what I enjoyed the most - how she humanized the kings & queens.

    The books were different, but both well researched. If you give JP a try, try QUEEN IN WAITING first. Just my humble recommendation.