Friday, November 18, 2011

The Lady of The Rivers

I have blogged before about Phillipa Gregory's books, she has written many excellent historical novels. The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen and The Red Queen. The last two books listed are tied into this book about Jacquetta. Somehow she is present among many major events in history, but not much else if any is recorded about her. Letters, journals, anything is really not to be found on her life. This goes to show that women were really not considered important politically at this time, and so no records were kept. Phillipa Gregory decided to write about her after writing about Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV; and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.

I had to wait for this book on hold for some time at the library and was excited when it became available. I am as always intrigued by historical women, powerful and even forgotten. Jacquetta is supposed to be descended from Melusina, the river goddess, and is believed to have the second sight. Some women in her family, including her aunt, claim to have this gift. Her aunt passes along some of her wisdom and trinkets before passing away herself. Jacquetta can hear music playing, only to her ears, when someone in her family is about to pass away. She hears it before her aunt is reported to have passed away, and again later when a son of hers dies. She comes into contact with the great Joan of Arc, and believes her to also have the gift. They use tarot cards to often tell each other's fortunes or future, but soon the girl Joan is taken and burned. Jacquetta realizes just how powerful and dangerous the arts can be, and how men greatly fear the women that seem to possess them.

Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford, but soon realizes he only wants her to help him with her art and wishes to use her with his alchemy. He greatly desires to know his future, as he is a protector of the child king Henry VI. Should the boy die, the Duke would be next in line. Instead of being a true marriage, Jacquetta remains a virgin and is used to see if she can divine the future or to figure out how to make gold. While married, she befriends Richard Woodville, the duke's squire. He is often at her side and helps teach her to ride a horse. When her husband passes away, Jacquetta is worried she will be married off to someone quickly. Over the next year, she becomes close to Richard and they marry in secret. Soon she is pregnant and they take their chances and tell the King. He demands a heavy fine from them for marrying without royal consent, and they live in the country for some time to pay the fine back.

Two children later, and they are sent back to court to serve, in favor again. Upon the passing of the Duke, his brother Richard of York and his wife are now next in line and haughty as ever. Soon the young king marries Margaret from Anjou and Jacquetta is a lady in waiting to her. Her primary job is to serve her, while her husband Richard serves the young King in various positions and campaigns. At the Lancaster court, they soon gain great favor and wealth and titles. Jacquetta continues to have a child almost every year, where they grow up in the country with their nurses and teachers. Jacquetta keeps her gift a secret, as she sees some close to her accused of witchcraft and either killed or imprisoned. She only makes or uses the herbs that are known to everyone.

After many years, the King slides into a mysterious sleep (probably known as a coma today) and does not awaken for 18 months. The Queen during this time gave birth to a son and was basically imprisoned with the sleeping King until he awoken. Over time, the King never comes back to himself and seems a child. The Queen Margaret soon takes power for herself and is the force behind the throne and King. Rumors are reported that the boy is not the King's son but from a lover of the Queen's. Many begin to mock the sleeping king as they call him, for he seems weak and not able to make decisions well. He often gives out pardons and is lenient when the Queen would rather be harsh. Soon Richard, the Duke of York, threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his own. Enduring years of uprisings, malcontent and turmoil, Jacquetta stays by the Queen's side to serve her and only leaves to visit her children or to have another baby. Richard is often gone in Calais helping the King with their defenses there.

The story becomes quite exciting as cousin is fighting cousin and becomes known as the Wars of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, is killed during the wars. Warwick soon supports Edward for the York side, and he is put on the throne in place of his father who was murdered. In the twist of fate, Jacquetta and her family turns their coats and support the new King and his protector Warwick. Queen Margaret had to flee with her son because the city was barred to them and would not allow them back in. Through her intriguing with Jasper Tudor and others, with an unruly army, she became feared and known as the she-wolf of Anjou. So the people were happy to put Edward on the throne. Jacquetta also realizes for the safety of her family, she can no longer support the Queen she had for so long.

Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, a widow from the wars with two young boys, soon catches the eye of the new King Edward and he makes her his wife. Many say the mother Jacquetta used her witchcraft to bring about this marriage. This is where the book ends, and you can read all about Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen, and then The Red Queen if you want to follow events in order. I liked reading about Jacquetta because it brings another piece into the puzzle for me. I like to tie events together and the women too. It is interesting to read her story, although based on events and imagined from there. She was a powerful woman from her time, a duchess, who married secretly for love and had many, many children. She always knew her eldest daughter would have a marvelous future, she just didn't know exactly how. I think Phillipa Gregory did an excellent job considering how little she had to go by, other than the fact that Jacquetta was listed on the records for being at certain places and events. She had to fill in the gaps from there; that is what I love about historical fiction. Highly recommend.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette

I've already read a few books on Marie Antoinette, so I was hesitant about reading another. Juliet Grey did a great job of covering the first years of her life in Austria and then to France to marry the dauphin Louis. The author chose to focus on the shorter period of time, and I really liked it because it wasn't rushed. It allowed you to get to know Antoinette as she grew up in Vienna with all her siblings, followed her education, and then the long betrothal to the dauphin of France. Before she was deemed worthy to travel to France, several things had to be done quickly to make her ready. She had braces for a few months to straighten her teeth, a dance master to teach her to walk in the big clothes of France as well as to dance, and several tutors to teach her fluent French as well as about diplomacy and politics. Her education was quite lacking when compared to most nobility. The preparations were finally made, and after many years of waiting, she was finally sent to France.

Maria Antonia had to quickly learn at the court of Versailles how to handle herself. She was introduced to the teenage boy who was now her husband, and quickly realized he did not speak much unless it was something he was interested in. As she struggles to find herself in this new life, surrounded by attendants and maids all day long, she is not able to make everyone love her as her mother had charged her to do. The King Papa Roi as she called him, was enraptured with her and that served her well. While trying to follow the advice of her mother's letters to her, as well as her matron lady in waiting Noailles, and also the dauphin's three aunts- she finds herself constantly making faux pas and mistakes. This is a court of gossipers and already people seem displeased with her. To please her new husband, who doesn't like fripperies, she does not wear corsets and keeps her hair simple and unadorned as possible.

The book leads up to the death of the King, the dauphin's grandfather, and their quick ascension to becoming the King and Queen of France. I like that the book was condensed more, so we can see as Antoinette grows up and becomes herself. We can also see her relationship with the dauphin slowly progress to a deep friendship and respect. One of the things I found very interesting is that Marie Antoinette was strawberry blond and not blond as they have called her. She was very patient with the dauphin her husband, where many times I would have yelled at him if it were me. She was also very kind and generous in giving to the poor. She was not particularly studious or politically savvy, but we have to bear in mind her young age and how much was expected of a girl of just 14. I look forward to the next book as it follows the new King and Queen of France.