Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Queen By Right

Anne Easter Smith has written three other novels that I think I have already blogged about.  Queen By Right was published this year and I only knew it was out because I saw it at Barnes & Noble.  This book was about Cecily Neville, who I was interested to read about as she appeared a little bit in previous books about Jacquetta, King Henry and Margaret of Anjou.  Cecily became betrothed at age 8 to Richard, the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge.  His father could claim the throne from both sides of his family line- it gets a little messy and confusing so I won't go into too many details.  But should King Henry VI die, Richard was next in line for the succession. (his mother had a claim from Edward III's 2nd surviving son).  His father was killed for treason in a plot to put his wife's brother on the throne.  All throughout Richard's life, he would have to deal with the fact he was the son of a traitor.  People constantly checked to make sure that he knew his place, and was loyal to the king.

The king was young when his father and grandfather died, leaving his mother Catherine of Valois, to watch over him and his councillors.  He grew up to marry Margaret of Anjou, and became unfit to rule later in life.  His wife, the queen, became powerful and tried to take control for their son instead of finding peace.  The main characters, Cecily and Richard, were raised together in the same household, as Richard was a ward of her parents.  Through the years of childhood they became friends before marriage.  Their marriage was said to be a love match, and they had 13 children together.  Cecily became a duchess when she married Richard, and as such her position demanded much from her.  As a little girl she was often out riding and hunting with the other men, wearing breeches like a boy, and always spoke her mind.  Time tempered her tongue and she became known as Proud Cis.  Together in their marriage, they faced personal tragedies as a few of their children die at young ages; they were a part of huge events in history, and soon political intrigue.  Cecily was always aware her husband had a better claim to the throne than the current king through his mother, as the 2nd surviving son; whereas the king's claim was through the 3rd surviving son of Edward III.  Despite that, they were always loyal and served him well.  Through Richard's various positions he grew in power:  constable of England, Guardian of the Coast of Normandy, and then Regent of France. 

In these positions he was required to pay and host a great army and many employees- the King did not often pay him enough or pay back his debts.  The King and his wife seemed to only favor those closest to them, and Richard became angry at the treatment.  Before the King and queen produced an heir, which took many years, Richard tried time and time again to be named heir.  The royal couple favored Somerset, an odious man who take advantage and who many hated.  There was kind of a tug of war between Somerset and York- when the King was around Somerset was in favor and York was not, but when the King went into some kind of stupor, York was again in favor while Somerset was imprisoned.  Once the King and queen produced an heir, a boy, York desired to be named his Protector while the king was unwell.  The Queen demanded she be named regent until her husband was well again, and she constantly opposed York in all ways.  Cecily was there to support her husband, while trying to also be loyal to the king.  When it became more and more obvious the king was unfit and his wife not fit to rule, York again had support to march forward.  York was able to make a treaty with the King that during his lifetime he or his sons would not be molested, and upon the king's death, York and his sons would be next in line for the throne.  The King had put aside his own son in favor for York.

Queen Margaret was busy putting an army together, as she did not agree with this arrangement.  I have written about her in a previous post; she became known as the she-wolf.  Many even said her son was not the King's, but Somerset's.  In the Battle of Towton, Richard and one of his sons was killed.  The people had gone against the treaty the King and York had made, that it was treason to harm York or any of his sons, and so, when Margaret tried to re-enter England, the way was barred to her and her son.  The people turned their backs on her, and York's son Edward was crowned King.  Cecily became mother to the King of England, a widow, and was the monarch and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day.  I liked reading about her, another powerful woman in history.  It was said she was enemies with Jacquetta of Bedford, so it's interesting that later they were in laws when Cecily's son Edward marries her daughter Elizabeth Woodville.  If you find any of this confusing, it is always easier to somehow tie events and people together.  I have written other posts about King Edward, and then his brother Richard III who was said to have killed and imprisoned his own two nephews, and then the Tudor line begins with King Henry VII.  Many powerful women were intertwined in these stories during this time:  Jacquetta of Bedford (mother of Elizabeth Woodville who becomes Queen), Cecily Neville (mother of King Edward), and Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry Tudor).  As I try to tie in all the pieces it does flow more smoothly.  Anne Easter Smith's other books would be good to read in order following this one.

Cecily of York lived to be past 80, long enough to see her granddaughter, Edward's eldest child Elizabeth of York, marry Henry VII, the first Tudor king.  Then they had Henry VIII, and his daughter was Queen Elizabeth, and so on down to our own Queen Elizabeth today.  Cecily is the ancestor of them all.  Not many question that Cecily and Richard did in fact have a love match and were happy, which was a rare thing back then.  I recommend this book as a starting point if you want to learn about the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses.  Then continue from there to read the rest of Anne Easter Smith's books.  I hope I helped clarify a little bit more who was who.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Queen's Soprano

I came across this book by happenstance when searching period books on the library website. Since it had Queen in the title, I figured why not try it out. Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend it but it was an interesting read. It follows Angelica Voglia (true story) and her family in the 1600's in Rome. During this time, the pope had forbidden that women could sing in public. If they wanted to, they had to enter a convent. He thought it was not proper as it stirred men to odd behaviors, or to do things they could not control. He blamed the woman, obviously (smirk). In parts of Rome there was one who defied the pope, Queen Christina. She ruled over parts of Rome, and openly encouraged women to enter her court and sing. Angelica often thought longingly of going to court to sing, because she was reduced to singing at home behind closed shutters.

Her mother was very ambitious for her, and worked tirelessly to marry her off to a wealthy nobleman. Soon her singing spreads through the city and many praise her talents, while others including the pope call her voice the devil's breath. She is invited to sing at Queen Christina's court, and is there praised even more. Soon many suitors line their door to court her, and her mother is beside herself with joy. Angelica has glimpsed a Frenchman out her window who works nearby, and has fallen in love with him by face. A maid that works for the family, Bianca, agrees to deliver notes to him. They begin a correspondence, and he often sits under her window to listen to her sing. Soon she can think of no one else but him, Theodon. Bianca brings her drawings and notes from him and she pines after him while being forced to entertain different suitors. Most are old, overweight and unsavory in different ways. Her mother only sees the dollar signs. While her mother is busy arranging her marriage to the Duke of Mantua, Angelica seeks to find a way out of her predicament.

Soon rumors spread that she is in love with a Frenchman, a poor artist, and her mother is very upset at her. Soon the whole town is discussing her and this Frenchman and her reputation seems to be ruined. Her mother, along with Father Zachary; a family friend, decide to send her to a convent for awhile until things settled down. While there she learned that Theodon had left, and she worried for him. She also discovered that Father Zachary was her real father; when her mother was in a convent they had had her, and then her mother met her father. Angelica now knew why Father Zachary always seemed so anxious to help promote her voice, and seemed to pay for everything as well. Now it all made sense. Her mother came to retrieve her and her sister from the convent, telling them he had passed away. Angelica quietly mourned him, because her other siblings did not seem to know.

As preparations continued for her wedding, she decided that in order to have a chance with Theodon she must find a way out. She decides to enter Queen Christina's court as a singer, and leaves her family behind. The Count takes his anger out on her family and cuts off her brother's ear and takes her dowry money. Her mother is furious and won't speak to her. While she lives at court and tries to get used to her new life, she often sends her family letters hoping they will visit her. As time passes at court, she becomes the queen's main soprano and confidante. The pope works tirelessly to change the Queen's ways, and reprimands her for her ways. Theodon returns from the battle in the French quarter, and comes to court her. He is much changed from months of illness and fatigue. She finds herself not as happy with him as she had hoped. Soon the pope's army is ready to attack the queen's, and many of her court flee to save themselves. While things come to a head, several events happen all in a short space of time.

Angelica's mother finally comes to visit her, but only to bring a cardinal there to seduce her and ruin her reputation. While recovering from the abuse, which she had been saved at the last moment, the Queen is also dying as the pope's army lies in wait. Theodon decides to marry someone else, impatient to keep waiting for Angelica. As her life seems to tear apart, she tries to decide what to do once again. A mother who had betrayed her, jealous of her life at court, and angry at her decisions. She can't talk to her family, Theodon has left her, and soon the Queen will be gone leaving the Queen's singers open for attack by the pope. Once again, she finds a way to escape at the last moment. Upon the Queen's death bed, she seems to make amends with the pope as he gives her last rites. She decides to send Angelica to a convent, deeming it best to keep her safe that way. The pope was convinced the attack on her was because her voice had driven men mad. Crazy.

Through friends at court, Angelica travels heavily veiled to Madrid. To escape the pope and his convent, she was no longer safe in Rome. Too many people knew of her disgrace, and her voice. She had to leave. Angelica served the duchess and her children at the Spanish ambassador's palace, and before leaving she tried to see her family one last time. Her mother recognized her but would not see her or apologize. Many said she had gone mad. The story ends there, and I was a little at a loss to find a happy ending to the story. Her life seemed so full of promise, to be taken advantage of by her own mother, and then having to flee the pope on the death of a true friend, the Queen. It is amazing to me how ignorant the pope was and how everything was blamed on women. I don't know how her story ends, of if it is happy. The author might have put an epilogue in there to make me feel better. Most of the story is true according to the author. I don't recommend just because it seemed to end abruptly for me. Maybe there will be another book to follow it. Overall, interesting read, but not quite provoking enough for me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Queen's Handmaiden

The Queen's Handmaiden by Jennifer Ashley was good, a story mostly familiar already to me. It is about Elizabeth and her governess Kat Ashley in the early years of Elizabeth's life when she was without a mother and had been declared a bastard. Kat basically raised her from a young age, through the years of being a ward of the queen Katherine Parr (Henry VIII's last wife) and her husband Thomas Seymour. She was with her through the scandal while Thomas Seymour tried to court her under his own wife's nose and Kat's, and was then sent elsewhere to live. She raised her through her brother Edward's short reign, and then her sister Mary's rise to the throne after a tumultuous and short reign by their cousin Jane Grey. Kat was there for her through everything, basically her mother.

Kat Ashley is a person I've read about, but this book introduces a niece of hers named Eloise Roussell. She was to live with Kat because her mother's new husband did not want children around. Kat raised both girls and taught Eloise how to be useful and sew. She was soon a very talented seamstress and made most of Elizabeth's clothes. Kat and Eloise were with her through her many tempers, moods, and the tumultuous years of Mary's reign. Kat was sent to the Tower for a time to be questioned for Elizabeth's behavior- Queen Mary believed her half sister Elizabeth to have been part of a plot of Wyatt to overthrow Mary from the throne. Many in England were not happy when Mary took the throne and turned things back to Catholicism and the pope. She was soon burning many people for heresy and for not attending Mass or saying the proper things. She constantly pestered Elizabeth to follow her faith, and when she did not, she sent her away or to the Tower.

Finally, after many years of being a bastard, or being suspected, Elizabeth is made Queen at last. Her half sister Mary passed away, leaving her the throne. Kat was there for it all, and Eloise too. Eloise during this time becomes her main seamstress and becomes successful and designs all her gowns. She marries a man also trusted by Elizabeth and they have children together. England is relieved at being Protestant again, and having a young and beautiful queen on the throne. Kat Ashley passes away, and many say Elizabeth took care of her with her own hands and shed many tears over her. She was the only mother she had ever known, and had always been there for her. I liked the book because it shows the many facets of Elizabeth, while showing the depth of love and devotion her governess Kat had towards her. I don't believe Eloise was a real historical character, but it was nice to tie her into the story as well to see every one's points of view. If you are interested in the Queen Elizabeth, two of the main people in her life were Kat Ashley and Robert Dudley. This book is a good read to learn more about both.