Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Constant Princess

I read this book once before but didn't have anything else on hand, and I again enjoyed another book by Philippa Gregory.  This book focuses in on King Henry VIII's first wife, Catalina of Spain.  She was first married to Arthur, his elder brother.  When he passed away she was eventually married to Harry, or Henry.  She had been raised with the knowledge her entire life that she would be Queen of England, and so she was.  I have read about her mother Isabella of Castille, and it was a pleasure to read about Katherine again.  She was a strong, capable and determined woman.  She was a young widow without her parents, far away from her home, left at the mercy of the King for many years.  With no income and half her dowry still unpaid, neither her father or the King seemed to want her.  She was eventually married to Henry because it was advantageous to all for the alliance and it was told she had never consummated the marriage with Arthur because he was young and weak. 

Philippa Gregory bases this book on that key point- and if it was true or not.  It seems to have been believed widely, but what if it wasn't true?  Why would she lie?  So the novel takes shape and we try to figure that out.  Was it a deathbed promise from Arthur that she marry his brother?  Was it her ambition and her family's, and that she didn't want to return to Spain?  Whether it was true or not, she endured much hardship and was married to King Henry after his father's death after several years of waiting, and helped to plan a war to defeat the Scots.  I liked that the book focused mainly on her early love with Arthur, her trials in trying to outwit and outlast the King and his mother, and her own father.  Katherine at last came to be Queen of England, but her path was not to be easy.  I admired her courage, strength, fortitude and faith.  The Tudor period is fascinating because of the ambitious and extraordinary people that lived in that time.  People seem to forget Queen Katherine, his first wife of over 20 years, and instead focus on Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth.  It was an easy and fun read.  I especially loved the beginning when she is happy and in love with Arthur, and they dream of making their very own Camelot in England.  I highly recommend this book if you want to start getting into the Tudor period; start off with his first wife.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fabulous Vintage Jewelry/ Giveaway

Inspired by Elizabeth has a store on Ebay and Etsy, and also a page on Facebook.  I found her items on etsy and fell in love with them.  I have some of the cameo rings and hair pins as well as the rainbow drop earrings.  She also sells beautiful steampunk rings and necklaces-she is having a giveaway right now on her blog and Facebook page.  Here is the link to enter to win: 

Not only do I love vintage jewelry but obviously history books.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Borgia Mistress

Third book in a series by Sara Poole, The Borgia Mistress follows the main character Francesca Giordano and her role as the poisoner of the Borgia family.  Employed by Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, and lover to his son Cesare, Francesca is enmeshed in the court drama.  She is a very conflicted character, trying to avenge her father's murder (who was a poisoner before her) while trying to extinguish the darkness in her that seems to want to take over.  When she has to kill to protect the Pope and his family, it threatens to consume her and she enjoys the kill.  She also has goodness in her and yearns for a normal life.  In this book, the court moves from Rome to avoid plague and ends up in Viterbo.  Word reaches her that a Cathar assassin is on his/her way to kill Herrera, the Spanish envoy visiting.  As mysterious and seemingly random deaths occur of kitchen servants and the like, she is anxious to find this assassin before it is too late.  It is her job to protect His Holiness and his family, so she has to find time to inspect all foods and drinks entering the palace besides other duties.  Francesca also has to practice her poisons in any free time, making her own poisons that would be undetectable and easy to kill someone.  Hers is an important and also despised job.  Many fear her and she is almost reclusive except for a few friendships and her employers.

Borgia is trying to keep an alliance with King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and a man named Herrera a Spanish envoy is at court.  He seems to despise Francesca and even tries to have her killed.  She now finds out she has to protect him, even though she does not like him, so the Pope can keep good relations with Spain.  Another complication to her already complicated life and job.  In Viterbo, she is contacted by an abbess claiming to know of her mother's death.  Francesca had always been told her mother died from childbirth.  As she visits this abbess she gains the truth and is forced to face old demons.  Wrestling with this new knowledge, she is almost too late to save Herrera as she is caught up in her own drama and even poisoned.   Cathar heretics seem to be at the root of this evil and Francesca is caught up in the middle of it.  It all leads to a dramatic and exciting ending. 

My Thoughts:  Dramatic, riveting and exciting to read.  I like the dynamics of Francesca's job and character.  It was also exciting seeing events unfold in her life while this assassin is at large.  I have been a fan of her books so I would recommend.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Her Highness the Traitor

Book overview:  This book is written in two different point of views.  That of Frances Grey and her husband Harry, and Jane Dudley and her husband John.  Frances Grey was the niece of Henry VIII's and so had some royal blood.  Her mother Mary was the King's sister and had been married to Charles Brandon, a close friend of the late King's.  Frances had three daughters that survived, one of which was Jane Grey, a key figure in the book.  When Frances's two brothers passed away, the title Duke of Suffolk was given to her husband as a gift.  Frances was also good friends with the Lady Mary, Henry VIII's oldest child.  The second point of view is from Jane Dudley, also known as the Lady of Warwick and later the Duchess of Northumberland.  She was married to a ward of her parents, a John Dudley.  It was a love match and they married when she was 16 and had 13 children.

 This book is set during the time of King Edward VI, after King Henry VIII has passed away.  Edward rules while his uncle Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, is Protector until he comes of age.  As is usual after the death of a monarch, chaos soon ensues as those with power fight to keep or gain it.  Somerset was regarded well, but his brother Thomas Seymour didn't seem particularly happy with the arrangement.  Seymour married the dowager queen Catherine Parr who was married to Henry VIII, and in their keeping were the ladies Elizabeth and Jane Grey.  Seymour was found embracing the princess Elizabeth, Edward's half sister and found to be embezzling as well.  He wanted the young king to throw off his Protector and schemed.  His wife Catherine Parr the Queen, passed away shortly after giving birth to a daughter.  With all the schemes afoot, Seymour was eventually beheaded.  During this time Somerset and his wife Anne the Duchess of Somerset lived as if they were indeed king and queen.  The Duchess wore the royal jewels and was not very popular.  Soon the downfall of Somerset came because of social unrest in England and the blame was laid before him.  Many said he also made himself Protector when that was not actually in Henry VIII's will.  He was imprisoned for some time, as was his Duchess, and later beheaded.  

During Edward's reign, John Dudley became a successful politician.  He served closely with him from 1550 to 1553 and some later said he helped to poison the King to death.  He was there when the young King was dying, and was informed of his will.  He was going to put aside his sisters as they had both been declared bastards at some point and so their legitimacy was questionable, and also because he feared Mary's devotion to Mass and the Catholic religion.  They had argued over religion at several times.  It is said that Northumberland not only tried to poison the young King but also helped with his will.  King Henry VIII had stated that his daughter Mary were to rule if Edward died without issue, but Edward takes her out and places the succession with the Protestant Jane Grey.  I failed to mention during this time, that Jane Grey was married to Guildford Dudley, the son of Jane and John Dudley.  This meant that Northumberland's daughter in law would be queen.  As he was loyal to the King and wished to carry out his will, the two sets of parents set their children on the throne of England.

Frances Grey and her husband Harry seemed reluctant at putting their daughter on the throne as she had had no training or upbringing for such a role, although she was incredibly smart and learned.  Probably realizing this action would upset her close friend and cousin, the lady Mary, Frances did it anyway.   Likely at the coercion of the Northumberlands.  Three days after the young king passed away at age 15 from consumption, Jane was pronounced to be Queen.  They were lodged in the Tower until their coronation.  Jane did not name Guildford as King and co-regent but made him Duke of Clarence instead.  To rally troops to their cause, Northumberland set out with his troops.  The lady Mary had fled when she heard she was put aside in the succession, and was rallying her own troops.  During Northumberland's absence, Jane and her husband Guildford along with his mother Jane and her mother Frances stayed in the Tower.  During this time, The Privy Council switched their allegiance from Jane to Mary and proclaimed her Queen, where she finally entered London on August 3. Jane, Queen of just 9 days, was imprisoned separate from her husband.

On August 22nd Northumberland was executed, recanting his faith, and in September Jane was declared a usurper of the crown.  Upon the death of Northumberland, his widow Jane Dudley mourns the loss of her beloved husband and is extremely agitated as her sons are all still imprisoned.  Guildford and Jane were both executed on February 12th and were buried at St Peter ad Vincula where many others had also been buried.  Jane had denied Guildford a last meeting before their deaths.  Queen Mary was unsuccessful in getting the two to convert to Catholicism before meeting their end.  Jane Dudley, the Duchess of Northumberland, worked tirelessly to have the rest of her boys released.  Her son Robert Dudley, who would be imprisoned for quite some time, would later be a close friend and favorite to Elizabeth when she becomes Queen.  The Duchess uses her friendship with one of the Spanish ladies that have come over, because Queen Mary has married King Phillip of Spain, to help release her boys from the Tower.  Her friend is successful and the four boys are all released just in time for her to pass away.  She was a devoted mother and loved her husband very much. 

Frances Grey used her friendship with the Queen Mary as far as she could, and her daughter Jane was protected as well as her husband Harry.  Then the uprising of Wyatt began, many said to place Elizabeth on the throne instead of her half sister because of the hated Spanish marriage and her rigid religion.  Harry joined the uprising and was soon caught, and because of his actions he was executed.  That is probably also why Jane was no longer protected by the Queen and kept alive, because of her father's foolish actions.  Poor Frances Grey had to lose her daughter, who had just been a pawn all along in the actions of her elders, and her foolish husband who just couldn't lie low.  Frances later remarried her Master of Horse Adrian Stokes and they had three children together.  It seemed hers was not a love match with Harry and certainly the death of their daughter and his actions in the uprisings left a mark upon her.  Queen Mary kept her at her side at court with favor, but kept a close watch on her all the same.  Frances seems to have wed low so as not to even be considered competition to the throne.  She knew what being too close to the throne could mean, and the price was not worth it.

My Thoughts:  This book had obviously a lot of information as well as titles that can make it confusing.  It took me some time to get to know who Jane Dudley was and Frances Grey.  Once I had a firm grasp on their characters the book unfolded easily for me.  As I have quite an extensive background in the Tudor period I was familiar with many of the back stories.  I knew a little of Edward's reign and that he didn't want his sister Mary to rule, I knew of Jane then taking the throne, unwillingly it seemed, for 9 ill fated days.  I knew also of Tom Seymour's marriage to Catherine Parr and his disreputable actions towards the lady Elizabeth.  There are so many characters in this book to be utterly fascinating- I could just talk about each of them for days.  The main point of this book though was what happened after King Edward IV passed away.  Many characters have been construed in different ways over time.  The author Susan Higginbotham seems to portary Northumberland as a loyal servant to his king and nothing more.  It is thrown about that he may have poisoned the king and worked the will to his advantage, but no one really knows.  Guildford was also known to have been cruel to Jane, but the author doesn't portray him that way.  In fact, Jane seems almost more heartless for not meeting with her husband before their execution and for not making him co-regent.  She seems to have been quite strong headed. 

Jane's parents were also said to be cruel and unusually demanding, but it seems in those times parents usually were.  The author portrayed them as loving; Harry her father being most in tune with Jane in spiritual matters and intellect.  Frances seems not to have been too close to Jane, mostly because of their religious views and their different intellect.  There are just so many dimensions to look and wonder at.  I do admit I seem to have liked the Duchess of Northumberland more, Jane Dudley, and the love she and her husband had towards each other.  It is unfortunate that by following the King's will that he would be executed along with his son Guildford, but such were the times.  I was happy to read her boys were released after she tried for so long and so hard to have them so.  It seems the Queen Mary finally took sympathy on her as a mother.  I was happy to read that after Harry's death, that Frances Grey was able to remarry for love it seems, and have more children.  She has been said to be cruel and lascivious, but again it is probably not true.  Time seems to temper most opinions.  Just a little note on Queen Mary- she does marry King Phillip of Spain and the Inquisition leads to many being burned because of their faith.  She supposes herself to be pregnant twice and isn't either time.  She becomes known as Bloody Mary.  Later, Queen Elizabeth's age will be golden, and Northumberland's son Robert Dudley will be a key figure.  I recommend this book, excellent and exciting.  Rich in details and information.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Virgin Widow

Anne O'Brien wrote The Virgin Widow, set in 1462 in England.  The War of the Roses divided York and Lancaster against each other.  King Edward and his wife Elizabeth Woodville rule, with the help of the Earl of Warwick.  He is called the Kingmaker and helped Edward to the throne.  This book follows Anne Neville, Warwick's second daughter, as her father's amibitions change her life.  When King Edward married the Woodville woman, many were not pleased.  Particularly Warwick.  The Woodville family was numerous and began getting positions at Court that made him unhappy.  Warwick felt he was owed more loyalty since he had helped put Edward on the throne.  Warwick's descent had some royalty in it as well- from John of Gaunt, King Edward III's third son.  When the Woodvilles replaced the Nevilles, Warwick became displeased.  With much wealth he was able to do much.  His wife, the Countess, was immensely patient with him, as he was often away.  Anne was raised at Middleham with her sister Isabella, and one of the wards that was brought there to stay was Richard of Gloucester.  He was brother to the King.  They were arranged to be married at one point but that was put aside when a rift developed between Warwick and the King.  When Richard was a bit older he was sent back to Court.  Anne knew then their friendship would be unlikely as they were on different sides.

Warwick decides to pin his hopes on the King's brother Clarence, and has him marry Isabella his eldest daughter.  His plan is to depose the King and put Clarence and his daughter on the throne.  The family is forced to leave England when Warwick has so displeased the King and even rejected his offer of a truce, and they set out to sea with Isabella ready to go into labor.  They are at the mercy of the King of France, Louis.  Exiles, waiting for their fates to be decided.  Her father, the Earl, decides with King Louis to wed Anne to Margaret of Anjou's son Edward.  King Louis works to persuade Margaret to help them in their cause.  They had decided against putting Clarence on the throne, as he isn't as popular as they would need to win against the King, and so they strive now to put Edward on the throne with Anne at his side.  Drama ensues in the family as Isabella is jealous of her sister for now possibly being Queen instead of her, as the Earl's ambitions consume the family with Anne as the central pawn figure.  Anne is forced to marry Edward, knowing that his mother despises her and her family.  Her father, the Earl, had once humiliated her and she would never forget it.  An unlikely alliance, they are all thrown into it together.  Clarence ends up turning his coat in the battle and rejoins his brother, the King, because Warwick was not putting him on the throne.  This leaves him on the side with the King and Isabella against the rest of the family.  The Earl of Warwick is cut down in battle and slewn.  The Countess enters a convent to protect herself.  Isabella and Clarence are in the King's good graces because he had turned his coat.  Anne is left alone, with a mean husband and a wretched mother in law.

The unhappy couple is not able to consummate their marriage, so Margaret could annul it if needed because of lack of consummation.  But Edward, the Prince of Wales, is also killed in battle.  By none other than Anne's once betrothed, Richard.  After the unhappy marriage and almost imprisonment, after the loss of her father and her mother shut away, Anne is put into the keeping of Clarence and her sister Isabella.  Seeing Richard again at Court, Anne begins to love him again.  He seems much changed and she isn't sure where his mind lies.  Because her mother is shut away and their father dead, the Neville inheritance would be divided between the two daughters.  Clarence and Isabella try to persuade Anne to enter a convent, and when she refuses, they hide her in their kitchens as a slave where she can never be found.  She can never remarry and so gain her half of the inheritance.  Richard, the King's brother, has always loved her and eventually he finds her.  With the King's help and his own contrivings, and after much trial they are wed.  Even when wed, Clarence still tries to work against her and his own brother.  The King is caught in the middle of the fued between both brothers.  He tries to divide up the inheritance evenly to make both parties happy.  Richard helps to free Anne's mother, where she rejoins her.  Isabella had changed sides before the big battle, even knowing it would mean her own father's demise.  She had used her sister horribly and never tried to help her own mother. 

My Thoughts:  I tried to be brief in my review which is always hard with so much information.  I liked the love story that kind of tied it all together.  I was rooting the whole way through that Anne would end up with Richard.  I was appalled at her sister Isabella's treatment of her and the greed of Clarence.  I despised Edward of Wales and his mother Margaret of Anjou (who were said to be incestuous).  I couldn't believe the patience of Anne and her mother the Countess.  It is too bad that the Earl's ambitions led to such sadness and tore the family apart.  The War of The Roses pit family against family.  I find it interesting that Anne called her parents the Countess and the Earl, not by their first names.  A certain disconnect but also respect there I imagine.  I liked the book becaues I didn't know much of Anne Neville.  I knew she was married to Richard III, who becomes King after his brother passes away.  I knew of his rivarly with his brother Clarence.  I also knew of Warwick as the Kingmaker, so it was great to learn more of his daughter.  I love the way Anne O'Brien writes, it just flows so smoothly and is easy and addicting to read.  She is very tasteful with her love scenes by not elaborating.  I recommend the book to the history lovers.  A background in the War of the Roses would help before reading this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hugh and Bess

I finished this book by Susan Higginbotham and I've had some trouble getting to blog about this.  With two kids, one who is disabled and one an infant, I don't often find the time to sit down and write.  Also I was reading a few other books but never finished because they just didn't capture my attention.  I have noticed an influx of Tudor novels and I used to devour them all as soon as I got my hands on one.  Now it is starting to feel like everyone has written about it, and the same person by multiple authors.  I am trying to branch out a little more and cover other time periods so I hope to gain more of an audience or following. 

Overview:  Bess de Montacute is the daughter of The earl of Salisbury, William de Montacute.  He was a friend of the second King Edward and was disgraced to see the Queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer ruling the kingdom and killing many.  Along with other men, William helped to put Mortimer in jail and later he was hanged.  For being loyal to the King and his son, William became an earl and his wife a countess.  Also intertwined in this story is Hugh le Despenser.  His grandfather and father had served King Edward faithfully; his father was thought to be the very close companion to the King.  Because of her hatred towards her husband and his relationship, Queen Isabella could no longer tolerate it and took revenge on the barons.  Now, King Edward had had another favorite before the younger Hugh but Piers Gaveston was killed.  After seeing another favorite that is what seemed to break the Queen.  After finding Mortimer, the two lovers conspired to oust Edward and the Despensers from the throne.  Queen Isabella was able to depose Edward her husband from the throne and became regent for her son Edward III.  Some believe she was responsible for planning the murder of the King as well.  In 1330 her son had his vengeance, and took his throne and killed his mother's lover Mortimer.  That is where Bess's dad helped and was rewarded.  Queen Isabella was not killed but imprisoned and ended her days away from Court.  During the time that the King was killed, so also was his favorite Hugh.  His son Hugh le Despenser was also in danger following his father's death, but held out at Caerphilly castle.  Over the next few months Queen Isabel and Mortimer tried to entice him out or capture him.  When he was offered that his own life be spared, he finally left the castle and surrendered.  Over the next four years he would be imprisoned. 

Because of their new standings, Bess's father arranges her marriage to Hugh le Despenser.  When she first hears of it she is not pleased.  He is the son and grandson of disgraced traitors.  For him this is an advantageous marriage, a chance to reestablish his family's good name.  Hugh and Bess marry when she is just 13 and over time and his good treatment of her, they fall in love.  Part of the book goes over the history of Bess's family and then a lot of Hugh's as well as his imprisonment and prior years.  The plague threatens them and many perish, including Hugh.  The book ends with Bess finding another husband to marry after she has grieved.  Another character to take note of is Joan of Kent; she was married to Bess's brother William Montacute, for a time.  She is also later the mother of Richard II and many other monarchs.

My Thoughts:  The book was somewhat interesting at first because I had already heard about Isabella and Mortimer and wanted to see what the son of the traitor was like.  The love story was also sweet in a way, but the age difference between the two made it seem a little implausible.  I was not happy about Hugh's mistress getting in the way and later becoming a close friend of Bess's.  Seemed strange that any woman would embrace her husband's mistress of many years as a friend and confidante.  The book overall was not engrossing enough, quick paced or enough narrative for me.  I didn't fall in love with the characters or become invested in them.  I preferred the author's other book The Stolen Crown.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The King's Concubine

Anne O'Brien is the author of The King's Concubine A Novel of Alice Perrers. 
Summary of book:
Alice Perrers was born in the year of 1345 when plague was rampant in England.  Not much was known of her actual beginnings or parentage, but in the book she lives in a convent St Mary's.  She was constantly reminded how lucky she was to have been taken in when she had no parents to speak of.  While there, she came into contact with the beautiful widowed Countess Joan.  Alice found an opportunity and took the chance at helping serve as tiring maid for the Countess while there at the abbey.  She found her quite fascinating how she bathed and spoke, even though she did seem cruel.  When she left, Alice dared to ask her to take her with her and the Countess just smirked.  Some time later another royal visitor came to the abbey.  The Queen of England!  Queen Phillipa came with her daughter Isabella and looked quite ill.  She was suffering from dropsy, swelling of the body.  The Queen almost tripped when walking down the aisle and Alice took the opportunity to help her when no one else did.  She was rewarded with a rosary but could not accept it because of her vow of poverty.  The Queen took notice of her and asked for her as well to help her. 

Alice came to know the kindly Queen and her not as kind daughter Isabella.  Alice had become aware at this point through the Countess Joan's help that she was not beautiful.  She was quite plain and the princess noted it.  This seems to be the time that Alice's ambitions started growing and she wanted out of the convent.  Once the Queen left, Alice was sad and once again felt enclosed.  But there was another surprise in store for her- a local pawnbroker had paid the abbess for her services.  So Alice joined the household of Janyn Perrers at the age of 15 and helped around the house, but soon he asked for her hand in marriage.  Since he was so old she was more there to keep his hounding sister from pushing him towards a more advantageous marriage.  Janyn was kindly to her and taught her numbers and accounting.  He was soon struck down with the plague and she tended him to his dying day.  Left with nothing because of his evil sister, she was soon with no choice but to return to the convent.  Greseley approached her, he had worked for Janyn as well.  He helped Alice buy some property with her wedding money and from that day forth became her broker and agent.  Now not totally without anything, she returned to the convent again to await a better opportunity.  A courier named Wykeham came to her at the convent with a rosary from the Queen and said her services had been asked for.  Alice gladly went with him to the palace Havering-atte-Bower. 

Her beginnings at court were not easy- the princess Isabella contrived to have her work in the kitchens instead of where she was supposed to, with the Queen.  Weeks later and some of the kitchen workers discovered she had a rosary of the Queen's on her.  They accused her of stealing even when she told them the story, and she was brought before Wykeham and the princess.  Fortunately, the King and Queen were nearby and the Queen saved her.  She promptly brought her into her services as one of her damsels.  The princess did not agree but there Alice was- her own bed, freshly washed with new clothes of her own.  The Queen was very kind to her and took her under her wing.  Soon the Queen disclosed to Alice her real reason for bringing her to Court- she was ailing and needed a companion for the King.  She was no longer able to be touched without extreme pain and would rather have him a lover of her own choosing than some other ambitious or conniving woman.  Alice was shocked at the suggestion and the obvious pain it caused the Queen.  Alice could not deny the Queen and so did what she asked.  The King had noticed her through the court events and hunts and her sharp tongue.  Although not beautiful, he grew to like her sound advice and wisdom.  They became lovers in secret long before the court knew.  Wykeham, her first friend at court, was quite angry with her for betraying the Queen like that.  He was a priest and builder for the King.  Poor Alice had to keep it a secret that the Queen desired this of her, and so many thought ill of her.

At age 17 Alice was the mistress of the King, and was for over 13 years.  She bore him four children- two boys and two girls.  Upon the death of Queen Phillipa she became recognized as the King's Concubine.  She was able to travel back and forth to her children and buy more manors.  Many she bought with her own money, but some with the crown's that she paid back.  Alice understood all along that while she was his mistress she should take full advantage, even if it made her look worse, and secure means for her future and her children's security.  She was well aware of the enemies all around her, especially once the Queen died, and knew that once the King passed as well she would be left to the wolves.  One of the King's sons John of Gaunt was somewhat of an ally at some point because he needed her help when the King was desolate over the Queen's death.  Alice was the only one able to bring him back.  Alice also met a diplomat William Windsor that helped the King and his son in Ireland.  They became unlikely friends and he warned her to be careful.  The King slowly and painfully declined over eight years after his wife's death, and Alice prepared herself.  She married Will Windsor for protection and because he proposed to her.  When the court found out they issued a warrant for her banishment.  The King was too out of it to protect or defend her and so she left court.  Awhile later John of Gaunt sent a letter stating she could come back.  So many twists and turns at the end- her enemies conspiring against her for fraud, treason, even witchcraft.  When the King died she was barely able to be at his bedside and was not allowed to his funeral.  The Countess Joan of course ordered her to leave, as her son Richard II was heir to the throne.

Through stripping of her lands and manors, properties and belongings she was almost left with nothing.  Through Windsor's cunning and smarts he was able, as Alice's husband, to get most of her properties back and the order of banishment once again lifted.  He told John of Gaunt he would serve them in Ireland if they did this.  Alice at one point owned over 50 manors or properties, which would have made her an earl if she were a man.  She lived out the rest of her days in the country at Upminster with her husband and daughters.

My Thoughts:
I loved this book, it was thoroughly engrossing from the beginning to end.  The writing was smooth and so easy to read.  I wasn't stuck in facts and details but rather the characters.  I admire Alice Perrers for all that she went through and her rise.  While many tried to bring her down, in the end they couldn't.  I am glad she had Windsor there to support and marry her and protect her.  I admire her courage, her pluck and ambition.  Many hated her for having the king's ear, and even the Queen's jewels after her death.  She was there to care for the King, not just as a lover but his nurse.  She protected him and cared for him and ordered the household. She bore him four children, the eldest which was knighted.  Alice was obviously a smart businesswoman and very patient.  There is no record how she came to the attention of the Queen, and the novelist did a beautiful job of filling in the gaps.  I am sure it was hard for Alice in many ways, with no female companionship, basically alone at court and mocked and ridiculed for her actions.  Ambition was mistaken for greed and her duty to the Queen was taken for a whore.  I am sure to see the King, her lover, so in love with his wife was hard also.  Queen Phillipa always came first in the King's mind.  I would highly recommend this book, it was absolutely a wonderful read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Second Empress A Novel of Napoleon's Court

Michelle Moran's fifth published novel was about the second wife of Emperor Napoleon.  Following the deaths of Marie Antoinette and the bloody revolution comes Napoleon, a young general from Corsica.  He puts aside his first wife Josephine, also known as Rose de Beauharnais, who has been unfaithful to him and not provided an heir.  He requests for the hand of 18 year old Marie-Lucia, daughter of the king of Austria and great niece to Marie Antoinette.  Marie knows she really doesn't have a choice- to deny him would be to plunge their countries into civil war.  He is known to be short, demanding of his wives by changing their names and requesting their specific items of clothing.  Not at all excited at the prospect of being empress with Napoleon, she leaves behind her lover Adam and her beloved father and stepmother and embarks on the journey.  She meets his sister Caroline along the way, and they all meet at Fontainebleau Palace.  She is forced to leave behind her puppy Sigi (seems reminiscent of Marie Antoinette having to leave behind her puppy too when she wed the dauphin).

Immediately you are plunged into meeting this horrific, little ambitious man.  Napoleon is cruel and demanding of her and changes her name to Marie-Louise.  She meets the equally horrid second sister Pauline and her man servant Paul, a Haitian man she took to France with her.  Through the perspectives of these three people you get the choppy and short version of events.  Napoleon marched in with 40,000 soldiers into Egypt about 11 years prior to take control of the Indian Empire.  He wanted to be another Alexander the Great and wanted it all for glory.  He cared not for deaths or money but just simply the glory.  The Hapsburg-Lorraines had ruled for almost 800 years and here came along Napoleon and his Bonaparte family with his ambitions.  His sister Pauline is the Princess of Borghese, her second husband gave her the name, and she is obsessed with all things Egypt.  She has more lovers than she can remember and cares nothing for slavery or anything besides her own complexion.  When Napoleon marries Marie-Louise and puts aside Josephine, Pauline is not at all happy.  When you read her point of view she wishes to be like the old rulers of Egypt and rule beside her brother.  It was said they were incestuous together and their love as siblings was abnormal.  She suffers throughout the book with a venereal disease from all her escapades.

You will also read from the point of view of Paul Moreau, Pauline's servant and good friend.  He has a complicated relationship with Pauline- they met in Haiti and he followed her to France.  Never a lover but a companion and friend, he serves her faithfully amidst her cruelty to others.  Marie-Louise does not seem a strong character to me and just talks about her son who she has named Franz.  She has accomplished in one year what the first empress Josephine has not.  Scattered throughout the book are also letters from Napoleon and Josephine, his first wife.  He obviously still had feelings for her and loved her very much.  The Napoleonic wars involving every major European power took place.  He soon had a dominant position in central Europe.  With the invasion of Russia hundreds of thousands died and so much money was spent in waste.  Instead of spending money for good he used it for his wars.  The following year the Coalition invaded France and forced Napoleon in exile to the island of Elba.  With the help of Pauline his sister, who sold much of her jewels and collections for his return, helped him escape and return to power.  But he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and was sent to Saint Helena with his mother and sister. Six years later he died of stomach cancer.  His sister Pauline also died of stomach cancer.

Napoleon was a military genius, taking a country devastated by war and built an empire.  He was known for the Napoleonic code which dealt with the civil system.  But he was known for being harsh to women and not respectful.  Marie-Louise is able to escape with her son during his adbidcation and returns to her home of Austria and her lover Adam.  Upon the death of Napoleon they wed and had children together.  Paul Moreau returned to Haiti, finally abandoning Pauline to her selfishness.  I personally did not like this book for a few reasons.  I did not like the characters- Napoleon because of his bloodthirsty ambition and cruelty to women, Pauline for her selfishness and treatment of people and her relationship with her brother, and Marie-Louise because she seemed weak.  I think I liked Michelle Moran's other books better because the women seemed in control, powerful and memorable.  It seemed a little short; the three different view points were hard to switch between, and the random love letters from Napoleon to Josephine seemed to disrupt the dialogue.  Also I am curious why the two Marie's (the empress and her stepmother) are on the front cover when Napoleon and his sister Pauline were more key figures in this book.  Not my favorite so far, but it was still an entertaining read.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile

C.W. Gortner is a friend of mine on Facebook and I was pleased to make his acquaintance.  I have already reviewed The Last Queen and The Tudor Secret.  He also wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici which is also fabulous.  It has been a little bit since my last entry, I was re reading Madame Tussuad by Michelle Moran.  This book is a novel about Isabella of Castile; I was first familiar with her because of her daughter Catelina who married Arthur and then King Henry VIII.  Since I am quite familiar with The Tudor period I first heard of her and Fernando of Aragon.  My first impression of her was a warrior queen, which isn't far off. 

The book starts out with the death of her father, King John II of Castile.  Her mother, the Queen Isabella of Portugal, takes her two children Isabella and Alfonso with her to Arevalo.  They live there in seclusion and peace while their half brother Enrique is king.  They know one day their peace will be shattered and he will come for them.  Their mother has to be cared for as she is prone to despair and depression and often goes into a deep melancholy that only Isabella can get her out of.  Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo helped her mother escape with the children and has worked for them tirelessly.  Isabella's friend and lady in waiting Beatriz is with her all the time.  Soon a letter comes announcing the birth of a daughter to King Enrique and his wife Queen Juana.  They were invited without their mother to be at the babe's baptism.  While at court, Isabella quickly realizes how her whole world has changed.  She was used to just one woman waiting on her and the privacy and seclusion of her old home.  There she runs into Fernando from Aragon.  Both families shared Trastamara blood, but as enemies Castile and Aragon waged war against one another.  The hope was one day to put an Aragonese prince on Castile's throne.

Enrique is painfully obvious that he is not as good a king as his father was, and soon rumors are spread about that his sole child is illegitimate.  Soon Castile is involved in civil war between her brother Alfonso who has disappeared, and her half brother Enrique.  Isabella is watched closely while the war goes on.  Queen Juana is so hateful towards her believing she knew about this and was helping her brother.  Carrillo had gone with Alfonso, and Isabella had no doubt he put him up to this.  Forced to grow up fast, Isabella realizes during these times that she will have to take her destiny into her own hands.  Enrique is being poisoned by those around him and she worries for her brother's life should he be found and her own.  They try marrying her off to Queen Juana's brother King Afonso to get her out of the way and basically deserted.  Her father had put in his will that her marriage had to be approved by the Cortes before her marriage, and this is what saved her momentarily.  A proposed alliance between the heir Joanna and Alfonso fell apart, while Alfonso's supporters seized numerous provinces.  The King didn't have much left; the land was devastated and the people suffering.  Alfonso's army is spotted  and he is victorious.  They return to Arevalo to see their mother first before doing anything else.  On their way back to Segovia, Alfonso dies they believe from poisoning.

Isabella is now the heir to the throne.  She hides in a convent to process everything that is going on while the grandees wait to approach her.  She wishes for peace and desires for her half brother Enrique to still rule and would be content to be named his heir until his death.  Then she would be queen of Castile.  In the meantime she had been in correspondence with Fernando and set in motions their betrothal.  This way she could unite the two countries and claim her right to Castile.  It is not long before Enrique tries to betray her again and goes against his word.  Isabella is taken to Ocana where she is armed with 200 men to keep her from escaping.  She gave her word to Enrique that she wouldn't.  With the help of Beatriz, Carrillo among others she is able to escape to Valladolid.  While waiting for Fernando to come Isabella tried to keep her wits about her.  Their dispensation arrives from the pope just in time for them to wed as they are second cousins.  After giving birth to a daughter, Enrique disinherits her.  The people everywhere were in an uproar.  By 1472 more than half of Castile's fourteen major townships were in their grasp, thanks to Fernando; by now most the grandees were in support of Isabella and Fernando.  Isabel is four years old when she finally meets with Enrique again.

The king's lover had passed away and it looked like he wasn't faring too well himself.  Not long after their meeting he dies of a stomach pain.  Isabella still has to contend with the dead king's latest lover, who was also the son of Villena.  Joanna she will also have to contend with as well one day, the child still believed she was her father's true daughter.  Juana was put in a convent with another bastard child where she could no longer wreak her havoc.  Together Isabella and Fernando rule and are best known for helping the cause of Christopher Columbus.  Isabella was known for being deeply religious and believing she did the work of God.  As Christians, she tried to purge Spain of conversos that weren't true to the faith.  A converso is one that pretended obedience to Christianity when they really were Jews. The Spanish Inquisition came and many were killed.  She was also responsible for expelling the Jews unless they converted.  Her goal was to expel the infidels and bring Spain under one crown, one country and one faith.  They were at war for over 10 years and finally captured Granada.

Queen Isabella had five children- Isabel, much later her only son Juan, Joanna, then Maria and Catelina or Catherine.  In Castile she made her husband Fernando equal to her; they just recognized her as queen and him as consort.  It would haunt her husband after her death that he was not equal to his wife, if you read The Last Queen.  They were very much in love and together made a kind of Renaissance state.  She believed in education even of women; female scholars in Spain were allowed to teach.  When she came to the throne, which was not expected being the third child, it was impoverished and divided.  Some of her actions such as expelling the Jews she is widely criticized for having done so.  It is said she didn't attend a single burning of a heretic.  Being so religious no doubt led her to her actions, believing she was God's annointed and therefore owed him her very best.

As usual it is hard for me to review a book with so much depth and information.  I think the author did a good job but it almost seemed to fall short or end too quickly.  When I don't personally feel like I like the main character it can also be hard to get really into it.  I wasn't particularly drawn to this character because of her religious beliefs and how she persecuted so many because of it.  The book did show her trying to go back and forth so it makes you wonder if she made those decisions lightly or was persuaded to.  Her daughter 'Juana the Mad' can be read about in The Last Queen.  I recommend if you are a fan of the author and/or this time period.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Elizabeth I

I am still fascinated by Queen Elizabeth just as I am with her mother Anne Boleyn.  This book by Margaret George was so rich in detail and events that it took me quite awhile to finish reading it.  I found it interesting that the book starts out when she is 54 and ends with her death at almost age 70 instead of starting with her younger years.  I wonder if the reason is because a lot of books written about her cover her earlier years.  This book focuses on Elizabeth in her later decades on the throne and her cousin Lettice Knollys.  Lettice was said to have looked like Elizabeth- the Queen's rival because she marries her love Robert Dudley.  Lettice was also mother to the Earl of Essex, the nobleman that challenged her throne and was later beheaded for his treasonous actions.  These two women have been linked since childhood- one the monarch married to her country, the other trying to gain position or power for her family.

Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh and Drake fill the pages among many courtiers to make a rich novel.  The Queen's rival the Spanish king and the Armadas takes a big role in the book.  Throughout the book she often reflects back on her parents and the role they played in her life.  Her mother was beheaded at such an early age she doesn't really remember her.  By the later decades of her reign she seems to have made her peace with it and her father.  King Henry VIII seems to be her competition even in death, as if she keeps trying to prove herself to him.  It is always a wonder for me what he thinks after trying so long to beget a son, and all the wives- that the son he always wanted was in Queen Elizabeth, his daughter.  With such interesting parents she was of course to be a fascinating character.  The treasury is basically empty when she steps onto the throne, and not much better when she leaves it because of the wars she tried so hard to avoid.  She was known to have pawned off her own jewelry, so no wonder she was known as a penny pincher.  She wore very elaborate wigs and gowns and jewels despite being thrifty. Appearance was everything after all wasn't it? 

After her sister Bloody Mary's reign I am sure Elizabeth was no doubt a Golden Age.  Some quotes from the book I found interesting and seemed true to her character:  '"Elizabeth would be able to add the subjugation of Ireland to her victory over the Armada in the annals of her reign.  A worthy achievement for a woman warrior, no matter how reluctant a one she was....for all his blustering...her father achieve nothing militarily.  She, on the other hand, has saved her realm from invasion and has slammed the back door of Ireland shut to foreign meddling."  (page 611).  Elizabeth seemed to have that canny ability to pick those with the right skill sets and talents in the right positions to surround and serve her.  The only one she seems to have misjudged was the Earl of Essex.  Her love for him let him get away with too much before she finally reigned him in and punished him for his actions in Ireland.  Perhaps her weakness for him was linked to his stepfather Robert Dudley, the love of her life.  Essex was almost more of a key character in the book than Lettice his mother.

England was known for its naval prowess, trading companies and their explorations of the New World. Virginia was named for her.  At the end of Elizabeth's reign O'Neill finally surrendered to her after draining her treasury.  The High Chieftain of Ireland was finally captured.  Then the doge of Venice was requesting to open relations between the two countries- the first Catholic state to break from Rome.  It was a long time coming.  NOt everyone had taken the middle ground of her reign with the Church of England.  Catholics still survived.  The defeat of the Armada had given her people protection and assurance.  The Spanish war was basically over and the Netherlands a successful entity.  By my calculation her reign was far more glorious than her father's.  She had given her people more love than any other monarch- never having married for them.  Her country, her people.  As complex as she was she was indeed successful.  Yes she was known to change her mind many times before making a decision, but her love was constant.

I liked the part in the book where the three cousins- Queen Elizabeth, Lettice and Catherine meet at Hever Castle to remember their ancestors and to reunite.  I don't know if it ever actually happened but it was touching to see them remember Anne and Mary Boleyn.  As many of her favorite councillors and attendants around her die she becomes more aware of her mortality and the legacy she would leave behind.  After Queen Elizabeth passed James I of Scotland ruled and then his son.  People look back on her reign as a golden age and Elizabeth as a Protestant heroine.  This book was a good read but it was hard to get through with so much information.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Empress of the Seven Hills/ His Last Duchess

Kate Quinn did an excellent job in writing Empress of The Seven Hills.  I have reviewed her other books; this is a sequel to Mistress of Rome.  I read this book very fast I practically devoured it I liked it so much.  Her books are easy to read and fast paced they keep you interested.  As usual, in my reviews, I will try to be brief but probably won't.  I also have spoilers because I can't help myself going into vivid detail.  This book follows the senator's daughter Vibia Sabina, also the daughter of a spoiled aristocrat.  She lives in the household of Marcus Norbanus, a good man who works for the emperor.  Vibia meets Vix, son of a Jewish mother who was a slave and a barbarian father.  He leaves his life in Brigantia and heads for Rome to find what is interesting there.  His dream is to own his own legion one day, and he ends up working in the household of Marcus Norbanus.  There he meets Vibia and they become lovers.  Her hand is up for marriage and many suitors visit for her hand.  Her father is letting her pick her suitor which is most unusual.

Titus is a bookworm and is encouraged by his father to sue for Vibia's hand in marriage.  She turns him down but instead they become the best of friends.  Titus keeps his crush a secret for the time being.  The book follows the three of them as they become intangled with the emperor Trajan.  Vibia ends up marrying Hadrian, the emperor's ward but not yet heir, because he promises her adventure to see the world and travel.  Vix joins the legions, aiming to be general one day.  Vibia goes along with Hadrian at the disapproval of her mother in law, so she can experience the campaign firsthand.  During the campaign she runs into Vix again and they become lovers once again.  Hadrian her husband is a hard worker but is homosexual so there is really no love there.  Hadrian and Vix are enemies from a fight years before, especially because Vix is a favorite of the emperor.  Hadrian serves as legate for Trajan's campaign so he is also working hard.  His resentment grows as Emperor Trajan promotes Vix higher up in the ranks.  The book takes you from Germania to Dacia and Parthia.  Vix is a complicated character- handsome, strong, ruthless, tumultuous in emotions, a leader.  He leaves a mistress behind that he gets pregnant and she ends up dying from childbirth.  He ends up raising her motherless son that is not his and shows some compassion there.  He ends up marrying and having children of his own.

I skim many details of the campaign but what is most intriguing about the book are the characters.  Vix like I said is quite a moody character that is sometimes abusive especially when he leaves his mistress while still in a relationship with Vibia.  Somehow you find yourself liking him despite all that, or at least wanting to know more.  Perhaps his interesting character comes from his parents.  The interesting but slightly odd thing is that the author writes about him from the 1st person whereas everyone else is written in the 3rd person.  I wonder if in this book she prefers the male characters over the female. You feel like you get to know him more that way, where Titus and Vibia kind of get lost sometimes.  Vibia is another complex character, cool and calculating and strong.  She doesn't seem the sort of person you would like either but you find yourself quite engaged.  Titus to me is the real strong but silent character, because he seems so romantic and has principles and seems to treat women with respect where Vix doesn't.  He is like Vix's conscience, the unlikliest of friends.  He kind of ties everything together with his views on the situations going on, balancing everything out.  I found myself applauding at the end when he ends up being named one of the Emperor's potential heirs to the throne instead of Hadrian.  Titus is always kind of in the background, not wanting much from life but he ends up near the forefront.

I liked this book because of the complex characters, some of who I didn't mention.  The evil mother in law Plotina, Hadrian her adopted son who I don't really delve into him.  The one thing I will mention besides the way the author wrote the charcters is that she didn't start the story with enough backgrounpd from Mistress of Rome so you end up being a little confused at the beginning until you get a grasp on the characters.  If you haven't read it first you might be a little confused at the parentage of Vibia and Vix.  The book ends with the death of the Emperor, who is quite a likeable character unlike many Emperors, with a nudge from his calculating wife Plotina; and Vibia who ends up pregnant with Vix's baby.  You find yourself mad at Vix for cheating on his wife when he finally seemed like a good guy, and wanting to know more at the same time.  You wonder if Vibia ever leaves Hadrian, if Titus will become Emperor with his love Fasutina, who is also Vibia's younger sister.  You wonder as well if Plotina is caught from her evil deed and if Hadrian and Vix have the big showdown we've all been waiting for.  I'm sure there is a sequel in the works.  I liked this book because I loved getting to know more about Rome and I enjoyed the campaigns and wars.

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm was not a favorite of mine, it took me time to get engaged in the storyline.  There was not enough of a plot to me and too much sex and passion.  I was expecting more of a historical novel and less of a romantic mystery.  I was drawn to it because of the last name Medici.  The book follows 16 year old Lucrezia de' Medici as she is married to the wealthy Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este.  He ends up being dangerous, mysterious and demanding.  Years go by and the marriage is never consummated, and he starts to fear that his title will be taken from him if there is no heir.  He is obviously mad and possibly bi polar; the author often delves into his mind and his crazy thoughts.  He keeps a mistress named Francesca who he takes his madness out on but it seems to keep him mostly stable.  Lucrezia ends up falling in love with a painter and plans a way to escape with him once his commission is done.  In the meantime, Alfonso also has his own sinister plans.  The book seems to plod along for some time then speeds up about 3/4 of the way through to an exciting and dramatic end.  The last bit was good and a page turner for me and somewhat redeemed itself.  The author based the premise of the book on a poem by Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess."  The author will write about Francesca in her next book, the duke's lover, and explores her character more in The Courtesan's Lover.  If you wish to find out more about Lucrezia I believe you could read The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas, which is about Alfonsos' next duchess, which I have also blogged about.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Flower Reader

The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas was such a good book, I really enjoyed reading it.  While I was looking up authors in the library search I noticed this one and had to reserve it.  This book follows Rinette Leslie of Granmuir, a young ward of Queen Mary Guise of Scotland.  Her father had died and afterward her mother entered a convent there to devote the rest of her life in sanctuary to God.  That is how she became to be a royal ward of the queen's.  At the age of 17 the queen regent was dying and with her last words ordered her to a secret- to take a casket to Saint Margaret's Chapel in Dunfermline, there to hide it in a secret vault until she could give it to her daughter.  The queen's daughter Mary had been in France since a young age as a ward of Queen Catherine Medici and King Henry II, where she was married for two years to their son Francis until he passed away.  The queen entrusted whatever secrets were in the casket to Rinette.

It didn't take long for the drama to being unfolding; Rinette escaped on horse with her nurse before she would become a ward of Rothes or someone else.  She took the casket with her and rushed to meet her childhood love, Alexander Gordon.  They met a few days later and hurriedly met in a chapel to wed.  They were interrupted by Lord Rothes and several other men- Rinette was the lady of Granmuir now that her father was dead, but Rothes was to be in charge of her until she came of an age.  By claiming sanctuary they were able to buy time and were wed the next day.  During their honeymoon interlude Rinette told her husband Alexander about the casket.  He asked to see what was inside, and against her better judgement she lets him.  There was a packet of letters sealed by Nostradamus and other cipher letters inside.  Rinette hid it and they continued on.  She discovered she was pregnant, and near the end of her time they heard Mary was landing and rushed to meet her to give her the casket.  They rushed to Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle, but were not able to meet Mary right away as she was resting.

They decided to put the casket in the hidden vault in the chapel, and Alexander went with her to hide it.  Rinette hid a bunch of flowers in and around the casket and they slipped back out.  On the streets she was feeling sick and asked to return to their apartments when suddenly an assassin from the crowds slit Alexander's throat.  Rinette was rescued by Monsieur Nicolas de Clarac, a secretary of the deceased queen.  She soon gave birth to her daughter and didn't awaken for several days.  When she woke up she discovered that her daughter Mairi had been baptized by her godmother the new Queen of Scotland, and that her husband was lying in a coffin at Holyrood Abbey.  It took time for her to start healing both in body and spirit, and her ladies were there to attend her.

The Earl of Huntly had been a ward of her husband and so held Glenlithe as a fiefdom, and immediately began to fight to take her and her daughter as a ward.  The Earl of Rothes also fought back as she was a lady of Granmuir and therefore fell under his protection.  Through her sharp wit she asked to remain at court with the Queen for motives of her own, and also as the queen was her daughter's godmother.  It was decided by the Queen's half brother James that she would stay until she handed the casket over to the Queen.  The casket was no longer a secret- it appears her husband had written several monarchs about the secret casket and its contents to try and sell it.  Even though he had blatantly betrayed her, Rinette still desired to find out who his killer was.  She had some memories of the dagger that had killed him and what it looked like.  When she was presented to the Queen she decided to use the casket as a bargain- she said she would turn it over when the Queen helped find her husband's killer and bring him or her to justice.  This way she hoped to evade the Earls of Huntly and Rothes as well as bring her husband's killer to justice.

Court life continues and during it all, the dances and weddings and plays and serving the Queen and being with her daughter, Rinette tries to discover the identity of her husband's killer.  While at court she befriends Nicolas de Clerac who seems over and over to save her.  He becomes a favorite of the Queen's and is always by her side so they have to be careful about being seen together too much as the Queen is easily jealous.  Her daughter is taken care of at Granmuir by her ladies as the years pass away at court.  Rinette is approached often by various courtiers and agents to sell the casket to them.  The patience of the Queen and her half brother soon wears out and they demand that she turns the casket over to them.  They write up a treaty of protection for her and her daughter and her lands and say she does not have to marry against her will if she turns the casket over.  The queen and her brother the Earl of Moray signs the treaty.  When Rinette goes to find the casket it is gone- only the flowers remain.  Angry at her the Queen and her brother think that she has sold it and betrayed them.  They strip her of her castle Granmuir by the sea and force her to marry Rannoch Hamilton, a friend of the Earl of Rothes. 

Rinette marries him very unhappily and is scared as she has mocked him on several occasions in front of other men.  He abuses her in every way and she cannot escape or they will harm her daughter.  She is asked back to court to serve the Queen again, and the Queen acts like nothing has passed between them.  Rinette is relieved to serve the Queen as it keeps her from her husband during the day and sometimes at night.  Pierre Chastelard, an agent of Queen Catherine Medici, had tried to kill her with a dagger thinking to get the casket.  Word had spread the casket was gone but people still believed Rinette had it hidden.  She did not.  Nicolas de Clerac tries to do what he can for her but he could not stop the marriage.  Over time they have fallen in love but not declared it to each other.  Nicolas was injured by someone in the dark trying to stab him- it seems whoever this assassin was was trying to get at her through him.  A courtier was stabbed and killed in the same fashion as her Alexander had- as a warning to her probably.  Nicolas conferred often with Rinette in secret, trying to help her find her deceased husband's killer.  He said it was likely one of the Escadron Volant who worked for Catherine of Medici who had killed her husband.

Her husband Rannoch of Hamilton had married her in order to discover where the casket was so he could be the duke of Kinmeal Castle.  He worked for the Earl of Rothes and Moray and thought that by marrying her and threatening her child he could get the casket from her.  He hates the Queen and manages to get Rinette away from her and the court and takes her away.  She is pregnant and has another daughter Katherine she calls Kitte, but she is taken away from her.  Rinette is locked up for almost a year and is starting to suspect poison in her meals.  She manages to use her wits once again and uses the help of the deaf girl who feeds her and the stable boy to help her escape while Rannoch is drunk.  They take her daughter with her and escape back to Granmuir.  Nicolas comes to visit with a letter from the queen saying she will help her divorce him; he had gone to the kirk in St Giles and complained that his wife had fled with his daughter and she needed to answer the charges.  Rinette goes back to court to see the Queen and to read her flowers for her.  The Queen had met a man named Darnley that she wished to know their future together.  Rinette sees darkness and destruction from the man and tries to warn the Queen but she does not believe her. 

While back in the city she hears Rannoch is there; while at a wedding everything happens all at once.  Rannoch with Blaise Laurentin take her daughters and come to attack Rinette.  She stabs Blaise and escapes with her daughters to find Nicolas- he helps her hide her daughters and they tell the Queen what has happened.  One of her men was killed in the attack to take her daughters and her ladies were injured.  While stabbing Blaise she noticed the dagger had a falcon, just like the one that had killed her husband.  The Queen orders for both him and Rannoch to be killed for being agents against the crown.  In a confrontation between Rannoch and Rinette and the queen and Nicolas, Rannoch shoots Blaise in the face and kills him in front of everyone.  To take up arms in front of the queen is a crime and the Queen desires him to be hanged for his crimes.  Rannoch is hanged the next day for killing Blaise, one of Rinette's men and for his rude comments to the queen. 

Finally Rinette is free of the evil man and her daughters are safe.  She goes back to Granmuir away from the intrigues of court and the queen who one minute is loyal and the next is not.  The queen marries this Darnley and Rinette predicts only danger for the future of Scotland.  Rinette discovers that Nicolas was a cousin of the queen's and that is why he was always so close to her.  He was also an agent of the Countess Antoinette and had the casket in his possession all along.  Rinette is angry for some time because the casket is what had caused the murder of her husband and many others.  Nicolas gives the casket to Rinette to present to the queen.  She reads the letter of Nostradamus then throws the rest in the fire.  Nicolas and Rinette marry while they settle at Granmuir with her children.  Most the characters besides the queen, her half brother and Darnley are fictional.  The casket was indeed real but what was inside is a mystery and served as the basis for the story.  Flower reading is what Rinette did but many called witchcraft.  There is a lot of content to the book and I hope I did it justice- it was a good book, full of twists and turns, love, lust, power, danger and murder.  I am happy Rinette has a happy ending after her many trials.  The Queen of Scotland is interesting because of her many mood changes and the husband she chooses to marry that does lead to her downfall.  It was common back then for children to be royal wards when their parents died or entered convents or served at court.  Children were most often brought up by other relatives than their own parents.  I highly recommend this book, very good.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Sister Queens

I had to put this book on hold at the library- I heard about it coming out through an author friend on Facebook.  Michelle Moran was one of the reviewers of this book, in fact it's on the front of the book.  Once I heard about it I knew I had to read it.  Sophie Perinot writes about two sisters raised by their father the Count of Provence.  Both were destined for great marriages and Marguerite, the eldest, is to marry the King of France at only age 13.  Louis IX is very handsome and considered the greatest monarch of his age.  A few years later Eleanor is married off to Henry III, King of England.  The book follows the sisters as they are separated from each other but keep in touch with letters.

Marguerite is quite happy at first with her handsome husband, but soon his overbearing mother Blanche of Castile gets in the way of them being together often.  She soon realizes as well that Louis is extremely pious, and getting more so as time passes.  He eventually quits giving her the love and companionship that they had at the beginning of their marriages, and she finds herself lonely and unhappy.  Sent away from her family at such a young age, she was not able to keep her own ladies with her either.  It takes several years for her to have a child, and eventually they have 8 children together.  3 of them are born in the Holy Land while they are there on Crusade for several years- parted from her eldest children.  It is during this time Marguerite begins an affair with one of her husband's favorite men, Jean de Joinville the Seneschal of Champagne.  As Jean is the king's favorite, he is often nearby and so at first it is easy to meet together secretly, because it's common for them to be together.

The King seems to suspect the affair but never openly does anything other than make some religious remarks and mild threats.  Eventually to keep her children safe, Marguerite stops the affair and they remain friends. The family she came from, the Savoyards, were celebrities in the High Middle Ages, known for their martial and political powers.  Their mother was related to the House of Savoy and had many powerful and handsome brothers.  They tried to travel with Marguerite when she married but were sent away.  Marguerite became a powerful woman through the advice of her uncles through letters and her own powers.  One of her sisters Beatrice is married to a relation of Louis's to keep him loyal, so she does have family with her, although not her favorite, Eleanor.  The two sisters keep in close contact through letters, only having a split in communication when their father passes away leaving everything to Beatrice, his favorite.  The living at Flamstead becomes an issue when her dowry will not be paid, so Marguerite works quickly to secure some lands for herself and marries Beatrice to Charles d'Anjou.  Although he is detestable they need his loyalty.  When Eleanor hears of this she feels betrayed for her sister and they do not write for some time. 

The siege of Damietta is a difficult time for Marguerite- the King had failed in his mission with the infidels against the Sultan of Aleppo; many of his men were captured or killed. The King himself was captured and many months went by without word of who survived.  Marguerite had to pay a heavy fine to have him released.  He seemed a changed man after this, becoming more emaciated and religiously obsessed.  At times he seemed to come back to Marguerite and paid her some attention, but then he went back to wearing his hair shirt, flogged himself and imposed strict punishments for petty mistakes or crimes.  She found herself not only out of love with her husband, but also a little scared of his devotion.  After being in Egypt and Jerusalem so long, she worries her three children back home have forgotten her.  During their time away, the Queen Mother passes away.  Eventually after 20 years of being parted, the sisters meet again for Christmas court.  The two sisters work together on a treaty between France and England, a treaty that was signed in 1259 and would see France and England as allies and not enemies.  The book does not cover the rest of the sister's long lives, but it seems they were quite productive and politically savvy.

Eleanor is passionate, strong willed and stubborn- as children she was often quite jealous of Marguerite and could fall into a rage easily.  She is to become Queen of England and when she meets Henry, he is older and not so handsome as she had hoped.  She met her sister's husband Louis and found him to be quite more attractive and younger.  The rivalry still existed in her mind at who was better at what.  Although it seems mismatched, they are quite happy together and he treats her very well.  She discovers over time though that he is not a very good King.  Where one sister is unhappy but has a great King for a husband, the other has true love but not the greatest King.  Eleanor ends up learning a lot from her uncles in how to help her husband rule.  She has a baby before her sister Marguerite and ends up having six or so.  Her sister Sanchia comes to her court and weds so she also has a sister nearby. In 1253 she is appointed regent while Henry travels to Gascony.  This was most unusual and shows how he truly loved and trusted in her abilities.  Eleanor's mother later complements her for being a wonderful mother and great leader.

I felt like Marguerite was written about more so perhaps that's why I wrote about her more or the fact I found her more interesting.  The letters from the sisters in the book are not actual letters but the author's idea of what they wrote to each other.  I find it interesting to read about their relationship, as sister relationships can often be quite complicated.  Just like Anne and Mary Boleyn were quite complicated, these two sisters seemed able to forge a respect and lively friendship throughout their lives.  I am interested to read about the rest of their lives.  Perhaps I was more interested in Marguerite's story because she saw more action on Crusade and was so unhappy with her husband.  It is interesting how neither sister could have both the handsome looks and a good King.  I believe Eleanor sounded more truly happy, especially as she did not sin and put her immortal soul in danger like she believes her sister did. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Stolen Crown

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham was a good book and an interesting read.  It follows Katherine Woodville at the time of King Edward IV's reign and his secret marriage to her sister Bess Woodville.  I have blogged in other posts about Edward IV and Richard III if you need some background history.  I like when the author writes the book from the point of view of someone we are not as familiar with.  Katherine, or Kate, was the youngest of the Woodville children when her oldest sister was secretly married to the King.  Once it was made public many were surprised and even angry at the match as she was a virtual nobody, a widow with 2 children.  The family's star was soon on the rise as they moved to Court with Bess, the new Queen.

Kate was betrothed at married at age 9 to Harry, the Duke of Buckingham.  He was related to the Beauforts and Somersets, both who had served the previous deposed King mad Henry.  In the summer of 1460 the Earl of Warwick known as the Kingmaker and Ned, soon to be King, had taken the mad King and placed him in the Tower and was himself crowned as King.  It was about 4 years later that the King secretly married Bess her sister.  Her sister soon had given him three daughters in quick succession when there was an uprising in the land.  Warwick was angry at all the Woodvilles and how they had prospered so quickly because of their sister's marriage to the King.  He worked to put mad King Henry back on the throne, only to engage in battle with King Edward and lost.  When King Edward returned to his wife and children, who had sequestered themselves in an abbey during the tumult, he met his first son little Edward.  Soon things were put back to rest somewhat and mad King Henry was placed back in the Tower.  Not long after rumors spread that he had passed away, and some wondered quietly if the King had hastened his death.  Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, was killed during the battle.  During this battle Warwick had ordered the deaths of Kate's father and brother John, so she gloated a little over the fact he was now dead himself.

Soon word arrived in London that Margaret of Anjou had landed in England when hearing the news of Warwick's defeat (her husband was the mad King Henry, now deceased).  Harry's uncle, Edmund Beaufort, led her army against King Edward's forces.  During the battle, John Beaufort along with the prince Edward of Lancaster, lay dead on the battlefield- the last of the Lancaster hope now destroyed.  Harry's uncle was put to death as well for aiding the wrong side.  After the battle, Margaret of Anjou was housed and imprisoned.  Harry had been a ward of the crown for a long time, but his loyalties were questioned on occasion because his entire family had been on the Lancaster side.  As his wife Kate was sister to the Queen, he had to serve King Edward faithfully while knowing that doing so, his mother's brothers were being killed.

As Kate grew to be a bit older, Harry and her became a true husband and wife.  They still lived at Court for a time, waiting for some of Harry's lands or jointures to be granted them.  He was never given military assignments because of his inexperience, and his impertinence sometimes led to the King being angry with him.  He was said to have a loud mouth.  Harry was good friends with Richard, the King's brother.  Kate was not fond of him and knew he didn't like the Woodville clan as many others.  The King had another brother, George, who joined with Warwick on occasion to overthrow him and plotted treason.  After so many incidents, the King finally had to order his death.  Living at Court, Kate was surrounded by all the intrigue and drama of the day.  Harry was soon granted some of his Bohun lands and they moved there together to start their family. 

As 1483 approached, the King was sitting nicely on his throne.  His trouble-making brother George was dead, Margaret of Anjou had passed away, Jasper Tudor and Henry were exiled in Brittany, and the Scots weren't too much trouble to maintain.  Quite suddenly, the King had passed away from a chill, he was only in his forties.  This is when things began to unravel quite quickly.  Richard, the King's brother, was to serve as protectorate to the young King Edward until he came to his majority, and would then rule himself.  A letter was received by Harry and Richard that the Queen was planning for her own kin to rule beside her son.  Harry and Richard felt they deserved it and so started working hastily to figure out what to do next.  They had Anthony Woodville, Kate's brother, imprisoned.  When she heard of this she was greatly upset her own husband would have a hand in this.  It seemed he had become Richard's creature.  Harry was made the chief justice and chamberlain of North and South Wales and constable of many castles.  His rise was meteoric and swift, since the late King Edward had been slow to grant him anything.

Soon Richard was grasping at straws and either heard or started a rumor that his brother, the late King Edward, had been a bastard.  Also that he may have been precontracted to another woman before the Queen, so his children were therefore bastards as well.  Now it was no longer about just taking the protectorate it was about taking the throne from his nephew.  The young King was never coronated and was put in the Tower.  The Queen took her children into sanctuary once again, and after many demands, released up her other son to be a companion to his brother in the Tower.  What no one expected was that the two boys would eventually just disappear.  Still to this day no one knows when or how they were killed or died.  Of course Richard was blamed along with Harry.  As things moved forward swiftly and men were put to death, including Anne's brother, she no longer felt like she knew her husband Harry.  After Richard's coronation, Kate stayed away from Court and away from Harry.  She joined her sister and her children in house arrest in the country.  Bess's two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Cecily, went to Court.

The King's son passed away, and many felt it just treatment for killing his two nephews as well as many others.  Soon the Queen Anne passed away from a long illness, leaving him free to marry again.  Rumors spread that he wished to marry his niece Elizabeth, even though he had had her declared a bastard.  Along the way, Harry changed his mind about serving Richard.  He started to work with his aunt Margaret Beaufort to put her son Henry Tudor on the throne.  When word get out that he had turned traitor, it wasn't long before he was caught, put on trial, and beheaded.  Kate was now a widow along with her sister, imprisoned with all of their children waiting for the tides to turn.  Although King Richard did some good, his path to the throne had been bathed in blood.

Suddenly, the tides did turn.  Kate's two older brothers, still alive, came happily to visit her and Bess.  "Richard, Duke of Gloucester, usurper and murderer of innocents, late calling himself king of England, was slain in Leicestershire.  Long life to your new king.  King Henry!"  (page 350)
Kate met the new King and soon married Jasper Tudor his uncle.  Eventually the King married her niece Elizabeth Woodwillve.  Soon she was the last surviving Woodville, and her husband Jasper had passed away.  She went on to marry Richard Wingfield without royal license, and less than fourteen months later passed away at age 39.

Henry VII died in 1509, outliving his queen.  Their first son Arthur died in 1502, and their other son Henry became King Henry VIII.  There is so much plot to this book it is really hard to review it all.  As well as the lineage and genealogy of all the Yorks and Lancasters, etc.  I probably just added more confusion so I tried to only write about those main characters.  It was interesting to wonder if Kate ever loved Harry and if they were happy together.  What made him change his mind about serving Richard, was it because he believed he had killed his nephews?  And also, did Richard really have a hand in his nephew's deaths?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

At The Mercy Of The Queen

This book caught my eye when I was at Barnes & Noble so I put it on hold at the library.  As always, anything from The Tudor period and Anne Boleyn fascinates me.  The author Anne Clinard Barnhill focused the novel on Anne Boleyn and her tumultuous reign as Queen.  She writes mainly from the viewpoint of Margaret Shelton, Anne's cousin.  She has appeared in other Tudor novels but she was quite prevalent in this one.  I like that the author chose to write about Margaret because not much has been written about her, other than the fact she served Queen Anne and was her cousin.  Even though I am fascinated by the Tudor period, it seemed there were no other viewpoints or details to cover. 

The author is related to the Sheltons and so took a special interest in Margaret Shelton.  I like that this book introduces a new voice with a new perspective.  Anne Boleyn is always fascinating to me, complex and controversial.  I don't know that I would like her in person, but she continues to fascinate readers centuries later.  Margaret serves Anne and so is privy to many of her private emotions and moments.  The novel shows a softer, sweeter side to Anne that many probably didn't see in her time.  She had to remain strong and passionate to keep the King and impress the courtiers.  After having Elizabeth, she lost two little boys in miscarriages and was never quite able to bring the King back to her affections.  Margaret is there to comfort and care for Anne during these hard times, when she begins to be abandoned. 

The King, also a complicated character, never the faithful one begins to fall for Jane Seymour.  This is where I believe Anne's fall began in earnest.  The King liked the thrill of the hunt but quickly tired of the woman after.  Anne was able to hold him a bit longer than most, but because of her inability to produce a male heir after everything the King had done to make her Queen (put aside his first wife Catherine and the new religion), his fuse was shorter.  He was no longer young and did not have the time to wait.  This worked against Anne as well as her own temper.  After suffering the loss of two children and knowing she was in danger, her temper flared more often and she was often railing at the King and getting mad instead of being sweet.  Unlike his first wife Catherine and Jane Seymour, Anne was willful and strong.  The passion the King fell in love with now was his annoyance and her downfall.  It was only time before Anne was to be put aside.

I found myself actually having sympathy for Anne even after her controversial rise at Court, because here she is basically abandoned at Court, her daughter far from her, with no one but her cousin to care for her.  She had to watch as the King fell in love with another woman and powerless to do anything.  Because of the King's age and declining health and weight gain, he wasn't able to be intimate as easily.  With all this working against Anne, who was of course blamed, the King's secretary began to find ways to get rid of her for the King.  So that he could remarry.  Anne was deeply religious which may be surprsiing, but she was opposed to the King's closing of the abbeys and monasteries and using the money for his treasury.  She often argued with him and Cromwell that they should use it for the poor, or at least keep the good ones still open.  Her passion for this worked agaisnt her as well and is what led to her friendship with Cromwell coming to an end.

She was soon brought before the Court, charged with treason and adultery on several counts.  Margaret asked the King to serve the Queen in her last weeks and he let her.  I don't know if this was indeed a fact, I've heard several names of ladies that stayed with her until the very end.  Not all were her supporters either.  The men that were accused with her were put to death, including her own brother.  Anne left the world bravely, dignified and poised.  The King extended one last service to her and ordered for a French swordsman to do the deed as it would be less painful and messy.  Margaret goes on to marry and have several children away from Court, keeping the memories of the Queen close to her heart.  You also feel for Margaret in this book, because the Queen asks of her a favor.  In between her miscarriages, while the Queen is still trying to gain back the King's love and favor, she asks Margaret or Madge her nickname, to sleep with the king for her.  The Queen believed she had more control this way by putting her own kin before the King, someone she could trust and that could possibly tell the King good things about her.  This is the main thing Margaret is known for in history, is her affair with the King.  Some still conjecture whether Anne put her up to it or not- it would seem to make sense if the two had a good relationship and were trying to help one another.

My conclusion is that this book was very entertaining, interesting and provided a refreshing outlook.  Of course it has sexual scenes and references, but overall I recommend it for history lovers.