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.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Heretic Queen

It has been almost three months since I lost blogged, life has been so crazy I haven't read anything until the last week or so.  When I don't have time to read I really feel like something is missing from my life.  I love to read.  I'm sure i'll have another big gap until the next post because I am having a little girl in less than 6 weeks.  So please be patient for those that follow my blog, which I hope there are at least a few.

I chose to blog about The Heretic Queen since I just re-read it and love it.  I did blog about it once before but only a short paragraph.  This is the sequel to Nefertiti which is also a fabulous book.  It is 1283 B.C. in Thebes known as Upper Egypt.  I will briefly tell you what happened before this time- Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten ruled Egypt and removed the gods that had been worshipped for over a thousand years, and in its place raised up the deity Aten (the sun) in its place.  They built their own city and were deemed heretical because of their policies and beliefs.  Akhenaten died of the plague and Nefertit was later stabbed to death by some priests.  Nefertiti's daughter Tutankhamun reigned until she died of an infection at age 19, and her grandfather Ay took the throne.  He passed away a few years later, with only one last link to the royal family, Nefertiti's sister Mutnodjmet.  Not one to want the crown, the general Horemheb took her as wife by force (we assume although there is no evidence).  Mutnodjmet passed away in childbirth and Horemheb passed the throne to his general, Ramesses I.  This began the Ninteenth Dynasty.  Ramasses was old when he began and the crown then passed on his death to his son, Paroah Seti.

All that remains of Nefertit's family line is the daughter of Mutnodjmet, Nefertari.  She is an orphan alone in the court of Seti, branded a heretic herself because of her family.  Nefertari is not for sure related to Nefertiti, but because of her age it could be possible.  She was a princess at court and was taken care of by her nurse Merit, who had also been with her mother and lived during the heretic's reign.  Nefertari was best friends with Ramasses, the prince, and Asha, son of a general.  She was very bright in school and knew over six languages, proficient in cuneiform and heiroglyphics.  When the time came for Ramasses to wed and start ruling as coregent in the Audience Chamber with his parents; Nefertari was devestated that her lifelong friend would no longer be with her in school.  Ramasses was wed to Iset, the daughter of a harem wife.  Many were surprised at his choice of wife, but the sister of Parahoah Seti, Henuttawy, had used her influence to push the marriage forward.  Soon Asha left as well to begin training as a soldier and Nefertari was left friendless at school.  Pharoah Seti's other sister, Woserit a high priestess, took aside Nefertari to begin telling her what her options were.  With no family if she did not marry Ramasses and eventually become Chief Wife as was her destiny, she would end up a priestess or even worse, abandoned in a harem somewhere.

At only age 13 she began to realize she needed to take a hand in shaping her destiny.  She needed to make Ramasses see that she was not just his little friend or sister, but a woman.  Taking Woserit's advice, she left the school to join Woswerit at the Temple of Hathor to become a priestess for at least a year.  Iset had already taken over her chambers and many at court had snubbed her aside as a useless princess from a heretical family.  Over the year she was with Woserit, she was not allowed to see Ramasses and was schooled in more languages, the harp and courtly manners.  When she returned to court for the Feast of Wag, Ramasses was very happy to see her.  She had grown more beautiful and wise and he had missed her greatly.  He desired for her to be his wife and soon proclaimed to the court, with his father's permission who adored Nefertari, that they would be wed.  The day after their wedding, Pharoh Seti and his queen Tuya set off for Lower Egypt because it was time for Ramasses to rule Upper Egypt alone since he was 18.

Nefertari joined Ramasses and Iset in the Audience Chamber, and soon earned the respect and admiration of many courtiers and petitioners.  With her skill in languages she was able to take most of the harder petitions and was useful to Ramasses.  Her came to her every night, even when it was his time to be with Iset, for her to interpret letters for him.  Iset was very beautiful but not very bright and complained often.  It became clear who was the favorite although many still called her the Heretic.  Iset lost her first son and many at court began complaining that it was Nefertari who had taken her baby's life.  She had to constantly battle the judgements of the people and try to prove herself.  Even after giving birth to twin boys, the people were still hesitant towards her.  Nefertari joined Ramasses during his crusade of the Nubian rebellion.  Soon people cheered her as the Warrior Queen for her bravery.  Now she was not only useful in the Audience Chamber but also in battles.  The Nile was very low and drought was spreading- again the people began blaming Nefertari.  Fortunately a solution was found and the rice from the temples was distributed to the people.

Pharoah Seti passed away shortly after they arrived at Lower Egypt and it was said his heart was too weak.  Nefertari overheard Henuttawy whispering with Iset about the poison they had given him to drink to hasten his death. With him out of the way they were hoping that Ramasses would finally decide and make Iset Chief Wife.  A few months after pharaoh's passing, the court moved into Lower Egypt known as Avaris.  Pharoah Ramasses decided to keep his father's last wish and go to war with Kadesh.  Nefertari and her sons joined Pharoah Ramasses on his war against Kadesh, along with Merit her nurse and Iset and her son.  Instead of ending in victory it ended in a peace treaty- the document still survives in the United Nations building in New York as an example of one of the earliest peace treaties.  Ramasses made Nefertari Chief Wife and they ruled together for over 25 years before her death.  Theirs was known as a love match and on the wall in her burial chamber, which is one of the most exquisite tombs to survive today, reads:
"My love is unique and none can rival her...Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart." 

Hennutawy was finally found out that she had hastened Pharoah Seti's death with poison, and her lover Rahotep the high priest stabbed her to death.  He was Iset's father and also the one that had killed Nefertiti and started the fire that killed the rest of the family.  Merit, the nurse, had known all along but kept it secret until the time was right.  Rahotep was killed for his crimes.  Woserit was finally free to marry her love Paser, the tutor, now that her evil sister was gone.  The serpents in the court were finally gone, where Ramasses could rule with Nefertari and their children.  Because Ramasses outlived most his children and lived into his nineties, generations grew up and died only having known him as Pharoah.  Ramasses is remembered as a great warrior and builder, and poems still survive of his love to Nefertari.  She bore him six children but none lived long enough to become Pharoah- in fact, Iset's son Merenptah succeeded after his death. 

I like this book because of the rich historical detail, the people, the story mingled with fact and fiction, the drama.  You feel happy for Nefertari because she overcomes her family's dark past and is made Chief Wife to the man she loves.  She was able to build a temple to her family where they would be remembered for all time.  Again, her paternity is not definite but it is possible she came from Nefertit's family.  An interesting thing is that after the Heretic's reign, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the general Horemheb had all their images and their city destroyed so the gods or people wouldn't remember them.  So Nefertari believed unless she became Chief Wife, the gods would not remember her family.  If a person was buried without any kind of token identifying them, it was believed they would be cast out and forgotten by the gods after this life.  With important deeds and works they would be remembered and stand out to the gods.  That is why their images were drawn everywhere possible so they could be remembered.  I recommend this book because it's so interesting and rich in detail.