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?