Monday, November 18, 2013

Revolution Books

I had read Juliet Grey's first novel about Marie Antoinette, somehow missed the second, and picked up this 3rd novel.  It was an engrossing and memorable read, following the royal family during the Revolution and Terror in France.  This last book of Juliet Grey's watched the change of France and the fall of the King and Queen.  I thought it was a compassionate viewpoint of Marie Antoinette and her family.  Many in France hated them, especially Antoinette, blaming her for their problems and famine.  She was somehow famously quoted for saying "let them eat cake."  The aristocracy was blamed for their decadence, and many pamphlets circulated that Marie Antoinette had many lovers, including her close female friends.  Her apparent haughtiness also did not make her a favorite of the people.  She came from Austria at a young age to marry Louis, and his ineptitude and her flagrant spending just inflamed the hungry people.  They needed someone to blame and fix their problems.

The Estates-General was formed, which comprised of Three Estates.  The First Estate was the clergy, who were tax exempt.  The Second Estate was the nobility- about 400,000.  The Third Estate was peasants and anyone else, numbering about 25 million.  This meant the burden of France's government fell upon the poor people.  Eventually because of disagreements, the Third Estate formed their own group called The National Assembly.  Things changed rapidly and were hard to follow from there.  The Bastille, the infamous prison, was stormed and the prisoners let go.  This marked a momentous day for The National Assembly.  An angry mob stormed the royal family, almost killing them, and forced them from Versailles to Paris.  Over the next few years, the King's power would slowly be taken from him while the royal family was kept under close watch.  After a sad failed attempt to escape, the royal family was watched even more closely.  The book detailed everything thoroughly and well, as the royal family was moved again and their attendants taken from them.  The Queen lost many of her ladies and soon the King was taken from his family.  A republic had been formed, and the King was executed not long after.

The guillotine was the mode of execution then, deemed swift and clean to kill many people in a day.  People like Maximilien Robespierre, the Jacobins and Girondins rose up, eventually causing what they called The Terror.  Around 40,000 people in France were killed during this time, including many peasants, aristocrats, and eventually the Queen as well.  The bloody rule of the Jacobins ended in 1795.  The book was entertaining and emotional to read, because you felt you were right there with Marie Antoinette through all they went through.  She lost her mother and brother, who could possibly have helped them.  There were several attempts to escape but none worked.  After the Queen was killed, her son had been taken to prison where he died at the age of 10.  He was not treated well and lived in filthy conditions.  She had lost a son and daughter before the Revolution, but her other remaining child, a daughter Marie Therese, was the only one to survive.

Mistress of the Revolution was a different viewpoint to read about the changes in France.  It follows Gabrielle de Montserrat, a noblewoman raised in the country and in a convent that is married off at the age of 15 to a distant cousin.  He is abusive and cruel, and she has a daughter with him named Aimee, and loses a son during pregnancy.  Upon his death she is left barely enough to live by on, and travels to Paris to live with a distant relation.  She becomes embroiled in the changes of King Louis XV and the royal family.  She becomes a mistress to make ends meet, and also serves at one point as lady in waiting to the King's sister in law.  Her sympathies do not lie with the Queen because she believes as many do, that the Queen spends all the money and leaves none for the poor.  She is caught up in everything that goes on, even coming before the Revolutionary Tribunal.  She is imprisoned but is fortunate enough to escape.  To survive this Revolution when many around her are dying and being arrested, she seeks the help of a former friend who is now a prominent judge.  She is present at many important events, and it was interesting to read the perspective of someone not of the noble family.  She survived and eventually left France with her daughter.  This book is a memoir written by the character looking back on that time.  I enjoyed both books and learned more about France during the Revolution.  Madame Tussuad is another great book that I've reviewed on another post, if you would like another perspective.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trafficked/ The Ruby Ring

I was watching The View and Barbara Walters interviewed a woman, without showing her face.  Her story was horrific and compelling, and I knew I had to read her book.  This book was graphic, heart wrenching, emotional, tragic and wonderful all at different times.  I read it so fast because I was shocked and had to read more.  Her name in the book is Sophie, and she is an educated British woman.  She came from a home with several other siblings, a loving mother, and an emotionally abusive father.  He didn't want any of his children and would tear them down at any opportunity.  From this, Sophie learned to not trust men and also was insecure about herself.  She took great care with her appearance, often neurotic about it.  Her mother eventually left him and remarried, but the scars were already deep for each child.  Especially one of her brothers, who kept trying to please his father even when he knew it was hopeless.  Sophie had a good job and often went out clubbing with her friend.  One night she met a man named Kas; he kept watching her intently and tried to ask her out.  She denied him several times, but they kept running into each other.

They became friends and would talk often over the phone, and he would listen to all her problems.  Sophie ended up dating and living with a guy named Erion.  When she first mentioned him, Kas got very upset on the phone.  That was the first time Sophie noticed anything in his demeanor other than friendliness.  She supposed it meant he liked her too, and they didn't talk for a little while.  Erion and Sophie lived together for years, and broke it off to get back together again.  Sophie's treatment by her father had made her kind of a wreck in relationships.  She would test Erion to the breaking point, until he couldn't take it anymore.  He found out he was being deported, and one of Erion's friends asked her to marry him so he could stay.  She found she couldn't, and ended up in the hospital for a twisted stomach and needed surgery.  From that point on, her life would change forever....

Kas was still in touch with Sophie, and offered after she got back from a family vacation after her surgery, to go with him to Italy.  Just days after being on vacation, Kas started to beat her.  He told her he owed a drug dealer a lot of money, and that she would work it off for him.  He told her she was going to be a whore on the streets, and proceeded to tell her what to wear, what to do, everything.  He said he would kill her younger brothers and dump her body in the water if she didn't do what he said.  Sophie was numb with shock and fear, not believing this transformation in her friend.  For the next six months, Sophie would work on the streets for Kas.  On average she was with 18-36 men a night, and beat repeatedly by Kas.  She got to the point she couldn't eat much anymore, and got to about 92 pounds.  She was arrested a few times for prostitution, but was always released.  She did everything Kas asked her to, but nothing pleased him.  She was able to phone home regularly to keep things normal, and was forced what to say.  By some miracle, she landed in the hospital with a life-threatening illness.  She was able to phone her mom with a secret password, and her parents flew in.  Sophie kept this from Kas, and was able to keep up the pretense long enough to return home with her parents.

The rest of the story is no less compelling- Kas returns to find her, and it shows what Sophie does to pick up her life and move on.  It is inspiring, tragic and stunning.  I was horrified at the widespread abuse of human trafficking statistics; I sure hope people can have an ending like Sophie where they can escape and move on with their lives.  Better yet, I hope it never happens to anyone, anywhere.  An inspiring true story.

This book is set in Rome in 1520, and follows Raphael Sanzio, the beloved painter of Pope Leo X and Cardinals and princes around the world.  This is a story of love between an artist and an unlikely woman.  Raphael has many commissions to complete, always with deadlines and not enough time or apprentices to finish the work.  He was trained by his father and had a God-given talent.  Raphael was in the elite part of Roman society, sought out from nobility and cardinals to paint their legacy for them.  Since the men of the church could not have children, at least not recognized ones, their legacy was what they could leave behind.  Paintings, art work- Raphael could paint that for them.  He had one project he was still struggling to find the right model for- a Madonna for the mother of Christ in the Sistine Chapel.  Raphael had searched for four years, and one day, he finally found the woman he sought.  Her name was Margherita Luti, a baker's daughter from the humble neighborhood of Trastevere.  It took several attempts for her to agree to be painted, and mostly at the urging from her family.  He paid her well, and quickly fell in love with her.  Margherita rose swiftly in society, becoming his mistress and lover.

The Pope quickly became distressed at this love affair, as did Cardinal Bibbiena who had helped introduced Raphael to the Pope.  Raphael owed him much, especially because he was betrothed to his niece Maria.  As of yet, he had not married her nor did he want to.  But if he snubbed her, he would anger Bibbiena and thus the Pope as well.  He relied on their patronage to keep him famous and in work.  Raphael was certainly well off, but he had his apprentices to think of too.  As their love deepens and they spend all their time together, Raphael's work gets farther and farther behind.  A plot is put underway where Margherita is kidnapped.  It takes him about a month to be told the truth of what happened.  The hope was, with her gone, he would marry Marie and finish his projects on time.  Instead, Raphael became so morose he could not work and things only got worse.  The Pope and Bibbiena saw it was good for him to have her, so they told him the truth.  It took years for him to recover and begin his work in earnest again.

Raphael bought Margherita her own home, where she lived lavishly and had servants.  He maintained his own residence to keep up the facade of propriety.  He continued to paint her in many of his works, and did some of her nude or nearly so.  He told the Pope he would forgive him only if he allowed them to marry.  Raphael pleaded with Marie to cancel their betrothal, which she refused to do, even knowing he could never love her like she loved him.  She died young, and that released him to propose to Margherita.  But still the Pope dragged his feet, and would not let them marry.  Margherita is given a ruby ring, with a story attached to it, and Raphael paints her with the ring on as an engagement gift.  Raphael continues to work feverishly, hardly sleeping or eating.  His work is piling in and he struggles to keep up.  His friend Da Vinci has gone to live at the French court, and his rival Michelangelo has left for Florence to find other work.  It seems he has all the commissions and not enough time.  He soon fell ill, and died at the pinnacle of his career at a young age.

Margherita was abandoned by her friends, her own family who said she'd sully their bakery name if she returned, and was shunned by society for being the whore of Raphael.  Many said it was her fault he died and couldn't complete his paintings.  Giulio Romano, an apprentice and close friend of them both, helped Raphael's dying wish to see her safe.  Since no one would marry them, he took Margherita to a nearby convent, Sant'Apollonia, to live out the rest of her life.  She would be safe there.  He destroyed any paintings of her nude, to protect her, and spread the rumor that Raphael had repented of her on his deathbed.  So instead of being the victor, Margherita was the vanquished.  She tried to attend his funeral but was spotted and ran out.  History seems to have written over her; Cardinal Bibbiena had his niece Marie buried next to Raphael  at the Pantheon, and not Margherita as they had both wished.  Her name was found on the convent's list of names, but that is all.  I find it a tragic love story, but I enjoyed the book.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Unfaithful Wife: A Novel of Kenry VIII's Fifth Wife

If you know me, I know a lot about the Tudors.  I have ready exhaustively about them, but I'm always up for a different viewpoint on someone.  This book caught my eye and so I gave it a go.  This book focuses in on King Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard.  She was raised with her step-Grandmother Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.  She had an aristocratic pedigree because of her parents, her father being a Howard and being cousins with Anne Boleyn.  She was raised by her step-grandmother because of having so many siblings and her father not being wealthy.  Her mother had died when she was young, also complicating things.  Catherine's step-grandmother was apparently lax in having so many charges at her homes in Lambeth and Chesworth House, so this is where Catherine's beginnings came about.  She had a music teacher, Henry Manox, that taught her on the piano.  It wasn't long before he talked her into doing other things.  This was very common at the house; the older girls would bribe their nurse to give them the keys to an adjoining chamber, where they would invite men in to play cards and flirt.

As Henry became more demanding, Catherine asked her Grandmother to send him away and she did.  She met a Francis Dereham next, and they soon fell in love and pledged marriage to each other as well as their troth.  They also exchanged rings, which in the old laws of hand fasting they were now considered man and wife.  Katherine slept with Francis and was often companions in that chamber with her friend Joan and her boy.  Grandmother Agnes was mostly oblivious or blind to what was going on, and this continued for some time.  Catherine tried to help her father when she could, as he had lots of debts and no good positions.  She was left with no funds or good clothing either.  That soon changed when King Henry asked Thomas Norfolk, her uncle, to bring several lovely ladies to court for him to meet.  Catherine was one of the woman chosen, and they had dresses hastily made and were sent to court to meet the King.  He was quite taken with Catherine early on, singling her out for attention and some words.  Apparently he had taken her mother as a lover when she was married to her first husband, and saw a likeness in Catherine. 

The King was working on remarrying, following the death of Jane Seymour who gave him a son Edward.  Thomas Cromwell, his secretary, was trying to get him to marry Anna of Cleves for the alliance.  When Catherine returned with the ladies, her Grandmother and Thomas Howard began singling her out for attention.  They had noticed the King's affection towards her, and wanted her to work that to her advantage.  Francis said he was fine sharing her, because it could be beneficial for him as well.  That hurt Catherine's feelings, and she wasn't quite sure how she felt.  The King invited her several more times, and invited her to view his palace of Non such being built.  Many dresses were ordered to be made for her, and she was suddenly treated very well by everyone in the household.  Henry Manox, in vengeance, left a note that Catherine was sleeping with Francis and that they were betrothed.  Her Grandmother found them together in the chamber, and sent Francis away immediately.  She whipped, beat and left Catherine locked up for several days to starve.  She finally let her out when Catherine begged for forgiveness.  Her Grandmother was very worried as was Norfolk.  The King liked his woman innocent and unsullied.  Her cousin Anne Boleyn had been beheaded, a Queen, for treason against the King. 

With this example before her, Catherine was worried.  But Francis apparently was married with children, and had left for Ireland.  She felt betrayed and very sad, and also starved and tired.  While the King continued to see her, he was finally forced to agree to marry this Anne of Cleves.  Disappointed but searching for the best outcome regardless, she was sent to serve as one of her ladies in waiting to still be near the King.  Even a mistress would provide great benefits to her family.  Her father passed away during this time also, and Catherine was even more mournful.  She was now an orphan with an uncertain future.  She watched as Anna married King Henry, much to his consternation at finally meeting her and seeing her face.  She was very tall, broad shouldered, and her face was pockmarked and her voice deep.  It wasn't long after the wedding though that King Henry was seeking for an annulment.  Catherine had become the King's mistress, and he found comfort in her company.  His leg sore often ailed him and made him irritable, and his heavy bulk was certainly not appealing to her.  She did as she was bid, and Anne of Cleves became the King's sister and was granted a mansion and servants nearby court. 

It wasn't long before Catherine was married to the King, all of it down hastily.  At this time she met a Thomas Culpepper, one of the King's courtiers.  They were attracted to each other and started meeting in secret.  Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn, was helpful to her in planning these meetings.  Over the course of less than a few years, Catherine was unable to produce a child.  She pretended a few pregnancies and miscarriages, and the King grew angry with her.  His son Edward was often sick and was only three years old.  His son by Bessie Blount had died young also, so his fear was constant for a living male heir.  Francis Dereham returned to court and demanded she appoint him as her secretary.  He had information against her which would keep her quiet.  Catherine was in a very precarious position- having an affair with Culpepper, while trying to conceive the King's child and unable to.  At the same time Francis and Joan Bulmer were from her childhood in Lambeth and had many secrets against her.  It wasn't long before the truth came out about her adultery and sullied past, and many of her Howard relations were imprisoned in the Tower.  Catherine was stripped of her title as Queen, her many lands and incomes and jewels and clothing.  She was ultimately beheaded along with Lady Rochford, although in the book it doesn't mention Rochford's death.

My Thoughts:  I knew of Catherine's fate, which was much like Anne her cousin.  Catherine Howard has been portrayed as stupid in other books, which does make sense considering the risks she took to have an affair with Culpepper.  I think she believed King Henry would die soon, leaving her able to marry Culpepper.  Her relationships with Manox and Dereham are more understandable, but also costly to her to have a past like that when married to a King.  And a jealous one at that.  Besides her affair, Catherine was also unable to produce a child for the King.  This led to her downfall the fastest and led to her being charged with treason against the King and the crown.   Parliament passed a bill of attainder that made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her.  This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty.  Culpepper was beheaded and Dereham was hung, drawn and quartered.  I find a lot of her story sad, because of her upbringing and not having parents around.  I think it made sense her beginnings of wantonness because of the other girls around her and the laxity of her Grandmother.  Once a girl is bade to become the King's mistress of queen, she really has no choice.  I think she found true love in Tom Culpepper, and abandoned all common sense or fear.  Even if she hadn't had an affair, she would have likely been done away with anyway because of not producing a child for the King.  Of course it was the woman's fault, not the man's back then.  I enjoyed the book and the author's viewpoints.  I don't know if Catherine's mother had really been the King's mistress or not, but it explained why he became attracted to her.  Anna of Cleves was friends with the King until his death, maintaining the title of the King's Sister.  Perhaps she was one of the most fortunate of his wives.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Serpent and the Pearl

This book FINALLY came to me at the library and I read it in less than five days.  This is Kate Quinn's first novel about the Borgia's, who live in Rome in the Holy City.  I had read about this family in other books, so I was interested in her novel.  The year is 1492 and this book focuses on three main characters:  Giulia Farnese, a beautiful girl with floor-length golden hair; Leonello, a dwarf and her bodyguard with revenge in mind; and Carmelina, a feisty cook with a mind full of secrets.  Giulia is wed to the handsome and young Orsino Orsini.  She is just 18 and excited to be wed to someone so young and also handsome, but discovers not long after that the wedding is just a sham.  Her mother in law Madonna Adriana had made a deal with Cardinal Borgia that Giulia would become his mistress.  Giulia fights this and is not happy to meet this Cardinal.  He is certainly older, a swarthy Spaniard already with a litter of bastards.  Rodrigo charms her with his charismatic and sensual personality, and also generous nature.  Giulia's family already seems to have written her off, and her husband has left her living alone with her mother in law, Joffre and the cooks and servants.

Boredom seems to give way, and Giulia gives in to the Cardinal. Giulia also has became fast friends with one of the Pope's children, Lucrezia.  They all live in the house together, passing the time.  Not long after, the Pope dies and Cardinal Borgia is enclosed to help select the next Pope.  Cardinal Borgia, her Cardinal, is elected as Pope.  He goes by the name Pope Alexander VI, after Alexander the Great. Giulia fears she will now be set aside, but unlike his predecessors who hid or housed their concubines separately to maintain a modicum of dignity, he brings Giulia to live with him.  She has a daughter  named Laura just 9 months after he becomes Pope, but is kept with the last name Orsini.  Soon people keep a distance from Giulia, calling her whore while noting her fashion and copying it.  Giulia is happy with her situation and the Pope dotes and lavishes jewels on her.  There comes a time when his passion for her seems to wane, and Giulia follows Lucrezia to Pesaro to help her set up her new household as wife to Giovanni Sforza.  Lucrezia is still young but has become very beautiful, and is the apple of her father's eye.  Giulia is like a second mother to her, and very caring. 

Giulia hears that the Pope's eye is wandering, but hoping to make distance and the heart grow fonder she stays away.  Soon word reaches her that her brother is dying, so she rushes home to his bedside, opposite of the Pope's wishes for her to return to Rome.  She has just missed his death, but stays for some time with her daughter.  She beings corresponding with her husband Orsini, and starts thinking about life with him and settling down.  Giulia's cook Carmelina has come along, she loves her tourtes and biscotti and feisty nature.  She also loves Leonello, her little dwarf bodyguard who was hired by Cesare Borgia to protect her.  The three are an unlikely pair, but very interesting to read about.  The peace isn't kept long, however, as the French are invading and close nearby.  Giulia finally decides to return to Rome and her Pope, but her party is waylaid and captured by a brigand of French soldiers.  Her imperious manner is all that keeps them safe, and Leonello's knife throwing skills.  Three of her soldiers and several of theirs die.  They are taken to Montefiascone where the French army is camped.  The book ends with Leonello dying from wounds inflicted on him after protecting his mistress, and Giulia preparing to meet with the General to discuss terms.

My Thoughts:  During this book, it switches between the viewpoints of Giulia; Leonello and how he came to seek revenge and escaped prison to become Giulia's bodyguard, and Carmelina the cook and how she tries to escape her past.  All stories are interesting and tie together here and there.  We are left wondering if Carmelina will be discovered, if Leonello will seek justice and find out who has been murdering the girls and who killed his friend, and if Giulia and the whole group will escape the French army.  The book is exciting, interesting and riveting.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to The Lion and the Rose to continue the story.  The Borgia's are an interesting family because they dominated the Renaissance, and seemed so corrupt.  They have been accused of greed and even incest.  Although, Rome and the church were already corrupt long before Borgia became Pope.  Benefices and pardons were sold, vows of chastity ignored, and illegitimate children sired by men of the church.  Giulia's husband Orsini was well rewarded for marrying Giulia and stepping aside; this was done sometimes for mistresses of powerful men.  Leonello and Carmelina are fictional characters, but great additions to the story.  Leonello provides a friendship with Giulia and also the main source for the murder mystery going on around Rome.  Carmelina is great because she describes the food and it's so mouth watering to read about.  Giulia seems like she was a very nice person, one who got to know those around her and protected them.  I would definitely recommend this book.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I, Jane: In the court of King Henry VIII

When I saw this book at the library, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read about Jane Seymour.  She was the third wife of King Henry VIII, and from what I've read about her she seemed fairly boring.  I thought I may as well give it a shot- I've been reading three other books at the same time which means none of them are pulling me in very well.  I read this book in just a few days, I really enjoyed it.  Jane was born to a quiet father and strict mother in Wiltshire at her home of Wolf Hall.  She had two brothers, Edward and Thomas, and a sister younger than her that was beautiful where Jane was plain.  She was teased as a young girl for being quiet and plain.  Having a harsh and strict mother that was not very loving, she often felt loveless.  Her mother Margery was very beautiful, and her mother had an ancestral connection to King Edward III.  She believed this gave her the right to find connections for her children at court.  Jane's brother Thomas was very handsome and close to her.  Her mother had several miscarriages and children that died young.  Jane would help with them; she also loved to read religious works, finding comfort in them.  At a young age, her father at his wife's ambitious pushing, was able to send Edward and Jane to France as part of the bridal retinue of Mary Tudor.  Jane was only nine and very shy and plain.  She saw King Henry VIII from a distance, and at the French court she met Mary and Anne Boleyn.

She quickly finds that she does not like Anne Boleyn, for her teases her and goes out of her way to make her look stupid.  The relationship between them is set early on, which is important to Jane's story.  She is sent back after only a month or so, when King Louis wants his new bride to send home her English women.  Jane goes back to the quiet countryside, where she has made friends with her neighbor William Dormer.  They don't meet often, but he is kind to her and very handsome.  Her brother Edward slowly rises at court, much to her parent's happiness.  Their cousin Francis Bryan, who is a close friend to the King, tries to help Jane escape her lonely life.  Her sister Elizabeth is getting married soon, and her brother Thomas also wants to join the court life.  Jane is called to serve Katherine of Aragon, the King's wife.  She goes to court a bit smarter, and once again sees Anne Boleyn.  She soon discovers that the good queen is declining in popularity, and this Anne Boleyn is bewitching King Henry right in front of the court.  Jane grows to dislike Anne even more as she watches the poor queen bear all in stoic and brave silence.  Jane learns loyalty, honesty and that blending in the background is not so bad after all.  The queen values her service and knowledge of spiritual matters.

Jane's brothers soon tell her she has to abandon Katherine, the queen, to serve Anne Boleyn.  It was obvious that it was time to pitch in with the winning side.  Jane reluctantly did as she was told, while trying to stay loyal to her queen.  She sees her sister married and again runs into William Dormer.  He tells her he desires marriage and that he has never forgotten her, and he will ask his parents for permission to wed.  Jane is home again, and soon there is hope she will finally be married.  Her parents had resolved that she would be their caretakers for life.  William meets his parent's displeasure, for they are richer and think themselves far greater than the Seymour's, her father being a sheriff and all.  William doesn't have to the heart to tell Jane, and is soon married off.  Jane is told the news by Francis Bryan, her cousin who has befriended and looked out for her.  Her heart hardens even more, and she withdraws into herself.  Her brothers call her back to court to serve Anne Boleyn, and she is surprised that her name is accepted.  Once again at court, things are much changed. 

The King is heavier and seems unhappy, Anne has delivered the King a daughter Elizabeth but no son yet.  The King had broken off with Rome and started a new church, for which he had been excommunicated for.  Many, including his close friend Thomas More, had been killed for not supporting his new marriage.  The good queen, left alone in the country without her daughter, had passed away.  Jane comes to court at this time, and sees Anne flaunting her happiness at her rival's death.  The court all wears yellow, and Jane is glad with all her training to blend in the background once again.  She meets up with William Dormer again, and it's hard for her to see him married.  He seeks her out to explain what had happened, but she pretends not to care.  It is not long before the King sees Jane and seeks her out for talk.  He likes her plain manner, knowledge of spiritual books, and her loyalty and soft manner.  Anne Boleyn had become quite shrill and flirtatious with many men, and was wearing the King out.  Jane was someone he looked to for comfort, and she readily gave it to him.

Her brothers watch her closely and start to guide her in this new relationship.  It seems everyone had underestimated her, as the King becomes driven to Jane.  Anne Boleyn watches this haughtily, but is soon powerless as she has miscarriages and produces no son for the King.  Jane is driven by her unfulfilled desire to be married and loved, and her hatred for Anne Boleyn.  She does it in memory of the good queen she served, and seeks to be a comfort to the King.  Things happen quickly, most of which Jane has no knowledge or power over.  Anne Boleyn is found guilty of treason, adultery and even incest with her brother.  The day she is beheaded with a French sword, Jane is busy picking her wedding clothes.  About 18 months later, she gives the King his long for desired son.  Edward IV, his legitimate heir and son.  What Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn could not do in 28 years, Jane had done.  She passed away less than two weeks after his birth, from child bed fever.

My Thoughts:  The basis of this book was from a book written by Life of Jane Dormer, written by the daughter of William and Mary Dormer.  The love connection between William and Jane as well as her growing hatred for Anne Boleyn really shaped her in this book.  A lot of books portray Jane as plain and quiet, but what history has shown me multiple times is that the quiet ones often have ambition and passion but just hide it well.  Jane's quiet demeanor brought about bullying as a child, but later served her very well in catching King Henry VIII.  He wanted the opposite of Anne Boleyn, and that was her.  She gave him his long desired son, a legitimate heir, and even though she died not longer after childbirth, the king was buried next to her upon his death.  With Jane, I think the King was able to find peace again and happiness.  After everything he did to put aside his wife of over 20 years, Katherine of Aragon, and all the people that died and the changes in religion...he was not a well man.  His leg sore was also grieving him, and Jane seems to have calmed that all down for him.  She had served Katherine, and was able to talk to him of his first wife.  Even though it seemed hard to believe, Jane seems to have fallen in love with the King.  I always believed she had to be ambitious somewhat to want to be Queen, but women couldn't always control everything.  If the King wanted you, he would have you.  It is sad of course things didn't work out with William, and that she died so young.  I thought it was a good book, and that the author explained very well how Jane went from being an old maid to the Queen of England.  I enjoyed reading about her and figuring her out, and finding out more about her family.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The White Princess

The White Princess follows after The White Queen in the Cousins' War series, and tells the story of Elizabeth of York.  Henry Tudor has picked up the crown off the field and has won the battle of Bosworth.  Richard III, her king and lover, has been killed.  She is commanded to marry Henry Tudor to unite the Yorks and Lancasters and end a war that has divided the country for two decades.  He is her enemy, it does not start as a happy marriage.  Henry refuses to marry her until she has proved to be fecund, and so until she is pregnant he does not marry her.  Elizabeth's mother still dreams of a missing heir, her son Richard of York.  Elizabeth's brothers were sent to the Tower by their uncle Richard, and from there had either been murdered or had disappeared.  This sets the tone for much of their marriage; Elizabeth will always be divided between love for her family, country, her dead lover Richard III and her brother who could still be alive somewhere; and her new husband.  Elizabeth is now a Tudor, and under the rule of her husband King Henry VII and his very imposing Lady Mother.

Much of their marriage and Henry's reign, he is constantly looking for shadows and plots of a boy of York that would come back to claim his throne.  Since no bodies were found, no one can be sure if the boys are dead or not.  Elizabeth is patient and queenly, bearing her burdens for the most part quietly.  She has three sons and three daughters, one daughter that dies in infancy.  Many plots arise with pretenders to the throne, and King Henry is able to squash them one by one.  He can't always trust those around him, as many change sides.  His own mother in law, Elizabeth's mother, is always quietly conspiring with Margaret of Burgundy.  Her mother is placed in Bermondsey Abbey after being found complicit in an uprising, but she continues to plot and reign there like a Queen until her death.  Elizabeth misses her mother greatly and now has to face the court without her.  There comes word of a pretender that has already been called Richard Duke of York and has been housed in Ireland and then France.  Henry sends spies everywhere to watch for this man and to report back to him.  He is said to be married with a son and to already have the approval and recognition of many of the other monarchs.

This new pretender, yet another, has put incredible strain on King Henry and Elizabeth.  He is always suspicious of those around him, even her, and stressed and impatient.  His mother is constantly praying for their cause, the cause that she had worked her entire life for.  To put her son on the throne and see him reign peaceably.  Many at court leave to follow this pretender, to support him.  Henry has not the York charm of Elizabeth and her family; he does not make the people easily like him.  He also taxes them heavily to support these plots and his armies.  He is willing to forgive the traitors at first, but then becomes more vengeful as time goes on.  Elizabeth finds this hard to watch in her husband, his bloodthirstiness and suspicious nature.  She is tired of being questioned about her loyalties and hearing about pretenders.  Her son Arthur will be the next King of England, so she fights with her husband the King, and for her son.  She is not even crowned Queen until after she has Arthur, and even then her mother in law always keeps the best rooms. 

By this point, this boy, this pretender, has fooled his aunt the Duchess of Burgundy, the Holy Roman Emperor and the court in Portugal as well as Scotland and France.  He knows how to read and write in four languages, he has good penmanship, dances well and knows how to hunt and joust and hawk.  He has an easy grace and charm about him, much like the York family.  When Elizabeth learns of this, she begins to believe he could really be her brother.  Eventually he makes his way to England, and is captured by King Henry's men.  He is brought to court as the King's friend and companion, not as a traitor.  Elizabeth soon discovers why, because Henry has fallen in love with this pretender's wife, Katherine Huntly.  Elizabeth is threatened by the King that if she should recognize or acknowledge this boy in any way, she will be declared a traitor along with her family.  Elizabeth has to watch this boy come to court and not even blink.  She has to watch her husband fall in love with another woman.  When Henry sees how the people receive him, lovingly and not as a traitor, he sets a fire to try and kill him.  When that does not work, he sets a trap for him to escape.  Then he has the reasons to arrest him in the Tower.

From there it isn't long before Henry has entrapped him; he has him beat so badly his good looks are no longer there or familiar.  He has lost his charm and the people will forget him, another pretender.  He is housed in the Tower above Elizabeth's cousin Teddy, who has been there a long time.  Henry lets them say and go about as they please, and let anyone visit them.  In so doing this, people start to tell the men they will help them escape.  They take the bait, and both pay with their lives.  This pretender, named Perkin Warbeck or the boy, is hanged until dead.  Elizabeth is almost positive he is her brother, but she can do nothing for him.  She cannot jeopardize her son Arthur's throne.  He is already betrothed to Katherine of Aragon, and the Spanish monarchs demand this pretender be killed before they will send their daughter.  Elizabeth mourns quietly along with Perkin's wife, Katherine Huntly.  Both men were killed for the crime of being a son of York, and her mother's hope is now gone.  The book ends with Henry asking for Elizabeth's forgiveness.  For killing her brother, for imprisoning her mother, for loving Katherine Huntly and much more.

My Thoughts:  I enjoyed this book and read it very quickly.  I always enjoy her books and I wanted to read more about Elizabeth of York.  History seems to have pushed her behind King Henry VII and his formidable mother.  Since she didn't seem to be quite so outspoken or as ambitious as her mother, history seems to let her fade.  Even though she may have been poised and quieter, doesn't mean she didn't have that ambition burning inside her.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to marry her lover's enemy, to wonder if he or his mother had killed her brothers.  To be divided between her mother and husband, always trying to keep the peace.  To behave well so her son Arthur could inherit the throne, while also hoping her brother Richard was still out there alive and well.  She sounds like an incredible woman, one of strength, poise and dignity.  Of course I wonder if she really was Richard's lover, her uncle.  That is hard to swallow, but is possible.  I believe these books are so popular because it is about a cousins' war, about families divided.  And the great mystery of whether the pretender Perkin Warbeck was really Richard Duke of York after all.  Elizabeth was mother to Arthur and Henry, who would one day be King Henry VIII.  Grandmother to Queen Elizabeth, a woman monarch.  An incredible start to the Tudor generations.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Song of the Nile

I was excited to read this book by Stephanie Dray, a new author for me, about Queen Cleopatra's daughter Selene.  I had read about her before in Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter.  Therefore I chose to skip her first novel Lily of the Nile where Selene is taken from Egypt after her parent's death, and taken to Rome as a trophy with her brothers.  I don't have much time to read, so I wanted to read something new about her.  This book follows Selene from Rome to Mauritania, where she is finally made a Queen and marries Juba, her childhood scholar.  They build their palace and a lighthouse to look like Alexandria, or what she remembers of it.  Selene's mother Cleopatra had killed herself with a snake bite after Octavian's armies invaded.  Her mother was famous both for her beauty, ambition and wit but also for her relationships with Julias Caesar and Marc Antony, her father.  Selene was a Ptolemaic princess, of Greek and Rome heritage. Her fraternal twin Helios by this point had disappeared, many assumed dead.  Selene had one last surviving brother, Philadelphius.  He was being kept back in Rome as a sort of blackmail for her good will. 

It was the emperor's sister Octavia that had convinced Octavian to let them live and raised them with other orphans.  Her kindness had spared Selene's life but not those of her other brothers.  Octavian had a fantasy of having his own Cleopatra, and seems to have had an obsession with Selene.  Selene also was smart and played her cards well; she pledged her loyalty to Augustus aka Octavian.  In Mauritania, Selene makes herself a capable ruler.  She brings about great harvest for Rome and wants to build a temple to her god, Isis.  She has a daughter not long after and in the book it is Augustus's baby, forced on her before she left Rome with her new husband.  It seems her relationship with Juba was platonic for some time, and she ruled capably without him when he traveled. 

Throughout the novel she is obsessed with finding her twin Helios, and of having Augustus restore her to Egypt's throne as Queen.  She wants to live for her dead parents and siblings, for the Ptolemaic dynasty.  She visits Augustus in Rome a few times, hoping he will grant her her greatest wish.  Along the way, she decides she is happy to be Queen of Mauritania, where her daughter was born and where Juba is.  She finally returns to reign with Juba, and they reconcile and make a son together.  Isis is a central belief to her; she was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife, and patroness of magic and nature.  Isis is often depicted as the mother of Horus, the hawk-headed god of war and protection.  Her headdress was a throne and she listened to the prayers of all. Selene sees her brother but whether in spirit or the flesh isn't clear.  She remains allies with Rome and they name their capital Caesarea.  She went by Cleopatra Selene and had many coins minted with images of her choice.  She isn't well written about, probably fading in the background after her mother. 

My Thoughts:  By the time Selene married Juba II of Numidia, she was actually the last living sibling.  Helios and Philadelphius were already dead, but in the book the author chose a different viewpoint.  The bond between twins is strong, as it shows in this book with Selene and Helios.  She feels him when he is near and sees him on several occasions.  After such powerful and well known parents, and such a tragic end, I'm not surprised Selene's life seems to have faded in history.  I'm sure her deepest desire was to return to Egypt and be restored to her parent's throne, but it seems she created a kingdom of her own in Mauritania where hopefully she was happy.  She seems to have known how to play Augustus, becoming his ally and living safe fully with a generous dowry.  She must have had some of her parent's spirit to have made it through what she did.  I enjoyed the book, but the worship of Isis and the parts where she displayed her magic were a bit sci fi for me.  Overall though, a great book that I would recommend.  I look forward to her next one in the series.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora

This was the first book of several I had on hold at the library that came available, and I was excited to read it.  I heard about this book on Kate Quinn's Facebook page, and she has a remark on the front page.  This novel took me to sixth century Constantinople, to the life of Theodora.  She had a hard life for some time following the death of her father.  He had worked for the Greens at the Hippodrome, training bears.  The Hippodrome was the main arena of entertainment then; chariot races and circus acts.  The Greens and Blues were the main 2 factions and had political power to support or topple emperors.  Her mother remarried not soon after.  During this time there weren't many choices for a woman to make money.  Because of their address they weren't able to get the widow handouts, so Theodora and her older sister Comito took to begging.  The Greens just jeered them even though their father had worked for them, so the Blues took them in.  Their step father was given a job.  Her mother drank a lot which took up a lot of their money, and their little sister Anastasia was still starving.  Sometimes parents would mutilate their child because they usually received more when begging on the streets.  Their stepfather cut off Anastasia's ears, not long after he left the family and the little girl died, probably from an infection and malnutrition.

Theodora and Comito took to the stage at a very young age.  An actress was no better than a prostitute, because they often took their clothes off or were courtesans at the same time.  Theodora served as Comito's assistant, until she earned her own role.  She was good at being a comedian as well as taking off her clothes.  To make more money, both girls had also become courtesans.  During her career Theodora met a rival named Antonina, who later became her best friend.  Despite her attempts to not conceive, she gave birth to a daughter at age 18.  Her sister Comito had kicked her out because Theodora got in the way of her love life.  Antonina found her in labor on the streets, and took her and her daughter in.  She saved her life and helped to watch her daughter so she could go back to work.  Theodora's mother eventually came to find her and moved in as well.  They lived in an upper apartment for some time, Theodora acting and Antonina using her "skills" on men and her mother babysat.  It was well for a woman to find a patrician to fund them to live with them, a patron.  She met a man named Hecebolus, and he wanted to take her to Pentapolis in North Africa to begin his role as governor there.  She took the risk, leaving behind her daughter and took off.  The lovers didn't last long and he abandoned her.  She had no money and no way to get back to Constantinople.

Theodora managed to get herself to Alexandria in Egypt, where she met an important person in her life, Severus.  At this time there was much unrest in religion.  The Emperors had been trying to force religious unity throughout the empire.  Christians in a few areas believed in Monophysitism whereby Christ had only one nature. But the Orthodoxy insisted upon by the emperors held that Christ had two natures; one divine and one human.  Refugees fled to Alexandria as the dissent continued.  Severus was the Patriarch of Antioch, and he took her under his wings.  He taught her and she became a Monophysite, leading a more spiritual life.  It was the first time in many years she didn't have to sleep with men for money.  In the book it says she had Hecebolus's child, a boy, and that Severus helped her to live while she recovered.  She traveled some time later to Antioch where she met a dancer named Macedonia.  She finally arrived back in Constantinople in 522.  She decided after her spiritual time to lead a better life for her children.  She spinned for work, and Antonina helped her with her children.  Her mother had passed away while she had been gone.

Her destiny was soon coming with the help of Macedonia; she met Justinian, nephew to the emperor Anastasius.  He fell in love with her quick wit and knowledge.  She hid that she had a son from him, for fear what he would think of a possible threat to his heirs or throne.  After the passing of Anastasius and a bill that would clear the way for a patrician to marry an actress, they were married.  She was his mistress first then he raised her to a patrician.  Her daughter came to live with them, and her son stayed with Antonina.  Theodora was crowned along with Justinian, he loved her very deeply and valued her.  She was a very capable empress, helping to stem the Nika riots.  She helped Justinian to rebuild and reform Constantinople.  They built aqueducts, bridges, and more than 25 churches, the best of which was the Hagia Sophia.   In spite of Justinian being Chalcedonian, Theodora founded a Miaphysite monastery and supported the religion all her life.  The plague hit and took almost 10,000 people a day, and Justinian barely survived.  The throne was not without its troubles or enemies. 

Belisarius was a general of Justinian's, and one Theodora disliked.  He made mistakes among many victories, and funneled a lot of treasure and money into his own accounts.  Justinian turned a blind eye to his faults because of his usefulness.  She had matched him up with Antonina when her husband died, so she could have wealth and close ties to Theodora as empress.  Antonina cheated on him with her godson and it was widely known.  At this time, Theodora found out that her friend Macedonia, who had helped her so much in her life to finding Justinian, had allied with her worst enemy John the Cappadocian.  He had found out she had a son and was blackmailing her in exchange for not telling Justinian.  He had also formed his own political party and had spread vicious rumors about Theodora, and he was also implicated in the murder of the Bishop of Cyzius.  She discovered that John wanted her out of the way and so she set a trap for him.  It worked and he was imprisoned until after her death, stripped of his titles and wealth, which were given to his daughter Euphemia.  Theodora was smart and knew she couldn't make such a blatant attempt on the life of her husband's favorite.

Macedonia had told Theodora that her son had died on a boat, but then she found a man his age with an amulet she had had sent to him.  He pretended to be her son, until she found out he wasn't by Antonina.  Macedonia and John's devious plot was uncovered, and Antonina and Theodora cut out Macedonia's tongue and beat her to death.  It was said she was cut to pieces and dumped in the ocean.  Theodora had been deeply betrayed by a close friend, and mourned the loss of her son.  She found out later that Justinian had known about her son all along.  The book flashes years ahead to when Theodora's daughter is married and has a son, and her niece, Comito's daughter, is being married.  They had founded a new dynasty through their siblings, because they never conceived a child together.  Theodora died at the age of 48 from cancer.  She was always faithful to Justinian and they had loved deeply.  Her influence on Justinian was so strong that after her death, he worked to bring harmony between the Miaphysites and the Chalcedonian Christians in the Empire, and he kept his promise to protect her little community of Miaphysite refugees in the Hormisdas Palace. 

My Thoughts:  There was so much to this book once Theodora became empress, that I couldn't include everything.  I skimmed over her enemies and the Nika revolts because I am trying to be concise....trying.  Theodora was certainly a capable empress and ruthless when it came to her enemies.  It is most sad to me that she kept it a secret she had a son, because it shadowed her entire life.  It is not known whether she actually had a son or not but in the book she did.  Justinian never remarried after her death, some say because of how much he loved her.  This was a good book, one historical lovers will enjoy.  There is violence, sickness and sexual promiscuity so be cautious when reading it.  I enjoyed the book because I always enjoy a love story and seeing a woman come from the street to power.  The main historical sources for her life are the works of the contemporary Procopius, scribe for General Belisarius.  One work portrays her as courageous and influential, another shrewish and whoreish.  The third flattered her beauty and piety, so his record has to be taken with a grain of salt.  I love how this author filled in the historical gaps as well as took her own take on Procopius' Empress Theodora.  Theodora did pass some laws that were helpful to actresses, women that were raped or seeking a divorce on the grounds of infidelity.  She was well known for her piety and beauty.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Books Coming Out!

This comes out July 23rd and I'm so excited!  This is her 5th book and will be about Elizabeth of York, daughter of The White Queen.  Also, will start premiering White Queen on August 10th.  It is already showing in the UK on BBC. 

This comes out July 16th by C.W. Gortner.  So excited for this one also!

This is out now, and is a novel about Empress Theodora.  This is a new author for me and I can't wait to read it.

This comes out August 6th, and I am so excited to read it!  These are my top favorite authors and their books are addicting.  She has written about Rome and now this one is about The Borgias.  The Lion and The Rose will follow as a sequel not long after.
Not sure when this is available in the US but excited to get it this year I hope.

Michelle Moran is working on her 6th book, about Lakshmi, a Hindu goddess of wealth.  I cannot wait for this to come out also.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Royal Harlot

This book follows Barbara Villiers Palmer in London during the time of English Interregnum.  Their monarch Charles had been executed in 1649 as a tyrant and this time of Cromwell government would last for 11 years.  The family of Stuart remained in exile in mainland Europe and this is where Charles the younger was until he could claim the throne.  Barbara was a Royalist as was her husband Roger Palmer.  They supported the monarchy and wanted Charles to come and claim the throne.  This period of time was governed by military and parliamentary rule by Puritans.  Oliver Cromwell was the parliamentarian hero of the English Civil War and General.  He became the creator of the New Model Army and for which these 11 years would be known as Cromwell government.  Any members that were willing to work with Charles were no longer part of this government.  This became known as the Rump Parliament, and they declared themselves as leaders of the nation.  Monarchy was abolished and religious reforms took place.  Cromwell's defeat of Ireland as well as Catholic threats made him popular.  But the Rump Parliament was not doing so well, and it was disbanded.  Shortly after another attempt, he declared himself the Lord Protector.

In 1658, after dissolving Parliament once more, Cromwell passed away.  His son Richard took his place, but did not do well.  Parliament and the Army did not support him.  With some tussles back and forth, within two years the Prince of Wales had landed on shore.  Barbara was a key person during this time, having been sent by her husband Roger and their other Royalist friends with gold coins sewn into her petticoats to support him.  They began an affair that would change her life forever.  Charles took his throne in 1660 on his 30th birthday as King of England, Scotland and Ireland.  The people were ecstatic at this change.  He practiced religious tolerance and tried to pass acts such as that between Catholics and Protestants.  Charles kept Barbara a secret until he married Catherine of Braganza, so his happy return would not be sullied with scandal.  The court was bawdy and Barbara was at the center.  She gave him 5 children and he gave her the titles of Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland.  She was beautiful, witty and controversial.  The people called her the royal harlot and spread gossip and malice constantly about her.

The couple were not loyal to each other and each took other lovers.  Barbara was his closest friend and mistress for ten years.  She finally left court for overseas when he seemed to have tired of her and had taken up with the actress Nell Gwynn.  As is usual at court, religion was a big issue and Parliament always fighting against the King.  When it was found out his brother and heir was Catholic, because his wife had given him no children, the people rebelled.  Charles dissolved Parliament in 1681 and ruled alone until his death in 1685.  He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, whether his choice or not no one knows.  Barbara reconciled with her husband Roger in Paris until his death.  She had enough wealth to support herself and her children.  She died at age 68 of dropsy.  She was well known for being a harlot and is one of the most reviled woman in history.  Charles II is known as the "merry monarch" for having a happy and immoral court.  He ruled during the great Plague and Fire.  He was succeeded by his brother James II who only ruled for three disastrous years.

The book was interesting because I hadn't read much of Charles and nothing of the Countess of Castlemaine.  She was indeed greedy, ambitious and beautiful.  I did not like her because of her wantonness and for making the Queen's life miserable as her rival.  Whether or not I like her matters little, because only she knows who she truly was like and not everyone who made a name for themselves was nice.  That is why I have a quote that says "Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History." (lol).  At least she did care for her children and provided well for them.  If is interesting to me how someone like Anne Boleyn was beheaded for supposedly committing adultery, whereas Charles and Barbara did constantly with no repercussions.  It is likely because Barbara was not Queen but just a mistress.  Barbara did not have loving parents and was often let to do whatever she wished at a young age.  Her mother did not rule her strictly and she was passionate at a young age.  Which likely led her to a discontented marriage and then to being the King's mistress.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Royal Mistress

I was excited to be one of the first on the library's hold list to get this book.  I read it as fast I could, excited to learn more about Jane Shore.  She is best known for being the mistress of King Edward IV and for being his merriest whore.  I did not know more than that about her.  Jane Lambert, actually named Elizabeth but went by Jane, was the daughter of a silk merchant.  She had a father whom she did not get along well with.  She was wilful and quick witted whereas her mother was more soft spoken and subservient.  Jane met Tom Grey, Marquess of Dorset and stepson of the King.  She didn't know his true identity at the time, but fell in love with him.  He was married and she refused to be his mistress.  She thought often of him and would see much of him in the future.  She had rejected several marriage proposals but agrees at age 22 to marry William Shore, also a silk merchant.  She became a free woman with the marriage.  Unfortunately the marriage doesn't go well as he is dull and impotent.  Jane desires children and is of a passionate nature, so she tries to get an annulment.  Her beauty if not hidden long as she is spotted by Will Hastings, the King's chamberlain and invited to several events.  It is obvious he desires her, but Jane demurs because he is much older than her.  When Will talks about his new friend to the King, he desires to meet her for himself.  The King, Will and his step son Tom Grey, often shared women and went out on the town together to visit brothels.  Will was not happy to see her taken from him, but agrees as he is his sovereign. 

Invited to court, William and his wife Jane Shore go happily to meet the King and Queen.  It is not long before the King pays William to agree to an annulment and helps him set up a business away in Antwerp.  He agrees and Jane becomes the King's mistress; he buys a house for her nearby the palace.  He showers her with gifts and jewels and loves her deeply.  During their 7 year relationship, Jane stays good friends with Will Hastings.  After the death of King Edward, Jane is unsure what to do.  She had used her royal gifts to help purchase goods or gifts for friends and people in need.  She only had a little saved by.  Her family had disowned her after she became a mistress, so she didn't see them anymore.  Will offered her his protection and she agreed, after contemplation, to be his mistress.  Following the King's death, much tumult arose.  The King had named his brother Richard as protector over the boy Edward until he came of age.  At this time, the widowed Queen Elizabeth Woodville was conspiring as well.  She entered sanctuary with her children while she figured out what to do. 

Richard was apprised of a story of a precontract between his brother Edward and an Eleanor Butler.  This meant the boy king Edward was illegitimate and meant Richard would be king.  He was not expecting this role but took it on with the help of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  By then the two princes, brothers, were in the Tower together while the rest were in sanctuary.  Richard was declared King, and set about making a more modest and moral court.  He had a wife Anne and a son.  During these few months the princes suddenly disappeared, believed killed by the king.  Buckingham had come to tell him he had smothered them to erase the threat of their mother and her schemings for them.  Richard was disgusted and upset but didn't share this information.  It came back to haunt him, when Buckingham turned against him with Bishop Morton.  They spread the lie that King Richard had actually killed the boys.  Morton persuaded Buckingham to turn against his cousin and go to support Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort's son.  This is how Richard III became known as a monster and a killer.

Jane's relationship with Will was short, as he was suddenly taken and immediately beheaded for treason.  King Richard wanted a moral court and was not pleased that Will took his former King's mistress as his own.  He was also believed to have conspired with Elizabeth Woodville against Richard.  Jane was soon taken to Ludgate Prison for adultery with the deceased king and his chamberlain Will.  Will Hastings was immediately beheaded without trial.  Jane's home and possessions were all taken.  She was eventually released, and forced to do penance.  She had to walk in just a shift for an hour in the streets of London with a taper, and then prostrate herself before the church and priests.  She was forgiven but not allowed back to her home.  Not long after her penance, she met up with Tom Grey and they began a relationship after all the years of waiting.  Her ideas of him had been lofty and had had time to grow, so she thought she had finally found her true love.  Instead, he left her abruptly and took her jewels and money with him. 

She was again charged by King Richard with adultery and sent to prison again.  She was also charged with possibly housing Tom, now a fugitive.  While in prison, she was questioned by Thomas Lyneham.  He fell in love with her immediately and proposed to her.  He worked for King Richard and had to ask permission, and was granted such if she lived with her family until their wedding day.  Jane reconciled with her father and kept herself chaste until their wedding.  They had a daughter named Julyan and were very happy together.  Jane had found her true love. 

My Thoughts:  Jane Shore was an interesting character- she was known as King Edward's merriest whore, the Rose of London, as well as for being beautiful and doing many good deeds for people.  She was a mistress three times, then a wife and mother.  Thomas More wrote a kind story about meeting her when she was old, begging for favors or money from acquaintances.  It seems her husband Thomas had passed away leaving her with debts.  A sad end to an interesting woman.  It is very sad Will Hastings was executed so suddenly.  This time was so interesting following Edward's death, because it changed so much.  His children were declared illegitimate, his two boys murdered, his brother became King, his mistress Jane Shore took 2 more lovers before marrying.  Richard III was eventually killed in an uprising schemed by Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort.  Her son Henry Tudor took the throne and Richard was killed in battle.  Elizabeth's eldest daughter married Henry, and they started The Tudor line.  The Lancaster's and York's were finally at peace with this marriage.  Tom Grey was never again given any power after fleeing sanctuary and leaving Jane.

Richard III is still heavily debated as well as the disappearance or rather murder of the two princes.  Richard is believed by many to have killed his nephews where others believe it was likely Buckingham or even Margaret Beaufort to make way for her son Henry Tudor.  Either way, I find it unlikely they just were sent away somewhere.  They were too big of a threat.  A pre contract was valid back then, when a couple plighted their troth to one another.  It is amazing it was kept secret until after Edward's death when it was most fortuitous to Richard.  I do wonder because of that if he was a good man or not.  It seems he didn't have ambitions during his brother's life, and the author certainly believes he didn't kill his nephews or want the throne.  He was a religious fanatic and many construed that for ambition.  Either way, a very interesting time period and interesting people.  Jane Shore was interesting to me because even after such a severe penance and the beheading of her lover, she still hooked up rather quickly with Tom Grey.  Her belief in love must have swayed her.  I am happy that she reunited with her father and did find love in marriage and had a child. 
I recommend reading the author's other books to find out more about this time period.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Countess and the King

This book follows Katherine Sedley during the time of King Charles II.  She was born to wealth and freedom, being raised primarily by her father after the age of 6.  Her mother entered a convent for psychiatric reasons, and so she was raised by her father, Sir Charles Sedley.  He was a poet and close friends and an employee of the King.  He let Katherine follow him to most functions when young, and she was witness to much at a young age.  She was full of wit but not beauty, and many loved her for her personality.  In Restoration England her father is a libertine, but the young Duke of York is not.  He marries Italian Princess Mary of Modena, who is very Catholic.  The two brothers, the King and the Duke, are of different religions and it causes a lot of upheaval, and even makes the King exclude the Duke from the succession for several years.

Katherine has refused marriage a few times, and finds herself spurned in love as well.  She decides instead, when noticed, to become the mistress of James Duke of York.  She does not ask for special favors or gifts as most mistresses do, or have fancy rooms at the palace.  Since she already has her own considerable wealth from her father, she instead prefers only his company and a home nearby.  They have two children, a girl and boy.  The baby boy dies at a young age from a fever.  Katherine is in a unique position as a mistress- she is hated by his wife and even her father becomes suspicious of her.  Is she loyal to England or to the Duke? 

Their relationship is unique in that she can use her sharp tongue and wit on him, even scold him on his religion and he still loves her.  When the Duke is exiled to Ireland, she misses him while at the same time tries to bring him around.  She wants to reconcile her lover with his brother.  The Duke's councilors and priests are constantly telling him to give her up, which he eventually does.  She was created the Countess of Dorchester for life, and he provided well for her and their daughter.  She later married and had two sons and died at age 60.

I enjoyed reading this book, it was entertaining and I found Katherine entertaining. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Crown

This book was a historical mystery novel, entertaining and suspenseful.  It follows Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun in 1537 England.  She finds out a favorite cousin has been condemned to be burned at the stake, on orders of King Henry VIII.  She breaks the enclosure vow to see her cousin die, to give her a familiar and loving face before she dies.  While at Smithfield, she sees her father at the last minute throw some gunpowder on the flames to make for a speedy and less horrific death.  She is arrested along with her father in The Tower for interfering.  As she is also of royal blood, her uncle being Edward Stafford and third Duke of Buckingham.  Buckingham had been killed for plotting for King Henry's throne, so the Stafford name was no longer popular or safe.  While in The Tower, she discovers that her father has been tortured by Bishop Gardiner.  In order to stay safe and save her father, she is ordered back to Dartford Priory to resume her novice duties.  While there, she is given the task of finding a sacred relic of King Athelstan- it had the ability to end the Reformation that Cromwell was assisting in.

From Dartford Priory to Malmesbury Abbey, Joanna along with Brother Edmund who is also employed by Bishop Gardiner, must hurry and find the crown before Cromwell does.  They must do so quietly so no one at the abbey knows.  Many abbeys and sanctuaries were being closed down all around them, their riches emptied into the royal treasury and the nuns left without a home.  Time is of the essence as well as discretion.  The relic involves the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted and Katherine of Aragon's first husband, Arthur.  The book is full of suspense and mystery as the abbess dies and murders happen within the abbey walls.

I enjoyed this book because it involved a time period I much enjoy reading about, but another angle.  It was interesting to read from the angle of an abbey that was soon to be suppressed during the Reformation of King Henry VIII's time, and also to have it be a mystery at the same time.  It was easy to read, interesting and I didn't guess the culprit in the end.

I also want to share a few other blog sites that have helped me find good books coming out.,  and  this one written by a favorite author of mine, C.W. Gortner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Signora da Vinci

I have been on a Robin Maxwell streak and after reading Mademoiselle Boleyn, I was curious to read more about Leonardo da Vinci's life.  This book is set in the mid 1400's and focuses on the life of his mother, Caterina.  She was raised by her father Ernesto, her mother having died soon after childbirth.  An aunt also helped cook for them, Magdalena.  Her father owned and ran an apothecary shop, selling medicinal herbs and such to the city of Vinci.  At age eight, the number of Infinity, Ernesto began teaching Caterina even more feverishly.  He began with the story of his apprenticeship to the Florentine historian and scholar, Poggio Bracciolini, who was employed by Cosimo de Medici.   After the destruction of the great library in Alexandria in Egypt, many scrolls were scattered around the world.  The Christian church fathers hid them, because they were deemed heretical.  Heretical means a notion that cannot be found in the Holy Scripture.  It was very dangerous in those times to be a heretic.  And that is what Ernesto was.  He introduced Caterina, his beloved daughter, to his world of knowledge and heretical books.  He also introduced Caterina to his alchemical laboratory and furnace. 

Caterina tended the apothecary garden, watching the seeds grow and gathering needed supplies in the woods.  She read Plato, Euripides, Homer, Xenophon, Ovid, Virgil, Livius and Cato.  In appearances, Caterina and her father were devout Christians.  They attended Mass, made communion, and swore allegiance to the pope and Rome.  Ernesto took care of the friars at no charge- he said "it was better to be a living hypocrite than a dead truth teller." (page 17).  In private, Ernesto called Caterina Cato, and they worshipped the natural world, the Elements and Cosmos.  In time Caterina hit puberty and didn't deal with it very well.  She began wandering more for longer periods of time, and that is how she met Piero, son of Antonio.  With her hormones raging they decided they wanted to marry each other.  Piero promised to ask his father's permission, and they made love that night.  Caterina didn't hear from Piero the next day, and decided to find him.  She ran into his brother Francesco, who told her it had gone badly.  Caterina finds herself pregnant from the one night, but still Piero's wealthy family won't let them marry.  After giving birth to a son, Piero and his father came to take him the next day.  Piero had already married in that time, and the family wanted their only grandchild raised with them.

Caterina talks the family into letting her be his wet nurse, and she lives in the barn with him for two years.  Only Francesco is kind to her- the rest of the family, including Piero and his barren wife, ignore her.  Once it was time to wean him, Caterina was once again forced out.  She moved back home with her father and picked up work again.  She lived without her son for several years.  Francesco would help her meet her son Leonardo in secret, and he still remembered her.  Soon the family was too busy with the death of their grandfather, and Caterina brought Leonardo to live with them during the day.  Ernesto and Caterina began teaching Leonardo what they already knew.  They discovered during this time he had a gift for art and drawing, particularly parts of flowers and insects.  It was very detailed work.  Piero had moved to Florence, making his way up in the Notaries Guild, still had no children.  Caterina wrote him and asked him to help find a patron for Leonardo to continue his art.  He agreed, and so Leonardo leaves her again.  The town was not kind to Caterina, after she had a bastard child.  Soon she fell into misery again, missing her son.  With her father she devises a great plan.  She will dress herself as a man, with a horn to urinate in public.  She will go open up an abandoned home her father had owned with Poggio, and open an apothecary shop.  This way she will be safe as a man, and will be able to see Leonardo.

Caterina sets off on her adventure, now Cato The Apothecary and uncle to Leonardo.  It takes her a few months to clean and set up her shop, and then she/he sets off to see Leonardo.  Maestro Verrochio's bottega is where she found Leonardo working.  He is quick to join in with her conspiracy and treats her as his uncle.  Only in the privacy of her bedroom do they embrace and he can call her Mama.  Leonardo is very talented and hansome and his work takes him far, but after a sodomy trial he becomes somewhat reclusive.  He dissects the human body and draws all the intricate parts, is more concerned with being a philosopher than a Christian.  He refused to hear mass, to eat animal meat, and he loved both men and women.  Cato/Caterina frequently fears for him and his heretical beliefs and drawings. 

Cato settles into life in Florence, and is soon friends with Lorenzo de' Medici and his family.  They become patrons of her/his apothecary shop.  With Cato's wealth of knowledge, he is welcomed into the Platonic Academy.  Soon, mayhem erupts the peace of Florence as a priest, Fra Savonarola  "The Prophet of Doom", spreads evil in the city of Florence and frightens the people.  Lorenzo's brother Giovanni  is murdered and Lorenzo soon after dies from gout, plunging the city into chaos.  With the help of her son Leonardo, now in Milan with his friend Zoroastre, her father who has come back, Bianca Sforza the future Holy Roman Empress, and Pope Alexander, they work to bring down the evil Savonarola to honor Lorenzo and his great work.  He was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.  Cato had fallen in love with Lorenzo and eventually had shared that she/he was actually Caterina, a female.  They had fallen in love but never shared that in public.

They are successful in bringing Savonarola to justice, and it seems Caterina ends her days as a woman in Milan.  I'm not sure if she ever returned to Florence once Lorenzo had died and The Great Work was done.  It isn't known what age Caterina had Leonardo, but that he was taken from her at a day old.  His father Piero never acknowledged or praised him, moving on with his career and own family.  With such an educated grandfather and mother, I don't find it hard to believe his genius came from them and not his father.  It was historically documented that several women dressed as men to be safer and have more rights and opportunities.  It was highly dangerous for Caterina to attempt such a disguise but a mother's love can do amazing things.  I am sure Leonardo was a highly complicated person, as many during that time experimented with their sexuality, alchemy and the occult.  When Savonarola came to power, it threatened The Platonic Academy during this period of Italian Renaissance.  Books had to be destroyed or hidden very well to avoid death.  Lorenzo had been a patron  of the Academy and that's why it is believable he was good friends and lovers with Caterina/Cato.  This book had so much to cover I don't even know if I grazed the surface.  I learned about Leonardo by learning about his mother and the time period and place he lived in.  He worked beside other amazing artists like Botticelli. 

This book was very sexual so I had to skip a bunch, I don't feel it is necessary to make a book good.  I recommend if you have a strong stomach and are passionate about history and learning about new time periods and people.  It was a creative way to tell a story about Leonardo da Vinci's mother who isn't well documented, about love, religion, knowledge and art.

Monday, April 29, 2013

To The Tower Born/ Mademoiselle Boleyn

I am on a Robin Maxwell streak- she breathes new life into stories I already thought I knew much about.  This book is about the two princes Edward and Richard, children of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville.  Upon the death of King Edward, Elizabeth was to be consort until Edward came of age to rule.  Antony Rivers, the Queen's brother, was tutor to Edward.  He was in movement as soon as word came that his brother in law the King was dead- he was to take Edward to his mother.  On their way, he was taken by Richard Duke of Gloucester, the boy's other uncle, and Buckingham.  Poor Edward had to watch his uncle and mentor taken away from him, and then ordered about by his uncle Richard whom he didn't know very well.  Eventually an act was passed that bastardized the two boys, because King Edward had had a precontract to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville.  Because the boys were now illegitimate, Richard took the throne.  The people of England were wary of him because he wasn't well known.  The boys were placed in the Tower, and their mother and sisters fled to sanctuary.

As Warwick had been kingmaker of King Edward IV, Buckingham was there with Richard, likely pushing him to some of his decisions.  The story is well known that the boys were either murdered or kidnapped and taken away.  The boys were just 9 and 12 years old, Edward said to have been suffering badly from an ear problem.  Edward had been placed in the Tower first alone, then they had persuaded Elizabeth to let Richard join his brother so he wouldn't be lonely.  Two skeletons were found underneath a staircase and believed to be the boys' remains.  Many believe it was Richard III that killed them or had them killed on his orders.   Some say the boys could have been used to spread malicious gossip from his enemies against Richard, and therefore force him off the throne. While the boys are pivotal in the story, the two main characters were the eldest daughter Bessie (Elizabeth) and her friend and bookmaker's daughter, Nell Caxton.  The two remain loyal friends, even throughout the chaos that ensues after the King's death.  Nell is in love with Antony Rivers and greatly mourns his unjust death.  In the book, Bessie has a crush on her very own uncle, Richard of Gloucester.  When her brothers disappear she still doesn't believe in his guilt.

The author takes the story to an interesting spin, following Nell as she works as secretary to Margaret Beaufort.  She is married to Lord Stanley and mother to Henry Tudor who lives across the sea.  She pretends loyalty to the crown while working to place her son on the throne.  While there, Nell discovers a secret passageway underneath and finds the two boys locked up.  They are still alive; she seeks out her father and finds a way to speak to Bessie, and their release is in the works.  Margaret Beaufort is busily arranging things for her son to make way to England, and to marry Bessie.  She believes that by joining the houses of Lancaster and York, there will be peace where they have been at war for almost 100 years.  The book gets somewhat exciting as the boys are safely taken and sent off to Margaret in Burgundy, the deceased King's sister.  There are rumors in other books that they were raised there, and just one survived, later to be the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

Buckingham is killed among many others during this time, as is Richard III in battle against Henry Tudor.  He takes the throne and he does marry Bessie.  The book ends with Bessie, now Queen Elizabeth, talking to her friend Nell and her son Henry about the story of the princes in the tower.  There were parts in the book that I found new and exciting, while others just plodded along in the story.  The mystery will likely never be answered as to whether the boys were murdered or not.  I find it likely they were by someone, because too much was at stake for them to live.  For Henry Tudor to take the throne, he wouldn't have wanted the boys around either.  So I'm sure by taking the throne, he had to have known they were already dead.  And perhaps, like the author thought, his mother may have been a part of that.
I loved this book and I have to start by saying that.  I love all things Anne Boleyn- I feel like I repeat that a lot.  But I love that Robin Maxwell told a book just on her time in France.  It seems to be the least told part of her life so it was fascinating.  That is what is so exciting about historical fiction- reading a bunch of information, looking at the facts and then trying to tie it all in together with your own interpretation of what would have been said or done at that time.  I enjoyed Anne in this story, because it was before she was known to be "shrill, ambitious, etc."  She starts out young at about 9 years old, and follows Mary and soon to be Queen Marie to Louis of France.  She stays there through the death of Louis and then Francois and his Queen Claude.  She serves Queen Claude who is extremely pious and religious.  She teaches her much about being a queen and staying dignified in the face of a husband's betrayal.  Francois's sister Marguerite of Navarre comes to court with her mother, and Anne often follows the trio to learn more about court and politics. 

While Anne is gaining an education in court and politics, her sister Mary flirts her way around in Marguerite's circle.  They play cards, talk and laugh much.  Anne is eventually allowed into her circle and serves Marguerite as well as Claude.  From Marguerite she learns about religious heresies and books that are condemned but have interesting ideas.  Anne's parents are not at all central in her world, her father having sent her and only sends letters for instructions.  It hardly mentions her mother at all.  Anne starts to pen pal her brother George, and she becomes close to him while being apprised of the court in England.  She learns through him about Queen Katherine and her unhappy husband King Henry.  Mary is eventually ordered by their father to be mistress to King Francois.  Anne unhappily watches her sister be ordered about, rewarded only with jewels and silks and a room of her own.  It seems Anne is not tainted while at the French court, although I'm sure she sees and hears more than any child ever should. 

She also meets another interesting person instrumental to her learning- Leonardo da Vinci.  As a patron of the arts, King Francois had brought him at court to live.  The author assumes it is likely they met and perhaps developed a friendship, and it made for an interesting part of the book.  He teaches Anne how to remain a virgin while not appearing to be in charge.  King Francois does try to seduce her at one point but she is able to survive with her wits.  She learns how to hold a man at bay-  I can't help but think of how this later plays out with King Henry.  Anne again sees her father, mother and brother at the meeting of the two great kings in Calais.  It is known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold- an alliance was to be made to not make war.  Cardinal Wolsey was instrumental in this meeting as was Anne's father.  During this time, a few important things happen.  Anne meets King Henry, her future husband, and Henry Carey, her first love.  Mary also comes under scrutiny again by both kings.  She is now married to William Carey, but after the two kings actually come to blows over her, she is again ordered by her father to now be mistress to King Henry.  Anne has learned by now that a woman is at the mercy of her husband and father.  It isn't likely to find a marriage of love or happiness.

After all is said and done with Anne's story in England, she was instrumental in the religious teachings in England.  She had influence with Henry and was able to introduce Lutheran texts, and helped to create the divide from Rome.  Anne brought about the "New Religion" with the Protestant Reformation and fall of Cardinal Wolsey.  I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about Anne and her earlier life.  I loved the book and soaked up every word.  I very much enjoyed learning about France and its customs.  They were a court loose in morals, so something to watch for if you read this book.