Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hostage Queen

This is the last Freda Lightfoot book I could find at the library, and this one should actually be read before the others.  It is once again in sixteenth century France, and follows Margot as a young child of 12.  Catherine de Medici, her mother, is frightening to all her children save her favorite, Henri.  Charles is King with his mother as consort, and she holds a lot of power and control over him.  He often has bouts of madness that only his nurse, wife or Margot can control.  There are two other brothers, Henri of Anjou and Francois-Hercule, the Duke of Alencon.  They are all at each others' throats, suspicious of the other and their mother.  Margot is beautiful and young but still a pawn in her mother's game.  She also has a sister Claude but she is not really pivotal in the book.  Her elder sister Elisabeth was married to King Phillip of Spain, who was a powerful enemy.  Phillip wanted Queen Catherine to persecute  the Protestants, who became known as the Huguenots.  Catherine was devoutly Catholic but also had no wish to persecute them so heavily as Spain wished.  She had many powerful Protestant friends and allies.  As always in these times and also these books, religion was a major factor and peace not easily achieved.

Margot was in love with Henry, the Duke of Guise.  He was a Bourbon prince and should have been heir to the throne.  His parents were Francis Guise and Anne d'Este.  His uncle was the Cardinal of Lorraine.  Henry's father, Francis Guise, had been killed.  It was believed to be Coligny, son of a Huguenot.  Catherine strove to get these two sides to make peace and make up, but it did not work.  The Prince de Conde was sided with the leader Coligny and the Huguenot cause, and the Duke of Guise with his uncle and the Catholics.

Madame de Curton was Margot's nurse and closest friend.  Her mother Queen Catherine was certainly not close to her.  When her sister Elisabeth died after childbirth, her mother tried to see if Phillip would marry her, if not then Don Carlos.  She was terrified of marrying someone like that, being so in love with Guise as she was.  At court Henry of Navarre, Jeanne de'Albret's son, was there.  After failing to find a suitable match for Margot, the Queen bid Margot to marry him.  She was unhappy at the match because of his hygiene and her love for Guise.  But she had to do as she was told and so they prepared to be married.  Paris was immediately overflowing with Catholics and Huguenots, each suspicious of the other.  It didn't take long for the recipe to spell disaster.  The people were upset at Margot not marrying Guise, a Bourbon prince and Catholic.  They weren't happy to see her marry a Huguenot.  Charles was worried about war with Spain, and of upsetting the Guises.  He was worried the Pope could excommunicate him for letting his sister marry a Huguenot.  With the help of his mother's planning and conspiracies, he fell into a panic.

An assassin was hired to kill Coligny, who was still believed to have killed the Duke of Guise's father.  After he was killed, it was planned for the other Huguenot leaders to also be dispatched.  But the killing soon became out of control as people joined in all over.  It became known as the St. Bartholomew's Massacre, happening very soon after the wedding of Margot and Henry of Navarre.  The blame has been placed largely at Queen Catherine's feet.  Navarre demanded protection for the Protestants but was helpless to help himself or anyone else.  After thousands were killed, King Charles seemed to go quite mad with everything that had happened and the guilt he felt.  He was already weak and his mother feared for him while also hopeful for her favorite son to be King.  The King of Spain seemed somewhat mollified with her efforts to smash the Huguenots, but England was appalled and Queen Elizabeth refused the suits of her sons.  Anjou was soon sent to Poland to be King until he was needed.  Meanwhile, Margot and her husband Henry of Navarre were imprisoned in the palace.  Suspicious of him and his religion, the Queen kept a close eye on him. 

The couple seemed to soon strike an accord where they didn't have to be faithful to one another, and were just good friends.  Henry had his lovers as did Margot.  Margot was always caught in the middle of all her brothers, trying to keep the peace.  She tried to keep Charles calm when he was in one of his bouts of madness, while trying to help her youngest brother Alencon.  Alencon and Henry became good friends, probably out of mutual dislike for the Queen.  They made a few attempts to flee but were usually found out.  Charles dies from a lung illness, and Anjou is sent for from Poland.  He makes his way back leisurely, and only fulfills his duties as King lightly.  He is quite the fop and very effeminate.  He is bisexual, loves small dogs, and is always primped and perfumed and is not thrifty at all.  He spends the money likes it's water and pushes heavier taxes on the people.  He is not well liked at all, and soon Catherine sees he won't let her rule him as she did Charles.  Henri is also not nice to Margot, always suspicious of her and her relationship with his brother Alencon and her husband Henry.  He cruelly spreads rumors about her, has her lovers killed or imprisoned, and refuses to let her or her husband or brother leave.

The Queen forces the Prince of Conde and Henry of Navarre to become Catholic or be killed.  They do to save their heads, but still fear for their lives.  Margot soon realizes her marriage to Henry of Navarre must have been just to lead all the Huguenots to Paris.  Had it all been a trap?  Her mother always had her reasons which she kept to herself.  Soon, a conspiracy to escape finally worked.  Alencon and Henry had been allowed a little more freedom to move around, and so they hatched another plan.  Henry of Navarre was off, leaving Margot behind until it was safe for her to follow.  Following her husband's escape, Margot was once more imprisoned and kept closely watched.  She had no friends except her nurse.  Her lover and favorite Guise was married and off busy.  Anjou declared himself the leader of the Catholic League and persuaded his brother Alencon to join him as well.  Alencon abandoned his pursuit of the Politiques and joined the League instead.

Eventually Margot is no longer a political hostage or necessity, and her brother Henri allows her to join her husband Henry of Navarre.  The south belonged to Navarre, the eastern to Henri and central to Alencon.  Margot still loved her Guise, the Bourbon Prince.  He could very well be King one day, as it was unlikely Henri would leave an heir or Alencon, both being weak like Charles had been.  And if Margot and Henry of Navarre didn't produce an heir, then it would be Guise.  The book ends with Margot returning to Henry and starting her life with him, away from her poisonous brother Henri and her mother the Queen.

My Thoughts:  Since I had read the other books first, I knew Margot's passionate nature and relationship with Henry of Navarre and her favorite Guise.  It was good to get the start to their story and how religion played such a role in their lives.  I did get confused at the Huguenots and Catholics who was on which side, but eventually it all clicked.  Catherine is more a mystery to me than her daughter Margot- she seemed to be religiously tolerant but then ended up creating such mayhem and butchery by having the Huguenot leaders killed.  She also placed Margot and Henry of Navarre together, a Huguenot marrying a Catholic.  Whether she planned all along for the Massacre to take place or just planned on having him convert to Catholicism, who knows.  But she definitely used all her children as pawns, and her hand was always at work politically.  Her three oldest sons became kings of France, two daughters married Kings, one a duke.  She outlived all her children except Henri by just several months, and Margot.  Henry of Guise was eventually assassinated by orders of King Henri, Anjou.  Margot and Henry of Navarre's relationship is interesting to watch unfold.  They became friends more than lovers, imprisoned by her mother and brother.  I'm sure this gave them time to develop a respect and alliance, even if they weren't faithful to each other.  The characters are enough to keep you busy without all the political doings and religious works going on.  It was a good read, more details to pay attention to in this than the other books.  Margot seems to have been unfortunate in her family, with no close friends other than Guise and Navarre for a time.  A very powerful but dissolute family with loose morals, profligate spending and big ambitions.  Enough to keep you entertained and wanting to read more.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Duchess of Drury Lane

Another Freda Lightfoot book which I devoured in just days.  For some reason this one just pulled me right in and I read it so fast.  Dorothy Jordan lives with her mother and siblings in Dublin, their father leaving them in near poverty.  Her father was a captain in the navy and by marrying their mother was considered to have married below his station.  They stayed together for 16 years and had several children, until he married an Irish heiress.  Their parents had never bothered to legitimize their marriage, so her mother was left with financial troubles and the children to care for.  She encouraged Dora to follow in her footsteps at acting to help support the family.  Her mother and sister helped to write down her lines and worked with her on her scripts and songs.  Unfortunately her manager took advantage of her and blackmailed her when she borrowed money from him for her family.  At just age 14-15 she was the breadwinner of the family.  She found herself pregnant and still in increasing debt to the horrible Mr. Richard Daly, when she finally told her mother that she had been repeatedly raped.  They left in the early morning, leaving her costumes and wages behind which were sorely needed.   They left Ireland, walking many days and miles.

With the contact and help of an old friend, Dora started acting at Leeks and eventually York.  She was great at comedy, not so much with tragedy, which is what a lot of audiences enjoyed.  Audiences loved her wit, expressions, songs and seeing her in breeches and cross dressing roles.  Unfortunately there were always those out to compete with her, spreading nasty rumors of her unmarried state.  During this time Daly found her and sent her a notice of a huge amount to pay back or else be put in debtors prison.  A friend paid off the debt for her so she could start clean again.  She gave birth to Fanny a daughter, and her mother watched her while she worked.  Her sister helped her with her costumes, hair and learning her lines.  Dora was quickly noticed by an agent from London that came to watch her performances.  She was eventually asked to star at Drury Lane, and off they went to sink or swim together as a family.  Sketches were made of her and she became quite famous.  She met Richard Ford, the co-proprietor's son.  They fell in love not long after and started living together.  He had to prove to his father that she was worthy before marrying her.  They had three children together, one a stillborn son.  Ford was a lawyer and police magistrate.  He promised to marry her and so they pretended to the world that they were.  Her sister still cared for her children after her mother passing away.  Her brothers were away at school and such but she still had to pay their expenses or part of it.  After over 5 years of no marriage taking place and Ford increasing in his career, she finds herself questioning Ford's motives.  Did he really wish to marry her or just wanted her money?

During this time, she meets the Duke of Clarence, third in line to the throne.  They strike a friendship and he falls in love with her and asks her to be his mistress.  Because of the Royal Marriages Act, the royal family couldn't marry just anyone.  Actresses were often thought of as promiscuous anyway because of their line of work.  The Duke wished to show she was respectable to his family.  They bought a home or two to live in in between her work acting, and eventually had 10 children together.  He had served in the Navy and tried to engage himself in similar pursuits as he had no occupation.  The King had bouts of madness and would never approve of Dora, nor did the Queen.  Dora was never invited to royal functions, nor were her children until she was close to retiring.  She worked very hard, often going on progress which was tiring, especially after Drury Theatre burnt down.  She had a large family to keep up, her generosity and hate of debt spreading her thin.  She also provided for the Duke and her siblings and a large home that was being renovated, as well as her sister and 13 children.  Her sister raised her three eldest children, Daly and Ford's daughters.  The stain of illegitimacy began to bother her children as they got older.  It seems history repeated itself and she was sure her mother would have been heartbroken to see this.  The Duke often asked her to retire from acting, but she had to go back when money ran low.  The royal family spent money like water, and their debts weren't settled unless they married.

After over 20 years of happiness together and 10 children, the Duke tells Dora he has been asked by his mother to marry to produce legitimate heirs.  His father was over 70 and quite mad, and his brother had no wish to return to his wife and the next in line was barren.  So he felt the responsibility fall upon him as third in line for the regency.  Dora's daughters were invited to court with their father, and eventually Dora was left alone with just her career for comfort.  She was able to see her children on holidays and received letters from them.  She died in 1816 from liver disease with just her children's old governess with her.  Upon her death it was said the Duke grieved very much for her and couldn't hear her name spoken aloud for years.  He kept pictures of her up at their old family home in Bushy, so the children could see.  He married Adelaide of Saixe-Meiningen and came to the throne as William IV in 1830.  It was a happy marriage but no legitimate heirs were produced.  Dora's eldest, Fanny, later died of laudanum probably suicide.  Dora's other children were welcomed into society and married into the aristocracy, which Dora would have been most proud of.

My Thoughts:  Dora was such a strong, amazing and patient woman.  Her generosity seems to have been her downfall as well as her trust in men.  She was not lucky in love.  For that I was most unhappy for her.  She was a career woman and probably missed out on a lot of her children's lives.  She did sound to have been devoted as she could be, probably exhausting herself with her many roles in life.  The abuse at Daly's hands was so hard to read, and I wish he had some vengeance visited upon him for being so horrible a person.  I am glad she did well and became famous and made people laugh.  She was obviously extremely talented, funny, generous, hard working and more.  I admired her pluck and courage in the face of such a busy and trying life.  Money was the root of all evil; she always needed it to help secure her future and her children's.  I hope she had a comfortable retirement but rather likely she didn't.  It is too bad Ford never married her and even worse that the Duke couldn't marry her either.  I find it spineless of him for not supporting her better financially or doing more for her.  After all, to have 10 children together and 20 years and then just have it all end like that....very tragic.  I understand actresses were assumed to be like harlots but I'm sure many weren't.  It was a very hard line of work and I'm sure they deserved every penny they made.  It was sad to see Dora kind of repeat her mother's story of not marrying and making her position secure.  Very interesting book, loved the character and entertaining to read.  Not a lot of political details to get stuck in so a fast and easy read.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Queen and the Courtesan

Another book by Freda Lightfoot, and I seem to have read it in good order.  After The Reluctant Queen this book follows King Henry of Navarre after the death of his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrees.  He doesn't mourn her long and soon finds himself infatuated with Henriette d'Entragues.  She is passionate, needy and ambitious- dangerous in a mistress.  She manages to weedle him into writing up a document saying he would make her queen if she gave him a son within a year.  Henriette kept this document with her ambitious father in the hopes of securing her future.  She is pregnant not long after, but Henry's advisers already have him set up to marry an Italian princess, Marie de Medici.  The treasury needs her fortune and the alliance.  They marry not long after, and Henriette is furious.  She gives birth to a stillborn son and in defiance of the King's marriage, goes away for a time.

Henriette often played the game of leaving in a storm, waiting for the King to miss her, and then come to her or invite her back to court.  Queen Marie is very unhappy at meeting his mistress, especially when he is given rooms almost as sumptuous just below her.  The Queen has just two friends left from Italy with her, and they often feed her bad advice and much gossip.  Not long after their marriage, they are off to a bad start.  The Queen lets jealousy and anger poison her and make her bitter.  Henriette and Marie both are pregnant at the same time, and both give birth to a son.  Henriette still has the document, and starts to conspiring with her father on brother on how to make her son the Dauphin.  The two boys are in the same nursery with Gabrielle's children, and this makes the Queen furious.  That her husband's illegitimate child from Henriette, her rival, should be alongside the dauphin her son.  King Henry is often quarrelling with both women and trying to keep the peace.  Although he had vices of gambling, women and such he was known to be good to his people and thrifty so as to keep them happy.

The Queen has three more children, and Henriette one more, a girl.  The book brings back Marguerite, Queen Margot that had been imprisoned at Usson for 19 years and the King's former wife.  She still has contacts at court that keep her updated and feed her gossip, some of which she passes along to the King about Henriette.  A storm soon ensues, because Henriette is caught in a conspiracy against the King.  She has been communicating with Spain about the document she has from the King.  Henriette manages to come out unscathed and continues as the King's mistress.  Much to the Queen's fury and also the King's advisor, who also dislikes her.  Since Margot had helped in bringing this information to light, she persuades the King to let her return to court.  She is 50 now and heavier, but still beautiful.  The people welcome her happily and she is soon set up nicely with her own small court with entertainments, masques and ballets.  People start mimicking her fashion and flocking to her parties. Queen Marie is not happy to have to deal with an ex wife who is so popular, as well as his mistress. 

The King becomes tired after pleading with Henriette to give him the document back as she refuses.  He gives her an income and mansions and a title, to help her feel secure if anything should happen to him.  The King often suffered from bouts of illness which laid him low and made everyone nervous what should happen if he died.  The Queen is finally given a coronation after being married so long and having four children.  Henriette notices the King is losing interest in her, and again involves herself with her father and brother's help, in plots.  A letter was found from the King of Spain stating that if the King should die, France would be invaded by troops and the Duke of Lennox would take Province while Philip III recognized Henriette or La Dauphin's son, the heir to the throne.  He also discovers she has not been faithful to him, but neither has he.  The King is assassinated not long after these investigations and Henriette's removal from court, by a religious fanatic.  The people mourn him deeply as well as Margot and the Queen.  His sister had also died before him.  It was sad that he should be killed by a fanatic when he had been so tolerant of religion.  He practiced as a Protestant like his mother, and later as a Catholic to keep his crown safe.  He didn't believe it mattered the religion you were as long as you believed in God.  He was also good with all his children and good to the poor.  Many called him the greatest King France ever had.

Queen Marie was named regent, and formed a friendship with Margot.  All his children from Gabrielle, Henriette, the Queen and others were together in the nursery upon the King's wishes.  The Queen had Henriette questioned more thoroughly for her plots.  The letter was found and destroyed, her father and brother imprisoned and then later released.  Henriette is eventually put in the Bastille after house arrest with her sister, because they believe her plots with Spain preceded the death of the King.  She had allied herself with Guise to conspire against the King they said.  The Queen had Henriette banished from Court, without her children, and never gave her permission to marry.  She died 23 years later at age 55, alone and unmourned.  Margot lived to 62 and died of pneumonia.

My Thoughts:  I enjoyed this book as I got to know Henry Quatre, or King Henry of Navarre more.  He was obviously a fickle and unloyal man as it only took him months after his beloved Gabrielle's death to move on to another.  He seemed bewitched by Henriette for a long time, enduring her tempter tantrums, cat and mouse games and greediness.  He often pursued a woman that he wanted, marrying her off to some old nobleman so there were no complications.  I did like his religious tolerance and generosity to his people.  I wasn't sure if I liked Queen Marie because it focused so much on her being bitter and jealous.  Of course I felt bad for her but I didn't feel I got to know her more than that.  Margot was interesting to read about again, and it was nice to see her enjoy life again after such a long imprisonment, and to become friends with the Queen and be a godmother to her son Gaston.  Henriette was a very flighty and emotional woman, and I did not like her.  I wonder how the Queen did as regent and what followed for her, but perhaps that is in the next book. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reluctant Queen & Shadow on the Crown

This book was about three main characters- Henry King of Navarre and his Queen Margot, daughter of Catherine de Medici, and his mistress of three of his children, Gabrielle de'Estrees.  The time is 1578 and the marriage was for political reasons.  Both Henry and Margot had other relationships but maintained a friendship for the most part.  Margot was controlled by her mother Catherine and her brothers.  Her real love was Henry of Guise back at home.  There is religious conflict between the Catholics and Huguenots of France.  The balance of friendship starts to fade with Henry's many mistresses and tensions from religion, and Margot ends up fleeing from court.  She is worried she'll be put aside because she has had no children and does not wish to return to her brother Henri III's court under his control again.  She is captured and imprisoned in Auvergne at Usson for 18 years.  Margot was known for her beauty, poetry and fashion.  During her imprisonment, she received letters from Henry requesting divorce.  She finally agreed to it but only if it was not to marry his mistress Gabrielle.  The book then moves from their tempestuous marriage to Henry and Gabrielle.

Gabrielle was young and had been sold by her mother to many men.  She catches the eye of King Henry and he soon makes her his mistress.  At first she does not care for him, but grows to love him deeply and has several children with him.  Desiring prestige and status, for that of herself and for her son to be the dauphin of France, she hopes the King will divorce Margot and marry her.  Gabrielle assist Henry in his politics but is not a favorite of the advisors or of his sister.  The book basically ends with her death late in pregnancy- but it seems she was poisoned so the King could not marry her.

My Thoughts:  I enjoyed the book as far as a nice, easy read goes.  But the characters were not like able enough to be invested in them, and it didn't have enough depth.  During this time the St. Bartholomew's Massacre took place just days after Margot married Henry of Navarre- it lasted several weeks and many Huguenots died.  It was thought Catherine de Medici started it.  I am always amazed at the carnage shown in history from religious differences.

This book was about Emma of Normandy leaving home at age 15 to marry King Athelred of England.  Her elder sister was supposed to but she is sent instead by her mother.  The King is much older and his first wife had already provided him with almost a dozen children.  He did not make her Queen and needed the peace on the borders from Emma's brother Richard, so he marries Emma .  The marriage immediately is not happy and turns hostile as he treats her badly.  Emma eventually turns to his eldest son Athelstan for comfort and the King to Elgiva, a woman of the court and daughter of the ealderman of Northumbria.  The King wrestles with guilt from his brother being killed.  He knew the assassins were coming and did nothing to stop it.  He was then put on the throne.  His brothers' shadow seems to loom over him and causes him much distress.  This anger seems to go onto Emma who is young and a mystery to him.

England had been ravaged by Danish raids every year from 997 to 1001, and in 1002 the king was told that the Danish men in England would attack his people.  In response, he had Danes people barred in a church and burned.  There were women and children in there.  The King made a bad move as Swein Forkbeard's sister was in that church, starting a Dane retaliation on England.  Emma is taken hostage and saved by Athelstan.  The book seems to slow down near the end and doesn't quite wrap up.  The time was 1002 and the Anglo-Saxon period is different from what I'm used to reading which is usually The Tudor era.

My Thoughts:  The period was fascinating to read, and I quite felt for Emma's character.  It didn't seem to cover enough of her early life and you just felt bad for her because of King Athelred's treatment of her.  I'm not sure if she really had a relationship with Athelstan.  She did seem to make political friendships at court and the people loved her.  She was giving and generous.  She had a son by the King so her place became secure. The book ends with her holding her son, showing her power now having a male heir.  The author mentions that this is a series so I'm sure we will read more about Emma in the following books.  It was entertaining and a new period to read so it was educational.