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.

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