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.

No comments:

Post a Comment