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. 

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