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.