Friday, November 30, 2012

The Queen's Lover

The Queen's Lover is a 2012 novel written by Francine du Plessix Gray on the relationship between Axel von Fersen and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.

 Axel von Fersen first met, the then, Dauphine Marie Antoinette when they were both 18 at a masque ball in Paris. It was Fersen's first sojourn in Paris and he took full advantage of his stay in the most vibrant city in all of Europe, absorbing all the knowledge he could in sexuality and otherwise. He first learns about Marie Antoinette's, or Toinette as he called her, troubled marriage to Louis-August, about the first seven years of their marriage being unconsummated. When Fersen next sees Toinette, she is pregnant with her first child, Marie Therese. The two grow close to one another.

The Fersens come from a line of well bred, handsome courtiers. Axel von Fersen the Elder, much loved by all of his children, was best known as a politician and a Francophile one at that. Sophie, Axel's favorite sibling, entered into an unhappy marriage to Adolf Ludwig Piper but later found the love of her life in Evert Taube. After having fallen in love with Marie Antoinette, Fersen has determined that he will never marry as he can never be with the one he truly loves. The Swedish King that Fersen serves under is none other than Gustavus III of Sweden, whose great deeds as an Enlightened Despot were overshadowed by his long inability to consummate his marriage to his wife, Sophia Magdelena of Denmark that he required Adolf Frederik Munck to do it for him and beget the future Gustav IV of Sweden.

Eager to for action, Fersen signed himself up to help the French forces in the American Revolution. Upon his return, he and Marie Antoinette consummate their love for each other. Louis may or may not be aware of their affair but in any case, the King of France forms a deep friendship with the Swedish diplomat. Nine months after Fersen's visit to Versailles during a European tour with Gustavus III, Marie Antoinette gives birth to her second son, Louis-Charles, sparking Fersen to come to the conclusion that the boy might in fact be his.

Marie Antoinette's name is dragged through the mud after the Diamond Necklace Affair and the French people come to hate the woman that they once adored. The French Revolution began in the spring of 1789. In 1790, after the French royal family is moved to the Tuileries is Fersen forced to admit that the French monarchy was hopeless so long as the family was held captive in Paris. Despite his intense love for the Queen, Fersen finds comfort in other women and has many lovers on the side. Fersen is instrumental in the writing of the Brunswick Manifesto and played a leading role in the Flight to Varennes, which would have succeeded had things gone according to his plan. His beloved Marie Antoinette is executed on October 16, 1793.

Gustav III of Sweden dies on March 29, 1792 after being shot on the 16th. During the regency of the Duke Charles of Södermanland, Fersen was in disgrace. Gustav IV Adolf reached his majority in 1796 and Fersen is welcomed back to court, just in time for Gustav's marriage to Frederica of Baden. Gustav IV is deposed in 1809 and the Riksdag begins searching for a King. A popular candidate for the position was the Danish Prince Charles August and when the new Crown Prince died suddenly in 1810, many people blame it on Axel von Fersen and his sister. Fersen is killed by the mob on June 20, 1810. A few months later, he is cleared of any suspicion in the prince's death.

I give this book a 1/5.While reading this piece of historical fiction, I felt that  Du Plessix Gray didn't really know what kind of book she was writing. The story is presented as Axel von Fersen's memoirs with snippets added in by his younger sister, Sophie Piper but was so detailed that it seemed more to me like a biography on Marie Antoinette. The many sex scenes in this novel is the only dramatic aspect in the book and even they are awkwardly detailed and out of place. The image of Axel von Fersen that Du Plessix Gray portrays is an unlikable character who constantly professes his love for a woman yet flagrantly cheats on her many times. There are far better historical fiction novels you can read on Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen and there are far better biographies on Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen. Don't waste your time on it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Kingmaker's Daughter

The Kingmaker's Daughter is a 2012 historical novel written by Philippa Gregory on the life of Anne Neville, Queen of England 

Isabella and Anne Neville are attending the coronation of the Edward IV's new queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who we wed in direct opposition of his chief adviser, their Father, Richard Neville. Influenced by his wife, Edward dismisses his old advisers and places his new in-laws in positions of power, upsetting the Neville family who view the new queen as a upstart. Seeking powerful family alliances for the Rivers family, Elizabeth  breaks the engagement between Isabella and George, Duke of Clarence and Anne and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In direct opposition to Elizabeth Woodville, and in turn the King, Warwick marries Isabella to the King's second brother and stages a rebellion.Warwick defeats the King's forces and executes John and Richard Woodville, Father and brother to the Queen,  proving himself worthy of his nickname of "The Kingmaker".

It soon became apparent that Warwick could not rule without the King and so in September 1469, Edward VI was released from Middleham Castle.Warwick is forced to flee to France and on the stormy ridden boat ride there, Isabella goes into premature labor and gives birth to a stillborn son. While staying at the court of King Louis XI of France., Warwick begins making dealings with Margaret of Anjou to put Henry VI back on the English throne. To this end, Anne is married to Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster, in 1470. Realizing that he will never be king this way, George defects from Warwick's cause and allies himself with his brother. Warwick departs France to reclaim the throne for the Lancaster cause, leaving Anne to be raised by the she-wolf Margaret.

The Battle of Barnet sees the end of the Kingmaker and he is killed in battle. Margaret and Edward of Westminster return to England with additional forces in hopes of finishing what Warwick started but they too fall prey to the might of Edward IV. Edward of Westminster perishes in the battle of Tewkesbury and Margaret of Anjou is taken prisoner in the Tower. With her Father dead and her Mother in hiding, Anne is left practically orphaned. The King's younger brother, Richard, takes her and places her in the household of Isabella, who is on the winning side this time.

George wanted to keep Anne in his care in order to retain the entire Warwick fortune which would be halved upon Anne's marriage to another. It was under these conditions that Richard began to court Anne. They married on July 12, 1472, despite what others may say, for love. Their only child, Edward of Middleham, a year later. Isabella, herself, was blessed with three children: Margaret, Edward and Richard. Following Richard's birth, Isabella died under mysterious circumstances (the boy dying only a few months after his birth). Edward blames Isabella's death on witchcraft and accuses a woman by the name of Ankarette - who he believes is under the control of Queen Elizabeth Woodville - of poisoning his wife and she is executed for her crimes. George had the folly of plotting against the King once again and he was executed for treason in 1478 on his own terms - drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine.

On April 9, 1783, Edward IV dies and his son by Elizabeth Woodville becomes Edward V of England. To stop the Woodvilles from claiming the regency, Richard kidnaps the Prince and holds him hostage in the tower, later collecting Edward's younger brother as well. The Duke of Gloucester disinherits the two boys by declaring the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville null and void. Richard crowns himself King of England, making Anne the Queen. The princes in the tower mysteriously go missing - although Richard is not to blame. Anne and Richard's only child, Edward, dies later that month. After the death of her son, Anne loses the will to live.

Upon hearing that Elizabeth Woodville has made an alliance with Margaret Beaufort, whose son, Henry Tudor, is the senior Lancastrian claimant to the English throne, the former Queen and her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, are permitted to return to court. Richard begins a flirtatious relationship with the young York girl to discredit the match and rumors has it that he will marry her as soon as Anne has died. He denies this of but their relationship may not have been innocent as he claims it to be.

Anne died on March 16, 1485.

I give this book a 3/5. As someone who was interested in the tumultuous life of Anne Neville and there by little work done of this lost Queen of England, I decided to give this book a shot. It was a good book albeit rather slow but it had no discernible traits. Gregory does a good job at portraying the hatred felt by the Neville girls and the York boys (save the King) for Elizabeth Woodville. Overall it's a good book but it won't be on the top of your to-read list unless you're specifically interested in the War of the Roses and Anne Neville.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair is a 2012 historical drama film directed by Nikolaj Arcel on the affair between Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark and Johann von Struensee.

At the Berlin Film Fesitval, Mikkel Følsgaard won the Silver Bear for Best Actor and Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg won the award for Best Script.
A Royal Affair is Denmark's submission for the 85th Academy Award's Best Foreign Language Film

Mads Mikkelsen as Johann von Struensee
Alicia Vikander as Queen Caroline Mathilde
Mikkel Følsgaard as Christian VII of Denmark

A Royal Affair is based on the 1999 Swedish novel "The Royal Physcian's Visit"

I give this book a 4.5/5. None of the actors in the movie particularly looked like the people they were portraying but that didn't matter because.....Mads Mikkelsen was FABULOUS. He could not have been more perfect in his role as Struensee. Mikk Folsgaard was amazing as Christian VII, absolutely nailing the disturbed king down to a tee. Alicia Vikander made a good Caroline Matilda but she was far eclipsed by the two male leads. The only complaint I had with the movie was when Dowager Queen Julianne Marie stormed into Christian's room; the scene in the movie was rather calm but I was expecting pandemonium.All in all, a fantastic film and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone even if you're not a monarchist.

On a lighter note, since watching this movie I have fallen in love with the Danish language and, though I can not speak the language, annoy everyone I know by pretending that I do.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Second Empress

The Second Empress is the fifth book from historical novelist, Michelle Moran. The book centers around the marriage of Archduchess Maria Lucia of Austria and Napoleon I of France told from the perspective of the Archduchess herself, Napoleon's sister, Pauline, and her chamberlain by the name of Paul Moreau.

Since birth, Archduchess Maria Lucia of Austria has been taught to hate France and French ideas especially the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, who humiliated her Father, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, by making him sign the Peace of Pressburg in 1805. So it comes as a surprise to her when the Emperor Napoleon asks for her hand in marriage.

Pauline, Napoleon's favorite sister, having finally convinced her brother to divorce his barren wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, is distraught that he intends to wed an Archduchess of Austria. She had long fostered hope that he would follow the example of the Egyptian Pharaohs and would marry her. There to comfort her is her black chamberlain, Paul.

Paul was born on the island of St. Dominigue, Haiti, a mullatre whose Father was a nobleman and whose Mother was a black slave. Paul met Pauline, who was visiting the island with her husband, Charles Leclerc, when she began having an affair with his half brother. The two spend many a carefree day with each other before Haiti explodes in rebellion and Pauline must return to France to be with her brother. Paul goes with her and takes on the name Paul in her honor.

Maria Lucia is forced to leave behind her family, she is especially close to her mother-in-law, Maria Ludovika, and her life in Austria as regent for her unstable younger brother, Ferdinand, her lover, Adam von Neipperg, even her dog named Sigi. She is escorted to the French border by Napoleon's other sister, Caroline, Queen of Naples. Napoleon meets up with the entourage an Compienge and he and Marie Louise, she has lost her German name in the process as well, consummate the marriage

Marie Louise finds a companion in her predecessor's daughter, Hortense, Queen of Holland. Marie Louise soon becomes pregnant with Napoleon's child which delights the Emperor to no end, and as a gift he brings her dog, Sigi, from Austria to France. On March 20, 1811, Marie Louise gave birth to Napoleon II. Her relationship with Napoleon is a distant one as he is still very much in love with Josephine, this is fortunate on Marie Louise's part as she still detests him.

Pauline takes a new lover as her health begins to decline.There to comfort her is her black chamberlain, Paul. Paul is becoming increasingly restless with his life in Paris as he is no step closer to achieving his dream of ending slavery on Haiti than he was the day he arrived.

Napoleon goes to war against the Russians, making Marie Louise regent during his absence.The Russian campaign is a disaster and Napoleon forced to return home in defeat. The Empire falls and Napoleon is sent to the island of Elba. Marie Louie flees France with her infant son to return to Austria where she is greeted with open arms by her Father and lover and they all live happily ever after. There is a brief moment where Napoleon returns to power for 100 days but after his defeat at Waterloo and his subsequent exile to St. Helena he never returns.

After the Empire falls, Paul leaves Pauline as he finally realizes that they will never be together. Pauline is the only Bonaparte sibling to visit her brother on St. Helena.

I give this book 0/5. This is the first book I've read by Michelle Moran and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I am rather fond of the character of Empress Marie Louise of France, although I do not condone her actions after Napoleon's downfall. However, the picture that Moran paints of the Archduchess is one that I can not abide. I do not know about you but I have always thought that Marie Louie cared for Napoleon, even if it was just a passing fancy. She would have gone to Elba to be with her husband had Neipperg not come in the way. Her relationship with Neipperg is one of the biggest problems in the story. In "The Second Empress" Neipperg and Marie Louise have known each other since they were kids, however the two never even met until after Marie Louise returned to Austria after the fall of French Empire. Also, in the story, Marie Louise loses her virginity to Neipperg. Not only is this impossible had the story actually worked out the way Moran wrote it to be it would be very improbable that something like that could've happened. The Hapsburg's are a very proud family and would never have allowed one of their own daughters to be deflowered by a commoner. When Marie Louise returns to Austria, her Father who gives his consent for her and Neipperg to embrace. This is absolute ludicrous considering how he did not allow his daughter to mourn Neipperg's passing publicly. And let's just get this straight, there is no way on Earth that Francis I would have ever let his daughter reign as regent for his son.Riddled with inaccuracies, this book is only meant for historical fiction and should not be taken seriously.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King is a 2006 book written by Antonia Fraser, as the title says, on the relationships between Louis XIV and the women in his life

The first and foremost woman in Louis XIV's life is his Mother, Anne of Austria. Louis was born on September 5,  1638, his Mother was thirty seven and had been married to Louis's Father, Louis XIII, for 23 years. Louis's birth was considered miracle a was sometimes referred to as Louis the Godgiven. Anne loved Louis more than anything else and this stayed true even after she gave birth to her second child, Philip.

At the age of 5, Louis became King Louis XIV. His Mother was made regent of France, with the help of her trusted companion, Cardinal Mazarin, during his minority. It was she who protected him during the troubling time that was called The Fronde, brought on by public hatred of the Cardinal. It wasn't until, at the age of thirteen, Louis's coming of age and coronation that the Fronde lost steam and ended in 1653.

Throughout all this time, Louis maintained a close relationship with his Mother but now that he was a hot blooded teenager, he began seeking independence from her. And the first way he decided to execute his right as King was in love. Mazarin had 5 nieces the loveliest of which was named Marie Mancini. Louis was smitten and completely set on marry her. Both the Queen Mother and the Cardinal were horrified. Marie was promptly sent away and a match was quickly arranged for the King.

On June 6, 1660, Louis married Maria Teresa of Spain, Marie Therese as she was known to the French. Anne had hoped for such a match since the two were weeks old. Marriage to the Spanish Infanta brought peace between the two feuding countries - even if it was only temporary. For the first year of their marriage, Louis was faithful to his wife. In 1661, Marie Therese did her duty to France and gave birth to a healthy baby boy; a Dauphin. Now it was time for Louis to move on.

With his brother entering into holy matrimony, Philip, Duke of Orleans, felt that he too should enter into wedded bliss. His bride was Henriette Anne of England, the daughter of Charles I of Great Britain and his french born wife, Henrietta Maria. The pair were ill matched, this might be because Philip was a flagrant homosexual. However there was someone who Henriette Anne was very much matched; her brother-in-law. The two grew incredibly close much to the jealousy of Henriette's husband, who complained to the Queen Mother about the couple. As a ruse for their secret meetings, the Duchess of Orleans suggested that her lady-in-waiting, Louise de la Valliere, sit in on their conversations. The cover up became a little too real.

Louise would become Louis' first mistress. She was a pious girl, who loved Louis for himself and not his crown. She provided him 4 children and was made Duchess of Vaujour. The couple went public with their  relationship after the Queen Mother's death in 1666 of breast cancer but Louise was disliked by the Queen and court. Within five years, Louise's star was beginning to fade as the King's affections fell on another.

Born into the Rochechouart de Mortemart in 1641, by the time that Francoise came to court some twenty years later, she was already married with two children. There she served as a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Orleans, same as Louise, and quickly established herself as the court's reigning beauty. Louise viewed the Marquise of Montespan as a friend and often invited her to come and entertain the King. Louis was no match for Francoise's charm. Louise's relationship with the King ended as it had began, now she acted as a cover up for Louis and Francoise's meetings together. Unable to bear such torture, Louise fled to a convent and lived a life of repentance as a nun.

As maitresse-en-titre, Francoise now took on the name and persona of Athenais in honour of the Greek God, Athena. Because both Athenais and Louis were married, they committed the most serious sin of double adultery. When Athenais's husband., Louis-Henri, Marquis de Montespan, discovered the affair, he raised a scandal at court by challenging the King. He was sent to prison and then exiled to his lands, later fleeing to Spain. Francoise-Athenais remained the real Queen of France for over a decade and provided him with other seven children before she was implicated in the Affair of the Poisons and fell from grace.

 Despite having Athenais de Montespan holding the title of the maitresse-en-titre for over ten years, she was not without rivals. Louis's last mistress was Marie Angelique de Scorailles. She flaunted herself in front of Queen Marie Therese that would've shamed Athenais herself. She gave birth premature to a stillborn boy in 1679 and the event seems to have scarred her considerably. The King tired of her quickly because for all the beauty that she possessed, she was incredibly stupid. She died in 1681 and many accused Athenais of poisoning her.

For the care of the King's illegitimate children, Athenais hired the widow of the Poet Scarron, Francoise d'Aubigne. Francoise usurped Athenais' position in Louis's heart although they never consummated their relationship until Marie Therese died in 1683 whereupon the two married. Francoise, created in 1678 Marquise de Maintenon, was a deeply religious figure and during the last years of the King's reign there was a greater sense of modesty and religious fervor. 

The woman in Louis XIV's was his grand daughter-in-law, Marie Adelaide of Savoy. Having never really bonded with the wife of the Dauphin, Marianne Victorie of Bavaria, on account of her frail healthy and plainness. Marie Adelaide was the daughter of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy and the French born, Princess Anne Marie of Orleans. At the age of 10 as part of the Treaty of Turin, Marie Adelaide was sent to France to marry the Duke the Burgundy. She brought a breath of fresh air to the sobriety of Versailles that Madame de Maintenon had harbored in. Louis forgave her all her many discrepancies. He was devastated when she died in 1712 more than everyone else he lost that year including his son, grandson and great grandson.

I give this book 5/5. I, honestly, have no complaints with the book. Wonderfully well written, there was not a moment where I found the book dull. Antonia Fraser, hats off to you. A definite recommendation from me!

Friday, August 17, 2012


Poison is a 1995 fictional novel written by Kathryn Harrison on the story of two girls born in the same year, on the same day at the exact same hour: Francisca de Luarca and Marie Louise d'Orleans.

Francisca's Story
Francisca de Luarca lives a comfortable life in a tiny Spanish town with her Mother, elder sister, Dolores, and her silk farmer Father. Blinded by greed, her Father loses all their silkworms in an experimental treatment that was suppose to yield more profit but only caused the worms to wither and die. Short on funds, Francisca's Mother, Concepcion, leaves home to the Palace in Madrid to suckle King Carlos II of Spain. When she returns three years later, Concepcion is drained of all her strength, dying shortly afterwards.

Francisca turns to the town priest, Father Alvaro, for consolation over this tragic loss. Alvaro also begins educating Francisca in Latin and the lives of the Saints. The two grow close....a little too close and Francisca and Alvaro becomes lover. She conceives his child. Her jealous sister discovers the affair and reports the fallen priest to the Inquisition. He is arrested and later executed. Francisca gives birth to Alvaro's son, named Madeo, but he dies in his third year.

Francisca is arrested by the Inquisition for witchcraft and awaiting her execution.

Maria Luisa's Story
Marie Louise is very unhappy. Forced to leave her beloved homeland of France and marry the deformed Carlos II, she turns to laudanum, generously being supplied by a dwarf named Eduardo, to keep the sadness at bay.

Despite her husband's obvious physical attraction for her, Maria Luisa remains barren. Unable to stand the pressure placed upon her by the court, especially the Queen Mother, Mariana, she devises a plan to fool the court into thinking that she is pregnant. With the help of Eduardo, she hides her monthly stains and after a few months brings in pigs blood and scatters it about the room looking as if she has just miscarried. The ruse is soon discovered.

After going out with the visiting Olympe Mancini to the theater, Maria Luisa begins feeling a sharp pain in her abdomen and starts retching all over the place. Her decline is fast and it is apparent to everyone that she has been poisoned. Turns out it was the Queen Mother who was responsible for her daughter-in-law's death. With the help of Eduardo, she poisons the Queen with an overdose of an aphrodisiac.

Mariana dies shortly after Marie Louise in a terrible accident.

I give this book a 1/5. Is it just me or is there no such thing as a well written parallel story. I chose this book because it is one of the only (possibly just only) book on the tragic story of Marie Louise of Orleans. The story of Francisca was entertaining on its own however, I didn't really feel much of a connection between her and the Queen of Spain. The story itself is chronologically out of wack. One minute Francisca is referring her mother's death and then two chapters later she is alive and kicking. Another annoying quirk is that it will state something in the beginning of the book and then it happens later on. I don't mean foreshadowing but rather just straight up saying "This will happen". Not the most historically accurate book for example Marie Louise keeps pining for her Mother, Duchesse Henriette Marie of Orleans, who died when she was eight. It would've been more believable for me if it was her mother-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, who was said to have been a real Mother to Marie Louise. And just another example would be that Mariana died six years after Marie Louise due to breast cancer. But most of all I feel sorry for Carlos as the love between them never really showed - Marie Louise may not have loved him with a passion but she must have felt some affection for the only person in Spain who cared for her. Harrison completely missed on Marie Louise's passing words to  her husband, "Your Majesty may have other wives but no one will love you as I did."

P.S. On the subject of parralel stories, has anyone seen Madonna's "W.E", a movie on the romance of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII and a modern story involved Abby Cornish? 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici is a 2009 novel by Jeanne Karlogridis on the life of Catherine de Medici from the Medici's fall from power in Florence in 1527 to the death of King Charles IX of France.

In the care of her Aunt, Clarice de Medici, Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de Medici bears witness to the fall of the Medici from power in Florence in 1527 with the sacking of Rome by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.  In Florence, she befriends an astrologer by the name of Cosimo Ruggieri, who has promised to always be there for protect her. She is captured by the rebels and held hostage at nunneries while her family struggle to regained their grip on the city. When she is miraculously released, she learns that it is due to Ruggieri and from then on he is indispensable to her.

When the city falls back into Medici hands,Caterina returns triumphant. During her stay in Florence, she begins a torrid love affair with her cousin, Ippolito de Medici. When Alessandro de Medici catches them in an intimate embrace, he warns Caterina of Ippolito's lecherous ways. Caterina and Ippolito go their separate ways. Ippolito becomes a cardinal and Caterina leaves Florence for Rome where she is greeted by her Uncle, Pope Clement VII. He then sets about finding her a husband.

On October 28, 1533, Caterina de Medici marries Prince Henri, Duke of Orleans, the second son of Francois I of France. The marriage's consummation is witnessed by the King who said that "each has shown valor in the joust". Caterina, now called Catherine in France, is a hit with her new family especially with her father-in-law but her relations with her husband are somewhat colder. When Pope Clement dies in 1534, his successor, Pope Paul III, refuses to pay the rest of Catherine's large dowry, causing King Francois to say, "She has come to me stark naked."

In 1536, the Dauphin, Francois, dies from a chill he got after a vigorous game of tennis. Henri is now the heir to the french throne. During this time of grief, Henri takes Diane de Poitiers as his mistress - she would maintain this position for the entirety of Henri's life. Catherine is reunited with Ruggieri who informs her that Henri will die soon unless they intervene with the help of the supernatural. Together they murder a pregnant prostitute carrying triplets in hopes to give Henri extra time. Catherine promises that they will never do such sordid acts again even if it's to save a life.

For ten years the couple have no children causing some at Court to advise King Francois to repudiate her. In 1544, Catherine gives birth to her first child, the future Francois II. From then on, she has no trouble conceiving again.Eventually giving birth to nine more children.

King Francois, Catherine's great protector, dies in 1547 and Henri ascends to the throne as Henri II of France with Catherine as his queen. At the age of five and a half, Mary, Queen of Scots, is sent to France as the future bride of their eldest son. She is a favorite of everyone except the Queen. When Henri impregnates Mary's governess, Lady Janet Fleming, it is revealed that Henri is cast away from Diane's affections and he slowly turns to his long suffering wife for comfort. The two fall in love. In 1556, Catherine nearly dies giving birth to twins daughters. The surgeons were require to break the limbs of one twins in order to save the Queen's life - the other dies only seven weeks after her birth.She never conceives again.

On April 3, 1559, Henri signs the treaty of Peace of Cateau-Cambersis thus ending a long period of Italian wars. The treaty was sealed by the betrothal of their eldest daughter, Elisabeth, to King Phillip II of Spain. Henri took part in the festivities for the betrothal by entering in the jousting tournament. He is stuck in the eye by a lance and dies in complete agony on July 10, 1559. Catherine would forever wear widow's black.

Their son becomes Francois II at the age of fifteen. The Guises' capitalize on their connection to the royal couple, Mary's Mother being a Guise herself, and move into the room adjoining the royal couple. The zealously Catholic Guise family begun persecuting Protestants with a passion. The Protestants turn to Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre and later to his brother Louis, Prince of Conde. The Guise was attacked the Chateau of Ambroise and Louis is captured. He is sentenced to death but it only saved by the King's illness and eventual death in 1560. Mary is sent back to Scotland.

The nine year old King Charles IX is King in name only as Catherine now wields complete power behind the throne. In 1572, Princess Margaret of France marries Prince Henri of Navarre, Catherine sees this as an attempt to appease the Protestants and Charles approves of the match as a way to curve Maragaret's licentiousness. A week after the wedding, is the event that will forever stain Catherine's reputation; the St. Batholomew's Massacre.  The slaughter in Paris lasted a week.

Finally broken, Catherine returns to the one person that has been with her from the very beginning. She returns to Rugigeri.

I give this book a 3.5/5. Karlogridis really draws the line here between interpretation and actual facts especially in conjunction to the relationship between Catherine de Medici and her husband. Now I understand that I was lenient on Anchee Min with her interpretation (albeit she was docked marks on inaccuracies), however, in such a case the interpretation is viable. "The Devil's Queen" walks on a much thinner line as there is much evidence that supports that Henri's love for Diane de Poitier rather than his love for Catherine. It completely skips some of the more scintillating aspects of Henri's life with his mistress and she is never mentioned after Henri's death (Catherine sought revenge on Diane for all her years in the shadows)/ In this book, he seems rather nice to Catherine and it seems forced in my opinion. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Royal Physician's Visit

The Royal Physician's Visit is a 1999 Swedish novel written by Per Olov Enquist, translated into English by Tiina Nunally on the love affair between Princess Caroline Mathila of Great Britain and Doctor Johann Struensee.

King Christian VII is a sensitive, intellectual boy who was emotionally and physically abused by his tutors in order to make him more malleable to their ambitions like his Father was. He is so damaged that by the time that his fifteen year old bride, Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, arrives to her new country, he is little more than a raving lunatic. He is so terrified of intercourse with his wife that he only ever slept with her once but that was enough for Frederick VI to be conceived.

Instead of finding intimacy with his Queen, he turns to the comforts provided by the courtesan, Bottine Caterine, who he calls his "Mistress of the Universe". Christian's stepmother, Dowager Queen Juliana, deems Caterine to be a threat and sends her away, driving the King of Denmark into the deepest pits of despair. To appease his broken heart, he is permitted by the court to go on a Europeans tour to look for his lost love but only on the condition that he be tended to by a doctor. The doctor that is chosen is named Johann Frederick Struensee.

The doctor quickly makes it into Christian's high esteem and the King of Denmark soon hands him the reigns of power much to the chagrin of the old establishment, fully aware of that Struensee is a man of the enlightenment. Queen Caroline Matilda is fascinated by Struensee and he is the one that teaches her how to ride a horse; she does so riding astride like a man. The two become lovers. And in 1771, Caroline Matilda gives birth to Struensee's only child, Princess Louisa Augusta of Denmark.

The court and country's growing contempt for Struensee's reforms as well as his affair with the Queen reaches its boiling point in autumn of 1771 and he and Caroline Matilda are arrested. Dowager Queen Juliana and a group of reactionaries barge into King Christian's room and wake the sleeping monarch. In a daze, he is forced to sign the warrants for the death of Struensee and his divorce from Queen Caroline Matilda. The  pit the couple against each other and while Caroline Matilda's will is unbreakable, tricked into believing that the Queen confessed, Struensee admits to everything.

Johan Friedrich Strunsee is executed on April 28, 1772. Caroline Matilda is exiled to Celle where she dies on May 10, 1775. King Christian forgets that his wife ever existed and returns to his Mistress of the Universe. And the winner of this whole debacle is the Ove Hoegh Guldberg, the man who has been watching it all from the sidelines who know one that would succeed.

I give this book a 3/5. As we all know by now, I am not unfamiliar with the story of Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark. Now I don't know if there it has something to do with the translation or this is actually Per Olov Enquist's writing style, however, it was very confusing to read (So confusing in fact that the first few chapters gave me a headache). I read a review of the book stating that "The erotic scenes are among the most beautiful I have read in modern literature" and I don't know about you but I don't find the word "membrane" very stimulating.

P.S. On the related note of the historical figure known as Johann Struensee, has anyone seen the movie "A Royal Affair"? Kermode gave the movie a wonderful review and so far it is his top film of 2012. I hope very much to see it soon!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid is a 2004 fictional novel by Anchee Min on the life of Dowager Empress Cixi from her humble beginnings her rise as Empress Dowager.

The novel begins with the death of a Manchu blue bannerman of the Yehonara clan, the Commissioner of Anhui Province. After his death, his widow and their three children move to Peking where they are taken in by his Brother. His eldest daughter, Orchid, takes a job with the wife of a Eunuch, Sister Feng, to help keep her family afloat. Along with work, Orchid gains an inside look into the Forbidden City and the story of the suicide of Empress Xiaoquancheng. It is also sister Feng who suggests that Orchid enter in the selection process to become an Imperial Consort to Xiaoquancheng's son, Emperor Xianfeng.

Orchid is created Imperial Consort Yehonara of the Fifth Rank. Xianfeng selects, or morely his foster Mother, Imperial Noble Dowager Consort Kangci, Niuhuru as his official Empress. Yehonara lives a life of opulence in the Forbidden City but beneath the splendor of it all, her life is marred by extreme boredom. Without the Emperor's favor, she is slowly slipping into obscurity. With the help of her loyal eunuch, An De Hai, she bribes Head Eunuch Shim into procuring a night in the Emperor's bed and spends her time preparing for that night learning the art of seduction in a brothel. When the Emperor finally calls her, it is Orchid's bold personality that wins Xianfeng's affections.

While Xianfeng opens up his heart to Orchid, he also opens up on the sorry state of China. Taxed by foreign powers, China has become an empty shell of its former glory. Exhausted by the demands of the western "barbarians", Xianfeng begins to seek Yehonara's advice on what to do. Yehonara takes her first steps into  the deadly world of court politics.

In 1855, Imperial Consort Yehonara becomes pregnant. Despite attempts by other concubines to cause Yehonara a miscarriage, she safely delivers a healthy baby boy on Apirl 27, 1856. She is raised to the title of Noble Consort making her second only to Empress Niuhuru. After the birth of his son, Emperor Xianfeng loses interest in Orchid, something that happens in part due to Nuihuru.

The Emperor grows ill as the political situation in China worsens. The Westerners begin demanding that he open more ports for trade with the West and when the Emperor refuses their request, they take up arms and invade China. Unable to protect his empire or his family, Xianfeng and the court flee Peking. He dies while in exile. As he lays dying, Xianfeng names his son as the heir to the throne and gives him the name "Tongzhi", playing Orchid and Niuhuru on the regency council with his advisor Su shun at its head.

Differences between Orchid, now created Empress Cixi, and Su shun were made obvious to all even while the Emperor was alive. Now that Xianfeng is dead the two duke it out for control over the Regency Council, coming to a head with Su shun attempting to assassinated the two Empresses. They are saved by the dashing Ronglu and with the help of the Xianfeng's brother, Prince Gong, they arrest Su shun and have him arrested for attempting to stage a coup d'etat.

As the book comes to its end, Xianfeng is buried in Peking and Orchid comes to terms with her feelings for Ronglu, realizing that they can never be together.

I give this book 4.5/5. Let me start off by saying that this is the first book that I have reviewed that I listened to as an audiobook so I had the experience of listening to Alexandra O'Karma for over 18 hours (Seeing as the car ride from Edmonton to Jasper is roughly 5 hours, I decided why not?). She has a good speaking voice and does a wonderful job at differentiating between the character. One thing that you should be aware of if you decide to listen to the audiobook is that you are able to hear O'Karma lick her lips several times in the recording. I understand that reading an entire book that your lips would be a little dry, however, the editing staff should have done a better job on that because at times it was quite unnerving.  
If there is one big con to listening to it versus reading it, it's that you have no idea how to write the names of the characters (which is essential if you intend to write a review on the book). Not only that but Anchee Min use a different spelling with the names so I had an incredibly fun time looking for their wikipedia articles. For example: The character of Yonglu, as is spelled in the novel, is in reality better known as Ronglu. How do you get one from the other, I have no idea so you can understand it was a nightmare to do.
Anchee Min's writing is fabulous and she does an amazing job of telling the story. I did notice that she put quite a few poems in the book - not that it takes away from the writing but it is something that I did notice. The thing I had to penalize Min on were the inaccuracies I found in the novel and there were quite a bit i.e. In the novel, Kurun Princess Rong'an's Mother, Consort Li, commits suicide after an attempt on Cixi's life but if you know anything about the Qing Dynasty (or read the wikipedia article) then you will know that she died in the fifties of an illness. It's the one thing I can criticize in an otherwise good book. 
Anyone who knows anything about Cixi is that she is most often portrayed as a ruthless, mastermind that will do anything to achieve and maintain power so this book is a very, very very sympathetic account of her life. But "Empress Orchid" was my first look into the controversial character that was Dowager Empress Cixi and it does leave an impression in my mind that Cixi wasn't just this heartless enigma but rather a human being with human emotions. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Imperial Dancer: Mathilde Kchessinska and the Romanovs

Imperial Dancer: Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs is a 2005 biography on the Russian ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska written by Coryne Hall and foreworded by Natalia Makarova.

Matilda-Marie Felixovna Kschessinska was born on August 31 [August 19 OS], 1872 into a dynasty of Polish dancers. Her Father, Felix Kschessinska, was known as the "King of the Mazurka" and her Mother, Julia Dominska, was a ballerina before retiring to marry. Like her 2 elder siblings, Julie and Joseph, before her, Matilda entered into the Imperial Ballet School; graduating in 1890 with a score of 11 "very good" and 12 "perfect".   

The Imperial Family attended Mathilde's debut performance and it was there that she first laid eyes on the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich. For her at least, it was love at first sight and she did everything humanly possible to get his attention - never mind that Nicholas was already in love with a German Princess. Mathilde managed to befriend the heir but that was as far as their relationship progressed. That is, until, having been rejected by his lady love, the Tsarevich reluctantly sought comfort in Mathilde's arms. Their relationship continued for three years, ending when at last, Princess Alix of Hesse accepted Nicholas' proposal of marriage in 1894. Mathilde was devastated. Hoping to break off the engagement, she sent letters to Alix in attempt to blacken the Tsarevich's name. Nicholas recognized the ballerina's writing and confessed to Alix his affair with Mathilde. Alix forgave Nicholas but never Mathilde.

Despite being heartbroken over the loss of her first love, Mathilde soon found herself a "protector" in Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, who was also her lover. He provided generously for his mistress and was often the one to resolve issues between Mathilde and her ballerina competitors (always in Mathilde's favor, of course). In spite of all this, Mathilde did not love Sergei and only used him as a means to go further in the Mariinsky Theatre. In 1900, she met and fell in love with Grand Duke Andrei Vladimorovich, Sergei's cousin, and the two soon entered into a relationship. The three of them, Mathilde, Sergei and Andrei, lived in this menage a trois for some time but not without some tension. In 1902, Mathilde gave birth to a son, named Vladimir and called "Vova" within the family. Both men were convinced the child was his. Vova would never know who his Father was.

Mathilde rose high in the Imperial Theatre with her amazing technical skills (as well as her connection with the  Tsar), obtaining the rank of prima ballerina in 1896, but her career was always marred by her endless squabbling with maestro of the Imperial Ballet, Petipa, and fellow ballerina, most notably Anna Pavlova and Olga Preobrajenska. A notorious incident in 1906 was when Mathilde's coveted role in La Fille Mal Gardee was given to Preobrajenska, the prima ballerina released live chickens onto the stage prematurely. Much to Mathilde's chagrin, Preobrajenska finished her variation and received a storm of applause.

In 1917, three years after entering into the First World War, the Russian Revolution came into full swing, toppling the old regime and the Romanov family. Mathilde was forced to abandon her lavish home in St. Petersburg and flea to France. It was from her balcony that Vladimir Lenin delivered his speech after his return from Finland. She and Andrei were reunited on the way to France but Mathilde never saw Sergei again. He was murder in 1918 along with several of his relatives.

In 1921, Mathilde and Andrei married and she was given the title Princess Romanovsky-Krasinsky. Living a relatively modest life in Paris compared to what she had in Russia, she lived happily with her Grand Duke for several decades. In 1929, the former prima ballerina of the Imperial Ballet opened her own ballet school to keep the family afloat. She is credited with  teaching the famed Alicia Markova.

Andrei's death in 1956 caused Mathilde innumerable grief  yet she would outlive him by 15 years, dying on December 6, 1971 at the age of 99. Her final years were plagued with financial troubles but she remained indomitable just as she had been all her life.

I give this book 4/5. Hall has quite a similar writing style to John Van Der Kiste (They worked together on their shared biography of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna in "Once a Grand Duchess) and that is A-Okay in my book. Like most of you, my only knowledge of Mathilde Kchessinska as the mistress of Nicholas II but that's just a fraction of her life and now that I've read Imperial Dancer I feel much more knowledgeable on her incredible life story. All in all, a rather nice read when you have the time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics is a 2006 book by Eleanor Herman on adulterous queens and princesses and their lovers starting from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Princess Diana of Wales.

Why might a queen consort turn her back on her husband and jump into the arms of another man? In a time where marriages were not for love but instead for political reasons, the bride often had no say in who her husband was. Years of inbreeding within the family, might have made the groom ugly, deformed or insane - maybe all three. Quite possibly, he was a homosexual and disinterested in the female gender.  

Being the lover of the queen reaped many benefits as well as dangers. Unlike a mistress who was rewarded for her "services" with jewels and wealth, a male lover was granted with wealth and power. However, all of this came at a heavy price. With the image of the queen often synonymous with the Virgin Mary, any sign of taint upon her image could be damaging to her reputation if not her life. 

Even the mere accusation of could forever tarnish her Majesty in the eyes of the public as we see through Napoleon's spreading lies about Queen Louise of Prussia and her relationship with Tsar Alexander I of Russia. However it is not the woman who are accused of adultery but those actually commit the act that we are here to discuss.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Raymond Poitiers

Anne Boleyn  and men

Marguerite Louise of Orleans and Charles of Lorraine

Diana Spencer and men

I give this book a 2/5 for content and 3/5 for writing. Eleanor Herman's writing is very amusing and enjoyed quite a few laughs while reading the book (I'm still chuckling over the "enlightening" conversation between Phillipe, Duke of Orleans, Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate and their son) however, I must admit that I found her language a bit too graphic for my taste - which leads me to my next point. I was rather upset at the choice of women featured in this book especially in the cases of Alexandra Feodorovna, Queen Victoria and Marie Antoinette. Although Herman does take care to say that Alexandra's relationship with Rasputin was an emotional one, in a book titled "Sex with the Queen" there is much room for misinformation. Same for QV. And on the subject of Marie Antoinette's relationship with Axel Fersen, I am of the opinion that their relationship was purely platonic - so excuse me, if I did not enjoy reading about how she and Fersen (how do I put this politely?) bumped uglies. Although some people might disagree with me, on a subject as divided as this (although the majority of people I know agree with me) it is not wise to be so bold and assertive - same with the paternity of Louis XVII (Louis Charles was said to bear a strong resemblance to his Uncle and Grandmother).  To be quite frank with you, I felt as if Herman was shoving these stories down our throats; basing it more on rumor than sound, hard evidence. Can be quite misleading to the average reader and downright insulting to the monarchist crowd. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile is a 2012 fictional novel by C. W. Gortner on the life of Isabella I of Castile from her formative years as an Infanta of Spain to her pivotal role in sending Christopher Columbus on his voyage to discover the Americas.

Our story begins at the deathbed of King Juan II of Castile, Isabella's Father. There are rumors in court that he has lost the will to live after ordering the execution of his favorite, Alvaro de Luna, under the influence of his second wife, Isabella of Portugal, Isabella's Mother. 

After Juan's death on July 20, 1454 and Enrique IV's ascension, Juan's eldest son from his first marriage, Isabella and her younger brother, Alfonso, are taken away to live at Arevalo with their Mother, away from court. At Arevalo, Isabella lives an isolated life where she is forced to deal with her Mother's increasingly unstable mental state, brought on by her guilt in her part in de Luna's death. 

In Isabella's thirteenth year, Juana, Enrique's second wife (his first wife being repudiated for not giving him an heir - although rumors have it that the marriage was not consummated.  How he expected her to provide him an heir, we'll never know), after seven years of marriage, gave birth to a girl, named Juana (called Joanna in the book to differentiate between Mother and daughter). With the birth of an heir (Castile not being bound to Salic law), Enrique brings Isabella and Alfonso to court, much to their Mother's distress. They are accompanied by Archbishop Carillo, who promises to watch over them while in the lion's den.

When the two siblings arrive at court, they quickly realize the licentious nature of the court led by Queen Juana. But also at court is Isabella's cousin, Fernando, whom she quickly becomes enamored with. There are rumors circulating around court circles that Joanna's Father is not the King but Beltran de la Cueva. Jealous of Beltran's rise in status and unwilling to serve a false King, many nobles flock to Alfonso side, and under Carrillo's influence, he declares himself King and starts a civil war.

In an attempt to restore order, Enrique has Isabella betrothed to Pedro de Giron, brother to the King's favorite, Villena. The Infanta aghast at this and prays fervently to God that it should not be. Her prayers were answered when Giron falls ill and dies on his way to meet his bride. 

With the storm passing, news comes to Isabella that her brother has won the war. The siblings happy reunion is cut short when Alfonso dies on July 5, 1468; poisoned by Enrique. Isabella is now heir to the Castilian throne.

Enrique signs a Treaty at Guisando agreeing that he will not force his sister's hand into marriage without her approval in exchange her getting his consent should she marry. And the man that Isabella has her eyes set on is none other than Fernando of Aragon. However, Enrique breaks his promise to the Princess and arranges a marriage with her to Afonso V of Portugal. Since Enrique didn't uphold his end of the deal, Isabella fleas to Valladolid and marries Fernando on the19 October 1469. Their first child, named Isabella (called Isabel in the book to differentiate between Mother and daughter), was born the next year.

Enraged that his younger sister would defy him, Enrique removes Isabella from the succession, leaving his throne to La Beltraneja. The entire country is an uproar over this, flocking to Isabella's banner. Realizing that he is defeated even before the battle has begun, Enrique welcomes his sister back to court and the two reconcile; just in time for Enrique death on 11 December 1474.

There are now two contenders for the crown of Castile; Isabella and her niece, Joanna la Beltraneja. Joanna betroths herself to her Uncle, Afonso V of Portugal, as a means to gain the throne that she believes is rightfully hers. Yet Isabella won't go down without a fight. working around the clock to ensure a victory in her name, eventually suffering a miscarriage from the ongoing struggle. But where the Lord takes, he can also give and in 1479, Afonso retreats and Isabella is crowned as Castile's undisputed Queen.

As Queen in her own right, Isabella begins reforming Castile. One of them being ending the corruption of the grandees that were left to their own devices during the reign of her half-brother and father. And another being the expulsion of the Jews from Castile.

Since her miscarriage, Isabella has been unable to conceive. Her luck changes, however, eight years after the birth of her first child, Isabella brings a healthy baby boy into the world, named Juan after his grandfather. And as a great show of Isabella's fertility, the year after Juan's birth, his sister, Juana, is born, named after his paternal grandmother.

For ten longs years from 1482-1492, Isabella and Ferdinand engaged in a holy war with the Moors to regain Spanish territory in what is known as the Reconquista. Her last two children; Maria (who had twin that was born stillborn) and Catalina were born during the ongoing struggle with the Moors. On January 2, 1942, the last piece of Moorish Spain, Granada, fell into their hands.

The book ends with Isabella sending Christopher Columbus off across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

I give this book a 4.5/5. As always, fabulous work done by C.W. Gortner (I love the Last Queen). But one negative comment I have about the novel was the way Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias was portrayed. I am more accustomed  to the image of an Angelic Prince than that of a lost one. Still, much praises to Mr. Gortner.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Catherine of Aragon: Henry's Spanish Queen

Catherine of Aragon: Henry's Spanish Queen is a 2010 biography written by Giles Tremlett on Catherine of Aragon.

Catalina of Aragon was born on December 16, 1485 to the Queen Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic Monarchs. Ten years before her birth, Isabella had wrestled the throne away from her niece, Princess Juana "La Beltraneja", and named herself the rightful Queen of Castile. Now firmly rooted the the true ruler of Castile, Isabella worked hard on her dream of the Reconquista, reclaiming Spanish land still in possession of the Moors.

At the age of three, Catalina was engaged to the Prince of Wales. The son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, Arthur was two at the time of his betrothal. Having only recently establishing the Tudor dynasty after the long and bloody War of the Roses, a marriage between Arthur and a daughter of  the Catholic Monarchs would only serve to strengthen Henry's legitimacy in the eyes of the English people. From then on Catalina would be trained for her future role as Queen of England.

Now sixteen, Infanta Catalina of Aragon is sent to England to become Catherine, the Princess of Wales. Catherine and Arthur were married on November 14, 1501. What happened that night would be play a part a critical part in Catherine's future.  The couple moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales shortly after their wedding . Tragically both husband and wife fell to the sweating sickness. Catherine survived. Arthur didn't. After only a few months of marriage, Arthur died on April 2, 1502. 

Catherine recovered to find herself a widow. She was in a foreign land without the aid of her family; her future unsure. Her stock as the daughter of the King and Queen of Spain fell considerably when her Mother died November 26, 1504. Now she was only a daughter of the King of Aragon. Catherine was caught in between the power struggle between her Father and her brother-in-law, Philip the Handsome, for power over Castile. Although she had been betrothed to Prince Henry, Arthur's younger brother, the King was always threatening to marry Henry to some other Princess. Seven years passed before the storm cleared.

On April 21, 1509, Henry VII died and his son became Henry VIII  of England. Henry and Catherine were married on June 11, 1509. A dispensation was required from the Pope as it was forbidden for men to marry their brother's widow. The two were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on June 24.  Catherine was now Queen.

Shortly after their wedding, Catherine was pregnant but miscarried after only a few months. The pregnancy, however, carried on as Catherine believed that she was carrying twins and only one had died. There was no child. The Queen gave birth to a baby boy named Henry on New Years Day 1511. The boy lived for over a month. Of all the Queen's numerous pregnancies and birth, only a daughter, Mary, survived past infancy.

Catherine proved herself a capable leader during her husband's absence in France leading English troops against Scottish ones and winning a decisive battle where James IV of Scotland is killed. From then on, she was the people's Queen.

Catherine's failure to produce a son deeply effected her relationship with her husband. England had never had a Queen Regnant but Catherine, being the daughter of the legendary Isabella, held firm to the fact that women were just as good as men. When Henry installed his illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount, Henry Fitzroy, as Duke of Richmond, the Queen flew into a rage.

In 1525, Henry became enamored with one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting. If Catherine thought that it was just a mere fancy, she was dead wrong. The woman that had caught the King's attention was none other than Anne Boleyn and she would not stop until she was Queen. If Henry wanted Anne, he would have to obtain an annulment from Catherine. His case was based on a line from Leviticus saying that a man can not lie with his brother's wife, that he has uncovered his brother's nakedness and they shall be barren. Catherine defended herself valiantly, the marriage was never consummated she said

When Rome refused to grant, Henry took the radical step of naming himself God's Representative on Earth and creating the Church of England. Catherine was stripped of her title as Queen of England and sent away. Henry married Anne in May. Anne did not give Henry the boy that she had promised but instead was delivered of a girl, named Elizabeth after Henry's Mother, on September 7, 1533.

Catherine died on January 7, 1536. She still continued to called herself Queen of England, wife of Henry VIII. Her daughter, Mary, would be England's first Queen.

I give this book a 4/5. The book was very well written. Giles Tremlett handled the subject of Catherine's first marriage very well, although he never gives us a definite answer, he does imply that Catherine and Arthur had sex. Tremlett paints Catherine as a very duty driven woman which begs the question as to why someone who is so duty bound would not fulfill her duty of producing an heir with her husband?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is a 2010 novel written by Stella Duffy on the life of Empress Theodora of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, wife of Justinian I from her early years of being a dancer to her ascension as Roman Empress.

The novel starts while Theodora is in her youth being trained as a dancer with her two sisters, Comito and Anastasia. Her father, Acacius, died when he was mauled to death by his favorite bear and her mother, Hypatia, has recently remarried and seeking a job for her new husband. Hypatia brings her three daughters to the Hippodrome to present them to the Green faction requesting that her previous husband's job be transferred to her new husband. The Greens coldly turn Hypatia away causing her to switch allegiances and become a supporter of the Blue Faction.

Theodora is frequently beaten by her eunuch dance instructor, Menander. Although she is a mediocre singer and at best an adequate dancer, her greatest charm is her quick wit and sharp tongue that more than often the not got her in trouble with Menander. However, it came to her advantage when during their debut performance Theodora's younger sister, Anastasia, bit a man who had gotten to close to her causing an uproar among the men. With lightening speed, Theodora changes the atmosphere by playing a bear taming game with Anastasia much to the amusement of the crowd.

When she is twelve, Theodora is introduced to a dwarf by the name of Sophia. The two share much in common and they become close friends. It is Sophia who introduces Theodora into the world of sex and works as her pimp when Theodora begins working at the brothel. Theodora debuts as a solo actor and becomes famous for portrayal of Leda and the Swan.

After Anastasia's death in childbirth, Theodora decides to leave Constantinople with her lover Hecebolus leaving behind everything and everyone she knows, including her young daughter Ana.  Her only companion is her friend Chrysomallo who she knows from Menander's dance studio. They travel together to North Africa where Hecebolus is govenor and settle into a life where Theodora is mistress of the household but not Hecebolus's wife. She spends 4 years at Hecebolus's side before she is replaced by Chrysomallo, who is pregnant with his child. Abandoned and mistreated by Hecebolus, Theodora decides to return back to Constantinople.

After spending 40 days fasting in the desert like Christ did, Theodora converts to the Monophysite faith.Theodora settles for a while in Alexandria, Egypt. There she meets Patriarch Timothy III,who sends her on the final trek of her journey back to the capital. He has great plans for her to help further the Monophysite faith and with the help of a man named Narse everything goes as planned.

Narse introduces Theodora to the Emperor Justin's nephew, Justinian.With Narse's help, Theodora is able to obtain a position in Justinian's inner circle, working as a planner for his upcoming celebration in honor of becoming Consul. After getting to know Theodora, Justinian decides to marry the ex-actress as a way to connect with the people. Their marriage however is illegal as a law states a man of importance can not marry an actress. This law could easily be altered to allow Theodora and Justinian to marry, as Justin is quite fond of Theodora, were it not for Justin's wife, Euphemia, which is rather hypocritical of the Empress as she came from humble beginnings herself.

All opposition to the match ended in 525 AD after the Empress Euphemia died. Theodora and Justinian married that very year. They ascended to the purple in 527 with the death of the Emperor Justin. By this point, Theodora and Justinian had become exceptionally close, she being his closest companion during his grief over his Uncle's death. The book ends with crowds cheering on their new Emperor Justinian and their new Empress Theodora.  

I give this book a 3/5. The book had a very strong beginning that sucks the reader in and wanting more. However about half way through it becomes very dry and rather dull. The book is a bit of a left down from what the synopsis  promised as it ends at Theodora's ascension and does not go on to describe Theodora's great work as a Byzantine Empress. A book that started out with great promised, just failed to deliver at the end.