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.