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.