Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reluctant Queen

Reluctant Queen is a 2010 novel by Freda Lightfood on the marriage of Henry IV of France, his first wife Margot of Valois and his chief mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrees. This is the second book in Freda Lightfoot's book series on Henry IV. It is proceeded by The Hostage Queen and followed by The Queen and the Courtesan.

In 1578, after more than two years apart, King Henry III of Navarre is reunited with his wife, Princess Margot of France. Their marriage came on the heels of the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. During her absence, he found comfort in the arms of other women. However, she is undisturbed because she too has found lovers to amuse her. The two remain good friends until Henry becomes besotted with La Fousseuse and Fousseuse becomes pregnant. Margot agrees to help Fousseuse deliver the child but the child is stillborn and Henry blames Margot. To escape his wrath, Margot decides to return to her native France, to reunited with her brother, Henry III of France, mother, Catherine de Medici, and more importantly, her lover. Her stay in her brother's court is short.

After rumors begin to circulate that Margot is pregnant by her lover, Henry Trois orders his sister to return to Navarre only to have her searched and detained. Henry of Navarre at first refuses to take back his wife but eventually agrees to her return when he is given territory as a settlement. The death of her beloved brother, the Duke of Alencon, leaves two only two candidates for the French throne: the protestant, Henry of Navarre, and the Catholic, Henri, Duke of Guise. In 1585, Henry became besotted with Diane d'Andouins, nicknamed "La Belle Corisande", who pressures him into divorcing Margot so that he can marry her instead. Margot once again flees Navarre, this time raising her banner in support of the Duke of Guise, her one true love, setting up base at Agen, taking a soldier named D'Aubiac as her lover.  After being forced out by the townspeople, she moves to the fortress of Carlat but her luck runs out and she is caught by her husband. D'Aubiac is executed soon after.

In 1588, Henri, Duke of Guise, defying the word of King Henry III of France, comes to Paris to seek an audience with the King. Alarmed at Guise's presence, Henry Trois calls him the Swiss Guard, leading tot he Day of the Barricades as the people of Paris show their open support for Guise, forcing the King of France to flee. Henri's moment of glory does not last long when on Decemer 23, 1588 he is assassinated by Henry Trois's guard as the King looks on. Henry himself is assassinated by a friar conspiring with the Catholic League less than a year later. Henry of Navarre is the only legitimate heir yet because he is a Protestant in a Catholic country, he must first fight for it.

During his struggle with the Catholic League to claim his throne in the early 1590s, the now Henry IV of France, a man who can not live without love, falls head over heels, yet again, for umpteenth time - this time to the beautiful Gabrielle d'Estree. But she has no interest in him as she is already in love with another. However, after becoming his lover and the insistence of her Father, she grows to love Henry of Navarre and she eventually bears him three children. Born a Catholic, Gabrielle convinces Henry to convert to Catholicism which he does and soon after his conversion, Henry is crowned King. Henry grants her many titles and showers her publicly with his affection but the people of France share a different view of the new Duchess of Beaufort, calling her the Duchess of filth.

Henry's sister, Catherine, had long fostered the hope of marrying her Catholic cousin, the Count of Soissons, but Henry has other plans for her and in 1599 she is married, very much so against her will to, to Henry II, Duke of Lorraine.

In 1599, Henry's marriage to Margot looked likely to be annulled at last and so Henry proposed to Gabrielle, who was pregnant with their fourth child. On April 9th, after having a drink at a friend's house, she suddenly falls ill and gives birth to a stillborn son. She died the very next day in Henry's arms. The word "poison" is on everyone's lips.

I give this book a 3/5. The inside flap suggests the book is entirely about Gabrielle d'Estree but as you can tell from my summary of the book, Henry IV's famous mistress is only there for the latter half of the book. So who exactly IS the Reluctant Queen? I adapted to this lack of a formal protagonist in latching onto Margot of Valois but after the introduction of Gabrielle, Margot is hardly ever mentioned again and I felt that this was a bit of a let down, considering how attached I was becoming of her. Gabrielle's origin story was a little bland, with a somewhat cliche ring to it. The book was jerkily written with a plot a little hard to follow. It has no chapters...just long long long segments.

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