I’ll tell you this . . . there will be prizes and there will be honored guests, guests who are historical fiction writing royalty. So please, go to the Medicis Daughter Facebook page and join my event celebrating “Six Months of Medicis Daughter and Six Fabulous Historical Women You SHOULD be Reading About.” While you are at it “Like” the page so that you never miss any Valois related history, gossip or fun!
Give me a line of men with halberds *swoon*
Occasionally I read an article somewhere that I just HAVE to share with you all. Today’s treat comes from The Daily Beast of all places, and it’s topic is the Swiss mercenaries of the 14th to 16th centuries.
If you’ve been to Rome and visited Vatican City, you’ve seen the descendants of these bad boys. Because as the article says:
the Popes hired the very best, the most lethal, the most dedicated mercenaries available. Starting in the late 15th Century under Pope Sixtus IV that was…the Swiss.
Catherine did not begin her life with much to celebrate. Although she had illustrious parents—her Mother (Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, Comtesse de Boulogne) was a French princess of royal blood and father was Lorenzo de’ Medici—both were dead within a MONTH of her birth (and that was incidentally only about a year after their marriage). After they were gone, and because of her mother’s connection to the French crown, King Francis I claimed the right to raise the orphaned Catherine. But Pope Leo told the French King to pound salt. His Holiness wasn’t all that caring—he just viewed Catherine, Lorenzo’s legitimate heiress, as a useful pawn. Later in life, Catherine would remark that her eventual father-in-law, Francis I, was more of a father to her than His Holiness had ever been.
When in the fall of 1533, at age 14, Catherine was shipped off to France to marry the future Henri II her new husband was not yet even Dauphin—merely a second son. And he preferred another woman, his already established Mistress Diane de Poitier. Catherine’s new country wasn’t impressed with Catherine either. A report from one of the Venetian ambassadors declared that “all of France” disapproved of the marriage. So Catherine’s early experiences of rejection continued.
Yet from these inauspicious beginnings arose one of the 16th century’s true female power-players. A Queen who, left widowed with a large family, managed to keep her husband’s line securely on the throne during a time of nearly continual war. A woman who “managed” a series of boy kings—arguably to their detriment and France’s. Historians may disagree strongly on both the content and efficacy of Catherine’s policies with respect to the Wars of Religion—and just about everything else—but no one would disagree that she was a key influence in the post-Henri II Valois era and as such she deserves as much credit for what went right in that period as she does blame for what went wrong.
On this day four-hundred-and-one years ago, Marguerite de Valois, heroine of Médicis Daughter, died. The last of the Valois was initially buried at the Basilica of St Denis, traditional resting place of French Royals and the place where both her parents and her brothers lay. Unfortunately, the French Revolution showed no respect for the dead. So the bodies of the Bourbon and Valois monarchs were removed from the Basilica to “celebrate” the October 1793 execution of Marie Antoinette, and given ignominious trench burials. The monument that marked Marguerite’s grave was destroyed. Today the location of Marguerite’s tomb is not on maps of burial places at St. Denis, although her brother Henri III and her parents Catherine de Médicis and Henri II are still listed.
Today is Maundy Thursday. The final Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper—the event which established the Holy Eucharist. Historically Maundy Thursday is associated with powerful figures washing the feet of the marginalized (a King might wash the feet of a pauper—see the stained-glass depiction below—and this year Pope Francis will wash the feet of a dozen refugees) as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Evidence of the rite of Pedilavium (the Church’s term for this ceremonial foot washing) goes back to very ancient times and is considered a joyous rather than a solemn ceremony. The word “Maundy” comes from Latin for “command” and refers to Christ’s commandment to his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”
I cannot say when or why exactly I became slightly fixated on this particular religious observance, but Maundy Thursday makes multiple appearances in my work. It was included in the original draft of The Sister Queens (Louis, seen at the right, was a hugely penitent man who not only frequently washed the feet of the less fortunate but liked to eat the leftovers of meals consumed by his favorite leper). King Charles IX and Queen Catherine de Médicis observe the Lenten foot-washing tradition in Chapter 2 of Médicis Daughter. An occasion that finds a teenage Margot in no very good mood:
“Why do you pout?” My brother sidles up to me where I stand, watching Charles and Mother receive basins and ewers from the Cardinal de Bourbon. Nearby, a collection of Troyes’s paupers—mostly women and children—sit on a long bench, prepared to be the objects of royal Lenten piety.
“I did not realize I would be left out of some of the grandest ceremonies of the journey.”
Yesterday the King made a magnificent Entry into Troyes—riding beneath a canopy supported by dignitaries past elaborate set pieces and stopping to hear recitations of poetry written for the occasion. The residents of the city, from the wealthiest to the urchins roaming its streets, were permitted to witness it all. I was not. It seems the women of the court, even the Valois women, are not included in the proceedings that constitute a Royal Entry.
As for What’s Next . . . I can tell you this, Chapter 4 of my latest novel begins with a mumbled, “Last Supper” and Maundy Thursday marks some very dramatic events.
Today is a bloody anniversary.
Four-hundred and fifty-four years ago, on March 1, 1562 a massacre that began the first of France’s eight Wars of Religion occurred: the Massacre of Vassy. Just six weeks earlier the Crown—young King Charles IX was on the throne and his mother Catherine de Médicis was regent—had signed the “Edict of January,” granting Protestants within French borders certain rights of conscience. The powerful Guise family—uber Catholic and thinking they knew better—wanted that edict rescinded. The Duc de Guise (Francis, father of the Duc in my latest novel, Médicis Daughter) saw a chance to make that happen when, while traveling to his estates, he stopped in Vassy to hear Mass and happened upon a group of French Huguenot civilians worshiping in barn near the Catholic Church. Francis and his men attacked. Seventy-four members of the Protestant congregation were slain, and more than one-hundred injured. Both numbers included women and children.
Not surprisingly, the massacre resulted in a newly militant attitude among French Protestants. In the wake of Vassy the national synod of the reformed church appealed to the Prince de Condé to become “Protector of the Churches,” and he and those in his sway accepted the task. This marked a switch in church leadership away from various pastors and towards “noble protectors.” It also set the stage for decades of military clashes in the name of religion.
Hoping to cool matters down and in response to French Protestant calls for “justice” Catherine de Médicis appointed the Cardinal de Bourbon governor of Paris. The Cardinal in turn immediately ordered both the Duc de Guise and the Protestant Prince de Condé to leave the city, but Guise refused (Condé left as ordered). Catherine knew right then if she hadn’t known before that the Guises were going to be a serious thorn in her side.
Seven is a lucky number—or so the tradition holds. I am a woman who believes STRONGLY in making her own luck. And I am going to ask you all to help me. Here are seven things you, my much appreciated fans, can do to generate good fortune for Médicis Daughter in its seventh week on sale:
1 & 2 (not cheating! This one is THAT important): Recommend the novel to someone, in person or on social media. Word of mouth is still the most powerful force in lifting a book from mid-pack to hit!
4) Ask your library if they have a copy. By requesting a copy from your librarian you put the book on the radar of your library system, making it more likely they will buy and shelve the book and thus making it possible for those who cannot afford to spend money on book-buying to have a chance to read Médicis Daughter.
5) Suggest Médicis Daughter to your book club. Did you know I DO book clubs! If you are in the Washington DC Metro area I will actually trot out and see you in person if my schedule permits. If you live elsewhere I am generally able to participate in your discussion by Skype.
6) Reign fan? Hiatus is a painful time but you can help your fellow Reign aficionados by sharing this blog post with them: “5 Books Reign Fans Should be Reading Right Now.” And by mentioning that Médicis Daughter offers them Valois intrigue and that “Catherine shows up, of course, in all her devilish glory.”
7) Let me know you enjoyed Médicis Daughter. Writing can be an isolated business—and not just when you are snowed in as I am now. Facebook messages, emails and notes from readers are such a treat. I am always interested to hear how people react to characters that I spent many months of my life with. And I am fascinated by the tremendously varied feelings and opinions Margot and Catherine in particular have raised in Médicis Daughter readers. So what was yours?
Today is the six-week anniversary of the release of Médicis Daughter, and just look how the book has grown! It now has more than 50 reviews on Amazon, was both a Goodreads and a Barnes & Noble fiction pick last month, and has received scads of excellent and thoughtful reviews by book bloggers. And that’s ALL thanks to you my friends—readers, bloggers, fellow historical novelists. So it seems only fair to me that any present marking this occasion MUST go to one of your number.
Thus, I am offering a giveaway—this handy mug which has a twin right here on my very own desk. Want Marguerite de Valois (at least as I imagine her) beside you when you enjoy your morning coffee? Then please enter.
You get one entry for leaving a comment below telling me why you think the Valois run rings around the Tudors when it comes to intrigue and/or sex appeal. Collect another entry for visiting the Médicis Daughter facebook fan page (make sure to “like” it if you haven’t already). And you can earn a whopping TWO additional chances to win should you chose to share a tweet celebrating the novel’s 6-wk birthday!
Contest ends one week from today (January 19th)!