November is traditionally the season of THANKFULNESS. So just for fun I’ve done a little list of things you might be thankful for if you were trying to navigate (and SURVIVE) the 16th century French Royal Court.

No. 1: That you are NOT Marguerite de Valois, the youngest Valois Princess, because if you were your mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, would be offering you a dismal string of prospective husbands including: a mad man, an old man who’d already been married to your own sister, a man who hated women, and a notorious heretic. What’s a girl to do?

No. 2: If you are Admiral Coligny you’d be VERY thankful that you bent down to tie your shoe at just the right moment to avoid having your head blown off by an assassin. Sure you lost part of a finger and you were pretty badly wounded, but you are alive! But so fast there Gaspard . . . you’re not out of danger yet!

No. 3: You’ve never slept with the Princesse de Porcien. If you had you might well end up crucified—at least artistically—because this lady (who eventually became the Duchesse de Guise) had the bizarre habit of having former lovers portrayed in her devotional book (her Book of Hours) crucified.

No 4: No one has poisoned you . . . YET.

No 5: You keep a careful hit-list of all your enemies (real and imagined). I mean you never know when a massacre is going to start and you want to be ready. You might not have thought to make a list of your grudges, not to mention the people you owe money too .if it hadn’t been for that secret census of Protestants the authorities complied from the tax roles in your district of Paris (and every other district as well). There is no denying neighborhood hit lists come in really handy once a massacre starts, and is anybody really going to care if some of the folks on yours are good Catholics rather than nasty heretics?

MÉDICIS DAUGHTER because the Valois are sexier than the Tudors (and more dangerous as well)!

five things to be thankful for

Do you know someone who is looking for a dark read this at this wicked-good time of year? Tell them that Médicis Daughter has cunning, cruelty, bloodshed, betrayal & plenty of things that go bump in the night. Better still, give Médicis Daughter as a trick-or-treat to a historical-fiction-loving friend or make it your own Halloween read.

 

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favorite Loire Chateaux

Did you know there are OVER THREE-HUNDRED Loire Valley Chateaux? Well it’s true. I am betting nobody has seen them all. I’ve been visiting the Loire since I was 20 (and we will not discuss how long ago that was). Here’s my personal TOP 10 FAVORITES list. Which ones have you been to? How would your list differ from mine?

1) CHENONCEAU: Call it a girlhood crush but Chenonceau—Chateaux of Diane de Poitier and Catherine de Médicis—will always top my list. Chenonceau is the most visited and photographed chateau in the Loire Valley. It is often described as ‘the ladies chateau’ as throughout its history a series of women had the most influence its design and its destiny. Besides the gracefully river-spanning gallery, the stunning gardens, Catherine’s bedchamber, and the fact that Valois history is everywhere, I particularly love that they preserved a portion of the severe black and white (colors of royal mourning) décor that King Henri III’s widow brought to the palace. Not going to lie though—her deep mourning always puzzled me because Henri (Catherine’s favorite son) is not one of my favorite people (or Kings). He was, however, good friends with his wife (who worshipped him), so I guess she had reason to be attached to him.

Given my long attachment to the chateau, I was BEYOND THRILLED when my publisher put Chenonceau on the cover of my book Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois !!!

Want a quick tour and history of this royal gem? I’ll hand the mic over to Rick Steves.

A personal photo of Chenonceau juxtaposed with the image of it from my novel.

A personal photo of Chenonceau juxtaposed with the image of it from my novel.

2) TIED—BLOIS and AMBOISE:

a) BLOIS: I love the split character of Blois. Built in stages around the main courtyard, this fabulous palace has a whopping 564 rooms (including 100 bedrooms) and 75 staircases. Francis I undertook a major renovation of Blois (do we see a pattern here? The man pretty much renovated all my favorites) at the behest of his wife who wanted them to spend more time at Blois and less at Amboise. When Queen Claude died Francis spent little time at Blois but his renovation gave the Chateau my favorite feature—the gorgeous Francis I spiral staircase. The Valois spent considerable time at Blois. Princess Marguerite’s wedding contract was signed here (as readers of Médicis Daughter will remember). When Margot’s brother, King Henri III, was eventually drive from Paris during the later period of the French Wars of Religion he and Catherine lived at Blois. The “Estates-General” were held there in 1576 and 1588. For those readers of Médicis Daughter who are firmly “Team Henri, Duc de Guise” this is the Chateau where he was assassinated by the royal bodyguard of Henri III (during the 1588 meeting of the “Estates”). Here is a link for the English version of the Chateau’s official website.

b) AMBOISE: When I found out that Princess Marguerite was sent to Amboise with her youngest brother during the first War of Religion I was thrilled! History was giving me the chance to set a scene—the opening scene as it turned out—of my Valois novel, Médicis Daughter, at one of my favorite Chateaux. Amboise is an absolute stunner as it towers, tall and white, above the charming city of Amboise. And once you wend your way up to it, the Chateau’s graceful interior and breathtaking views of the city, river and countryside beyond are unforgettable.

This is a palace chockfull of Valois history! King Charles VIII was the Valois monarch who spent the most time at Amboise living there daily with his wife, Anne of Brittany, until his untimely death (he left a tennis match and managed to hit his head on a door lintel, fell unconscious and died—talk about bad luck). King Francis I grew up here and later refurbished a wing in glorious renaissance style (look for his Salamander symbol). Henri II actually constructed a wing parallel to the one his father renovated—though sadly it does not exist today. He and his Queen, Catherine de Médicis, spent considerable time at Amboise.

Finally if you are fan of the short-lived King Francis II (possibly thanks to the TV series Reign) Amboise has a place in his history as well. In 1560 the 16 year old Francis was the target of an attempted kidnapping. French Protestants (allied with the Prince of Condé) felt the young King was being unduly influenced by his wife—Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland’s—uncles, the powerful Guises. This influence was leading to the repression and persecution of France’s growing number of Protestants. In March a band of Protestants tried to remove François II from the influence of the Guises by whisking him away from the Château d’Amboise. The conspirators were caught, and quickly executed—their bodies hanged from the balcony of Chateaux Amboise as a warning to others. Perhaps not surprisingly, Chateau Amboise fell out of royal favor after this incident.

This is the link for the Chateau’s English website.

4) CHAMBORD: Big, bold and beautiful! If you like more of everything than you are going to love Chambord with its 365 fireplaces (one for every day of the year) and its Leonardo da Vinci designed double spiral staircase (the two spirals climb the three floors without ever meeting, preserving the privacy of those using one from those using the other). This big-boy was begun—but never finished despite 28 years of construction—by King Francis I as a hunting lodge. His salamander emblem and the motto: ” Nutrisco et Extinguo” (until it fills the whole world) are seen many times in the Chateau. You can also find his son King Henri II’s mark—just look for the motto “Nec pluribus impar” (alone against all). The massive château is composed of a central keep with four immense towers at the corners, all very prettily reflected in a decorative moat (defensive moats being “so very medieval” aka yesterday). And because the motto of this place is clearly “big is better” it sits on over 12,000 acres.

The Chateau has a gorgeous website. Check it out!

5) VILLANDRY: Go for the beautiful formal gardens, they are magical. The current Chateau was built in the 16th century by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francis I. It remained in the Breton family for more than 200 years. Villandry is not a royal Chateau but certainly worthy of royalty.

6) CHINON: This tribute to the middle-ages, built from the 12th century on a rocky outcrop above the Vienne River, is closely associated with French history from the 12th to the 15th centuries. This is where Joan of Arc claimed to have heard heavenly voices when she met the French King. Really more of a Hundred Years War era Chateau (not that there is anything wrong with that!) there is no Valois connection to Chinon except for the fact that at the very start of the French Wars of Religion (1562) Chinon was briefly in the hands of Protestant forces.

7) AZAY-LE-RIDEAU: Considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture and set on a picturesque island in the middle of the Indre river, is it any wonder Azey-le-Rideau is one of the most visited of the Loire Chateaux? Although you will find the salamander and ermine of Francis I and his wife, Claude of France, carved into the architecture here, this was never a royal chateau (the nobleman who built it merely included the royal devices to honor his monarch—clever man).

8) SULLY-SUR-LOIRE: Clearly I have a thing going for some of the Protestant gentlemen who served King Henri IV of France (the first Bourbon King). This equally powerful and beautiful collection of white towers ringed and reflected in water is one of two Chateaux that make my favorites list as a result of their owners (see also Saumur). Sully-sur-Loire was constructed in the 15th century and was intended as both a fortification to defend a nearby bridge over the Loire River and a luxury residence. I visited the castle primarily because it was purchased in 1602 by Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully. Maximilien was extraordinary. As a young man he escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by his wits and subsequently presented himself to fellow survivor King Henri of Navarre. From that time on he and the King of Navarre were close. When Henri ascended to the French throne as Henri IV of France Maximilien was the King’s Superintendent of Finance helping to bring order and stability to a French economy blighted by years of religious war. The Duc made substantial changes to Sully-sur-Loire and it remained in his family until 1962. Maximilien’s tenure is still evident in the structure and, as my children can attest and much to their eternal embarrassment, I broke down in tears when I found his decorative initials incorporated in the dining room décor.

Here is a lovely—if silent—video aerial look at Sully-sur-Loire.

9) SAUMUR: overlooking the confluence of the Loire and the Thouet Rivers this striking Chateau was built in the 10th century making it one of France’s oldest castles. Saumur (as it looked in 1410 when it was home to the Duc d’Anjou) was depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. I have a massive crush on the nobleman that King Henri IV (“the Great”) of France gave Saumur to in 1589— Philippe de Mornay, the seigneur du Plessis Marly, often called “The Protestant Pope”—but more about that another time 😉

As depicted in the "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry"

Saumur as depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

10) CHEVERNY: because everything can be about the medieval and renaissance ( I KNOW, I know, it is surprising to hear me say so). Variety is the spice of life! Cheverny is pure 17th century—very Louis XIII style with its emphasis on symmetry. The fact that is remained largely as it was built may have a lot to do with the fact that the Hurault family has owned Cheverny for 6 centuries—clearly they are a family that values tradition.

Think your Mom is hard to select a Mothers’ Day gift for? Here is my humorous take on poor Marguerite de Valois—youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis and central character in my most recent novel, Médicis Daughter—trying to pick out the perfect gift for her mother.

Oh and Mothers’ Day is just a week away readers, so mail those cards and pick up those last minute presents. And remember, books make GREAT gifts.

Ah, what a wonderful thing it is to be young and in love–unless you are a 16th century Valois Princess and your mother, Catherine de Médicis, disapproves of your entanglement.  That is precisely the situation of my heroine, Princess Marguerite, in Médicis Daughter.  Of course she should have known that marriage is not a matter of love when you are a royal. After all didn’t her dear friend and mentor, Henriette Duchess de Nevers, warn her long ago:

Fair of face’ is a fine consideration for flirting but of little import in marrying . . . .“Remember girls, marriage is a matter of politics, finance and family.  Looks are for lovers.

What to do, what to do?

Enjoy the Official Spring Trailer for Médicis Daughter!

Part of being a writer is slipping into other skins.

While the point-of-view character for my most recent novel, Médicis Daughter, is the youngest Valois Princess, Marguerite, her mother Catherine de Médicis plays a vital role in the story (often as Margot’s antagonist). That meant getting in Queen Catherine’s head and trying to understand her psyche.Interview with Catherine

Recently I was invited to go back to that sometimes dark but always interesting place, and be Catherine in a character interview for Erin of Flashlight Commentary. As we wandered through the gardens of one of Catherine’s favorite properties, Château de Montceaux, Erin asked some very thought provoking questions.  I hope everyone enjoys my answers on behalf of this powerful, crafty Queen.

Of course for more of Catherine and the entire dysfunctional Valois clan, you only need to pick up Médicis Daughter.

Season 3 of the CW’s Reign is a wrap, and fans are in mourning—and not just over the death of . . . no wait, no spoilers in case some of you have DVRed the Season Finale but not watched it yet. No what’s really got fans crying are the ugly rumors that Summer 2017 is the earliest Reign will return. What will we all do for our 16th century French/Scottish fix in the intervening months?

Never fear, mes amiesAn evening with the feisty-yet-tragic Mary Queen of Scots, or the cunning Catherine de Médicis is only a bookstore (or library) visit away.

I’ve combed through my personal shelves and reached out to some book blogger friends to compile this list of TEN BOOKS TO ENTERTAIN AND ENRAPTURE REIGN FANS while the show is on hiatus (and I want you all to remember I scooped Buzzfeed Books on this one). These books will take you to the intrigue-filled French and Scottish courts, and satiate your cravings for things royal:

#1 Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot: It is my blog, so I get to lead with my book but that’s not naughty because the critics agree the book is oh so nice—

“Brilliant.  This is what I call a ‘WOW’ book.”  “I have re-read this book not once but TWICE, it’s that good!!!”~Book Lovers’ Paradise

This novel of Valois family dysfunction, political treachery, forbidden love and bloodiest massacre in French history has been called, “A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery.” (~Kirkus Reviews). It was selected as one of Goodreads “Best Books of the Month: December 2015” (the month it released), and also as a B&NReads, December’s Top Pick in Fiction.

More importantly for Reign fans, Amazon reviews suggest Médicis Daughter “would be a great gift for any … fan of the show Reign.”

Médicis Daughter takes readers into the post-Francis Valois landscape (which is precisely where Season 3 left us hanging). With King Charles IX on the throne and Catherine de Médicis pulling the strings and plotting the plots (some things never change), you KNOW there will be plenty of dark and dirty. Viewed through the eyes of the youngest Valois Princess, Marguerite, the court comes alive. As Erin at Flashlight Commentary (see her book recommendation at #7 below) says: “Atmospherically, the novel swept me off my feet. Perinot’s depiction of the French court was beautifully drawn and I was wholly captivated by both the political and social interaction that unfolded among its players.” [Erin’s full review is here].

♥Recommended for Reign fans who enjoy the lush, dark side of the Valois court—the poisonings, the sexual decadence, the back-room deals—and also those who rooted for Princess Claude to outmaneuver her domineering mother.♥

#2 The Serpent and the Moon by HRH Princess Michael of Kent: Instead of heading forward, travel backward to the pre-Reign Valois world with this fascinating volume of popular history. This book relates the true story of the battle between Catherine de Médicis and Diane de Poitier for the heart of, and influence over King Henri II of France.

There are so many fascinating-but-at-the-same-time-creepy details here for Reign fans to enjoy. From the moment 14-year-old Catherine arrives as a bride to discover her handsome young husband already in the thrall of a woman who was present at his birth (I told you it was creepy), through the humiliating and disgusting remedies by which she attempted to combat a decade of childlessness, up to Catherine’s vengeful taking of Château Chenonceau from Diane after Henri’s death (and the evidence of the black arts that Diane found when she took possession of the Chateau she was given in exchange) this book will illuminate Catherine to her fans and foes alike.

Need a tempting detail? How about this: Catherine summoned an Italian carpenter to the Place of Saint-Germain where her bedroom was immediately above that of her husband’s mistress. She had two holes made in the floor of her room and then watched Diane and Henri in bed, sobbing later to friends that “her husband had ‘never used her so well.’”

♥This is a book for Reign fans who miss the old Henri-Catherine-Diane love/power triangle days. And for those who don’t want to read about “what’s next” in Mary’s story for fear of spoiling the plots in Season 4.♥

 BOOKS REIGN FANS

#3 Courtesan by Diane Haeger:  Another excellent choice for Reign fans who want to harken back to the days of Catherine versus Diane, this historical novel was recommended by Esther of Drink Read Love (want to get savvy reviews coupled with wine pairings? This is a blog for you).  Esther calls Courtesan a “tapestry” weaving “the story of the passionate—if somewhat scandalous—romance between Diane de Poitiers and King Henri II of France” while managing to portray “the complexities of the situations which she [Diane], Catherine de Medici, and Prince-turned-King Henri find themselves pushed into.” You can read Esther’s full review of Courtesan—which begins with Henri III’s father Francis I still on the throne—here.

♥Recommended for fans of Reign wanting to go back a generation and see Henri, Catherine and Diane when they were as young (and crazy in love) as Frary were when Reign started.♥

#4 The Raven’s Heart, by Jesse Blackadder: This recommendation is courtesy of Erin at Oh, For the Hook of a Book (awesome book blog with well-considered reviews and lots of special features) who says of the novel, “It was such a phenomenal read. . . a book that will haunt my soul for a longtime.”  And it is seconded by Meg of Bookish Affair (brilliant book blog, follow it if you read historical fiction or historical non-fiction avidly) who “thought the author did a great job of bringing Mary to life.”

Set immediately after the widowed Queen Mary’s returns to Scotland, The Raven’s Heart covers her tumultuous struggle to wrest back control of her throne. While the novel’s main character is actually a young woman sent to Court to befriend the Queen and try to win back her family lands, Erin at Oh, For . . . says the author “painted a . . . personal picture of Mary, Queen of Scots. . . a woman in a man’s world who needed to be extra strong to gain respect . . . .” Erin further felt that Blackadder effectively portrayed the gentle side of Mary, making it easy for readers to see how “she managed to make everyone around her love her” and to inspire loyalty.

Read Erin’s full review here. And find Meg’s full review here.

♥Loyal fans of Mary on Reign pick this one up.♥

Catherine REAL and REIGN#5 The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner: This book includes “the most dramatic events of Catherine’s adult life including the 1572 Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestant Huguenots, vividly and chillingly depicted” (~Historical Novel.info). My book-blogger friend Meg at A Bookish Affair notes that, “Gortner is able to humanize the Queen as a person who had seen a lot of trauma in her life” and concludes that Confessions is “perfect for any history lover who wants to see Catherine de Medici in a new light.”  Publishers Weekly called Gortner’s novel, “”A remarkably thoughtful interpretation of an unapologetically ruthless queen,” and I must say I quite agree.

You can read Meg’s full review here.

♥Unapologetic Catherine admirers, this book is for you!♥

#6 Blood Between Queens by Barbara Kyle (part of her Thornleigh Saga): Do you enjoy a thriller element with your history? Have you been engrossed by the Mary vs. Elizabeth of England plotline in Reign? Then try this book. My friend Nancy Bilyeau (whose own series about Tudor-era England—beginning with The Crown–I adore) called Kyle’s book, “a fast-paced and exciting historical novel that plunges readers into the deadly rivalry of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots just as the beautiful three-time-married monarch had fled Scotland for her cousin’s kingdom.” If Nancy says it “captures the high-stakes politics of the Tudor court, depicting its most famous personages with both accuracy and imagination,” I guarantee you it does.

♥Recommended for Reign fans who can’t get enough of the Mary vs. Elizabeth battle.♥

#7 A Time For The Death Of A King by Ann Dukthas: Another book-blogger recommendation, this one special for this occasion from Erin of Flashlight Commentary, whose blog I read regularly for her articulate reviews. Dukhas’ YA novel is “one of those books I [Erin] intend to give my kids” (that’s a compelling recommendation). A true mystery investigation that sets out to settle the question of whether Mary Queen of Scots was a murderess, complicit in the death of her second husband, Lord Darnley, “readers will not be disappointed by the swift and lean narrative and the solutions to the historical puzzle Dukthas draws.” [Booklist] Erin loved the time-traveling detective at the center of this mystery, Nicholas Segalla, and“admire[d] how the author’s manipulation of the material deepened the mystery surrounding Darnley’s death while introducing young readers to the powerful legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots.”

♥This book is for the mystery readers among Reign fans, and for those who are ready for the next, Scottish, chapter of Mary’s life.♥

#8 Mary Queen of Scotland and The Isles by Margaret George:  I love me some Margaret George (in fact, I am eagerly awaiting her next novel due in 2017)! And I am not alone.  Margaret is an iconic figure in historical fiction circles (deservedly so), and more than two decades ago she wove this marvelous fictionalized account of Mary Queen of Scots life basically from womb to tomb. Meg of A Bookish Affair calls George’s novel, “an epic story with thrilling detail!” Kirkus Reviews had this to say of the book, “George has created a lively, gallant Mary of intelligence, charm, and terrible judgment . . . . a readable, inordinately moving tribute to a remarkable queen.” Sounds like OUR Mary, doesn’t it Reign-royals?!

♥Recommended for those who cannot get enough Mary (at nearly 900 pages, this should satisfy your Mary cravings while still keeping you enthralled)♥Mary REAL and REIGN

#9 The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots by Mickey Mayhew: This petite (less than 200 pages) volume of popular history is comprised largely of contemporary anecdotes about Mary, and excerpts from letters and rare primary sources.  But does discuss our culture’s fascination with the Scottish Queen, including Reign.  Historical novelist Philippa Gregory called it, “A bright and breezy account of the complex life of Mary Stuart.”

♥This book is for those who want a non-fiction look at Mary’s life and who don’t have the time to invest in a long read.♥

#10 The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer (from the Young Royals series). I am closing out my list with this YA novel that comes to me TWICE recommended—first by a big-time Reign fan of my acquaintance (she’s also a history devotee who is always stumping her fellow fans with her “royal pop quizzes”) and second by Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Currently the Amazon #10 Best Seller in Teen & Young Adult Renaissance Historical fiction, this novel follows the recently widowed Mary home to Scotland where she hopes that a new husband will not only help her to secure not only her own throne but allow her to take the crown of England from her cousin, Elizabeth. Too bad, as the back cover reveals, “the love and security she longs for elude her . . . [and she] finds herself embroiled in a murder scandal that could cost her the crown.” Or rather too bad for Mary but NOT for Reign fans because if that doesn’t sound like an episode of the show I don’t know what does!

♥Recommended for Reign watchers wanting “what happens next” for Mary on Scottish soil right now—not in summer of 2017♥

Well that’s it Reign fans and reader-friends . . . ten different ways to get your fix while waiting for the CW to run the next episode. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the recommendations, and to learning which are your favorites. And in the meantime remember, the Valois are just plain sexier than the Tudors 😉

Today marks the 497th birthday of Catherine de Médicis, Queen of France and a woman with many detractors. catherine bday

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.