François Ier by Jean Clouet. Oil on oak panel, circa 1530
Five hundred and nineteen years ago today, a son was born to a count of a minor branch of the house of Valois. François d'Angoulême became heir presumptive to the French king, Louis XII, only when it became clear Louis himself would have no sons. On his deathbed in 1515, Louis married his daughter Claude to her cousin, making François King of France at the age of twenty. François ruled for thirty-two years, during which time the French court blossomed, power became centralized, and France competed with England and Spain for control of the Continent. François reformed the judicial system, established French as the realm's official language, and sponsored exploration of the New World. He enticed Italian artists and artisans to France, supported writers and scholars, and designed and built elegant palaces throughout the kingdom. His sons and grandsons ruled France through the end of the century. Known for his joie de vivre, his exquisite taste, and his embrace of the chivalric code of honor, François is revered by the French as le grand roi François.
I am a writer of historical fiction set in sixteenth century France. An avid reader who fell in love with all things French at the age of twelve, I went on to earn a Ph.D in French literature from Princeton. My stories grow from my research and my desire to make Renaissance Europe come alive for modern readers. I hope you'll come to share my enthusiasm for this fascinating era as you explore my blog.
Excerpt from The Measure of Silence. Copyright 2007.
[Jollande] refused to pursue the direction of these thoughts as she bent to pick up Blaise's apron. Smoothing its ample folds, she wandered back into the showroom. It was still empty of both staff and customers. She hung the apron from a hook and, as if drawn by an invisible lead, descended the three steps that led to the workroom proper. Her breath quickened as the familiar thrill began to tickle her. She was too tired to fight it any longer.
Two wooden presses, rising like massive portals, languished in the midday somnolence, huge screws raised, heavy boards arrested high above frames of type set deep in the beds. Behind them, suspended from cords running the width of the room, curtains of newly printed pages swayed on currents of air, damp ink glistening. She plunged in among the leaves. Towards the back of the room she found what she was looking for. Her heart thumped as she read Ovid's opening verse: "In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora..." She traced the embellished capital with an ink-stained fingertip. Would it ever be her words aligned letter by letter on the typesetter's stick, her pages hanging to dry slowly into timelessness, her volumes offering themselves with immodest abandon on the shelves around the room? Once she would have replied yes without hesitation; now her resolve danced like the skittish sheet beneath her finger...
A polite cough fractured the silence. "Pardon me, madame. Customers are not permitted to enter the workshop."
Jollande froze. She turned slowly, uncertain of whom she would find. The man's black robe stained the wall of white pages like a puddle of spilled ink. Dark curls pooled beneath his flat cap; his neatly trimmed beard framed generous lips and softened his square jaw. His gray gaze was direct, his bland expression betrayed by the slight furrow of his brow. With the resigned tolerance of a parent herding an unruly child, he bowed slightly and gestured towards the front room. How long had he been there, watching? Whatever was he doing at the Fountain, acting as if he owned the place?
Jollande ignored the direction of his gesture and took a different path through the paper maze. "Customers," she retorted from behind page eight, "are not usually left to their own devices."