Friday, February 26, 2010

Henry IV at the Newberry

Thanks to author Lucy Pick for word about another French Renaissance exhibit, this one at Chicago's Newberry Library. "Henry IV of France: The Vert Galant and His Reign" will run from Tuesday, May 4 to July 5, 2010. The exhibit, which marks the 4ooth anniversary of Henry's assassination, highlights the monarch's cultural and political accomplishments and includes facsimiles of letters, a manual of horsemanship, and pamphlets on the end of the war between France and Spain and the founding of the colony of Québec. You can register for a concurrent six-session seminar about Henry and his times.

Visit the exhibit's Facebook page to learn more.

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"For at this point too I [Folly] think I should copy the rhetoricians of today who fancy themselves practically gods on earth if they can show themselves twin-tongued, like horse leeches, and think it a splendid feat if they can work a few silly little Greek words, like pieces of mosaic, into their Latin speeches, however out of place these are. Then, if they still need something out of the ordinary, they dig four or five obsolete words out of mouldy manuscripts with which to cloud the meaning for the reader. The idea is, I suppose, that those who can understand are better pleased with themselves, and those who can't are all the more lost in admiration the less they understand."

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), Dutch scholar and humanist
Praise of Folly (1509)

Translated by Betty Radice

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Exhibit: "An Earthly Paradise": The Art of Living at the French Renaissance Court

An amazing exhibition of art and rare books specific to the French Renaissance has just come to my attention. Cornell University's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is hosting 'An Earthly Paradise': The Art of Living at the French Renaissance Court from January 16 until April 18, 2010. The exhibit brings together Renaissance holdings that reflect "the magnificence of the French royal court and the rise of that strange animal, the courtier." It treats five themes: "Importing Italian Culture," "Warriors and Patrons: The Valois Kings as Patrons," "Diana/Diane," "Ideal Courtiers, Real Courtiers," "An 'Earthly Paradise'?" The website includes a gallery that displays and explains five or six items included under each theme--the photos and write-ups are excellent. Explore the website--it's almost as good as being there! If anyone does get a chance to catch the exhibit in person, please come back and give us your impressions. I certainly wish I could attend.

[Of particular interest to me, in the context of my current novel, were the Cornelius Bos engraving of Michelango's Leda and the Swan, portraits of François and Marguerite, and du Cerceau's engraving of Fontainebleau.]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

La mye du roi: Françoise de Foix

Way back when, I set out to do a series of posts on the women in François I's life. I wrote about his mother, Louise de Savoye; his sister, Marguerite de Navarre; his first wife Queen Claude; his second mistress, Anne d'Heilly, Madame d'Étampes. With Valentine's Day just past, I've decided to get back on track and introduce Françoise de Foix, the king's first maîtresse en titre, or official mistress, a woman whose life has engendered many a romantic legend.

Born in 1495 in Brittany, Françoise de Foix was second cousin to the reigning queen of France, Anne de Bretagne, and spent much of her youth at Anne's court. A well-educated, dark-haired beauty, she captured the heart of nineteen year old Jean de Laval, Seigneur de Châteaubriant, when she was only eleven. The queen provided a dowry for her impoverished cousin, and Françoise and Jean, who possessed one of greatest fortunes in Brittany, were formally affianced in 1505. But in a move highly unusual for the time, Jean took Françoise to live with him at Châteaubriant before the marriage ceremony took place. The couple lived in this irregular union for more than two years, celebrating the birth of a daughter in 1507 before officially marrying in 1509.

Head over heels in love (so the story goes), Jean and Françoise kept to their secluded manor house in Brittany. Being of a rather possessive and even violent temperament, Jean resisted, for as long as possible, pressure to bring Françoise to the court of the new king, François I. Intrigued by rumors of Françoise's beauty and learning, the king summoned the couple in 1516 and appointed Françoise lady-in-waiting to his wife, Queen Claude. Enamored of the Breton beauty who dared resist him, François showered favors on her family. He made her husband commander of a royal company, elevated two of her brothers to high military positions, and appointed her eldest brother governor of the newly reconquered duchy of Milan. Françoise finally succumbed to his blandishments and became la mye du roi, the king's "sweetheart," around 1518. She and Jean de Laval assisted at the baptism of the dauphin in 1519, with Françoise occupying a place of honor near the royal princesses. Cuckolded Jean, generously rewarded for his compliance, returned home to Bretagne in 1520, leaving Françoise behind to reign supreme over François's heart and court.

During her ten-year reign as François's official mistress, Françoise wielded an influence more cultural than political. Madame de Châteaubriant set the bar for elegance in dress at court. As early as July, 1516, her style made such a splash that a description of one of her gowns made its way into a diplomatic letter to Isabella d'Este:

That Sunday, the king threw a banquet and feast and had fourteen ladies dressed in the Italian manner, with rich garments that his Majesty brought from Italy. Twelve of the ladies were in the queen's service and two in the service of Madame de Bourbon; among those of the queen was Mademoiselle de Châteaubriant, Monsieur de Lautrec's sister, dressed in a gown of dark crimson velvet embroidered all over with gold chains bearing silver plaquettes well placed within the chains, on which were inscribed devices.

Françoise accompanied the king to the sumptuous Field of Cloth of Gold summit in 1520 where he met, feasted, and wrestled with Henry VIII of England. One source claims she encouraged François to spend extravagantly on tents and livery and spectacles for the affair, incensing his frugal royal mother, Louise de Savoye.

Louise resented Françoise's dominion over her son and ever searched for a way to dislodge her from François's affections. The king's captivity in Spain from 1525-26 provided the perfect opportunity. Louise managed to prevent Françoise from accompanying the court to Bayonne to welcome the king upon his return and encouraged François to take up with the much younger and, in her opinion, more biddable, Anne d'Heilly in Françoise's absence. Newly sprung from monk-like captivity, François was only too happy to oblige. For the next two years, Anne and Françoise competed for the king's affections, amusing the court with their very public squabbles. François eventually tired of the drama and informed Françoise he was relegating her to second place. Unable to accept this loss of stature, she left court in 1528 to return to her husband's manor in Brittany. When a triumphant Anne d'Heilly demanded the return of the jewelry François had given her, Françoise complied by melting down the gold and returning it to the king in the form of ingots. The mottos that had adorned the jewelry were too precious for anyone else to wear, she claimed, so now they were engraved solely in her heart. Impressed by her moxy, François allowed her to keep the gold.

Despite their separation, Françoise and the king continued to correspond well into the next decade. François appointed her husband governor of Brittany and visited the couple several times at their home. Françoise's sudden death from illness in 1537 gave rise to speculation that a vengeful Jean had men disguised as doctors slit her veins and allow her to bleed to death. (Legend has it that each year at midnight on the anniversary of her death, she appears in her chamber, hand-in-hand with the king; behind them a band of demons leads Jean de Laval in chains.) Whether through guilt or love or simple duty, Jean erected an elaborate tomb for his errant wife in the church of the Trinitarians in Châteaubriant. Clément Marot, witness to her glory at court, inscribed the epitaph:

"Here lies a nothing, that once triumphed over all" -- one final, enduring motto for the king's sweetheart, Françoise de Foix.

[Sources: R. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron; Françoise de Foix]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"The king [François I] is more than ever addicted to his lascivious pleasures, being totally in the power of Madame d'Étampes, who, in order to appear wise always contradicts others and lets the king believe that he is God on earth, that no one can harm him and that those who deny this are moved by selfish interest."

Girolamo Dandino, papal nuncio in France.
Letter, May 1543.

Quoted in Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron, p. 483.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Film: Henri 4

The sixteenth century is lighting up movie screens, at least across Europe: Henri IV, an epic film by German director Jo Baier about the king who brought the bloody Wars of Religion to a close and reunited a divided France, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last week. The movie is based on the 1935 novel by Thomas Mann's brother Heinrich Mann and pits the wily Henri against Catherine de Medici, determined to keep her own brood on the throne.

You can read a review of the movie here and watch the trailer (in German) here. [Unfortunately, the review transposes numerals in the date and describes the events as happening in 1653 instead of 1563, calling the drama an "entertaining romp about epic 17th century [sic] conflict with lots of fighting in court, on the battlefield, and in bed."

According to Variety, the film has scored buyers from Eastern Europe to South America, but so far no word of North American sales. If anyone catches the film in Europe, I'd love to hear what you think. Henri VI seems to cover much of the same ground as the 1994 film La Reine Margot, starring Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil; it would be interesting to compare the two films and see whether Baier has a new take on the material.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Le jour de la Conversion de saint Paul 1515, mon fils fut oint et sacré en l'église de Rheims. Pour-ce, suis-je bien tenue et obligée à la divine misericorde, par laquelle j'ay esté amplement recompensée de toutes les adversités et inconveniens qui m'estoient advenues en mes premiers ans, et en la fleur de ma jeunesse. Humilité m'a tenu compagnie, et patience ne m'a jamais abandonnée."

"On the day of Saint Paul's conversion in 1515, my son was anointed and crowned in the cathedral at Rheims. For this, I am much beholden and obligated to divine mercy, by which I have been amply rewarded for all the adversities and hindrances which befell me during my early years and the flowering of my youth. Humility kept me company, and patience never abandoned me."

Louise de Savoye, mother of François I
Journal de Louise de Savoye, Duchesse d'Angoulesme, d'Anjou et de Valois
[Translation mine]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winner of O, JULIET

The winner of a copy of Robin Maxwell's O, JULIET is

Carol W.

Carol, please send an email to juliannedouglas05 at sbcglobal dot net
with your name and mailing address and I will send the book off to you.

Thanks to all who entered!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Value of Name Recognition

Several months ago, I posted the poll in the sidebar asking visitors which of the featured sixteenth century historical figures they had never heard of before reading my blog. Twenty-five people answered before the poll closed. Here are their responses:

Marguerite de Navarre, author -- 2 (8%)
François I, King of France -- 3 (12%)
Catherine de Medici, Queen of France --3 (12%)
Henri II, King of France -- 3 (12%)
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor -- 4 (16%)
Diane de Poitier, Henri's mistress -- 5 (20%)
Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France -- 8 (32%)
Duchesse d'Etampes, François's mistress -- 10 (40%)
Jean and François Clouet, painters -- 13 (52%)
Clément Marot, poet -- 14 (56%)
Rosso Fiorentino, artist -- 18 (72%)
Louise Labé, poet -- 19 (76%)

The most popular person on the list, the one only two respondents (8% of the total) had never heard of previously, was François I's sister Marguerite d'Angoulême, Queen of Navarre. I was quite surprised to learn that readers were more familiar with Marguerite than with the king himself or the Holy Roman Emperor. Marguerite was a published author best known for the Heptaméron, a collection of tales modeled after Bocaccio's Decameron. Since many of this blog's readers are avid readers of literature, perhaps they have read Marguerite work. In any case, the Queen of Navarre has always fascinated me (a study of her religious philosophy figured prominently in my doctoral thesis), so I was quite pleased to learn that so many of my readers are familiar with her.

Next followed a group of figures which were unfamiliar to only three to five respondents (20% or less). These included François I, Catherine de Medici, her husband Henri II, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Henri II's mistress Diane de Poitiers. These are all major political figures of the time, so I'd expect most readers interested in the sixteenth century to have run across them in some context. The famous love triangle involving Catherine, Henri and Diane receives much attention from popular historians and novelists. I was heartened to see that Emperor Charles V is a recognizable figure, since he plays an important role in the novel I am currently writing.

A third of the respondents had never heard of Anne de Montmorency, the Grand Constable of France, for many years the most powerful man in France after the king. Ten respondents (40%) did not recognize Anne d'Heilly, Madame d'Etampes, who was François's official mistress for more than twenty years and exerted great influence on the politics and art of her day. I was actually surprised that so many readers had encountered these two Annes before.

Artists and writers were the least well-known to those taking the poll. Jean and François Clouet, the father and son team who left us a pictorial guide to the personalities of the century in the form of hundreds of chalk portraits, were new to 52% of respondents. The court poet Clément Marot, secretary to Marguerite de Navarre and the poet credited with ushering French poetry into a new era, was familiar to only eleven of the twenty-five respondents. Only 28% recognized Rosso Fiorentino, the Italian master who became the artistic director at Fontainebleau and created the stunning combination of stucco work and painting in the grande galerie. (I must admit that I myself had never heard of him until I began researching the château!) Louise Labé, the first middle-class French woman to publish verse under her own name, fared even worse: only six of the twenty-five respondents had heard of her before stumbling upon my blog.

Why, you might wonder, did I post such a poll?

Marketing research, pure and simple.

Many publishers of historical fiction, I have learned, prefer books that feature recognizable historical figures over purely fictional ones. Readers of historical fiction, I hear again and again, are more likely to pick up a book that features characters whose names they recognize and about whom they already know something, no matter how little. Books faithful to an historical era but whose characters are wholly created by the author are supposedly a harder sell.

The names in the poll are all historical figures who appear in either my first manuscript or the book I am currently working on. I am quite pleased to discover that many of the characters in my current manuscript are well-known to readers: Marguerite, François, Henri, Diane, and Charles V. Madame d'Etampes, one of my two view-point characters, is familiar to more than half, as are the Clouets. Rosso Fiorentino, a major figure in the book, is less well-known, but as readers read historical fiction in the hope of learning something new, this should be more of a draw than a drawback. The novel's second viewpoint character, who shall remain nameless in order to maintain a measure of suspense, was an historical person about whom little more is known than her name, a situation that provides the best of both worlds for a novelist.

On the basis of my (admittedly unscientific) poll, then, I would hazard that the group of characters I have chosen to write about offers a level of familiarity that should attract readers' interest, punctuated by enough novelty to sustain it.

Many thanks to all who responded for assuaging the doubts of a tormented writer, and for satisfying my curiosity about the fame of people who seem almost like family to me!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Paris n'est pas une ville -- c'est un monde."

"Paris is not a city -- it's a world."

François I to Charles V, circa 1540

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review and Giveaway: Robin Maxwell's O, JULIET

Lovers of William Shakespeare's quintessential story of passion, Romeo and Juliet, will be pleased to delve into Robin Maxwell's new novel, O, JULIET, a vivid retelling of the classic tale published today by NAL. With the skill of practiced jeweler, Ms. Maxwell pops the central characters out of Shakespeare's structured drama and inserts them into a reconfigured setting that articulates an imaginative backstory and focuses on the characters' emotional development.

Although chapters told from Romeo's point of view sprinkle the novel, the story belongs to Juliet. Maxwell's Juliet, older than Shakespeare's and infinitely more headstrong, is the daughter of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. Having shared a tutor with her friend Lucrezia Tornabuoni, daughter-in-law to-be of patron of the arts Cosimo de Medici, Juliet is well-educated in letters and philosophy. A lover of Dante, she writes poetry of her own. Her parents intend to marry her to self-serving Jacopo Strozzi, scion of one of Florence's wealthiest merchant families, in order to expand their fabric business. Their plans, however, implode when mysterious Romeo woos Juliet with Dante's verse at Lucrezia's engagement party.

Romeo, a student who has just returned from Padua via his uncles' estate in Verona, is a thoughtful, poetic soul who longs to reestablish peace between his house and Juliet's, which have been locked in a blood feud for a generation. Meeting Juliet convinces him she is the "lover of great fortitude" an astronomer prophesied for his future. He works hard to patch the rift between the families; despite the Capelettis' understanding with Jacopo, Romeo is certain he will be able to successfully sue for Juliet's hand.

Sensing the danger Romeo poses to his plans, Jacopo begins to press Juliet's father to formalize the engagement. Juliet and Romeo marry in secret, but before they can announce their marriage, Jacopo engineers a tragic crisis that results in Romeo's banishment. Abandoned and facing imminent marriage to Jacopo, Juliet takes her fate into her own hands and sets into motion a series of events destined to reunite her with Romeo. The crisis plays itself out in as touching and tragic a manner as the ending of the original play, but with a coda that celebrates the triumph of true love.

As always, Ms. Maxwell's readable style and strong characterizations make this book an enjoyable read. Discovering which elements she preserves from the original drama and watching how she manipulates them as she crafts a fleshed-out novel from the skeleton of a play adds to the experience. The setting is well-drawn and rich with details about Florentine social life and marriage customs. Juliet and Romeo are well-matched in their love of poetry and zest for life; theirs is a union of minds as well as bodies and hearts. A fine tribute to Shakespeare's legendary lovers, O, JULIET is ultimately a celebration of true love in any and every age.

You can read more about O, JULIET and Ms. Maxwell's other novels at her website and blog.

I have one copy of O, JULIET to send to a reader in the continental United States. Please leave a comment here with your email address by 10 pm PST Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Winner will be chosen at random and posted by noon, Wednesday, January 10. Good luck!