At the mercy of the times

The cats and I were talking about the books I’ve read lately: four about queens and princesses and royal mistresses, and the cats agree, only the role of mistress was worth the price life extracted. (As Camilla has proven.) Madame du Berry, Catherine de Medici, Princess Diana, and Mary Queen of Scots were the heroines.

Their lives were hard—Madame du Berry the exception, more later—at the mercy of the times, the mores, the power held by husbands, hard even for our beautiful 20th century Diana, who broke the mold by rebelling against her role–– refusing to passively sit by while Charles loved his mistress. Because of Diana, Charles was able to marry Camilla in 2005. I wonder if either of them, or should I say, the three of them, appreciate the irony? Mary Queen of Scots is the most hauntingly written: a sense of other worldliness, of Fate, of goodness unable to out maneuver the cunning of the French Guises or overcome the barbarism that was Scotland in the 1500s, its bonechilling misogyny, incarnated in preacher John Knox, who wrote a book called First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Du Berry was another story, beautiful and lazy, mentored (some might say pimped) by someone who parlayed that beauty and easy laugh into her becoming Louis XV’s last mistress. She was essentially an 18th century call girl, and she made the big time, and she enjoyed every moment of it, and apparently, so did Louis XV. In the end, she probably stepped out of her role as pampered beauty to help those struck down by the French Revolution. I like that act of courage. She died on the guillotine, shrieking, “Don’t hurt me.”

The books:

  • Catherine de Medici, Renaissance queen of France by Leonie Frieda
  • Mary Queen of Scots by Carol Schaefer
  • Madame Du Barry: the wages of beauty by Joan Haslip
  • The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown

6 responses to “At the mercy of the times

  1. How odd that my cats and I were having a similar conversation just a few days ago! We were discussing your novel, Now Face to Face. I actually wasn’t aware that you had written a sequel to Through a Glass Darkly until earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised when I found it. The relationship between Barbara and the Duchess always brought to mind my relationship with my own grandmother, even more so now that she’s passed away. Dark Angels also satisfied my curiosity about the Duchess’ youth but also left a craving for more.

    I first read Through a Glass Darkly in 1998 and wrote a book report on in my senior year in high school (I made certain it was scandalous, too). Since then, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read a reread it. It’s the most beautiful (not to mention beautifully written) novels I’ve ever read. I do hope that sometime in the future, you’ll be telling us more about Barbara and the Duchess.

    And I agree with you, American history is definitely too male-centric to be very interesting to me. I’d much prefer reading the women’s side of the story, thank you very much!

  2. I read a long time ago about Madame Du Berry breaking the French stoicism during her execution. Crowds so used to stoic prisoners mostly giving in and conceding to the blade got quite a different reactions, a very human reaction. Many in that crowd became silent and experienced something altogether different.

    That period has always fascinated me and it is a great joy to research.

  3. i read all three of your books through the glass darkly, dark angels and now face to face but there is such a huge gap between the duchess being married and barbara being born ther is a whole life time of the main charactor,
    for instance the evil villian who killed richards horse and what happened to the boy he was chasing and the entire intrigue of that 20 or so years. please write this series.

  4. Cheryl,

    I think I’ll deal with the wicked Henri Ange in the book after the one I’m writing now, which is about Louis XIV and three amazing months in his young twenties. This Louis story has been with me a long time, and I’ve been trying to write it for a long time.

    A little piece was in Dark Angels, Madame’s death……Anyway, there is an earlier blog, called Psychic Order, in which I talk about the order the stories seem to be unfolding in…..and unfortunately, it isn’t in order……Sorry about that…..Karleen

  5. Michelle Allery

    I picked up Through A Glass Darkly and fell in love. I quickly went on the hunt for more of your works and found Dark Angels and Now Face to Face. I’m now reading the trio I have for the fourth time and I still love every second. Please tell me there is more? More Alice, Barbara, Hyacinthe, everybody? When can I look for another piece of the lives of these people I have become entranced with? I’m a huge fan now!!!

  6. Cristelle Baskins

    May I ask about the illustrations here, two views of a doll. Is this from the era of Catherine de’Medici or Mme du Barry? I’m an art historian and would like to trace this object.

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