Interview With Anne O'Brien, Author Of The King's Sister

Friday, 19 December 2014

Today I'm very excited to bring you this interview with one of my favourite historical novelists, Anne O'Brien. An ex-history teacher with a passion for gardening (she has an herb patch constructed on the pattern of a Tudor knot garden and enjoys cooking with the proceeds) and water-colour painting, Anne was inspired to write by her love of reading, especially historical fiction novels.

Her latest novel is The King's Sister, and tells the story of Elizabeth of Lancaster, a headstrong and passionate Plantagenet Princess who married King Richard II's half-brother, John Holland. But when her own brother overthrows the King and takes the crown for himself, Elizabeth must choose between the two men she loves the most. What will she do?

I'll review The King's Sister soon. In the meantime, read this interview to find out more about Elizabeth, the novel, and its author:

1. What inspired you to write The King's Sister?
It all began when I discovered the 'Princess tomb' in a tiny rural church in Burford which is in Shropshire, not far from where I live in the Welsh Marches. Being a recent 'incomer' to the area, I had no idea that Elizabeth of Lancaster was buried there.
I knew about her of course: her Plantagenet connections, her illustrious parentage as daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. She had a sister who became Queen of Portugal, and Katherine Swynford had been employed as her governess. But I knew little detail of her life.
And then I saw her tomb and she took my breath away. I think I knew that I must write about her as soon as I saw her effigy. Clad regally in red with a purple cloak trimmed with ermine, she is every inch a Plantagenet Princess. Her hair is fair, her face oval and her nose long. She wears a ducal coronet and her hands are raised in prayer. Two angels in red and white support her pillow and a little dog is holding the edge of her cloak in its mouth. She is quite lovely.
So there she was: the subject of my novel - if my research could come up with a dynamic and interesting life to make her a true heroine.

2. Elizabeth of Lancaster has gained the reputation of being "frankly wanton and highly sexed". Why is that, and do you think it is deserved?
Elizabeth certainly earned the reputation in her own day. In a time when religion and morality were both important forces in everyday life, and a certain standard of behaviour was expected of a daughter of a noble family, her actions were shockingly scandalous. Elizabeth repudiated her first marriage and was already pregnant before engaging on her second. But saying that, her first marriage had its own problems, (no spoilers here!) and her second appears to have been a love match, and lasting until her husband's death. This comment by a 20th century historian does not do justice to the turbulence of Elizabeth's life at the very centre of treason and betrayal.
I think we would be far more tolerant and compassionate today of the pressures put on her. But she was undoubtedly a feisty young woman.

3. Not much is known about Elizabeth of Lancaster. Did that hinder your writing process or help your creativity?
Something of both, I suppose. How I wish we knew more. All we have is a very sketchy outline of her life in which Elizabeth appears as daughter/sister/wife - but hardly ever as a woman in her own right. We rarely know where she is or what she is doing. But when we do, that is the key to her story. I discovered some very telling comments about her that made me realise the strength and complexity of her story. This made it a true family drama, a balance between friendship, duty and loyalty on one side, pain and treason and heart-breaking loss on the other.
And yes, I had to be 'creative' to put flesh on Elizabeth's bones and words into her mouth as I imagined the emotions, the fears and hopes that would drive her. I hope I have preserved her integrity as a woman of the 14th century, as well as my own as an historian.

4. Have you made any fascinating discoveries during your research that didn't make it into the book?
Most of the vital discoveries ended up in the book.
Saying that, none of the detail of Elizabeth's final marriage is included. It is a strange period, when Elizabeth took a step back into the shadows, which is not good material for a novel. But what we do know is again tragic and a time of great loss. Richard, her eldest son with John Holland, died in 1400 when he was eleven. Nor was that the end of it. In the summer of 1400 Elizabeth married Sir John Cornewall, a knight for the west country and a soldier of repute. Elizabeth gave birth to a son John, a boy who followed in his father's footsteps as a soldier, both of them taking part in the English battles in France in the reign of Henry V. Tragically again, the boy was killed at the siege of Meaux in 1421, fighting at the side of his father.
We can only guess at Elizabeth's grief at the death of these two sons. It is not on record.
Elizabeth herself died on 24th November 1425 at the age of 61 years at Ampthill, and was buried in the splendid tomb in the little church of St Mary in Burford in Shropshire.

5. Can you tell us about your writing process?
I am a morning writer, starting early - by 8.30 am - after I've cleared any urgent admin. Then I write through until lunch. I don't count words because first draft writing covers more ground than when I start editing and refining; here I work much more slowly. So I simply write for the time I have set myself. But even when my day's writing is over, the characters tend to live with me and keep me entertained - or anxious. I often find a need to make notes of what they might be saying, or directions of plot I had not previously thought of.
So how do I write?
1. An historical timeline is essential: to plot the known facts, dates and the general order of events. This is where the the main body of research takes place. This has to be the bedrock of historical fiction, otherwise it becomes merely fiction.
2. Next comes some characterisation. Some characters are well documented, some barely at all. My characters must be true to the traits they exhibited in real life.
3. Then I begin to write the novel, highlighting the scenes that are absolutely crucial to the telling of the story. I often write them first so that I have them in place and I can see the drama unfolding. I might even write the end of the novel at this stage.
4. By this time my characters are very familiar to me. This is the point at which I start at the beginning and write a full draft through to the end, linking all the main scenes. Then I have something that feels like a complete novel.
5.. Then - the most enjoyable part of all - I begin to add layers, polishing and refining the plot, adding connecting links, thinking what it is that I need my characters to say through mood and action. This is where the historical detail begins to influence the scenes - the costume, music, details on where and how they are living. This is where the book begins to come to life.
6. Altogether I write four drafts followed by a quick read through to test for pace and relevance. The whole process takes me about a year.
And the most exciting part, for me, of writing historical fiction? When I discover a crucial piece of evidence that directs the actions of my main protagonists. When I finally realise what it is that makes him or her tick, even if they lived six hundred years ago. Suddenly everything fits together and it is immensely satisfying.

6. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite and why?
I would have to invite three of my medieval heroines, simply to hear their views on the events through which they lived. And, perhaps even more important, to discover if I had interpreted their characters correctly from the evidence we have of their lives. It would have to be:
Eleanor of Aquitaine, who takes the leading role in Devil's Consort. Wife to Louis VI of France and Henry II of England, she was a truly formidable and meddlesome woman.
Alice Perrers, heroine of The King's Concubine. Mistress to King Edward III her life was scandalous from start to finish - but what an amazing business woman she was.
And Elizabeth of Lancaster of course, The King's Sister.
Three strong minded, forthright, ambitious women. Now that would be a dinner party to savour. I can't imagine I would have to do much talking - they would have no time for me!

7. What are you working on now?
I am writing about Joanna of Navarre, one of our little known queens of England, the second wife of King Henry IV. It was not a marriage of long duration, she had little influence on policy in England, but what a marriage it turned out to be - fraught with discord, misunderstandings and danger even though it appears to have been a love match. Joanna was a proud woman, enormously capable, but had some hard lessons to learn in her new role. Because I enjoy writing about relationships within families, this was for me the perfect material. And then there is an accusation of witchcraft to set the whole thing alight. Fascinating stuff.

8. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Simply to write. Talking about it, planning it, making excuses to 'do it later' - this is all so easy and tempting rather than getting down to actually writing. So write:
- when you think you have no inspiration, sit down and write. You might be surprised.
- when you have very little time, find a half hour to keep up the momentum of your writing.
- write quickly to get down the ideas, the conversations, the characters, the story line. The polish can come later.
- be true to your characters. Don't allow them to step out of line.
- don't let rejection stop you. Develop a thick skin and keep trying.
And, most important of all, find enjoyment in bringing your characters to life. Let them live with you and talk to you. I promise that you will enjoy it.

Thanks Anne!

You can buy The King's Sister, as well as Anne's other novels on Amazon. Don't forget to check out her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with her.

Louise, The Rebellious Princess

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Perhaps it is fitting that Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was born, in 1848, the Year of The Revolutions that shook most of Europe. The sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was the most rebellious, as well as the prettiest, of their offspring. She had a naughty side, and an inquisitive nature, which gained her the nickname "Little Miss Why". More shockingly, she preferred French to her parent's beloved German. The horror!

From an early age, Louise showed a strong artistic talent that her parents were happy to encourage. She had lessons with some of the best drawing masters of the age and, as a child, was rarely seen without her sketchbook. Drawing and painting were then considered arts suitable for women, but of course Louise, true to her rebellious nature, much preferred sculpture, a more masculine endeavour.

Louise was only 12 when her beloved father died. She did her best to soothe her mother's grief, and for a while she acted as her secretary and confidant. But it soon became obvious that her nature didn't make her suitable for such a role (Louise was bored stiff at the gloomy court of her mother, and thought the Queen took her mourning too far), so, after her marriage, such duties were taken over by her younger sister Beatrice.

After much pleading, Louise was allowed to attend the National Art Training School at Kensington. This was quite shocking at the time because no princess had, before then, attended any type of school at all. Still, a career in the art world wasn't an option for a princess. Her duty was to marry. Her choice of husband was quite revolutionary too. Foreign princes were out of the question. Victoria didn't want to lose another daughter that way. And Louise, who always wanted to be treated like an ordinary person, didn't want to marry a British prince. Instead, she fell in love with John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll, a nice and handsome man without a drop of royal blood in his veins.

Louise and John were married on 21 March 1871. At first the marriage seemed a success. But the couple had no children, and soon started drifting apart. When Lorne was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1787, Louise only spent a few years with him. She was very homesick and unhappy in her new country, so she eventually left. The couple would spend a lot of time apart during the years, but eventually reconciled in 1911. Her husband's health was by then failing. His last years were marked by illness and senility. Louise dutifully took care of him. When he died three years later, she was devastated.

Louise was never just a wife, though. The rebellious princess continued to work on her art, even creating several public movements. One of these is a statue of her mother at Kensington (picture above). More controversy, she supported women's rights to work and vote. Princess Louise died at Kensington Palace in December 1939, aged 91.

Further reading:
Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter by Jehanne Wake
The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley

Fashions For 1818 (Part 2)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Hi ladies,

curious to see what we would have worn in the spring and summer of 1818? Let's take a look:



Round dress of fine cambric muslin, superbly embroidered round the border in three distinct rows. Pelisse of rich Tobine silk striped, of Christmas holly-berry colour and bright grass green, trimmed round the collar, cuffs, and down the front with very broad swansdown. Cambridge hat of green satin, ornamented with white ribband, edged with holly-berry red, surmounted by a very full plume of white ostrich feathers. Triple ruff of fine lace; holly-berry velvet ridicule, with clasp and ornaments of gold. Limerick gloves, and white kid half boots.


Pelisse of celestial blue satin, fastened down the front with Brandenbourgs of polished steel. Toque hat of spotted blue velvet, the hat part crowned with a plume of white ostrich feathers; the cap part confined to the forehead by a bandeau of polished steel, with an elegant tassel of the same material on the left side. Triple raff of fine lace, lemon-coloured slippers of kid leather, and Norman gloves.



Castillian robe of pearl grey sarsnet, elegantly trimmed with pink satin, interspersed with crape and velvet: the petticoat worn under the dress is finished by a border of fine lace, which just appears below the robe: the sleeves are of fine figured net, with serpentine waves of rolled pink satin, continued close to the wrist, from whence depend two broad frills of blond made to fall over the knuckles. A fichu of the finest net, left open in front, and surmounted by a deep Spanish ruff, standing up a l'Elizabeth. Crown turban of white satin, net, and pearls, with tassels of the latter material, and crowned near the summit with a wreath of pink fancy flowers, and pearls. Pear pearl earrings, white crape fan, and white satin shoes.


White satin petticoat, trimmed round the border with a chevaux-de-frieze of crape, over which is a rich ornament of full blown roses; the sleeves full, and reaching near the elbow, terminating by two full rows of lace: the body made to display the bust, very low behind, and ornamented with crape en chevaux-de-frieze. Train of royal purple or Prussian blue satin, superbly trimmed with fine broad lace, and lined throughout with white satin. The hair dressed round the face in ringlets a-la-Ninon, and entirely divided from the forehead; the hair on the summit of the head raised in two rows of separate braids, twisted round with pearls; between these braids is a tiara of gold and pearls, to which are fastened the court lappets of the finest Brussels lace. Earrings and chain necklace of pearls, white satin shoes, and white kid gloves, ornamented at the tops with a rich embossment of white satin.



Dishabille round dress, finished at the border with open Vandykes and embossments of rich embroidery, over which are three rows of narrow tucks, two tucks in each row. Full sleeves a l'Eveque, finished at the wrists with a double ruffle of lace; the gown made partially low, and trimmed with lace next the bust; plain fichu of fine French lawn worn underneath. Village cornette of fine lace, ornamented simply with a broad satin ribband, of celestial blue. Kid slippers of Modena red.



Round dress of the new Parisian tissue silk, of a beautiful blush colour, trimmed round the border with Persian of the same hue, bouilloni in bias, confined by a narrow rouleaux of blush-coloured satin, and terminated by a plain satin rouleau of tea green. Bonnet of white Gros de Naples, trimmed at the edge with a broad blond; the crown low, ornamented on one side with a bunch of green foliage and white lilacs. Triple ruff of fine lace; black kid slippers, teacoloured kid gloves, and parasol of pearl grey.



High round dress of fine jacconot muslin, with three flounces of muslin in full quills; each flounce headed by embroidered Brunswick stars of grass-green, and each flounce edged with the same colour. Sautoir scarf, of Chinese silk, with a rich border of various colours. Transparent bonnet, of white net and lilac satin, crowned with a louqvet of French double poppies, and yellow everlastings. Lilac parasol, kid slippers of the same colour, and straw-coloured kid gloves.



Frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, or fine net, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls: the body finished in the Oriental style, with short sleeves, which approach nearer to the elbow than formerly, and which are finished by a trimming of broad blond. The head-dress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses, interspersed with the braids of hair that are wound round the summit of the head. White satin shoes and white kid gloves.

Which of these outfits is your favourite?

Further reading:
Belle Assemblée

Book Reviews: Fizz, The Woman Code, Science... For Her!, & The Management Of Luxury

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Hello everyone,

it's that time of the week when I review the books I've been reading lately. Here we go:

Fizz: How to Drive Word of Mouth Marketing for Outrageous Success by Ted Wright
Word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways to drive sales. A lot less expensive than advertising in traditional media, it provides much better results, albeit at an initially slower pace. This slower pace is one of the reasons why a lot of businesspeople are sceptical of its success and refuse to use this all powerful technique. But after reading Wright's book, you'll look forward to start your own word of mouth campaign.
The secret of its success? Influencers. For it to work, you must first find people who love your product and are willing to spread the word about it to everyone who will listen. And then you need to train them to do so in the most effective way. But of course, you also need to have a good product with an exciting story or feature that will make it easy for people to talk about and buy it. Giving out samples also helps. A LOT. But that's not all. Wright also debunks popular myths about word of mouth marketing and explains how to track the results of your campaign.
Although a bit repetitive at times, Fizz is full of case studies and interesting tips and tricks to help you harness the full power of word of mouth for your business. The writing style is quite colloquial and engaging. This is not your average boring business book. You'll love both reading it and implementing its tips.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Life Strategies You Need to Navigate Today's Challenges by Sophia A. Nelson
We all live life by a code, whether we realise it or not. It's the set of values that governs all our actions. If it is not solid and authentic, we'll make mistakes and hurt ourselves and others. We've all been there. We've all been through tough times, done things we regret, and questioned our self-worth. If that's you, this is book is for you.
Nelson shares her powerful code to help you lead a balanced and fulfilled life. This code unlocks your potential of being the best person you can be, and that already resides inside of you. You just have to find it, and harness its power. The code is made up of 20 principles divided in five sections: The Personal Codes, The Emotional Codes, The Spiritual Codes, The Professional Codes and The Relational Codes. The first, and most important one, is knowing your value. Others include being authentic, accountable, resilient, unafraid of aging, being ready to apologize when you make a mistake, refusing to engage in gossip, and lots more. When applied, the code helps you navigate life's challenges, both in your personal and professional life, go after your dreams, and build meaningful relationship with people.
None of the advice given here is groundbreaking. Some will say most of it simply good ol' common sense. But the tips are still effective and inspirational. When we lose our way, a reminder of what we can achieve when we stay true to ourselves and treat ourselves and others with respect is always welcome.
My only problem with the book is the writing style. Nelson never preaches. She's smart, wise, and compassionate, and yet I found it hard to relate to her. I didn't find her style particularly engaging, and yet I can't quite pinpoint why. It's annoying. But the book isn't. It's a useful and inspirational resource for all women, especially those who have lost their way.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Science ...For Her! by Megan Amram
I had never heard of Megan Amram before coming across her book, but from her credentials, she sounds pretty smart. She is one of Forbe's 30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment, a writer for NBC's hit show Parks and Recreation, and one of the funniest people on Twitter. Her new book, Science... For Her! is described as a "politically, scientifically, and anatomically incorrect textbook, [...] a pitch-perfect attack on everything from those insanely perky tips for self-improvement to our bizarre shopaholic dating culture to the socially mandated pursuit of mind-blowing sex to the cringe-worthy secret codes of food and body issues," and a blend of "Cosmo and science to highlight absurdities", including subjects like "this Spring's ten most glamorous ways to die" and "what religion is right for your body type".
I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I hoped it would be a satirical funny book with some actual science, written in the style of, and poking fun at, women's magazines. Instead, I got neither science nor humour. Not only the book wasn't funny, it was very offensive. Now, I'm not one of those people who gets easily offended. I abhor political correctness, believing it to be a form of censure. I can easily laugh at things the politically corrected crew would find offensive, but one thing I will never laugh at, and I will always find offensive, are rape jokes. Seriously, this book is full of them! They have nothing to do with science and they just help to normalize rape and create a culture where this hideous crime is acceptable.
But even if someone had had the decency to remove the rape jokes, this book still wouldn't be funny. I get what Amram was trying to do. Science... For Her! tries to mimic the colloquial style used by women's magazines and, like them, is full of silly tips that make no sense. My problem is that she has taken the satire too far. The silliness, which permeates every page, is just over the top and exaggerated. For the first 10 minutes, it makes you laugh, but then it just bores you senseless. There is just no substance to it. Science... For Her is a lot more vapid than Cosmo will ever be, and because of that, the satire completely fails. Satire is a great way to bring out and challenge what's wrong with society. In this case, the belief that women know nothing about STEM and are not encouraged to pursue a career in those fields. But that isn't even addressed here.
While I love the concept of Science... For Her!, the execution is just bad and painful. So disappointing.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 1/5

The Management of Luxury: Strategy in the Global Luxury Market by Benjamin Berghaus, Sven Reinecke, Günter Müller-Stewens
Are you a manager for a luxury brand? Then, this book is for you. The Management of Luxury is a collection of 26 articles written by 51 individual contributors from around the world and edited by Benjamin Berghaus, Günter Müller-Stewens, and Sven Reinecke, that will help your company evolve with the times and stay competitive.
After defining what luxury is and who its customer are, the authors provide tips, backed by case studies and market research, on all aspects of the business. You'll learn what the most promising emerging markets for luxury are and how you can successfully start trading in those countries; how to create a brand that customers love and don't feel guilty purchasing from; how to create a business strategy that allows your business to grow and be successful; how to create luxury products responsibly, without damaging the environment; how to use social media to your advantage; how to hire the best employees for your brand; how to fight fakes; and lots more.
The book is very comprehensive and extremely useful, although somewhat boring. The writing style is very academic, and thus quite dry in places. As such, it has a very limited audience: managers of luxury brands. For them, the information in this book is highly valuable, regardless of the way in which it is presented. But for anyone else, the book just isn't entertaining enough to hold their attention for long.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.


Monday, 15 December 2014
Santa Clause by Thomas Nast

Betlehemes készülődés by Böhm Pál

Christmas Comes But Once A Year by Charles Green

Merry Christmas (Yuletide Revels) by William Glackens

Christmas customs in Norway by Adolph Tidemand

Christmas Carols in Little Russia by Konstantin Trutovsky

Christmassy table of gifts for a girl, author unknown

The Christmas Party, attributed to Robert David Wilkie

Die Kinder der Familie Buderus by Ludwig Rößler

Christmas-Time, The Blodgett Family by Eastman Johnson

Movies Reviews: Sissi, The Trilogy

Friday, 12 December 2014

When I was a little girl, the trilogy about Sissi, the unfortunate Austrian empress, was shown pretty much every Christmas season. I would always watch it. I remember my fascination with the beautiful Romy Schneider, and the glitz and glamour of the imperial court. Everything looked like a fairytale.

I may not have felt like that if I had been allowed to watch them all in their entirety. But come 9:00 pm, my mom, ignoring my begging to stay up just a little bit more, would send me swiftly to bed. When I became old enough to stay up till late, the movies were rarely shown.

So, I finally decided to track them down and finally view them all. Despite the appalling Italian dubbing, I enjoyed the movies a lot. Here are my thoughts on them:

Sissi (1955)

Sissi, the first movie in the trilogy, focuses on the fateful meeting of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful bride, Elizabeth of Bavaria. Elizabeth had travelled with her family to Bad Ischl, where her sister was supposed to be betrothed to Franz Ferdinand. But when the young Emperor met Sissi, he fell deeply in love with her, and declared he would marry no one else. Elizabeth, a free spirit and still immature young girl, was reluctant to become empress and take up the many responsibilities that came with that role. Yet, within the year, the couple was married.

The film is a highly romanticized account of their early relationship, with Sissi loving Franz as passionately as he loved her. Yet, you can still see the clouds looming in the background, as the young princess is torn between her love for her betrothed and her fear at being imprisoned in a gilded case at the Austrian court. Sissi, played by the lovely and talented Romy Schneider, is lively, spontaneous, and a tad mischievous. No wonder Franz, played by Karlheinz Böhm, whose life is strictly regulated by court etiquette and imperial duties, falls for her.

His mother, the Archduchess Sophie, believes Sissi unsuitable for her role, clearly stating her disapproval for the match, and, when it is evident that Franz will have his way, trying to turn her future daughter-in-law into a "proper" empress. She often comes across as cold and heartless, but that's only because she anticipates the struggles her son and his bride will have to face in the future. Doesn't matter how much they love each other, the demands of their empire will always come between them. Sissi's family, instead, is, just like her, lively and spontaneous. The parents love each other and their brood of children very much and show their love at any opportunity.

The settings are beautiful. The mountain in Bavaria and Austria are breathtaking, and so is the imperial court with all its luxury and pageantry. Just like the costumes, the settings are as accurate as possible. I think this is the movie of the trilogy that I enjoyed the most as it perfectly captures the feelings of hope and joy that characterized the beginning of what turned out to be quite a tragic union.

The Young Empress (1956)

Elizabeth, now married, is doing her best to be a good empress. She's learning foreign languages, especially Hungarian, which she, like the country, adores, and has a captivating, open, manner capable of charming all her subjects, even the most rebellious. She is a great asset to her imperial family, but she could have made even a bigger contribution if she had been better supported by her family. Instead, Franz often leaves his wife alone, and his mother decides, with his approval to take her young granddaughter away from her mother and raise her herself.

That was a cruel blow to Sissi, and the real beginning of her problems with her husband, as well as the breakdown of both her physical and mental health. Although not mentioned in the movie, Sissi would become so obsessed with her looks to starve herself and undergo rigorous exercise regimes to maintain her thin waist and looks, probably feeling like her body was the only thing in her life that she could control. Instead, what the movie shows is Sissi who, unable to endure life at court, starts spending more and more time away from it.

Costumes and settings too are once again beautiful and accurate. As in the first movie, all the actors do an excellent job. Schneider, though, shines above them all, poignantly portraying the charm and sorrows, privileges and tragedies of one of the most beautiful and famous women in the world.

Fateful Years Of An Empress

In the last movie of the trilogy, Sissi continues to capture the hearts of all she meets. But her marriage is still struggling and her health deteriorating. Although the movie doesn't show the catalyst for her illness, which was the death of her first child, Sophie. Instead, throughout the movie, Sissi and Franz only have one child, Gisela. I understand the difficulties in telling Sissi's story in just three movies. Including everything is certainly not possible. But focusing a bit more on the tragedies the couple faced would allow the viewer to better understand the empress' illness and desperation.

Sissi gets so ill that doctors start despairing for her life. In the end, her mother Ludovika comes to her rescue. After her health is restored, Elizabeth starts travelling around Europe. But she still goes back to Franz, to be at his side when duty commands. One of this duties is the tour of the Italian regions annexed, against their will, to the empire. The imperial couple receives a cold, hostile reception, but once again Sissi, with her natural and unaffected charm, is able to win their love as well.

Fateful Years Of An Empress has the same pros as the other movies in the trilogy. Wonderful actors, stunning settings, and accurate costumes. Yet, it is the one that departs the most from history, which is why it is my least favourite. Even so, it's a shame that Schneider felt so trapped in her role as Sissi that she refused to take part in more movies about the Austrian empress. They would have been wonderful too, I'm sure. Overall, though, it was a nice ending to a trilogy that captured quite well the first years of the marriage of the ill-fated lovers Sissi and Franz Joseph.

Have you ever seen the trilogy? If so, what do you think of it?

Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, Marie Antoinette's French Grandmother

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Did you know that both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI descended from Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, better known as "Monsieur", the younger brother of Louis XIV? The brave soldier with a penchant for young men and fashion had married twice. From his first marriage to Princess Henrietta Anne of England, the youngest daughter of the unfortunate English king Charles I, descended Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette, instead, was the great granddaughter of Philippe and his second wife, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte, known as Liselotte. Through Liselotte, who was the granddaughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, James I's daughter, Marie Antoinette inherited some Stuart blood as well.

The only daughter of Monsieur and his second wife, Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans was born on the 13th of September 1676 at the Château de Saint-Cloud. From birth she was given the courtesy title of Mademoiselle de Chartres, which she swapped for that of Madame Royale, her due as the most important unmarried princess in France, after her half-sisters from her father's first marriage had tied the knot with foreign royals.

Élisabeth Charlotte’s appearance betrayed her true nature. The pretty brunette was always impeccably dressed, looking every inch the French princess she was. But, behind her silks and brocade, lied a wild heart. Élisabeth Charlotte was a bit of a tomboy, too frank and honest for her own good, and with a wilful temperament that made her parents despair.

Despite her rebellious nature, the princess was a great catch. Several suitors to her hand were proposed. Joseph of Bavaria, the younger brother of the Dauphine, was rejected by Élisabeth Charlotte herself, who thought it demeaning for her to marry a mere younger son. The Duc de Maine, son of Athénaïs de Montespan, was quickly turned down by Élisabeth Charlotte's mother, who was still furious that her eldest son had married one of the daughters of Louis XIV and his mistress. King William III of England and the Emperor Joseph I were also suggested as potential husbands, but nothing came of these proposals.

Élisabeth Charlotte was 22 when she eventually married in a lavish ceremony at Fontainebleau, Leopold, Duc de Lorraine, on the 13th of October 1698. The couple settled at the gorgeous Château de Lunéville near Nancy, which, thanks to her husband's rebuilding programme, became known as "the Versailles of Lorraine". They were happy there. Although theirs had been an arranged marriage, Élisabeth Charlotte and Leopold fell in love and had a mostly happy marriage. But they had their problems, especially when Leopold started an affair with Anne-Marguerite de Lignéville, Princess of Beauvau-Craon. Liselotte advised her daughter to turn a blind eye, like wives had done for centuries, but that must have been doubly difficult for a woman who had a wilful spirit and was deeply in love with her husband. Eventually, Leopold broke up with his mistress and reconciled with his wife.

The couple had 13 children, but not all of them survived childhood. Élisabeth Charlotte and her husband were devastated when three of them died of smallpox within a week. Smallpox would also claim the life, years later, of their eldest son and heir, Léopold Clément. The new heir François-Étienne inherited his title, lands, and responsibilities at 20, but spent a lot of his time at the court of Vienna, where he fell in love with the future empress Maria Theresa. There was only one obstacle to the union. In order to marry the future empress, François-Étienne had to surrender Lorraine back to France. It was a painful decision. After a lot of hesitation, and reluctantly, he finally signed the marriage contract. As a tribute to the land of his birth, all his children bore the name Hapsburg-Lorraine.

Élisabeth Charlotte, who had acted as regent in the duchy during her son's absence, was devastated at losing Lorraine too. In an attempt to please her, Louis XV turned Commercy, where the princess took up residence, into a Principality. She died in the Château de Commercy on the 23rd of December 1744, and was laid to rest in the chapel of Saint-François-des-Cordeliers in Nancy, beside her husband.

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