Amalasuntha, Queen Of The Ostrogoths

Amalasuntha, born around 495, was the only daughter of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, and his wife Audofleda. Amalasuntha was both beautiful and smart. She grew up in Ravenna, which was a political and cultural centre at the time, and received an extraordinary education. She spoke both Latin and Italian fluently, in addition to her native language of course, and was very erudite and knowledgeable.

In 1515, she married Eutharic, a Visigoth prince from Iberia (modern day Spain). Their marriage was supposed to unite their kingdoms after Theodoric's death, but he died before that could happen, leaving Amalasuntha with two children, a boy named Athalaric and a daughter called Matasuentha. In 1526, Theodoric died too and the crown passed to Athalaric, while Amalasuntha became regent. Amalasuntha decided her son should have the best Roman education available, but this didn't go down well with the Goths. They wanted their king to be a warrior, not a scholar and interpreted Amalasuntha's plan as an attack on their values and culture. Soon, three noblemen plotted to do away with her, but their plans were discovered. They were executed.

Undeterred, Amalasuntha educated her son as she saw fit, but Athalaric lived a life of excesses and drank heavily, which brought him to the grave. He was only 16. Amalasuntha was now queen but she knew she wasn't popular with the Goths and was afraid they wouldn't allow a woman to rule over them. So, she invited her cousin Theodahad to share the throne with her and thus, strengthen her position. But this plan backfired. Theodahad accepted the invitation but fomented the Goths' resentment towards her and within a few months, Amalaunstha was imprisoned in the island of Martana, in the Tuscan lake of Bolsena. But she only spent a few days there. On 30 April 534/535, she was murdered while she bathed.

Further reading:
Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends by Kris Waldherr

Henry Austen

Henry Austen was his sister's Jane favourite brother, her "especial pride and delight"*. He was also very helpful in furthering Jane's career and is responsible for the publication of all her novels. Hadn't it been for him, we may never had read her books. He was also his sister's biographer: for more than 50 years after her death, until her nephew published "A Memoir", the information he provided would remain the only biographical material available to the public about this great author. We really owe him a lot! But who was Henry Austen? His niece Anna Lefroy describes his thus:

"My Uncle Henry Thomas Austen was the handsomest of his family, and, in the opinion of his own father, also the most talented. There were others who formed a different estimate, and considered his abilities greater in shew than in reality, but for the most part he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation, and like his Father, blessed with a hopefulness of temper, which, in adapting itself to all circumstances, even the most adverse, seemed to create a perpetual sunshine of the mind."

Henry Thomas Austen, was born on 8th June 1771 at the Steventon rectory. He was the fourth son of George Austen and his wife Cassandra (nee Leigh). In 1788 he was able to attend St. John's College, Oxford, thanks to a scholarship and studied to enter the church. During this time he also started collaborating with The Loiterer, the periodical founded by his brother James, for which he wrote a series of articles. But after his graduation, he joined the Oxfordshire Militia instead. From lieutenant, he was promoted captain but, in 1801, he resigned.

In the meantime, Henry had got married to his cousin Eliza Hancock. She was 10 years older than him and a widow. Her husband, the Comte de Feuillide, was guillotined during the Terror. After his death, Eliza moved in with the Austen in Steventon. Henry courted her and, on 31st December 1797, the couple got married at Marylebone Church in London. In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens, which temporarily ended the hostilities between the UK and France, was signed. Taking advantage of this short period of peace, Eliza and Henry went to France to try to get her properties back but in vain. All too soon, the truce was over and the couple had to flee in a hurry to save their lives.

The couple settled in London and in 1804, he founded with two associates the bank Austen, Maunde and Tilson. The following year his father, George Austen, died, and Henry started to contributed £50 a year for the support of his mother and sister. Business, in the meantime, flourished and this enabled Henry and his wife to move in a large house in the fashionable Sloan Square. Jane visited him twice here. He took her to the theatre, art galleries and parties. Henry also helped Jane to get her books published. In 1813, Henry became Receiver-General for Oxfordshire but his happiness was marred by his wife's death.

In 1816, Henry's bank failed and he went bankrupt. After buying back the manuscript of Northanger Abbey from the publisher, who didn't realise it was written by the author of Pride And Prejudice, he moved back to Oxford and became a clergyman. He became the curator of Chawton, where Jane heard him preach. She thought his sermons were "very superior". Henry was very close to Jane and took good care of her during the final months of her illness in 1817. After her death, he arranged the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, adding the "Biographical Notice of the Author", which was to remain all the public knew about Jane Austen for over fifty years.

Henry became Chaplain to the British Embassy at Berlin, and Rector of Steventon, a job later taken over by his nephew William. In 1820, Henry married again. His wife was Eleanor Jackson, an old friend of the family. But her health wasn't good and the couple didn't have any children. After the marriage, Henry was appointed Perpetual Curate at Bentley, then Master of the Free Grammar School in Farnham. He finally retired in 1839 and later spent some time in France. Henry died of gastritis on 12th March 1850, at Tunbridge Wells.

*that's how Caroline Austen calls Henry in the Memoirs of Jane Austen

Further reading:
Henry Austen: Jane Austen's "perpetual sunshine" by J. David Grey

Book Review: Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Dr. Temperance Brennan, Quebec's director of forensic anthropology, now returns in a thrilling new investigation into the secrets of the dead. In the bitter cold of a Montreal winter, Tempe Brennan is digging for a corpse buried more than a century ago. Although Tempe thrives on such enigmas from the past, it's a chain of contemporary deaths and disappearances that has seized her attention -- and she alone is ideally placed to make a chilling connection among the seemingly unrelated events. At the crime scene, at the morgue, and in the lab, Tempe probes a mystery that sweeps from a deadly Quebec fire to startling discoveries in the Carolinas, and culminates in Montreal with a terrifying showdown -- a nerve-shattering test of both her forensic expertise and her skills for survival.

Death Du Jour is the second book in the Temperance Brennan series and the first one I've read. Brennan, who has inspired the character of the same name in the Bones Tv show, is a forensic anthropologist who occasionally helps the police to solve murders. I'm usually not a big fan of thrillers and detective stories really, but throw in a bit of history and I'm hooked. The book starts with Brennan digging up the bones of a nun, Elizabeth, that's been dead for more than a century and has now been proposed for sainthood. But as soon as she sees the bones, Brennan realizes that there is something wrong with them.

And so she starts doing some research on Elizabeth and the times she lived in to find out the true story the bones seem to tell. This to me was the most interesting part of the book (especially when it describes the history of Montreal), but it's a small one. Because while she's working on the nun's bones, she's needed to help solve another case. There's been an arson fire in St Jovite and several bodies, including those of two newborn babies, were found in the house. The police is trying to find out who these people were and how the fire originated.

As the story progresses, more corpses are found and as that wasn't enough, one of the nuns calls Brennan because she needs to find her missing niece (seriously, Brennan can't go anywhere without something bad happening) . And Brennan's sister Harry arrives in town to attend some course that's supposed to teach her out to take control of her life but is actually getting involved in a cult. All these things seem unrelated but Brennan is in the position to find the link that connects them. Reichs is very good at dropping hints and so at times the reader can see some connections when Brennan can't, but still the end was a surprise. There were a few things I didn't see coming at all.

The book is a very fast-paced read, full of twists, turns and subplots but it is still very easy to follow. The book is also full of forensic and anthropological details and the procedures she and the police use to solve cases are minutely explained (I felt like I was watching an episode of CSI at times really). There is also a plethora of information on cults and what prompts people to get involved with them. However, this is done in a simple manner that's easy to understand and leaves the reader interested instead than just bored, even though that makes the book longer than it would otherwise need to be and Death Du Jour, what with all is happening in the story, is a very long book indeed. Long, but highly enjoyable.

Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs is a fast paced thriller full of twists, turns and surprises that you won't be able to put down. The protagonist, Brennan is working on a series of murder cases that seem all unrelated to one another while also dealing with her sister Harry who's getting herself involved in a cult and doing research on the life of a nun that's been dead for more than a century. The book also includes a lot of details about cults and forensic procedures, which are told in a very straightforward, easy-to-understand manner that, although they make the book longer, enhance the story.

Available at:,, barnes & noble and

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Paolina Bonaparte by Antonio Spinosa

Pauline Bonaparte is a very fascinating and controversial historical figure. Napoleon's favourite sister was charming, clever, insatiable, wild, dissolute and had lots of lovers. But she was also very loyal to her brother. When Napoleon fell, all the siblings he had placed on the thrones of one European country or another abandoned him. It was Pauline, the only one he hadn't given a crown to, who stood by him and tried to help him in any way she could.

Spinosa manages to remain objective and, although it is clear Pauline fascinates him, he portrays her as a real woman, with both good qualities and faults. He sets the record straight on rumours that still circulated about Pauline and shares little-known facts and anedoctes from her life. He also examines her relationships with men and argues that she wasn't as cold-hearted and really cared about some of her lovers, such as Freron, more than people think. But the main focus of the book is about the relationship between Pauline and her brother Napoleon. He describes how close they were, from their first meeting when Pauline was 6 (Napoleon was already away from home studying and joining the army when Pauline was born) to their deaths.

While I find their relationship interesting (one of the main reasons why I read this book was because I wanted to know more about it), I also often felt that this book is more about Napoleon, his life and his political career, than it is about Pauline. For a big chunk of the book, she seemed to stay in the background and, once I finished reading it, I was left a bit disappointed. I've learned lots about the political situation of France at the time, Napoleon and his sister, but who Pauline really was still eludes me. Spinosa carefully details her life, but the reader can't say she knows Pauline better after finishing the book than when he/she started it. It is still a very interesting read though and it flows really easily thanks to the straightforward, straight-to-the-point style of writing and Spinosa's shrewd insights.

Paolina Bonaparte by Antonio Spinosa is an interesting read. Pauline is portrayed as a real woman with both good qualities and faults. Spinosa examines her life in detail, focusing on her relationships with men and her brother Napoleon in particular. Napoleon's life and political career are extensively talked about in the book and at times I felt the book was more about him than his sister. Written in a straightforward and shrewd way, the reader will come away knowing a lot more facts about Pauline and the time she lived in, but very little about this woman's personality and who she really was.

Available at:, abebooks

Rating: 3.5/5

Nicholas II Brings A Present To Italian Crown Prince Umberto

In 1909, the Russian Emperor Nicholas II visited the Italian royal family and brought an extravagant and particular gift to the little Crown Prince Umberto, who was only five at the time. The Prince's sister Giovanna thus remembers it*:

To my brother Umberto... the Emperor of Russia gave a singular and complicated toy: it was a Russian village, with all its houses, streets, animals and vehicles. The houses, there were about 10 of them, were in real masonry, with doors and windows, each of them about 60cm high. Pedestrians and about 50 Cossaks on horseback, in proportion, "were circulating" in the streets, realistically furnished with everything that can really be seen in a real street of a Russian village. It was necessary to use an entire salon of the Castle, surrounded by a railing, to store the huge toy in. Everyone warmly welcomed the beautiful present: but not that much Umberto, who used to say that was not as much a "toy" but "a show".

* translation from Italian into English is mine

Further reading:
Il re signore: tutto il racconto della vita di Umberto di Savoia by Luciano Regolo

Historical Reads: Nicole d'Oliva

Marie Antoinette's Diamonds, a blog dedicated to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, has an interesting post on Nicole D'Oliva, the prostitute who impersonated Marie Antoinette in the gardens of Versailles, tricking Cardinal Rohan into believing the Queen had forgiven him and really wanted his help in obtaining the famous diamond necklace:

Finally, she met the Comtesse and was asked to help in a little task that the Queen had asked the Comtesse to complete. They were to put on a small theatrical production in the gardens of Versailles, which would be a joke and a secret. Nicole was told she would be paid fifteen hundred francs to take part. The queen would be watching and would be very pleased with Nicole if she played her role well. Nicole accepted.

In the summer of 1784, Nicole was dressed up in a white gown in the style “en gaulle” or “a la reine.” She was given a rose and a letter and taken to the gardens of Versailles. There, she was led into the dark gardens. The night was moonless. In the labyrinthine gardens, she was taken to the Queen’s Grove–not, in actuality, “The Grove of Venus”–and told to wait. Suddenly, a man approached her. She was told to give him the rose and say, “You know what this means.” She did so, but apparently forgot to give him the letter that she was meant to give him. Then the Comtesse interrupted them, saying someone was coming. Everyone scattered.

The entire thing must have been very confusing to Nicole. It isn’t clear exactly how it was explained to her, but it was probably the same tale that Mme de La Motte gave during the trial later. Nicole was probably told that the Queen wished to play a trick on the man in the dark, who was Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. She was probably told or was aware that the Queen and the Cardinal had long ago had a falling out. Nicole was told the Queen watched the little scene, so she probably thought the Queen was watching and laughing at the fact that the Cardinal was being fooled into receiving a flower from a prostitute.

Or, it could be that Nicole really didn’t ask many questions. Fifteen hundred francs was quite a lot of money. She did not have to do very much to get it and must have figured it was best not to ask too many questions.

To read the entire article, click here.

Madame Vigée Le Brun On Mme Dugazon

In her memoirs, French painter Vigée Le Brun remembers actress and star of the Comédie Italienne, Louise-Rosalie Lefebvre, known as Madame Dugazon, thus:

I now come to one whose entire dramatic career I have been able to follow – the best talent the Opéra-Comique had to show, Mme. Dugazon. Never has such reality been seen upon the stage. The actress disappeared, and gave place to the actual Babet, Countess d'Albert, or Nicolette. Her voice was rather weak, but it was strong enough for laughter, for tears, for all situations, for all parts. Grétry and Delayrac, who wrote for her, were mad about her. No one ever again played Nina like her – Nina, so decent and so passionate at once, and so unhappy and so touching that the mere sight of her made the audience shed tears. Mme. Dugazon was a royalist, heart and soul. Of this she gave the public a proof, when the Revolution was well advanced, in playing the part of the maid in "Unforeseen Events." The Queen was witnessing the performance, and in a duet begun by the valet, with "I love my master dearly," Mme. Dugazon, whose answer was "Ah, how I love my mistress!" turned toward the Queen's box, laid her hand over her heart, and sang her reply in a melting voice while she bowed to Her Majesty. I was told that the public – and such a public – afterward sought revenge by attempting to make her sing some horrible thing which had come into vogue and was often heard in the theatres. But Mme. Dugazon would not yield. She left the stage.

Further reading:
Vigée Le Brun Memoirs

Marie Jose of Belgium On Her Great-Aunt Empress Carlota of Mexico

In her biography, La Regina Incompresa. Tutto il racconto della vita di Maria Jose di Savoia by Luciano Regolo, Marie Jose of Belgium thus remembers* her great-aunt Empress Carlotta of Belgium:

"I remember aunt Carlotta very well. After the Emperor, in 1867, was killed by revolutionary Benito Juarez, she lived in Trieste for a while, at the Miramare Castle, then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, she returned to Belgium. During the last years of her life, she was practically secluded at the Bouchout Castle, for more than 20 years already. She was considered "the insane" by everyone. But I don't think she really was. Shortly before her death I went to visit her with my parents. She stared into space for a long time, her face haggard, her hair dishevelled: it seemed like she didn't notice anything of what was happening around her. But at some point my father and my mother, who were talking between themselves, couldn't remember the name of a recently-nominated minister. She interrupted them and gave them the new minister's personal details in a very detailed way. Then, as if she had noted my surprise, she told me: 'I'll teach you a secret: when you want to escape your past, pretend to be mad. No one will ever ask you indiscreet questions again..'

More recently, in '92, shortly after my move to Cuernavaca, I began to be interested again in my unfortunate "ancestor"'s story.I visited Jardin Borda, the splendid palace where she used to spend the holidays with Maximilian of Hapsburg, now turned into a museum. Carlotta, just like me, adored this city. She preferred Cuernavaca even to the capital, where she had a beautiful palace too. And it was from Cuernavaca that the Empress left for Europe in the attempt to save her husband, to ask for help to the European sovereigns she was related to. Maximilian, however, wasn't faithful to her. Here they've told me lots of anedoctes on the Emperor's nighttime escapes: he hid his face with a sombrero, wore a poncho and, taking advantage of the darkness, he went to met up with some beautiful Mexican girl. In this city lived his favourite one, known as the India Bonita. That's how the colonial house where he lived, which has today become a restaurant, was called. Some time ago, a rather funny thing happened to me. I went to visit the city of Oaxaca. The local authorities did nothing but praise Benito Juarez, the hero of the Mexican Revolution. I made sure not to remind them that the man in question had killed my great-uncle..."

*translated from Italian into English by me

Further reading:
La Regina Incompresa. Tutto il racconto della vita di Maria Jose di Savoia by Luciano Regolo

Short Book Reviews: Shameless, Special Delivery, And Her So-Called Fiance

Hello everyone,

today I'm gonna briefly review three romance novels set in our modern time. This is not really my favourite genre, but I still like to read a few romance books, because as much as I like historical biographies, essays and other not-fiction books, every now and then it's nice to read something lighter that doesn't require much concentration. I'm also a believer that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover or blurb as sometimes, a book that seems really bad turns out to be amazingly good. Sadly, this is not the case for any of the three books reviewed today but I'm still not giving up hope of finding some good romance novels to recommend to you in the future. In the meantime, here's what you should avoid, at least if you're not a fan of romance novels:

Shameless by Suzanne Forster
Jessie Flood has always been considered the town white trash so everyone is surprised when she marries a millionaire. Especially his son Luc. He and Jessie were childhood friends and she knew how badly his father abused him. Jessie came from an abusive family too and one night her step-father Hank is killed in mysterious circumstances. The story takes place years after that and it centers around what really happened and who killed Hank. But while the plot sounds interesting, the characters aren't. Luc acts like a jerk most of the time and uses every means he can think of to get Jessie to marry him, including force and blackmail. Jessie, on the other hand, is.. well.. sick and crazy. Not only is she still very attracted to Luc despite the terrible way he treats her, but, the first time they meet after years, she shoots him to protect some secrets she wants to stay hidden in the past. But Luc has no idea of why he's been shot and that obviously prompts his curiosity to find out her secrets. Besides, what did she think to achieve by killing him but going to prison herself? It's a book full of twists and turns but because of the annoying characters I just couldn't get into it.
Available at:
Rating: 2/5

Special Delivery by Danielle Steel
Amanda, an ex-actress who gave up her profession to start a family, becomes unexpectedly a widow after 26 years of marriage. She falls into a depressed state and refuses to leave her home which worries her two daughters very much. One day, one of them convinces Amanda to go to a Christmas party hosted by her father-in-law, Jack. He's an old, rich bachelor who owns a boutique in Beverly Hills. Amanda and Jack have never got on well, but all of this changes at the party. They bond over the marriage problems of their children (they can't seem to be able to conceive a baby) and fall in love. All of their children, apart from Jack's daughter, are against their relationship and things gets worse when Amanda finds out she's pregnant. I think this is a very interesting topic for a book but the problem is that these issues aren't fully developed and there are no deep insights on the plot itself. Instead, it's a very short and rushed book with boring characters and a very predictable storyline. I honestly feel like giving up on Danielle Steel. Her early books such as Accident were really good but the most recent ones seem to be written in a hurry just to make a quick buck. What a shame!
Available at:
Rating: 2/5

Her So-Called Fiance by Abby Gaines
Sabrina is a beautiful but insecure woman who's been elected Miss Georgia but gets a hard time from the press because they consider her thighs chunky. She is interested in getting a job as the spokesperson for a school for injured children, a cause close to her heart as she herself had been seriously injured in a car crash when she was a teenager but managed to make a full recovery. However, when the charity is about to refuse her the job because they prefer to give it to someone with more gravitas, she pretends to be engaged to her ex Jake Warrington who is running for governor. That would put education for children with special needs on the political agenda and bring publicity to the school. Jake's not happy about it but has no choice but to play along. His relationship to Sabrina ended years ago after she told the world Jake's father, who was governor at the time, took a bribe. As a result, he lost the job and now the people of Georgia are afraid to vote for Jake in case he should turn out like his father. But to have the woman who denounced the father stand by the son may convince people that Jake is the right person for the job. While I like the idea for the book, I think this one too was rushed. I like that Sabrina is turning from a spoiled brat into an independent woman (although her obsession with her looks is annoying), but I think her romance with Jack just happened too soon. I also found the relationship between Jake's father Ted and aunt (she had married Ted's brother but is now a widow) as unnecessary and boring. In addition, the book is also very predictable. I can't say I enjoyed it but then I'm not a fan of the genre. If you are, I think you'll love this. Of course it's not high literature and if that's what you're looking for, you'll be disappointed. But if you judge it for the romance novel it is, then I'd say it is quite good and enjoyable.
Available at:
Rating: 3/5

Have you read these books? If so, what do you think of them?

Edda Ciano Mussolini: Countess Ciano (Part 2)

The Cianos were back in Rome. The Italian capital just wasn't as exciting as Shangai, despite the fact it was undergoing a major transformation, with the construction of new monuments and streets inspired by the architectural styles of ancient Rome. But was the city really changing? Or behind this new facade were things still the same? Well, if not Rome, Europe definitely was changing and not for the best. It was at around this time that Adolf Hitler was appearing on the European scene. Edda was really happy when, in 1933, he was nominated Chancellor of Germany. She really admired him because, despite his humble origins, he managed to get to the heights of power (just like her father) and held in high consideration his work aiming at destroying the Republic of Weimer, which he eventually accomplished.

In addition, Hitler himself declared his profound admiration for Mussolini, proclaiming himself his pupil. However, Mussolini was worried about Hitler's menacing and threating ways and even Galeazzo didn't share his wife's enthusiasm. When he learned of Hitler's ascension to power, he put his hands in his hair and exclaimed: "My God, that's a catastrophe!". Galeazzo would never like and always distrust Hitler, but the Dux wouldn't listen to him. Sadly, the future would prove how right Galeazzo was when uttering that exclamation. But that's in the future. At present, the Ciano family doesn't have its own house in Rome. They are staying with Galeazzo's parents and their living together wasn't peaceful: Edda just couldn't stand her mother-in-law. Galeazzo didn't help things either. He wasn't working much and was just pacing restlessly around the house, driving Edda insane. She begged her father to give him a job, any job.

In all fairness, Galeazzo was given a few minor assignments, but was still at home too much. Eventually, Mussolini made him the minister of press and propaganda. And then, the couple also moved in a house of their own. Here Edda and her husband gave lavish balls and parties, where people could also gamble. It was also here they entertained Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, when he visited Rome. Edda, who was pregnant at the time, was the perfect hostess and the visit was a success. At the end of that year, 1933, the couple's second child, was born. It was a daughter named Raimonda, but everyone soon nicknamed her Dindina. But Edda didn't spend a lot of time at home. She often went to Capri or Cortina with her children. Here too she would gamble and pile up enormous debts. Constantly in need of money and not wanting her husband and father to know about it, she asked for it to Mussolini's secretary. He helped her out, very likely with Mussolini's knowledge and assent.

In the meantime, Hitler in Germany was becoming more and more aggressive. Both Mussolini and Ciano were worried about him wanting to annex Austria, fearing the Italian regions Lombardy and Veneto would be invaded next. They were also horrified by the murders of political opponents and the entire SA leadership, in what became known as The Night Of The Long Knives. An anti-Nazi campaign now broke out in Italy. Edda compared him to Attila and considered what he had done terrible, but she was still a supporter of his. Her friendship with Goebbels and his wife also continued. Mussolini, on the other hand, considered Hitler a madman, distrusted the Nazi and didn't want anything to do with them at this point. Mussolini now wanted an alliance with France and the UK instead. But the latter were against his project to conquer Etiopia. So, Benito sent his daughter to London to make the English see he wasn't gonna change his mind about it, no matter what they could say or do. The English didn't seem to listen.

Only two people, in the month she spent in Britain, bothered to give a definite reply. Lord Rothemere, owner of the Daily Mail, supported the project; Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, was against it. But added that, if Italy was to go through with the plan, the UK wouldn't do anything. Her mission was successful. Edda seemed to have a knack for this kind of missions and it seemed that all those who met her were fascinated by her. Because of it, both her father and her husband kept asking her to meet and influence in their favour important people. However, Edda didn't show any interest for these missions whatsoever. In any case, Etiopia was invaded. Edda said goodbye to her husband and her brothers Vittorio and Bruno who left for Africa and the papers portrayed her as just an Italian woman who had loved ones fighting far away. But there were also those who kept criticizing the countess for her lavish parties and lifestyle.

Italy won the war after seven months but the economic sanctions imposed on the country by the League of Nations had the result to bring Mussolini closer to Hitler again. But the Germans distrusted the Italians and so Edda was sent on a diplomatic mission to Berlin to influence Hitler positively towards her father. She arrived there without much pomp and ceremony but things changed when news spread that her husband had been appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. In Berlin Edda met Hitler. She had always been a supporter of his, but, before meeting him, she thought there was something artificial, almost ridiculous in his gestures and the way he behaved. But now she was fascinated by him. But then, Hitler knew how to be charming when he wanted to. Edda spent a month in Berlin, meeting people, going to parties and trying to bring the two countries closer. Slowly, the relationship between Italy and Germany was improving.

However, Galeazzo didn't approve of this. He thought Italy should seek an alliance with the UK, which was against both hers and her father's wishes. But working for Mussolini, he couldn't abandon the alliance with Germany either and this contradiction caused him lots of worry, doubts and distress. It also affected his marriage. To avoid rows and contrasts with her husband, Edda would spend more and more time away. Whenever she felt like it, she would just leave with whomever she wanted. In addition, neither of them was faithful to the other and for a short while, she even considered dumping him. But Mussolini would never have allowed it. As long as a husband maintained his wife and didn't fall in love with anyone else (sleeping around was ok though, according to him), a couple had to stay together.

In 1937, the couple had another child. The baby was called Marzio, a martial name inspired by the climate of war that was sweeping over Europe at the time and would, in a short time, bring about World War II. His nickname though was cuter: Mowgli. The following year, Hitler, who had annexed Austria to Germany and was getting ready to invade Poland, went to Italy to strengthen his alliance with Mussolini. According to the papers, this reconciliation was encouraged by Edda, implying that she had a great influence over his father's political policies. She was considered the most influential woman in Italy, a role that should have belonged to her mother Rachele, and rumours about a French plot to kill her started circulating. But no one would assassinate Edda. It would be her husband, who had tried to convince Mussolini to break up his alliance with Hitler, who would be killed a few years later...

Further reading:
Edda, Una Tragedia Italiana by Antonio Spinosa

Maria Theresa Of Austria

In his book, Joseph II: In the shadow of Maria Theresa, Derek Beals thus describes the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa:

Maria Theresa was decidedly less attached of the old etiquette than her father had been. She mitigated it, and was often glad to take advantage of her pregnancies, and later of her widowhood, to modify or escape it.[...] She defied convention in a number of other ways. She froze her courtiers with the draught from the windows she insisted on keeping open; she loved to walk and talk in the gardens of her palaces; early in her reign, she danced, rode and sledged with abandon. She was relatively accessible, and won the devotion of many by her spontaneity and generosity. She liked to exempt friends and favoured visitors from rules of etiquette. She had her old governess, a mere countess Fuchs, buried in the family vault of the Habsburgs. She exploited what seems to have been elaborate conventions enabling the ruler and her family to appear incognito more or less when they pleased. She loved referring to herself as a mother of her subjects rather than their ruler. She showed at times a passionate devotion to her children, especially in nursing them during attacks of illness, even including smallpox, which Joseph had in 1757 and Charles two years later. She and her husband cultivated simplicity in the family circle, in the style captured by her daughter Marie Christine in her painting of their exchange of Christmas presents.

It's a lovely description that shows a different side of the Empress, one that's not often cited, don't you think? It also clearly explains why her poor daughter Marie Antoinette had such a hard time trying to get used to living at the French court, with its many rules and etiquette strictly regulating every aspect of life...

Joseph II: In the shadow of Maria Theresa, 1741-1780 by Derek Edward Dawson Beales

Historical Reads: Was Mary Boleyn Really The Mistress Of Francis I?

Mary Boleyn, Queen Anne's sister, is assumed to have been the mistress of French King Francis I. But is this really true? Claire Ridgway questions this assumption. To quote:

I have read many many books on Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Tudor history and when it comes to Mary Boleyn all but one of them has assumed that she slept with the French king, although they point out that she was never his official mistress, a maîtress-en-titre like Françoise de Foix. That Mary was the mistress of two kings is a fact according to the history books. [...]

I want to question the validity of the above three pieces of evidence for the following reasons:-

  • Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza, was a papal nuncio at the court of Francis I and was therefore biased against the evangelical Boleyns who had caused Henry VIII to break with Rome. Like the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, he does not even attempt to hide his disdain for Anne Boleyn, calling her “that woman” instead of “the Queen”.
  • We do not know that Pio was reporting Francis I’s words accurately and we do not know whether Francis I was exaggerating or lying in an attempt to denigrate the Boleyn name.
  • We know that the first part of Pio’s report is not true so why believe the second part? Pio claims that Anne Boleyn was never pregnant, and was lying, but we know from reports, such as the one by Chapuys where he states that Anne miscarried a “male child which she had not borne 3½ months” and also from Charles Wriothesley’s chronicle, that Anne did miscarry a baby on the 29th January 1536. How can we take Pio’s words seriously then?
  • Nicholas Sander and William Rastall are referring to Anne Boleyn, not Mary – Philippa Jones, in “The Other Mistresses: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards”, writes “Since these comments are obviously not applicable to Anne [i.e. we know she wasn't sent to France in disgrace at the age of 15]… it has been assumed that they must apply to Mary when, in truth, they were written to discredit Anne and are largely based on vulgar invention, aimed simply at damaging her reputation.”

To read the entire article, click here.

Strafford's Rise, Fall And Execution

Sir Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, was King Charles I's leading and most able adviser in the period that just preceded the English Civil Wars. But he became a scapegoat for Parliament's many grievances against the Church and State, condemned to death and executed. How could a man who had risen so high fall so low? And how could the King let this happen? He certainly regretted it and Strafford's death will weight heavy on his conscience until his dying day.

Described by his contemporaries as a man of, "deep policy, stern resolution and ambitious zeal to keep up the glory of his own greatness"*, and "severe abroad and in business, and sweet in private conversation; retired in his friendships but very firm; a terrible judge and a strong enemy"**, Wentworth, a member of an old Yorkshire family, was born in London, went on to study at St John's College in Cambridge and then became a law student at the Inner Temple. In 1614, he was elected for the first time to Parliament as MP for Yorkshire but would politically oppose the Duke of Buckingham (and thus the King). After Buckingham's death, Wentworth asserted his loyalty to the crown and was made by the King a viscount. He was also appointed Lord-President of the Council of the North in December 1628, dealing efficiently but ruthlessly with the Northeners who defied his authority, thus establishing his reputation as an efficient administrator. The next year he was appointed to the Privy Council.

In 1633, he became Lord Deputy of Ireland, a land that had fallen into chaos. Wentworth managed to put some order in the country by securing firm control over the army and manipulating the Irish Parliament. He also introduced measures to develop trade. However, he exercised his powder in a harsh, autocratic and despotic way. He promoted the interests of the Protestant settlers over those of the Catholic natives and raised and introduced new taxes. When he went back to England in 1639, he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland***, created First Earl of Strafford and became Charles I's leading adviser. During this time, the King was at war with Scotland. He was losing it but was determined to keep fighting till the end. But for that, he needed more money. Money that only Parliament could grant him.

It was Strafford who convinced the King to summon what would be known as the Short Parliament in the spring of 1640 to raise more war funds. But Parliament wanted peace with the Scots and for the King to finally address the many grievances they had against the Church and State. So, Strafford went to Ireland where he made the Irish Parliament come up with the money and raise an army that would help the King against the Scots. Strafford convinced the King that other means could be employed to raise an English army, which, coupled with the Irish forces would defy the Scots. And so, the King dissolved Parliament. But the new English army was defeated before the Irish one could come to its aid. This forced Charles I to summon what would be called The Long Parliament in November 1640.

When the King summoned Strafford to London to attend Parliament he promised him that "upon the word of a king, you should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune." The King may have meant that but Parliament had other plans. One of its first actions was to impeach Strafford. The Earl was nicknamed "Black Tyrant Tom" and accused of advising the King to use the Irish army he had raised against the English people. Strafford was arrested and taken to the Tower on 31 January 1641. But it was on 22nd March 1641 that the trial started. The trial was attended by both the King and The Prince of Wales, but while the latter sat at his place in full regalia, the throne was empty. Charles I took a place in one of the boxes in order to remain incognito. But the Earl didn't need the King's help in this trial. The accusations were so weak they couldn't be proven and Strafford defended himself so ably that he positively influenced the judges in his favour. The impeachment failed.

But Parliament was determined Strafford should die and so the House of Commons produced a bill of attainder against him. A bill of attender is an act declaring someone guilty and punishable without the benefit of a trial. In this case, it meant that Strafford could be killed simply because Parliament wanted him dead, even if he hadn't done anything wrong. But Strafford was a member of the House of Lords and this House of Parliament had the power to block the bill. But Strafford wasn't hated only by Parliament. The people of England couldn't stand him either and the House of Lords was afraid the mob would become violent should they do anything to stop the bill. The only thing needed now was the King's signature.

But Charles was very reluctant to sign the Bill. Strafford was his chief minister and had served him loyally. On the other hand, not signing it could have seriously threatened the monarchy. Maybe even the Queen. Seventeenth-century England was very anti-Catholic and even Queen Henrietta Maria, herself a Catholic, was threatened by the people. In the end, it was Strafford who released the king. He wrote to His Majesty: "I do most humbly beseech you, for the preventing of such massacres as may happen by your refusal, to pass the bill; by this means to remove... the unfortunate thing forth of the way towards that blessed agreement, which God, I trust, shall for ever establish between you and your subjects." On 10th May, Charles I reluctantly consented to the Bill.

But the King did make a last, desperate attempt to save his faithful servant. The next day, he sent his son Charles, Prince of Wales, then only nine-years old, to the House of Lords to deliver a message. The King asked whether Strafford could be imprisoned for life instead than executed and added that, if this could be done with the consent of the people, he'd be very happy. But if not, then "Fiat Justitia". In this case, though, the King's message finished, "it were charity to reprieve him until Saturday". But it was all in vain. The next day, 12th May 1641, Strafford was executed on Tower Hill, in front of 20,000 people.

The King never forgave himself for thus betraying Strafford. His death always remained on his conscience. He later became convinced that what he had suffered during the Civil Wars and his own death sentence were God's punishment for letting his adviser die. What's certain is that politically, considering what a capable adviser Strafford was, his death was a mistake. And like William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, observed, it surely wasn't honourable either "(Straffird died with) more honour than any of them will gain which haunted after his life".

* he was thus described by Lucy Hutchinson
** he was thus described by Sir Thomas Roe
*** that means that he could govern the country while absent through a deputy

Further reading:
Charles I by Jacob Abbott
King Charles II by Antonia Fraser
Strafford's defense speech at the trial
Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford by C. V. Wedgwood

Victor Emmanuel's Opening Address To The Italian Parliament

On February 18th 1861, with the Italian unification almost complete, Parliament declared the creation of the Kingdom of Italy (which would be officially proclaimed on March 17th). On that day, King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont, Savoy and Sardinia assumed the title of King of Italy. Here is his opening address to the Italian Parliament:

Senators and Deputies:
Free and almost entirely united by the wonderful aid of Divine Providence, the harmonious cooperation of the people, and the splendid valor of the army, Italy confides in our uprightness and wisdom. Upon you it devolves to give her uniform institutions and a firm foundation. In extend­ing greater administrative liberty to peoples that have had various usages and institutions, you will take care that polit­ical unity, the aspiration of so many centuries, may never be diminished.
The opinion of civilized nations is, favorable to us. The just and liberal principles now prevailing in the councils of Europe are favorable to us. Italy herself will in turn become a guarantee of order and peace, and will once more be an efficient instrument of universal civilization.

The emperor of the French, firmly upholding the maxim of non-intervention, - a maxim eminently beneficial to us, - nevertheless deemed it proper to recall his envoy. If this fact was a cause of chagrin to us, it did not change our sen­timents of gratitude toward him or diminish our confidence in his affection for the Italian cause. France and Italy, with their common origin, traditions, and customs, formed on the plains of Magenta and Solferino a bond that will prove indissoluble.
The government and people of England, that ancient country of freedom, warmly sanction our right to be the arbi­ters of our own destinies; and they have lavishly bestowed upon us their good offices, the grateful remembrances of which will be imperishable.

A loyal and illustrious prince having ascended the throne of Prussia, I dispatched to him an ambassador in token of respect for him personally and of sympathy with the noble German nation, which I hope will become more and more secure in the conviction that Italy, being established in her natural unity, cannot offend the rights or interests of other nations….
Valiant youths, led on by a captain who has filled with his name the most distant countries, have made it evident that neither servitude nor long misfortune has been able to weaken the fiber of the Italian peoples. These facts have inspired the nation with great confidence in its own destinies. I take pleasure in manifesting to the first parliament of Italy the joy that fills my heart as king and soldier.

Further reading:
Europe, 1715-1919: from enlightenment to world war by Shirley Elson Roessler,Reinhold Miklos

Book Review: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who has a genetic conditon Chrono-Displaced Person that makes him travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant. An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.

The Time Travelling's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger seems to be one of those books people either love or hate. It's not perfect and there were times when it just irked me, but overall, I really enjoyed the story. It's very poignant, surreal but yet realistic, and has quite a unique concept. Henry, the protagonist, has a genetic condition that makes him travel through time. He never knows when that will happen, nor where and when he will turn up and, on these travels, he can't bring anything with him, not even the clothes he's wearing. He arrives to his destination stark naked and with no money, and knows that he can risk ending up in a place from where he can't get out, or where the weather's freezing cold, or in numerous other dangerous situations. He is also very aware that if something should ever happen to his feet or legs making him unable to walk, it may very likely be the end for him.

On these trips, he meets Clare, his future wife. They first meet when Clare is only five years old and they become (platonic) friends, even though Henry comes from a future when the two are married and having problems. Clare, during the years, falls in love with him too, although nothing sexual happens until she is of age. Clare can't travel through time and is thus forced to stay behind, worrying about Henry. She never knows when and where he'll go, nor whether he'll come back in one piece. They grow up, get married, have a child and face the challenges and problems marriage involves, only it's harder for them due to Henry's genetic condition. Despite that, they stay together through thick and thin as they share a special bond that nothing can break.

Theirs is a beautiful, very romantic and timeless love story, but the book also makes you think about important issue such as, will the future change if we change even an insignificant detail in the past (a theory they put to the test)? And do we make our own decisions or is our future already written and we're just following the path that's been laid out for us? Did Clare ever had a choice in falling in love with Henry? Did he shape her and made her the person she has become? She does seem to depend a lot on him and just keeps waiting, and waiting, and waiting for him. It's this waiting - waiting for love, waiting to find a sense in their lives, waiting for things to get better, waiting for Henry to come back.. - that's the main theme of the book. Also, the fact that Henry is able to travel through time doesn't seem far-fetched or unrealistic. Niffenegger makes it seems like it is absolutely normal. Sometimes the past and present Henry also happen to be in the same place at the same time but, at the beginning of every chapter, the dates and their ages are mentioned, so it never gets confusing for the reader.

However, there were a few things that bugged me about the book. Let's start with the characters. I have mixed feelings about Henry. He' simply a mess. He drinks a lot, experimented with drugs and becomes quite violent at times. Admittedly,his life wasn't easy. His mother died in a horrible car crash when he was little and his father became an alcoholic. And then there's the time-travelling thing. Henry is often forced to steal clothes and money to survive on his travels, which I can understand. Stealing isn't right but I can see why he chooses to do it. After all, he arrives to his destination naked and without money and who's gonna believe him when he says he has time-travelled? However, while I can justify him stealing for need, he sometimes steals and commits other bad things (like beating up other guys) just because he can. He does act as an arrogant and selfish brat at times too, but at least he always remains redeemable and being with Claire does make him a better person.

A character I really disliked, instead, is Gomez. He had a brief relationship with Claire and then he started to date her best friend Charisse, and the two eventually get married and have kids. He's a lawyer who represents abused children, which is commendable, but he doesn't really seem to care that much about his own children. Being with Charisse is for him a way to be close to Clare and, as Charisse herself later says to Henry, he's only waiting for him to die before making a move on Clare. I found this really disgusting. Although he never tried to come between Clare and Henry while they are together, he should never have married Charisse in the first place. Forming a family, having kids with someone you don't love while waiting for the girl you do love to become available again is really selfish. Charisse didn't deserve it and neither did their children. Not that he would ever stand a chance with Clare anyway, but that doesn't make his actions any less deplorable.

Finally, the language. Although the story is really romantic and timeless, it is told in a very boring and dull way. What I particularly disliked was that sometimes, the author starts listing things and never stop. Like when Henry talks about his musical tastes and favourite bands. It's just an endless list of names of bands and you're feeling like he's listing all the acts that's gonna appear at a free concert. Or when food is mentioned. I felt like I was reading a menu instead than a book. All this stuff is really unnecessary, but if the author really wanted to include it, she should have used a more colloquial style and mentioned a lot less bands/foods/whatever. It was just really boring to read. However, if you like this kind of books, it's worth it to put up with this kind of writing style till the end, although you'll often wonder why she did have to go and spoil the book with all those lists..

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is an emotional, timeless and poignant love story that's surrealist yet feels very realistic. It's one of those books that really pulls you into the story and makes you want to know what'll happen next, but it also makes you think about important themes such as love, loss, determinism vs free will and our relationship with time. However, the writing style is not very exciting. There are lots of dull descriptions that make you feel like you're reading a menu or just any kind of list and that take up too much space in the book. I wish it were better-written but it's still a very enjoyable book and a good first effort from the author.

Available at: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and Waterstones

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The First Elizabeth by Carolly Erickson

The First Elizabeth by Carolly Erickson was the first Tudor biography I ever read and I loved it. It sparked my obsession interest in this great Queen and her dynasty and, over the years, I've read anything I could get my hands on on them. Lately, I've decided to reread The First Elizabeth and this time, I didn't enjoy it as much. I still think it's a good book but I have mixed feelings about it.

What I really enjoyed is Erickson's writing style. The book reads more like a novel than a historical biography, which will be especially appealing to those who think history books are boring. The book flows really easily and it is chock full of details about sixteenth century England, giving you a real feeling of what life at the Tudor court was like. Yet, all this wealth of information is never overwhelming or tedious, but instead the reader feels like she's listening to a friend relating the story of this great Queen and her era over a nice cup of tea.

However, considering how many interesting details this biography contains, I was very disappointed to find that Elizabeth's story is told in a rather superfluous and quick manner, especially towards the end. Her childhood and teenage years are well-covered providing some really interesting insights. Her studies, her experiences, her tutors and governess and her terrifying spell in the Tower when Mary became Queen help make us understand why she became the woman she was and ruled the way she did.

However, a lot of important events are barely covered. The part dedicated to the Invincible Armada is really short and even the Queen's relationship with her favourite Robert Dudley isn't explored in depth. His wife Amy's death is briefly discussed too and it's just a recollection of the basic facts and lots of gossips. Carolly doesn't seem to bring about or support a theory in particular either. The political events of the last years of her reign, such as Essex's betrayal, are also barely mentioned. You'll learn the gist of it and that's it. It made me feel like someone had decided that the book had to be tot pages long and so some important events, and in particular those happening during the last 20 years of her reign, had to be glossed over for lack of room..

Overall, while Erickson is great at engaging the reader with her lively writing style, she doesn't portray a throughout and accurate (she does rely too much on gossip sometimes) of Elizabeth I and her reign. I would recommend The First Elizabeth to those who don't much about the Queen, but Tudor buffs may want to avoid it cos it's a very synthetic biography of Elizabeth I and doesn't really say anything they don't already know and no new (nor old) theory is really discussed.

Overall, The First Elizabeth is a good introduction to Queen Elizabeth I and her reign. Written in a lively and engaging style that reads more like a novel,it is packed with details about life in the Tudor era and court. However, lots of events of her life and reign are glossed over and, rather than discussing any new theory, the author relies a bit too much on gossip, which is why I wouldn't recommend the book to Tudor buffs.

Available at: Barnes & Noble and

Rating: 3/5

Queen Victoria on Russian Emperor Nicholas I, Part 2

A while ago, I shared with you a letter written by Queen Victoria to her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, in which she was discussing Emperor Nicholas I of Russia's visit to England. The King was very interested in this account and so his niece wrote to him again and told him even more details about the Tzar's visit and her opinion of him. The letter is quite long, but also very interesting. Here it is:

Buckingham Palace, 11th June 1844.

My Dearest Uncle,—I received your very kind and long letter of the 7th on Sunday, and thank you very much for it. I am delighted that my accounts interested you, and I shall try and give you some more to-day, which you will see come from an unbiassed and impartial mind, and which I trust therefore will be relied upon. The excitement has ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and I am still confused about it. I will go back to where I last left you. The Revue* on the 5th was really very interesting, and our reception as well as that of the Emperor most enthusiastic. Louise** tells me you had a review the same day, and that it also was so hot. Our children were there, and charmed. On the 6th we went with the Emperor and King to the races***, and I never saw such a crowd; again here the reception was most brilliant. Every evening a large dinner in the Waterloo Room, and the two last evenings in uniforms, as the Emperor disliked so being en frac, and was quite embarrassed in it.

On the 7th we took him and the King back here, and in the evening had a party of 260 about. On Saturday (8th) my Angel took the Emperor and King to a very elegant breakfast at Chiswick****, which I for prudence' sake did not go to, but was very sorry for it. In the evening we went to the Opera (not in State), but they recognised us, and we were most brilliantly received. I had to force the Emperor forward, as he never would come forward when I was there, and I was obliged to take him by the hand and make him appear; it was impossible to be better bred or more respectful than he was towards me. Well, on Sunday afternoon at five, he left us (my Angel accompanied him to Woolwich), and he was much affected at going, and really unaffectedly touched at his reception and stay, the simplicity and quietness of which told upon his love of domestic life, which is very great.

I will now (having told all that has passed) give you my opinion and feelings on the subject, which I may say are Albert's also. I was extremely against the visit, fearing the gêne, and bustle, and even at first, I did not feel at all to like it, but by living in the same house together quietly and unrestrainedly (and this Albert, and with great truth, says is the great advantage of these visits, that I not only see these great people but know them), I got to know the Emperor and he to know me. There is much about him which I cannot help liking, and I think his character is one which should be understood, and looked upon for once as it is. He is stern and severe—with fixed principles of duty which nothing on earth will make him change; very clever I do not think him, and his mind is an uncivilised one; his education has been neglected; politics and military concerns are the only things he takes great interest in; the arts and all softer occupations he is insensible to, but he is sincere, I am certain, sincere even in his most despotic acts, from a sense that that is the only way to govern; he is not, I am sure, aware of the dreadful cases of individual misery which he so often causes, for I can see by various instances that he is kept in utter ignorance of many things, which his people carry out in most corrupt ways, while he thinks that he is extremely just.

He thinks of general measures, but does not look into detail. And I am sure much never reaches his ears, and (as you observed), how can it? He asked for nothing whatever, has merely expressed his great anxiety to be upon the best terms with us, but not to the exclusion of others, only let things remain as they are.... He is I should say, too frank, for he talks so openly before people, which he should not do, and with difficulty restrains himself. His anxiety to be believed is very great, and I must say his personal promises I am inclined to believe; then his feelings are very strong; he feels kindness deeply—and his love for his wife and children, and for all children, is very great. He has a strong feeling for domestic life, saying to me, when our children were in the room: "Voilà les doux moments de notre vie." He was not only civil, but extremely kind to us both, and spoke in the highest praise of dearest Albert to Sir Robert Peel, saying he wished any Prince in Germany had that ability and sense; he showed Albert great confidence, and I think it will do great good, as if he praises him abroad it will have great weight.

He is not happy, and that melancholy which is visible in the countenance made me sad at times; the sternness of the eyes goes very much off when you know him, and changes according to his being put out (and he can be much embarrassed) or not, and also from his being heated, as he suffers with congestions to the head. My Angel thinks that he is a man inclined too much to give way to impulse and feeling, which makes him act wrongly often. His admiration for beauty is very great, and put me much in mind of you, when he drove out with us, looking out for pretty people. But he remains very faithful to those he admired twenty-eight years ago; for instance, Lady Peel, who has hardly any remains left. Respecting Belgium he did not speak to me, but to Albert and the Ministers. As for unkindly feeling towards you, he disclaims positively any, saying he knew you well, and that you had served in the Russian Army, etc., but he says those unfortunate Poles are the only obstacle, and that he positively cannot enter into direct communication with Belgium as long as they are employed.

If you could only somehow or other get rid of them, I am sure the thing would be done at once. We all think he need not mind this, but I fear he has pledged himself. He admired Charlotte's picture. Pour finir, I must say one more word or two about his personal appearance. He puts us much in mind of his and our cousins the Würtembergs, and has altogether much of the Würtemberg family about him. He is bald now, but in his Chevalier Garde Uniform he is magnificent still, and very striking. I cannot deny that we were in great anxiety when we took him out lest some Pole might make an attempt, and I always felt thankful when we got him safe home again. His poor daughter is very ill, I fear. The good King of Saxony remains another week with us, and we like him much. He is so unassuming. He is out sight-seeing all day, and enchanted with everything. I hope that you will persuade the King to come all the same in September. Our motives and politics are not to be exclusive, but to be on good terms with all, and why should we not? We make no secret of it.

Now I must end this very long letter. Ever your devoted Niece,

Victoria R.

You will kindly not speak of these details, but only in allgemein say the visit went off very satisfactorily on both sides, and that it was highly pacific.

* In honour of the Emperor, a review was held in Windsor Great Park.
** Louise of Orleans, Queen of Belgium
*** At Ascot.
*** Given by the Duke of Devonshire.

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol 2

Historical Reads: The Reforms Of Louis XVI

Louis XVI is usually portrayed as lazy, unskilled and incompetent, but that's not the truth. The King passed numerous reforms during his reign and was considered quite the Liberal. Novelist Elena Maria Vidal shares a few of these reforms on her blog, Tea At Trianon. To quote:

1775 Droits d'octroi were reduced, prison reform begun, and the death penalty for deserters was abolished.

1776 The king signed the six edicts of Turgot comprising the abolition of the corvee. The parlements resisted the edicts, preventing them from becoming law. In the same year he reduced his household.

1778 More taxes reduced.

1779 The king abolished servitude and other reforms were made.

1780 Further reductions in the Royal household were made, hospital reform was begun, prison reform continued, most torture was abolished.

To read the entire article, click here.

Jeanne d'Albret, Queen Of Navarre

On 16th November 1528, Marguerite of Angouleme gave birth to a baby girl named Jeanne in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Her husband was Henry II of Navarre, ruler of a small kingdom situated between France and Spain. The kingdom was also a refuge for French Huguenots persecuted in their home country. Jeanne too was a Protestant. Despite being educated in Catholic France, she was raised by a father who didn't care which religion he practiced and a mother who was symphatetic to the Reformers. And as an adult, this princess who when born, seemed only destined to marry and beget an hair, would become a leader of the Huguenot party. A short and frail woman, with light eyes and thin lips, she had an enormous inner strength and a deep faith in God, on whom she relied when things seemed hopeless. Jeanne was also very intelligent, brave and austere. She could be very vehement and sarcastic when she spoke.

In 1541, when Jeanne was only 12 years old, she was forced to marry William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg and brother of Anne of Cleves. This marriage was against her will, and Jeanne, a stubborn and high-spirited princess, kept protesting until her wedding day, when she had to be bodily carried to the altar! The marriage, however, doesn't seem to have been consummated and, four years later, when the alliance with Germany was no longer necessary, it was annulled. It was now time to find her another husband and the choice fell upon Antoine de Bourbon, a French prince. Antoine was goodlooking, charming, a good soldier and could become King of the country if the ruling dynasty of Valois didn't produce any male heirs. This union seemed to be much happier, at least at first. Although her husband had extramarital affairs, Jeanne cared for him and gave him 5 children. Only two of them, Henry, future King of France, and Catherine, survived childhood.

The problems started when, in 1555, Henry II died and Jeanne and her husband became joint rulers of Navarre. On Christmas Day 1560 her conversion to Calvinism, which was now declared the official religion of the kingdom, was announced. Catholicism was banned, its clergy banished and its churches destroyed. However, those who didn't embrace the new faith weren't punished, unless they rebelled. At first, her husband seemed to accept her decision but when the French Wars of religion broke out in 1562, and the Spanish King hinted that he could receive the Kingdom of Sardinia if he chose to support the Catholics, he changed sides and threatened to repudiate his wife. The couple separated but later that year Antoine was killed at the siege of Rouen. Her son Henri, who would one day convert to Catholicism uttering the words "Paris is well worth a mass", was now in line to the throne.

Jeanne instead kept fighting for the Huguenots throughout the three civil wars and her contribution was invaluable especially in the third one, which broke out in 1568. She asked for aids to foreign sovereigns, offered her jewels to raise money, wrote manifestos and took care of the refugees and even inspected the troops during fights. Finally, peace was reached in 1570 and, thanks to Jeanne's negotiations, the Huguenots were granted several liberties including being able to practice their religion in France, except in Paris or near the court, and be eligible for public offices. To further cement the alliance, it was also decided that Henry would marry Marguerite, daughter of Catherine de Medici and sister of the French King Charles IX. But on 9 June 1572, two months before the wedding was due to take place, Jeanne unexpectedly died. Although she died of tubercolosis, it was rumoured she was poisoned by Catherine de Medici who wanted everyone in the kingdom to be Catholic.

Further reading:
Doomed Queens by Kris Waldherr
Queen of Navarre: Jeanne d'Albret, 1528-1572 by Nancy Lyman Roelker

The Affair Of The Minuet

Life at Versailles was rigidly regulated by complicated and stifling rules of etiquette, which prescribed what the nobility, based on their ranks and position, could and couldn't do. Marie Antoinette may have hated all these rules but the nobility, jealous of their privileges, were capable of making a huge fuss out of the most insignificant thing when they felt their "rights" where threatened or ignored. In his book, Domestic anecdotes of the French nation during the last thirty years, Isaac Disraeli shares one of these petty squabbles, which happened at a ball to celebrate the wedding of the dauphin Louis with the archduchess Marie Antoinette:

At the marriage of the late queen of France with Louis XVI then dauphin, a dispute which put all the court in a flame, took place in consequence of a minuet. The king, partial to the house of Lorraine, decided that a lady of that family should dance immediately after the princesses of the blood. This decision alarmed the dukes. They directly held a consultation at M. de Broglio's, count and bishop, as one of the most ancient peers then at Paris. In spite of the horror which the church must feel on the subject of dancing, they discussed diligently, and composed a memoir, which the prelate was to present to his majesty, with the greatest solemnity. Most of the nobility had also signed this curious remonstrance on the subject of a minuet, to give it the more authority. The house of Lorraine, on their side, pretended to a right to this prerogative, in consequence of others it had enjoyed from time immemorial. The king replied to the remonstrance of the dukes, by a letter remarkable for its barbarous French, humiliating apologies, and unkingly diction. The letter is given as a curious specimen of bad composition, and singular frivolity in the letter of a monarch.

"The ambassador of the emperor and empress queen, in an audience which he had of me, has asked me from his master (and I am obliged to give credit to what he says) that I would be pleased to give some mark of distinction to Madame de Lorraine, at the present marriage of my grandson with the arch-duchess Antoinette. The dance at the ball being the only thing which is of no material consequence, since the choice of the dancers, both men and women, only depends on my will, without any distinction of places, ranks, or dignities, except the princes and princesses of my blood, who cannot be compared or placed in the rank with any other Frenchman, and not chusing besides to innovate in any thing usual at my court, I believe that the great (les grands) and the nobility of my kingdom, in virtue of submission, attachment, and even friendship which they have ever shewn to me and my predecessors will never do any thing which can displease me, and above all in this present circumstance, where I desire to mew to the empress my gratitude of the present she has made, which I hope, as well as you, will make the happiness of the rest of my days."

This embarrassed letter, it is curious to observe, consists nearly of a single period! It is probably his majesty was its author; he has no claims to the honour of being a fine writer, nor a friend to an asthmatic reader. The matter did not here terminate. A great number of ladies invited on the occasion were absent from the ceremony. The dukes held assemblies on this fatal minuet. It was under their patronage that a work which displays uncommon erudition and taste was published. It is entitled, "An Essay on the Rank and Honours of the Court." This was answered by the Abbe Georget, in a voluminous work, which displayed still more erudition than the former. What a concatenation of frivolity does all exhibit! The king suffers a pretty girl to dance a minuet, and behold the nobility of France are assembled, draw up remonstrances, and their ladies banish themselves from court. The king writes a miserable letter, and two learned scholars produce two curious work -- and all this for a minuet!

Further reading:
Domestic anecdotes of the French nation during the last thirty years: indicative of the French revolution by Isaac Disraeli

Classic books: Dracula, Frankestein, And A Sicilian Romance

Hello everyone,

today I want to share with you short "reviews" of classic Gothic books. I'm using the double quotation marks because I have no intention of explaining these books to you. Although I like to discuss and study books, I'm not so presumptuous to consider myself an expert on the subject, and so I will just share my humble opinions and impressions of these novels. I hope you'll enjoy it:

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Jonathan Harker, a British solicitor, is travelling to Transylvania to visit Count Dracula on a legal business errand concerning the Count's recent purchase of a house in England. But once there, strange, terrible things start to happen which seriously threaten, and almost put an end to, Jonathan's life. The first part of the story is revealed to us thanks to the journal he keeps during his visit but later the plot expands and we know how it progresses by reading the other characters' journals and notes as well as newspaper articles. I love this way of telling the story as it allows us to follow the actions and thoughts of all the characters involved. It also ensures the reader gets engrossed and lost in the story, never wanting to put the book down. The second part of the story takes place in England. Lucy Westerna, a good friend of Jonathan's fiancée Mina, falls suddenly ill. Dr Sewards, one of Lucy's three suitors, tries to help. He calls in his friend Van Helsing, the vampire hunter, to help cure Lucy. And so starts the fight to destroy the Count, who is simply a monster without a conscience, but very cunning and determinate, with an insatiable thirst for blood. He lacks the romantic charm and attractiveness characterizing vampires in literature and TV nowadays. To modern readers, the story may seem to move along quite slowly, but in fact, no part of the plot is superfluous. It is full of suspence and at times quite terrifying, with Stoker skillfully building up tension leading up to the ending. He is also a master at creating a terrifying atmosphere and make the reader feel as if he/she too is there, next to the characters. The characters too are well-rounded and developed, showing both their weakness and their strengths. And while the language is at times archaic and laborious, the book is a captivating and chilling, well-written tale.
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Rating: 4.5/5

Frankestein by Mary Shelley
I had put off reading this book for the longest time because, just like with Dracula, I was deceived by all the Hollywood movie adaptations to believe it was a gruesome horror story, but it really isn't. It's science fiction, and gothic, and terrifying and really, really good. Young scientist Victor Frankenstein, whose mother has just passed away, wants to find a way to overcome death and so decides to secretly create a human being. When he finally manages to bring his creation to life, he is horrified by it and doesn't want to have anything to do with it. The novel is told through letters, diary accounts and the main characters, Frankestein and the "monster" he created. As in Dracula, this stratagem makes us understand the characters betters and makes us lose ourselves in the story. It is impossible not to feel sorry for the "creature" and the way everyone, including his creator, has turned him away. Frankestein even rejects his last request of creating a companion for him which, although is understandable, actually condemns the creature to spend the rest of his life utterly and completely alone. This creature wasn't born a monster and had Frankestein taken his responsabilities towards him, things could have ended so very differently. That's why, even though the reader can't justify the horrible crimes he will commit to take his revenge, he/she understands why he's doing what he's doing. It is also easy to understand the remorse the scientist felt at having created the "monster" in the first place, although I found his running away instead than facing his responsabilities really annoying. But overall the characters are well-rounded and developed and the story interesting and with a powerful message, although it progresses at a really slow pace. There are millions of things that could be sad about this book, and many more have been said by more eminent people than myself, so I won't go into a long discussion. Suffice it to say that Frankestein is a great example of what happens when men decide to play God and interfere with nature. The consequences are catastrophic.
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Rating: 4/5

A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe
The story is told by a traveller to Sicily who reads a manuscript about a castle and his inhabitants, the Mazzini family. The story is set in he late 1500s. After his first wife dies, the cruel marquis of Mazzini, remarries to a beautiful but selfish and vain woman and the couple moves to Naples. He brings his son Ferdinand with him but his daughters Julia and Emilia are left at the castle in the care of one of their late mother's relatives. The two girls grow up into beautiful, charming and gentle women, and, when their father return to the castle following the death of a faithful servant, their stepmother becomes jealous of them. Even more so, when at a party given at the castle, Hippolitus, the man she wants to have an affair with, falls in love with Julia and she reciprocates his feelings. But her father promises her hand in marriage to the rich but evil Duke de Luovo and so the two must elope. Their attempt fails but Julia manages to escape alone. The Gothic element in the story is a ghost, who seems to haunt a part of the castle and terrifies all its inhabitants, bar the marquis who doesn't believe in supernatural beings. And this is only the first part of the book. The plot is full of twists and turns but it is neither scary nor exciting. I think part of the problem is the characters. They are all either good or bad, and they don't develop or grow. And they are quite boring really. There's not a single character I particularly liked or hated and, because of this, I wasn't particularly interested in their story. However, the descriptions of the places and nature is superb. They are very detailed and, at times terrifying, but also poetic and greatly contribute to give the novel its Gothic atmosphere. Overall, I like the book. The story is nice and well-told, it just lacks that something...
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Rating. 3/5

Have you ever read these books before? What did you think of them?