When I was putting this little blog together, I didn’t realise how much I was reading! I also have SUCH a niche for Historical Novels that are often about Queens from England in the past… but I stick to what I know!
Just pass me a book with swirly writing on the cover and I’m away.
My 5 favourite reads:
The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis
This book is set in the time of Henry VIII… but all the way over in Italy, to the pope himself, however it is not as holy as this suggest! In fact, Pope Alexander VI and the Borgia family are often noted for causing scandals during their “reign” of Italy. The pope openly had mistresses, love affairs, was always involved in some sort of murderous plot and (unlike most popes) acknowledged his four children as his own – which all lead to the Borgias being a powerful and feared family.
So, the Borgia Bride focuses on Sancha of Aragon, a young and beautiful bride to the youngest son, Jofre Borgia. However, although she married one son, she soon became known as a mistress for the older sons, Juan and Cesare Borgia!! Yup, both. In fact, some people believe her affair with Juan (the oldest brother) is sometimes said to be the reason for Cesare’s alleged murder of him. Things were made even worse when Sancha’s brother, Alfonso of Aragon, married Lucrezia Borgia and the pope’s open behavior with his mistress, prostitutes and even his own daughter Lucrezia!! (SHOCK HORROR!) Basically, this is scandal central.
What I love most about this book is how much emotion went into Sancha’s character. You could well have identified Sancha as someone who was an adulterer and a troublemaker… but there is so much to this tale that could have contributed to her story, and this book seems to side with this idea. Maybe she was an intelligent, charming lady who fell in love with a notoriously dangerous man, Cesare Borgia. Maybe she was just trying to protect herself. The one thing that always sticks with me to prove this point, is the fact Cesare used to visit her, long after her departure of Rome to Naples, and on one occasion, asks her to raise “The Roman Infant” (possibly Lucrezia’s illegitimate child) as her own. This proves to me that she was trusted by Cesare and this book was pacy and passionate right to the last page!
Katherine by Anya Seton
Cute alert – me and my mum both love this book. Nawwww. Plus, in about 1366, Katherine married her first husband “Hugh” Ottes Swynford, a knight, at St Clement Danes Church – the same church linked to my secondary school!! (Which I once sang at in front of the mayor… but anyway, that is a different story).
This is a gorgeous tale about Katherine Swynford, the beautiful and charming maid who captured the heart of a prince, John of Gaunt! I mean, this is fairy tale stuff.
It’s crazy for me to imagine how their love story actually founded most of the British royal family. The Plantagenet were a powerful dynasty, headed by King Edward III and his son Edward the Black Prince. John of Gaunt was the king’s second son but he had a huge amount of power. When Edward the Black Prince unexpectedly died, John married Infanta Constance of Castile, giving him a claim to the Crown of Castile. Eventually his daughter, Catherine, became Queen of Castile by marrying Henry III of Castile, and Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII’s first wife) is descended from this line!!
During his marriage to Constance, John of Gaunt falls passionately in love Katherine, who first caught his eye when she arrived at court as a young 15-year old. John (luckily) eventually married Katherine, and their children, the Beauforts, were legitimized by King Richard II. Remember this name…. as later, an ambitious and righteous lady named Margaret Beaufort, fathered King Henry VII of England!!
What I love about this story is John and Katherine’s love continues through war, the black death and the clash of the cousins. It’s such a classic and really should be read, over and over!
The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner
Juana was daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile (Spain), she was also sister to Catherine of Aragon who famously married Henry VIII. However, Juana’s tale has a dark twist as she was otherwise known as Juana “la Loca”, the mad queen and the last true queen of Spain.
At 16, Juana is young, beautiful and head-strong. So, when she marries Philip (the Fair) of Flanders, things start off well! She is desperately in love with her handsome husband and he is equally as smitten with his new bride. They have a number of children and seem to be in wedded bliss.
Then her family suffers a number of deaths in a row (her brother, Don Juan, her elder sister, her nephew and her mother) and Juana finds herself the heiress to the throne of Spain and Queen of Castile. This does not sit well with her ambitious husband. DUN DUN DUN.
After reading so many historical novels (can you tell?!) I always feel for the women born into royalty as the moment they began speaking up or claiming their birthright, they often had to pay a terrible price for it. Juana was a Queen, having inherited the title from her mother, Isabella, but because of this, her husband, her father, and her son – who all wanted to be King of Spain – couldn’t have that power as it was linked to her and nobody else. So, sadly, she is betrayed. Not only by her husband, the person who she was passionately in love, but even her own father used her intelligence and pride as weapons against her!
As she fights to secure her crown, she was declared insane and imprisoned in Tordesillas under the orders of her father. This tale is saddening, especially when so little is known about mental illnesses such as madness, poor Juana was locked away.
Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
This is not my typical ‘accurate history read’ as most of the characters are fictional and it’s set in Ancient Rome with less historical backing… but the reason this made the list is because it was one of the first books I read (outside of a forced school environment) that inspired me to pick up more and the lead characters are really capturing.
It follows the tale of Thea who’s life is full of pain and suffering, until she meets a gladiator called Arius. It is by no mean a love story, as a lot of the book focused on some very graphic situations, but I fell in love with Thea’s strength and determination. Her character made the book enjoyable to read and it was very pacy. You really route for the main lovers even though they have stubbornness, insecurities and fears that, for me, makes them even more likable. They aren’t perfect, but I’m glad they are not. Their situation and lives are tangled and dangerous but all the time you are hoping they continue to never give up.
Also, although I mentioned it wasn’t particularly historically accurate, you do feel like the book is well researched. There are little insights to slavery and laws that make the tale believable, even if it’s based on fiction. Plus, Emperor Domitian is a real person, who is also portrayed in history as the cruel and paranoid tyrant that this book depicts him as.
It’s a great read for someone who would prefer pace, sex and drama set in Ancient Rome.
To Be Queen by Christy English
Last, but not least, is the tale of MY FAVORITE EVER, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.
What is great about this book, alongside a lot of books about this lady, is that this focuses on her early life. She is most famous for being Queen of England, but maybe a lot of people didn’t know she was Queen of France before!
The book starts with fifteen-year-old Eleanor being named Duchess of Aquitaine and betrothed to King Louis VII where she becomes Queen of France, which comes with it’s own problems. However, through it all I was delighted by the way the females are depicted. They are all bad-ass!
There is so much description and romance laced into Eleanor’s every day life. From her meeting Henry the first time, to the way she is with her daughters. Eleanor is a heroine through and through. Whilst some like to think she was forceful and arrogant, I see determination and courage. The end was also great, where she gains her own freedom. Honestly, this NEVER happened, and it just highlights the way she continues to grow as a Queen.
Well worth a read 🙂
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