Publication Date: 10th March 2021
Publisher: French Historical Fiction/ Fiction de la renaissance Française
Page Length: 380 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Based on historical events and characters in sixteenth-century France, this timeless tale pits envy, power and intrigue against loyalty and the strength of women’s friendships.
The French court dazzles on the surface, but beneath its glitter, danger lurks for the three women trapped in its web. The story begins as Queen Anne lies dying and King Louis’s health is in declines. Their two daughters, Claude and young Renée, heiresses to the rich duchy of Brittany, become pawns in the games of power.
Countess Louise d’Angoulême is named guardian to both girls. For years she has envied the dying Queen Anne, the girls’ mother. Because of her family’s dire financial problems, she schemes to marry wealthy Claude to her son. This unexpected guardianship presents a golden opportunity, but only if she can remove their protectress Baronne Michelle, who loves the princesses and safeguards their interests.
As political tensions rise, the futures of Princess Renée and Baronne hang in the balance, threatened by Countess Louise’s hidden plots. Timid Claude, although fearful of her mother-in-law, must untangle the treacherous intrigues Countess Louise is weaving. Claude and her friends encounter one roadblock after another as they contrive to outflank the wily countess. Their goal is to protect young Princess Renée.
In the end, faced with frightening consequences, will Claude find the courage to defend those she loves?
Excerpt from Chapter 1.
After the queen’s sudden relapse, Michelle sent a page flying to King Louis. By the time he arrived, Queen Anne was sleeping heavily from the dose of pain medicine.
King Louis, face lined with sorrow, stood at the foot of the queen’s bed, staring at his wife’s waxy face. She lay pale as a corpse under her embroidered coverlet.
Michelle touched her forehead. “She experienced an excruciating attack of the renal stone and is still fevered, but less so.”
Queen Anne stirred and began a high-pitched mumble. This was a worrying symptom. “Agnez, fetch a jug of the filtered, cold water,” Michelle ordered.
She poured a measure of clear water into a bowl, set two stoppered bottles on the worktable, added a measure from each to the bowl, and stirred. A fresh herbal aroma cleansed the stale air.
King Louis perched on the edge of the chair. “What are you preparing?” He leaned forward to sniff. “It smells of flowers.”
“It is a mix of lavender oil, spirits of alcohol and pure water — to reduce her fever and freshen her. She will sleep more calmly.”
“From what does she suffer?” King Louis insisted.
Knowing him, she believed he would prefer the truth. She said, “I can list her symptoms, but is not your question: will she recover?”
“I shrink from any hint that she will not, yet....” He squared his thin shoulders. “The unsugared pastille then.” He stared at the floor.
“Her humors are imbalanced. For some time, I have suspected a bilious humor from the sour odors of her urine and breath, signs of a renal disorder. The agony she suffered today suggests stones lodged in the renal passages. Only our Savior can give a certain answer, but I know no remedy. My treatment today only served to reduce her pain.”
“Why did you not send for my principal physician to attend her? Is Dr. Loysel not learned?” King Louis sounded like an inquisitor.
“You know Mme. la Reine detests physicians. I have been ministering to her since she lost your last child two years past. She is resting quietly now, Sire, as you can see.” Michelle strove not to sound defensive. “Dr. Loysel will bleed her, purge her, and prescribe stinking curatives of bats blood and snake excrement.” She sniffed. “The queen has neither the strength nor the blood for such remedies. My treatment — willow bark tea mixed with a drop of opium — reduces her pain and allows her to sleep.” She picked up her notes from the bedside table and offered him the note pad — leather-bound scraps of vellum held together by string. “I have recorded all my treatments.”
King Louis swallowed and glanced at the notepad. “I must know she is receiving the best… the correct… treatment.”
“To be sure, the queen must have the best care.” Michelle hesitated. People could accuse even noblewomen of witchcraft these days and then torture and burn them at the stake for small acts. Whenever anything went wrong — a failed harvest, a sudden hailstorm, an outbreak of plague — the burnings started. With the queen so ill, Michelle would be safer if an infirmarian attended her. “Princess Renée’s infirmarian, Dr. Nichel, has seen her. But perhaps your Dr. Loysel, should attend her instead.”
King Louis considered. “It is true that my wife blames the doctors for our infants’ deaths. And we both trust you....” He chewed his lower lip. “But I must be sure. She is precious to me.” He leaned over Anne and dabbed away a drop of sweat on her brow.
Michelle said, “Send for him, Sire. Let us hope he knows of cures of which I am unaware.” It was prudent to have him present. It should quell the inevitable rumors.
The king rose, still troubled. “I shall. Although I doubt he.... I have observed that my wife improves most in your care.”
“You are kind, Your Grace. In truth, the queen’s recovery lies in the Lord’s hands.”
Keira J. Morgan
She also maintains a non-fiction website, All About French Renaissance Women, [https://www.keiramorgan.com] where she writes about the lives of Frenchwomen during the era. She plans to collect their biographies into a book.
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