Saturday, April 8, 2017

What I'm Reading: Loyal in Love by Jean Plaidy

One thing I have noticed is that number of books about French history during the reign of Louis XIII are few in number compared to the number of books written about the Tudors in England Stuarts, especially after James I/VI. The same holds true for fiction set after Elizabeth I and before the English Civil War. There are shelf loads of books about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I or set during their reigns. Similarly the English Civil War and the romantic figure of the gallant highwayman that the failure of the Royalist cause spawned have caused more shelf loads of books to be written. Which seems odd in a way since Richelieu is such a historically important and well known figure even to English speakers. Obviously part of the reason that I see this big discrepancy is that I look almost exclusively for books in English. Like most Americans of my generation I'm more or less monolingual. So if there are vast numbers of books written in French or other languages they are likely to escape my notice and my Amazon book recommendations.

Thus I was pleased  to come across a book written about Henriette Marie, the youngest sister of Louis XIII. Lucky in Love is written as a reminiscence of Queen Henriette about her life. The author, Jean Plaidy (real name Eleanor Hibbert) is a well known writer of English historical romances. 

Before I started the book I read a few reviews on line. One prevalent theme of the reviewers was how little they liked Henriette and how unsympathetic they found her as a protagonist. My interest in reading the book was to pick up additional historical trivia, especially about France, and to maybe get a better feel for the period. Eleanor Hibbert is a popular and prolific writer of historical fiction so I figured that I was likely to get what I was looking for even if Henriette was completely unsympathetic. Perhaps that set the bar for the character really low, but in any even I thought the author did a good job of depicting the thoughts, attitude, and behaviors of a Princess like Henriette. She was the youngest daughter of one of France's greatest kings. She was thought to be pretty and undoubtedly she was spoiled from birth - like many royal children. She was also from birth surrounded by strongly religious, even extremely religious advisors and confessors and whose only surviving parent, Marie de Medici was the leader of the devot party in France. 

On the plus side the book gave me exactly what I was looking for. I picked up a few bits of trivia. Here is a sampling.
  • The names of several diplomats and in tracking down one of the diplomats the fortuitous discovery of a source listing all the English and French envoys and ambassadors for the entire time period I'm interested in.
  • A couple of Anne of Austria's attendants and supporters (and their names) of whom I was either unaware or did not know their names.
  • That Maréchal Bassompierre owned a fine country house on the hill at Chaillot that was given to him by Louis XIII. 
“The windows overlooked the Seine and the Avenue of the Cours La Reine.” After Bassompierre’s death it stood empty. “I have asked the price. It is six thousand pistoles.” It was purchased by Queen Anne so that she and her sister-in-law, the exiled Queen Henriette Marie of England, could found a convent there.  The French site on Wikipedia adds the additional detail that in 1583, at the request of Catherine de Medici, a country house inspired by the ancient villas was built under the direction of the architect Étienne Dupérac. The Queen Mother expanded the house east of the enclosure of the  bonshommes (snowmen), this House took the name of "L'ermitage" or "Beauregard." In the 17th century, it was acquired by Pierre Jeanin. Then in 1630 it was acquired by Marshal Bassompierre. In 1651 the Convent of the Order of the Visitation was founded by Queen Henriette of England and this was where she was buried. The house was destroyed during the French Revolution.

I don't know when the house took the name of "L'ermitage" or "Beauregard" but on a 1620 3D view of Paris I have there is the label #46. Les Bonshomes that seems to correspond to the right location. The same name is used in 1761 for a convent that seems to be (more or less) in the same location. Note that this house should not be confused with the Château de Chaillot located in Vierzon, France.

While the book was interesting to me mostly due to my esoteric interest in the reign of Louis XIII the book was a bit plodding with less drama than one might have hoped and an overall tone of a somewhat dull reportage of events. Thus I give it only 2 out of 4 stars.

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