Thursday, 23 June 2011

June 23rd, 1703: The birth of the Polish Queen of France


On this day in 1703, one of the most powerful aristocrats in the Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Stanislas Leszczynski, marked the birth of his second daughter, Maria (above). Christened in honour of the Virgin Mary, baby Maria's full name was Maria Carolina Sophia Felicity Leszczynska. Both the baby and her mother, Katarzyna, were in fine health and a year later they both acquired a royal title, when Stanislas was able to pursue his claim to the Polish throne, thanks to his Swedish allies.

Stanislas I's reign in Poland, however, was short and troublesome. He was king for less than six years before being deposed and the royal family were forced to seek asylum in Lorraine, in modern-day Germany. They also endured personal tragedy when Maria's elder sister, Anna, died at the age of eighteen after contracting pneumonia.

The ex-king, queen Katarzyna and princess Maria lived a relatively quiet life in exile until Maria's name was unexpectedly put on the list of ninety-nine eligible princesses to marry the young King Louis XV of France. Louis's chief minister, Cardinal Fleury, lobbied hard for the King to pick Maria as his bride, since she had royal ancestry and a Catholic faith (both pre-requisites for a future queen of France), but, more pragmatically, her father's lack of political power meant that a marriage to Maria Leczszynska would not pull France into any dangerous or costly foreign alliances, as the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria-Teresa of Spain had done in the previous century. The marriage between the exiled Polish princess and the handsome young monarch took place at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg on the Feast of the Assumption in 1725.

The marriage itself was an unremarkable one, although it began happily enough. Marie (as she was known in France) endured her husband's numerous affairs with relative complacency. With unusual grace and tact, she managed to establish a friendly relationship with her husband's most notorious mistress, the marquise de Pompadour, a famously beautiful but unpopular woman, who was the only one of Louis XV's lovers to treat the Queen with anything like respect and courtesy. 

A devout Roman Catholic, Marie was noted for her charities and for her large family. Between 1727, two years after the marriage, and ten years later, the Queen gave birth to eleven children - including the future duchess of Parma and the father of three kings, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. 

Novelist Elena Maria Vidal writes on her blog of Marie's time as queen: -
"She was the last Queen of France before Marie-Antoinette. According to Jean Chalon, the author of Chère Marie-Antoinette, Queen Marie tightened up the rigorous court etiquette that Marie-Antoinette later relaxed because it was so suffocating. The daughter of a dethroned monarch and wife of a blatantly unfaithful husband probably needed the highly ritualized pomp to boost her morale and her rank more than did the "daughter of the Caesars." Yes, Marie Lesczynska's father was the dethroned king of Poland and her early life was complicated by upheaval and exile. Yet for this very reason, she was chosen to be the bride of the teenage Louis XV, because she had no political entanglements at all... Queen Marie quietly devoted herself to her faith and her family. Courtiers mocked her Polish ways and called her La Polonaise even as later they would call Marie-Antoinette L'Autrichienne. All of Marie's children were as religious as she was; her youngest daughter Madame Louise became a Carmelite nun and a Blessed of the Church. Some of her grandchildren were quite pious as well, especially Louis XVI, Madame Clothilde, and Madame Elisabeth. Clothilde was declared a Venerable and Louis XVI and Madame Elisabeth can be regarded as martyrs in that they would not surrender their religious principles. When she died in 1768, Louis XV sincerely mourned the mother of his children, and we hope he regretted causing her such pain with his infidelities."

Sunday, 19 June 2011

"An extremely funny book"


My novel Popular has been reviewed by British novelist Katy Moran, the author of Dangerous to Know and the medieval thriller series Bloodline, Bloodline Rising and Spirit Hunter. The full review is on my Popular blog, but here are some highlights: -

"Meredith Harper rules Mount Olivet Grammar School in Belfast with beauty, charm and despotic poweraided by a small tribe of It-girls all equally as beautiful (well nearly) and just as bitchy... It’s an extremely funny book – I laughed a lot and kept reading bits out loud to people, which must have been very annoying but I couldn’t help myself.  
Popular has the convincing weight of authenticity – at first, I thought Meredith’s friend Kerry was a caricature, but a few chapters in I started to suspect that the author knows someone exactly like her, so I just went along for the ride. Russell does mercilessly laugh at his characters quite a bit, but he chooses his targets carefully. There’s nothing funny about Meredith Harper. There are serious issues, too, which I won’t go into lest I spoil the plot for you. It’s all very well dealt with, though: nothing is clear cut or black and white, just like life... There’s more to come in this series and I’ll definitely be looking out for the next serving of evil glamour."
Popular by Gareth Russell is released in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland on July 7th, South Africa on August 1st, Canada on August 23rd and Australia and New Zealand on August 29th.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

"Evita" back on Broadway


Glorious.

Evita will be revived on Broadway this Spring, with Argentine actress Elena Roger (above) reprising the role of Argentina's glamorous First Lady which she won critical acclaim for in 2006. Pop star Ricky Martin is playing the show's narrator Che and I'm really glad I'll be in New York in the spring time to see it.

Below is a trailer of the London production with Elena in the leading role.

Anne Boleyn versus Catholicism: Round Two?


“In a strange twist of fate – in what could be viewed as a true Old Testament display of God’s wrath upon those who break his commandments – three weeks after Katharine died – Anne Boleyn delivered a stillborn son. Some believe Katharine was slowly poisoned at the distant instructions of Anne – some believe it was cancer – perhaps it was both.”
- From the position paper (written in 2009) arguing that Katherine of Aragon should be a saint in the Roman Catholic religion, "Katharine of Aragon: Forgotten Among The Blessed – Why is Her Name Omitted from the List of English Martyrs."

I love how some people think putting the word "perhaps" in a sentence means they can opine nonsense and get away with it.

Well, it really was only a matter of time before this kind of stuff reared its ugly head again under the umbrella of the recent Internet campaign to turn Katherine of Aragon into a saint.

Modern Royal couture


Via Tea at Trianon comes an article about this magnificent gown by Norman Hartnell, which was worn by the current Queen on a State visit to Paris in 1957.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Kings and Queens of France


I thought I would post a genealogical table (of sorts) of various monarchies over the next few weeks. Traditionally, the French monarchy was seen by most people in Europe as the premier throne in Christendom. A view, understandably, rejected by the Hapsburgs at every available opportunity for eight consecutive centuries. In any case, because of her early conversion to Christianity, the French kings were entitled to be addressed as "His Most Christian Majesty," an honorific which later moved the kings of Spain and Portugal to such jealousy that they petitioned the Pope to grant them something similar (they got "His Most Catholic Majesty" and "His Most Faithful Majesty," respectively.)

The monarchy in France lasted over fourteen centuries and, even today, it still continues to provoke fairly heated debate. For purposes of clarity, I have excluded the Merovingian dynasty of kings, who ruled France between the fifth and eighth centuries A.D. Although some of that family bore the title "King of the Franks," the monarchy's power was in such a state of flux in that period that they often had to resort to the more honest title of "King of Paris."  I have chosen, therefore, to start with the Carolingian dynasty and continue up to the deposition of Louis-Philippe in 1848. I have not included the two Napoleons who used the title of "emperor" in the nineteenth century. Although they had the title, they were not technically monarchs and few royalists today would accept the Bonaparte family's claim as a legitimate one. In any case, they were "emperors", not "kings".

An article on "Popular"


Over on my other blog, actress Emerald Fennell (seen above in her role as 1930s aristocrat Lottie Mountstuart in the recent British television drama Any Human Heart), writes a very kind and very funny article about my novel Popular, which will be published in the UK and Ireland on July 7th this year, then in South Africa (August 1st), Canada (August 23rd) and Australia and New Zealand (August 29th.) 

Click here to read Emerald's full article and I hope you enjoy it!

"When Gareth gave me the first draft of Popular, I was in the middle of my university exams and supposed to be reading Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a grim task that I had already been putting off for months. I told myself that I would quickly read the first chapter of Gareth’s book and then get down to some serious study. That serious study never happened. I was completely gripped, and read the whole thing in one sitting, laughing like a lunatic and compulsively turning the pages. My degree almost certainly suffered, but unfortunately Chaucer didn’t stand a chance in the fight against Meredith and her friends: they kicked him in the crotch, called him a smelly peasant and sent him hobbling back to the fourteenth century."

Monday, 6 June 2011

Wilhelm II: Seventy Years On


"Anyone who reads about the personalities of his era cannot but be intrigued by him. Vilified and caricatured as he was - and his speeches and distinctive appearance were a gift to opponants - it is clear with hindsight that he was a much more complex and interesting figure than he once appeared. At times bombastic and vainglorious, at others insightful and far-sighted, a man who could be both bullying and selfless, he still arouses strong feelings..."

Over on his blog Once I Was A Clever Boy, John Whitehead reflects on attitudes to Kaiser Wilhelm II on the seventieth anniversary of his death. The former emperor of Germany passed away in exile in the Netherlands on June 4th 1941, after having abdicated at the end of the First World War twenty-three years earlier. The emperor was survived by his second wife, Hermine; his first wife, Augusta-Viktoria, had died shortly after the downfall of the monarchy. And by six of the seven children from his first marriage - Crown Prince Wilhelm, Prince Eitel-Friedrich, Prince Adalbert, Prince Oskar and the Kaiser's only daughter, Viktoria-Louisa, Duchess of Brunswick. His youngest son, Prince Joachim, who had struggled with severe depression for much of his adult life, had tragically committed suicide in 1920 in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles and his divorce from Princess Maria-Augusta von Anhalt. 

The emperor was buried in Doorn, Holland, where he had lived in exile since 1918 and his tomb can still be seen there today (below). 





Saturday, 4 June 2011

Defending Jane Boleyn



Above: Actress Sheila Burrell as Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford in the 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Along with Thomas Cromwell and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Jane Boleyn has one of the most unremittingly dire reputations from her time at Henry VIII's Court. Born Jane Parker in about 1505, she was the daughter of a well-educated and well-respected minor aristocrat, Henry, baron Morley, who married her off at the age of nineteen to George Boleyn, a man so handsome that one palace servant compared him to Adonis. Handsome and intelligent he may have been, but none of George's talents could prevent him being eclipsed like the rest of the family by his youngest sister, Anne, who was crowned Queen of England in 1533. As the new queen's sister-in-law, Jane had a prominent role in the royal household but legend has it that her marriage to George was a miserably dysfunctional one. When the fall of the Boleyns took place in 1536, legend and historical tradition state that it was Jane, consumed with hatred for her husband and eaten up with jealousy for his beautiful, glamorous sister, who provided the false evidence to send them both to the block on a trumped-up charge of incest. Returning to court, Jane was involved in intrigues against Anne of Cleves before becoming a close confidante of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and helped the young queen meet with her adulterous lover, Sir Thomas Culpepper, a crime for which both she and Queen Catherine paid with their lives in 1542. 

Given Jane's role in what happened in 1536 and to a lesser extent in 1541-2, it's hardly a surprise that historians have usually strongly condemned her and that in historical novels like Brandy Purdy's Vengeance is Mine and Philippa Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance, she is presented as a mentally-imbalanced harpy. Recently, Jane has attracted a defender in the form of Julia Fox, whose first book was a full-length biography Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford, defending Jane and querying some of the legends surrounding her life. Julia's new book, Sister Queens, is a dual biography of Katherine of Aragon and her sister, Queen Juana "la Loca", but she has returned to her first subject in a guest article written for The Anne Boleyn Files. To quote from Julia's article: -

"Let me nail my colours to the mast: I believe that when Anne Boleyn knelt before the Calais swordsman on that May morning in 1536 she was entirely innocent of the charges levelled against her. She had committed neither adultery nor incest. And because she was innocent, so was each and every one of the five men accused with her. Their deaths, and hers, were totally unjust. Over the centuries, Anne and her fellow victims have been ably defended. So they should be... Quite why and how Anne fell remains a matter of fascinating conjecture. But of one thing I am convinced: it was not because of Jane Boleyn. She too was framed."


For Julia's full article, which I really recommend for Tudor enthusiasts, please click here.

For my account of Jane's execution in 1542, click here.


Review of the new "Queen Elizabeth"


After travelling on her for a five day European cruise, the blog Tips for travellers reviews the new 92,000-tonne Cunard vessel Queen Elizabeth (above.) For ocean liner enthusiasts, the ship is the successor to the famous Queen Elizabeth 2, which was retired in 2008 and which was herself the successor to the original Queen Elizabeth, which was launched in 1938. With the maiden voyage of the new Queen Elizabeth, Cunard is once again operating three major luxury liners, along with her sister-ship Queen Victoria and the company's flagship, Queen Mary 2. This is the first time Cunard has run this service since the early 1930s, when they operated a transatlantic service with the 52,000-ton Berengaria, the speed queen Mauretania and the slightly larger Aquitania, nicknamed "the Ship Beautiful." When the former two liners were retired due to the Great Depression, they were replaced by a single vessel, the original Queen Mary, which served for thirty years and which is today a floating hotel in Long Beach, California.

You can access Tips for travellers full review here, along with some videos and photographs of the new ship. To quote: -
"I had also read very mixed reviews about the Queen Elizabeth, mostly related to the food and the service. It is always exciting though to go on a new ship, and of course even more so when one of the famous Cunard ones. In the end, we loved the ship. It has great looking decor, very stylish and very Cunard. The service was outstanding across all areas of the ship. The food we had in Queens Grill was amazing ... As mentioned, the design and look of the ship is very classy. It has an art deco feel, and is classy and rich looking. It is done with style." 

Friday, 3 June 2011

New still from Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher biopic


Ironically, after posting Courtney Pannell's fantastic article on the stagnation of conservative womanhood (below), I came across this still on-line, showing Oscar-winner Meryl Streep as the longest-serving Conservative Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher. Seen here with Jim Broadbent as her on-screen husband, Dennis, the pair are recreating the famous 1980 Conservative Party conference at Brighton, at which Prime Minister Thatcher told the delegates of her government's plans to deal harshly with the Trade Unions and to end the long-term recession which had crippled Britain for the previous decade. It was also the conference where she made her famous declaration, "The Lady's not for turning," which you can watch below. Really can't wait for this movie, which The Daily Mail talks about here.


The Stagnation of the Conservative Woman: Courtney Pannell reflects


Writing in The Yale Herald, my friend Courtney Pannell, a young conservative woman herself, reflects in an absolutely brilliant article on the problems that many women are experiencing with American conservatism and the Republican Party today: -

"The GOP doesn’t plan on win­ning the female vote in 2012 — or ever, at this rate. Demo­c­ra­tic oppo­nents are call­ing the recent House move to slash fund­ing from Planned Par­ent­hood another exam­ple of the GOP’s “War on Women.” This war is only strength­ened by con­ser­v­a­tive female fig­ure­heads, such as Michelle Bach­mann and Sarah Palin, and the ideals that they are laud­ing, which are out of step with the desires and strug­gles of the mod­ern woman.
Last week, I attended CPAC, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence, which is basi­cally a red car­pet event for the Who’s Who of the right... As a con­ser­v­a­tive woman myself, I was looking for­ward to com­mis­er­at­ing with fel­low right-leaning ladies — but they were awfully hard to find. Walk­ing into the con­ven­tion cen­ter lobby, I tweeted, “Where are all the women?” in an attempt to send a ral­ly­ing cry. I was hard-pressed to find any­one that wasn’t a wannabe-cowboy or Mitt Rom­ney look-a-like, much less some­one with a two X chromosomes. 
I finally found a room of women at a panel dis­cus­sion called “The Awak­en­ing of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Woman.” The golden girl of the panel was Phyl­lis Schlafly, an 86-year-old woman who was piv­otal in killing the Equal Rights Amend­ment in the ‘70s. Along­side her was colum­nist S.E. Cupp, campaign-finance lawyer Cleta Mitchell, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann. 
Although all the pan­elists were accom­plished work­ing­women and the event was about awak­en­ing the con­ser­v­a­tive woman, I was shocked by their repres­sive and out­worn mes­sag­ing points. Some­one should prob­a­bly look up “awak­en­ing” in Webster’s, because I might as well have been tak­ing life lessons at the kitchen table of June Cleaver. 
Now, I’m not here to debate the value of stay-at-home wives and moth­ers; my mother has been one for 25 years. In my view, the fam­ily is the cor­ner­stone of a great soci­ety, so mar­riage and moth­er­hood should be cel­e­brated. But... behind their glory sto­ries about find­ing their mates was the idea that a woman has to com­pro­mise her career goals in order to achieve the sup­posed great­est goals of wom­an­hood: mar­riage and moth­er­hood. “You can’t have it all at the same time,” Mitchell even said to the crowd. She fol­lowed up the state­ment with an anec­dote. A young woman (a Har­vard stu­dent, no less) told Mitchell that she would even­tu­ally hire a nanny to help run her house­hold, because she hoped to have a job and chil­dren. “Can’t you just get a dog?” Mitchell snark­ily replied to the young lady. 
What’s ironic about this work­ing mother dichotomy is that in any other room at CPAC you would have heard speak­ers plead­ing with young atten­dees to go into busi­ness, become entrepreneurs, help Amer­ica inno­vate. But the GOP women seem to want to leave that dream up to the boys..."

For Coco's full article, click HERE.

The Mysterious Death of Henry VI


Novelist Susan Higginbotham, whose most recent book The Queen of Last Hopes was inspired by the life of Henry VI's controversial queen, Marguerite of Anjou, takes a look at the mysterious death of Marguerite's husband, Henry VI, when the Yorkist family deposed him for a second time in May 1471.

"Even if the evidence from the exhumation does not conclusively prove that Henry VI died a violent death, it still seems likely that he did. Henry had suffered many reversals over the years before his death, and had personally witnessed the Lancastrian defeat at Barnet, having been dragged along to the site with Edward IV's army. While the news of his son's death at Tewkesbury and his wife's being taken captive must have been shattering for Henry VI to hear, it is hard to believe that it was such an unexpected shock that it would have caused his death. And with Edward of Lancaster dead, it would have been foolish for Edward IV to keep the Lancastrian cause alive in the shape of his father. 

If Henry was murdered, as seems most likely, the identity of his murderer or murderers is one of the best-kept secrets in English history. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has been credited with the deed in popular legend, but there is no evidence that he was the murderer or that he carried the deed out alone if he was. He was present at the Tower the night of Henry's death, but so were many others."

For the full article, click here to go to Susan's blog.

Anniversary of the Coronation


Today marks the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Coronation of the Queen in Westminster Abbey, the great church where more recently her grandson married Catherine Middleton. 

Pretty magnificent footage from the BBC via YouTube of the day itself and the intricacies of the ceremony is shown below. The latter half is in colour.


For those interested, in Britain, Her Majesty's full official title is Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

Upon becoming Sovereign, the Queen and her advisers decided that in reference and deference to the many other countries over which she was now Head of State, she would bear an individual title within those countries, representing her position as Head of the Commonwealth. This means that today, Her Majesty is also the Queen of Canada (in French, her full title is Sa Majesté Elizabeth Deux, par la grâce de Dieu Reine du Royaume-Uni, du Canada et de ses autres royaumes et territoires, Chef du Commonwealth, Défenseur de la Foi), Duke of Normandy (Guernsey and Jersey), Lord of Mann (the Isle of Mann), Queen of Barbados, Queen of Jamaica, Queen of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Grenada, Queen of Saint Lucia, Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand, Queen of Papau New Guinea, Queen of the Solomon Islands, Queen of Tuvalu, Queen of Antigua and Barbuda, Queen of Belize and Queen of Saint Christopher and Nevis ("St Kitts.")

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

"Popular" by Gareth Russell now available to pre-order


Hi everyone,

I wanted to let you know that my first novel Popular is now available for pre-ordering on Amazon.co.uk, in preparation for its British and Irish release on July 7th. It's really exciting to see Popular up on the Internet at last.

For our international readers, Popular will be available in South Africa on August 1st, Canada on August 23rd and Australia and New Zealand on August 29th.
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