Friday, March 19, 2010

Jean Plaidy non-fiction

Jean Plaidy wrote several non-fiction books on the Spanish Inquisition and I found that A Triptych of Poisoners is also non-fiction. I just received a 1971 Hale edition of the book and after perusing it for a while and looking it up online I finally came to the conclusion that it's not fiction. It's so funny that it's hard to tell the difference! The cover looks like her other Hale covers and the description on the book jacket does not specify that the book is not fiction, but there are illustrations and photos. Perhaps the biggest clue is that there is no dialog. Anyway, here is the book description.


What makes men and women commit murder? Is it environment and upbringing? Or is it some characteristic unaffected by surroundings and contacts? In this triptych, the author has sought to answer these questions by an analysis of the lives of three notorious poisoners, each guilty of more than one murder, and living in different periods of time.

First is Cesare Borgia, most notorious of all poisoners, who among his many crimes was suspected of the murder of his brother, and was the self-confessed murderer of his brother-in-law. Sadistic and sinister, even for fifteenth-century Italy, his brief life was one of the most evil ever lived. Was he to blame for his sins? Or does the blame lie with an indulgent parent and a barbaric age?

Second is Marie d'Aubray, Marquise de Brinvillers--beautiful, reckless poisoner of seventeenth-century Paris. Marie and her lover Sainte-Croix sought to discover the lost secrets of the Borgias, that she might remove those who stood between her and her family fortune. Visiting the Paris hospital as a Sister of Mercy, experimentally trying out her concoctions on the patients, Marie was indifferent to the sufferings of others. Was she to blame?

Last comes Edward Pritchard, the Glasgow doctor. Living mid-way through the Victorian era, the doctor was as knowledgeable in the art of poisoning as his predecessors and had no compunction in removing any who stood in his way.

In these studies Jean Plaidy discloses the similarity in all three and asks: Whose is the guilt?

Monday, March 15, 2010

book review: The Three Crowns

*The above edition will be released November 2, 2010

This is one of the Plaidy novels that has several mini-stories, though mostly focuses on the upbringing of Mary, daughter of the Duke of York and future Queen of England, and William of Orange. I’ve read The Queen’s Devotion (a reprint of William’s Wife) and had found it to be one of my least favorite Plaidy reads because she was not a strong protagonist. Had I known this one was mainly about her I may not have been so eager to read it.

It starts out with a lot of Charles II, so if you’re a fan you will enjoy his personality and witticisms. Jemmy, the Duke of Monmouth is a main character, and one of Mary’s favorite companions. The Duke of York, of course, plays a major role, at first with his Duchess, Anne Hyde, and then the story of Mary of Modena is expanded on from her early life.

One of the characters Plaidy surprised me with was a friend of William of Orange when they were children. They were thrown together with an idea of a possible future marriage (which did not end up happening). The lady turned out to be Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, who later married Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe, who had been married to Charles II’s favorite sister, Minette. I have read of her in a couple of books, so it was fun to see her as a sort of wild child in this novel.

I was not looking forward to reading about Elizabeth Villiers, who was jealous and catty toward Mary from the start, because I knew she’d end up William’s mistress and I had enough of her from The Queen’s Devotion, but she wasn’t part of the main story. William’s personality was explained in much more detail and this is where Plaidy’s psychology background really shows. He is absolutely deplorable, yet you understand why he is this way. Mary, however, is a bit harder to figure out. My 21st century mind boggles at her meekness toward William; you just want to rebel for her.

The Three Crowns refers, not to the three candidates for the throne when Charles dies as I thought, but to a prophesy at William of Orange’s birth. The candles gutted out and when the midwife held him up in the air, she saw a light over his head that looked like to her three crowns. This was interpreted as England, Scotland and Ireland.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

cover deja vu

First of all, 'The Complete Tudors' is in ebook format and I don't really blame them for recycling the cover.

But this I don't agree with:

I mean, there is a century between Mary Queen of Scots and William of Orange and Mary. Not that I am an expert on dress, but if you have these two books on your shelf it just seems silly to have identical covers.

And below (I could not get the full size image to come up) replaces one of my favorite Plaidy covers.

I wished I were more of a fan of the new covers, but I'm just not. I appreciate that they are still reprinting my beloved Plaidy, but the portrait covers were fabulous... why change them? Marketing I suppose.

It's not just with the new Plaidy covers, but historical fiction in general. I really love Elizabeth Chadwick's covers; they show enough of the cover model to get a good visual and they are all very different. But, in general, I don't much like photographs of models in period dress. I like paintings, portraits and vector art (Victorian, paisley and elegant swirls).

What do you like in a cover?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Someone, please reassure me, but I thought the Regency era started in 1811. This novel covers the end of Charles II's reign through William and Mary.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Author's Note: Here Lies Our Sovereign Lord

***Plaidy left a handful of Author's Notes among her many books, and as they are well-worded and enlightening I thought I would post them here occasionally. This has been typed from the 1973 Putnam hardcover edition.***

It is so generally believed that Charles died a Catholic that I feel I must explain why I do not hold that belief. The deathbed scene has always worried me a great deal because I have felt it to be out of line with Charles' character. Therefore I was anxious to find a convincing explanation.

It is true that Father Huddleston came to him on the night before he died, and that Charles made no protest when it was suggested that he be received into the Catholic Church; but when all the facts are considered I think there is a viewpoint, other than the accepted one, which serves to explain his acquiescence.

On that Sunday, the 1st February, 1685, he ate little all day; he passed a restless night and next morning, while he was being shaved, fell down 'all of a sudden in a fit like apoplexy'. He never fully recovered, although he had periods of consciousness during the next five days which were spent in great pain aggravated by the attention of his physicians who, not knowing what remedies to use, applied most of those which they had ever heard. During those five days, hot irons were applied to the King's head, pans of hot coals to all parts of his body, and warm cupping glasses to his shoulders while he was bled. Emetics, clysters, purgatives, blistering agents, foul-tasting drugs, and even distillations from human skulls, were given to him - not once but continually. Spirit of sal ammoniac was put under his nose that he might have vigorous sneezing fits, and when he slipped into unconsciousness cauteries were applied to revive him. So that in addition to the pain of his illness he had these tortures to endure.

He knew that he was dying on the Monday, yet he made no effort to see a priest. When Bishop Ken begged him to receive the rites of the Church of England he turned away; but this was a natural gesture, for he was suffering great pain and discomfort, and he had never been a religious man. All through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday he had been , as he said, 'an unconscionable time a-dying', and on Thursday night the Duke of York and the Duchess of Portsmouth (who both had their reasons) brought Huddleston to his bedside; and at this late hour, according to those few people who were present, Charles joyfully received Huddleston's ministrations.

I believe that Charles was too ill to resist the importunings of his brother and his mistress. I believe that in that easygoing manner which had characterized his entire life he gave way as he had so often before. That is if, after four days of acute agony, discomfort, and intermittent unconsciousness, he was even aware of what he was doing.

According to Burnet. Ken pronounced the absolution of his sins over the King's bed, and in his last hours Charles said that he hoped he should climb to Heaven's gate; 'which', goes on Burnet, 'is the only word savouring of religion that he was ever heard to speak'.

Charles' attitude to religion had always been constant. He had modelled himself on his maternal grandfather, Henri Quatre, who had ended religious strife in France when he changed from Huguenot to Catholic, declaring that Paris was worth a Mass. Charles believed that religious toleration was the way to peace. He was tolerant to Catholics, not because he was a Catholic, but because they were being persecuted. He had said of Presbyterianism: ''Tis no religion for gentlemen.' This was during his stay in Scotland when he had been forced to hear long prayers and sermons every day, and repent of so many sins that he said: 'I think I must repent that I was ever born.' He had declared: 'I want every man to live under his own vine and figtree.' But this did not mean he was Catholic.

His attitude to the Church was often frivolous. He had in his youth been hit on the head by his father for smiling at the ladies in church; and as Cunningham says, 'he had learned to look upon the clergy as a body of men who had compounded a religion for their own advantage'.

To his sister Henriette he wrote: 'We have the same disease of sermons that you complain of. But I hope you have the same convenience that the rest of the family has, of sleeping lost of the time, which is a great ease to those who are bound to hear them.' He greatly regretted that he had not been awake to hear delivered to Lauderdale a reproof from the pulpit: 'My lord, my lord, you snore so loud you will wake the King.' Burnet, who was a large and vehement man, had once when preaching thumped his pulpit cushion crying: 'Who dares deny it?' to which Charles answered audibly: 'Nobody within reach of that devilish great fist.'

It was Charles' belief that God would never damn a man for a little irregular pleasure; and he had declared his conviction that the greatest sins were malice and unkindness. Such a man would, in my opinion, never 'play safe' at the eleventh hour. He had borne great pain with immense courage and patience which astonished all who beheld it. He was not afraid of death. If he believed that malice and unkindness were the greatest sins he must also have believed that he had sinned less than most men of his age.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New cover for Royal Road to Fotheringhay

"Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland at the tender age of six days old. Her French-born mother, the Queen Regent, knew immediately that the infant queen would be a vulnerable pawn in the power struggle between Scotland’s clans and nobles. So Mary was sent away from the land of her birth and raised in the sophisticated and glittering court of France. Unusually tall and slim, a writer of music and poetry, Mary was celebrated throughout Europe for her beauty and intellect. Married in her teens to the Dauphin Fran├žois, she would become not only Queen of Scotland but Queen of France as well. But Mary’s happiness was short-lived. Her husband, always sickly, died after only two years on the throne, and there was no place for Mary in the court of the new king. At the age of twenty, she returned to Scotland, a place she barely knew.

Once home, the Queen of Scots discovered she was a stranger in her own country. She spoke only French and was a devout Catholic in a land of stern Presbyterians. Her nation was controlled by a quarrelsome group of lords, including her illegitimate half brother, the Earl of Moray, and by John Knox, a fire-and-brimstone Calvinist preacher, who denounced the young queen as a Papist and a whore. Mary eventually remarried, hoping to find a loving ally in the Scottish Lord Darnley. But Darnley proved violent and untrustworthy. When he died mysteriously, suspicion fell on Mary. In haste, she married Lord Bothwell, the prime suspect in her husband’s murder, a move that outraged all of Scotland. When her nobles rose against her, the disgraced Queen of Scots fled to England, hoping to be taken in by her cousin Elizabeth I. But Mary’s flight from Scotland led not to safety, but to Fotheringhay Castle..."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Challenge Update!

Happy March everyone! We currently have 14 challengers in the 2010 Jean Plaidy Reading Challenge and here are the stats so far:

Arleigh - 2

Christina - 4

Lizzie - 3

Susie - 1

Good work everyone, and those of you who have yet to pick up a Plaidy this year... what are you waiting for??? Okay, I know we're all busy and have huge TBR stacks, so you're forgiven :) Please remember to email us when you've finished a book, and we would also love to link to your reviews! royalintrigue @ gmail . com

What Plaidy novel do you plan to read next? I'm up for just about anything, but have been eying my Stuart saga: The Three Crowns, The Haunted Sisters, The Queen's Favorites