The Queen of Four Kingdoms
"The Queen of Four Kingdoms" is Volume I of The Anjou Trilogy, the author's first historical novels. Volumes II and III will follow in 2014 and 2015. All the main characters in the story lived during the first half of the 15th century, and the historical events described are true to fact. The dialogue, minor characters, incidents and the decorative details are the author's invention.
"The Queen of Four Kingdoms" was shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political Book Awards2014.
"The Queen of Four Kingdoms" -
At the age of nineteen, Yolande, daughter of the King of Aragon and a high-spirited beauty, sets out with her huge train of courtiers, to wed the young Duke Louis II of Anjou in Provence, one of his sovereign territories. Betrothed since nine years, he has kept her waiting while he fought to establish his rule over his inheritance of Naples and Sicily. Reluctantly, she leaves behind her family, her friends, and everything she knows, to marry the first cousin of the King of France. The purpose of their union is to bring an end to a generation of bitter conflict between Aragon and Anjou for possession of this distant kingdom, an inheritance claimed by both their families. To Yolande's delighted surprise, their marriage becomes not only a great love story, but also sets in motion events which will change the course of history.
As Louis spends more time and money fighting to regain his throne on the Italian peninsular, as her husband's regent, Yolande is left alone with their five children to govern their vast inheritance. With her wealth, her subtle intelligence, her charm - and the clever use of her spies - she becomes the saviour - not only of her own territories - but also of France.
The author unveils this seldom told story, enriched by her insider's perspective of court life. This is an epic, sweeping historical novel which vividly recounts the true story of England's invasion of France in the 15th century, a dramatic and enthralling period in the history of both countries, witnessed by the captivating and complex heroine, Yolande, known as The Queen of Four Kingdoms.
Postscript: The author descends directly from almost all the principal characters in this book. For genealogists interested, see the section headed Ancestors on her official website.
Availability: 26th October 2013 from Amazon, Waterstones and most online book retailers.
Release Date: 17th October 2013
ISBN 10: 9781472108456
"My darling, I am not sure of how much of our world you know about, so forgive me if I tell you the obvious?" And with his smile and Yolande's hand gesture of agreement, he continues:
"Of the king's immediate family, my father, the eldest of his uncles, left for Naples and tragically died there. My father's other two brothers, Charles VI's uncles and mine, the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry, as well as his uncle by marriage, the Duke of Bourbon, tended to their own sovereign duchies. It was the king's brother, my cousin Duke Louis d'Orléans, who remained steadfastly by his side, loyally supportive, his companion and closest friend."
"Didn't he have any sisters?" asks Yolande.
"Yes, but to everyone's sadness, all six girls died young" adds Marie de Blois, no doubt thinking of her own lost daughter.
Charles d'Anjou, lounging alongside Louis and fondling Hector's ears, takes up the story: "Actually, the king was only eleven years old when he was crowned in 1380. Then at sixteen, everyone was delighted when he married the beautiful Princess Isabeau of Bavaria who adored him. Louis – you jumped ahead - it wasn't until three years later that Charles VI took complete control of his government and appointed the Marmosets. This left no one in any doubt that his was a truly promising beginning."
"Darling," says Yolande,"I feel something bad is coming, but I am trying not to settle too comfortably in this lovely room by the fire. Must I learn all this now?" ask Yolande, longing to sleep after quite a sleepless night with her young husband!
"Yes, my beautiful and wise wife – it is time you know the bad as well as the good about the family you have joined! Our goodly, kingly cousin surrounded himself with men of such quality that for the first four years he gave the impression he would become an excellent ruler. As in England, in France, the personality and character of the monarch dictates the quality of his government. We French felt blessed by God in the personality, wisdom and character of our young King Charles VI.
As in your country, by feudal tradition the royal princes are sovereign within their dukedoms and wield considerable power, but our overall loyalty must be to the king." Louis pauses, checks that Yolande is still listening, and takes a deep breath:
"When my kingly cousin was twenty-four, he began to lapse into regular bouts of insanity." Actually, this did not come as a surprise to Yolande - even at her parents' court in Saragossa they had heard of the French king's condition, his sudden, terrible rages when he lost all control, and even killed some of his servants in unprovoked, frenzied attacks. At the time, Yolande's parents had already received the ambassadors from Anjou proposing her marriage to their young duke, but the King and Queen of Aragon became concerned when the cousin of their daughter's betrothed turned into this madman.
It had already crossed Yolande's mind some time ago during her long engagement – would my Louis become like him? Did he have the same mental illness in his blood? Would her marriage too, begin with such promise to a charming, handsome prince, who would then try to cut off her head as the French king had done to one of his courtiers?
Her parents did not tell her any of this at the time - she was too young - but as she grew older she could hardly fail to hear the rumours. There were two incidents which seem to have caused or prompted the French king's bouts of madness, though it is not known whether these merely triggered something in his head that would have developed in any event. One of these was referred to afterwards at the French court as the "Ball of the Burning Men". Although this took place well before her marriage, even in distant Aragon it was widely discussed. Juana had told her then. Now she hears the full horror of the story from Louis.
"My darling – this is something I feel you should hear - and from me, so that you can ignore all other gossip. In order to entertain their sovereign, his close courtiers were constantly trying to amuse him, and so, they arranged a costume ball at the château of Vincennes, an event which created great excitement. Several courtiers, including the king, decided to disguise themselves as "wild men" who live in the forests. At least ten of them entered the ballroom chained together. They wore costumes made of cloth soaked in a resinous wax to stick on a covering of frazzled hemp to make them look hirsute. They were a great success, instantly surrounded by revellers trying to guess their identities. Louis d'Orléans, the king's brother, arrived late and had not seen the strange group enter the ballroom. Taking hold of a flaming torch from one of the servants, he moved towards this bizarre cluster of chained men." Louis pauses and Yolande sees him struggling to control himself.
Charles d'Anjou glances anxiously at his brother trying to swallow his pain and continues for him:
"Somehow, by accident, the torch came too close to one of the 'wild men' whose highly inflammable costume immediately caught fire. Since the men were chained together the fire spread instantly to the others, as did the panic in the room." Yolande's hand is over her mouth, as she realises for the first time the full horror of the incident. Marie de Blois has tears in her eyes, and Louis looks at her, distraught.
Charles clears his throat:
"Our aunt, the Duchess of Berry, threw her long heavy train over one burning man to smother the flames. It was the king, her husband's nephew, she had mercifully rescued." Charles takes a drink from his goblet and looks to Louis who nods, and continues:
"Another flaming 'wild man' jumped into a tub of washing-up water and saved himself. Other courtiers tried to put out the flames with their bare hands and were badly injured." He pauses and looks at his hands. "Tragically, four of the 'wild men', all friends of the king and the court, were burnt to death in front of everyone at the ball."
They sit still, each of them deep in their own visions of that terrible night.
"Understandably, the king, who was twenty-four at the time, was badly shaken and took to his room alone for some time".
"Where were you when this happened", Yolande asks Louis and Charles softly.
"In Provence with me" replies her mother-in-law, "and since then I have not stopped asking myself if their presence could have averted this tragedy." Charles puts his arm around his mother and whispers in her ear to comfort her.
Louis throws another log on the fire, and sits down to continue. "The second incident – which, I am convinced also contributed to our king's unbalancing - happened not long afterwards. While he was out hunting with the court and they had stopped in a clearing, suddenly, a hirsute peasant, a real 'wild man', ran out from the undergrowth and grabbed the reins of Charles' horse, causing it to rear. He would not let go, gabbling hysterically about a plot to kill the king. His companions, mistaking the deranged man for an assassin, drew their swords and killed him in front of the king. 'But he was only trying to warn me,' exclaimed a confused Charles, visibly shaken. For several days afterwards, he locked himself into his room again." Yolande sat totally spellbound by the horrors of the story unfolding and urged Louis to continue.
"It was from around this time that Charles would descend into bouts of deep depression. These developed into sporadic outbursts of insanity and incidents of the king losing his mind increased in frequency and intensity thereafter." Sensing his anguish, Yolande moves her seat next to Louis and makes him drink the warm wine a servant has left by the fire. She can see how much recalling these events has distressed him, but also relief that now she knows the full story. With the warm wine inside them both, she leads her troubled husband to their room and holds him close in her arms as he weeps. Instinctively, she knows he too worries for the sanity of their children yet unborn."
From Julian Fellowes, author of "Downton Abbey"
"It was a time of high stakes and high risk, where the right choice might bring a throne in its wake, but the wrong one could lead to the scaffold, of lives wrapped in gilded velvet, but drenched in ambition and blood. Princess Michael takes the reader to the heart of this glamorous, dangerous world, and holds them spellbound. I loved it."
From Philippa Gregory, author of "The Other Boleyn Girl", "The White Queen" among others.
"Meticulously researched and powerfully evoked, Princess Michael uncovers the extraordinary life of Yolande of Aragon, the power behind the throne of 15th Century France, and the mentor of Joan of Arc."
From Andrew Roberts, author of "The Storm of War" among others, published in The New Criterion
"Writing of the invasion of Italy in 1494 by Charles VIII, Francesco Guicciardini, the chronicler of the Franco–Italian wars that ended with the Sack of Rome in 1527, observed that this was “a most unhappy year for Italy . . . because it opened the door to innumerable horrible calamities in which . . . a great part of the world was subsequently involved.” The history of Europe throws up fault lines, geographical nexuses around which conflict seems inevitably to coalesce. In the early twentieth century, one such was the Balkans; from the thirteenth to the fifteenth, the Kingdom of Naples, fought over by the Holy Roman Emperors, the royal Spanish house of Aragon, and two competing lines of the French ducal house of Anjou, was another. The Angevin claim to Naples was Charles’s pretext for a conflict that arguably stunted the progress of the Italian Renaissance; The Queen of Four Kingdoms, the first historical novel by H.R.H. Princess Michael of Kent, plunges the reader into the heart of the dynastic dispute that ended in the pillaging of the Eternal City.
Charles I of Anjou received Sicily by papal grant in 1262 and retained the title of King of Sicily after losing the island itself to Peter III of Aragon in 1282. By the end of the fourteenth century, the Angevins had acquired a further list of titles, including those to the kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus, whose grandiloquence was equaled only in their lack of substance. Princess Michael’s heroine, Yolande of Aragon, whose story opens in 1400 with her marriage to Louis II of Anjou, must contend not only with the upheavals of the Hundred Years’ War and the intrigues of the court of Charles VI “The Mad,” but also with the fatal seductions of Naples, which ensnare her husband and sons alike.
In a medieval culture where all politics was dynastic, that is, familial, politics, elite women could become much more than pawns in an endless game of marriage and alliances. Yolande enjoyed a formidable forty-two year career as regent for her husband and sons, and guardian to the future Charles VII of France. French historians suggest that she was considerably more significant to the fate of her country than her protégée, Joan of Arc, whose incandescent career lasted a mere eleven months. Princess Michael plays cleverly with this, making Yolande herself responsible for the identification of the Dauphin, which famously launched Joan’s career as the prophet of Valois destiny. The novel is a brisk and illuminating march through one of the most complicated periods of French history, yet, impressively, the author never sacrifices her character to the demands of narrative.
Yolande emerges as a warm and sympathetic personality, a tough practitioner of realpolitik avant la lettre, whose sensual world is vividly evoked. Extensive research reconstructs Yolande’s life, from the great fortresses she inhabited to the colors and scents of the royal courts. The delicious reaching of toes towards fur-buried braziers on a December barge journey or the fragrance of lavender-strewn streets beneath horses’ hooves immediately conjures the “douceur Angevine” portrayed in the engravings of the Limbourg brothers, the artists of Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berri. Whilst the bejeweled surface of this enchanted world has great charm, the satisfactory substance of the book lies in the murderous rivalries that lurk beneath. In her next volume, Princess Michael promises a solution to a 550-year-old murder mystery: a clue is the model for Jean Fouquet’s luminous Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels.
Agnès Sorel was the first lover of a French king to attain the status of titular mistress, and The Queen of Four Kingdoms has Yolande grooming her for the role. The fact that Agnès’s lover is to be Yolande’s own son-in-law is dismissed by the need to sustain the kingdom at all costs. Considering her daughter Marie’s feelings, Yolande concludes that “women are more practical in these matters.” Yolande was adept at manipulating an extensive spy network throughout the royal chateaux, she taught her children to write in code, and she notoriously placed a series of loyal mistresses—the lovely medieval term is “nicatrix,” or “night bird”—to whisper the secrets of the pillows of powerful men. It is Agnès, Princess Michael suggests, who will be the power in the shadows in the next generation of French monarchs.
Princess Michael has sensibly decided to dispense with the cod-archaic language that mars so many historical novels, and Yolande fulfills her “heavy destiny” in refreshingly modern prose. It is tempting, however, to discern a shimmer of the fairy-dust of genuine royal experience in her writing: Yolande’s fashion advice that one should keep clothes “to a sharp silhouette all in one suitable, flattering colour . . . worn with a good jewel and hat,” suggests the knowledge of many a royal engagement. This only adds to the appeal of a novel that is scholarly, entertaining, and, remarkably for its period but unsurprisingly considering the author, extraordinarily glamorous."