My mother studied history at Vienna University, and as children, my brother and I reveled in her tales of heroes from ancient Greece and Rome; of the fierce Moghuls and the conquering Ottomans; or of medieval mysteries; and always, there were knights in shining armour doing what they should. Perhaps it was inevitable that I too studied history and history of art and after my marriage, writing seemed the best option as a profession.
Following the birth of my two children, in 1981 I began and five happy years of research and writing later, "Crowned in a Far Country: Portraits of Eight Royal Brides" was published. While deciding on my choice of heroine, I discovered that often it was not the queen who was the real "first lady" of her country who had the most influence on her husband or the arts, theatre, music, interior design, gardens or child rearing. Sometimes it was the royal mistress, the choice of the king's heart and not one dictated by politics. Beginning with the 16th , I chose an impressive royal mistress a century.
In 1991, "Cupid and the King: Five Royal Paramours" was published. Once again, that last book led me to my next subject. A large number of English speaking readers let me know that they had heard of each royal mistress from "Cupid" except for Diane de Poitiers -- only to the French did her name seem familiar and mostly not more than that -- but then the French had not heard of Nell Gwyn either. Of them all, Diane was my favourite. I decided to write her biography without knowing at the time that she was my direct ancestor. In 2004 Diane de Poitiers' biography, "The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a King", was published to pleasing acclaim from France!
Diane was an aristocratic girl born in 1500 and betrothed to Louis de Brézé, a grand courtier aged fifty-six when she was a maid of fifteen. He had been twice widowed, no children, and the union, considered most appropriate by the court of France, was arranged by the formidable royal Princess Anne de Beaujeu, twice regent of France, who had also arranged the marriage of Diane's parents. Surely an advantageous match I thought, or why pair such an unlikely couple? But who was Louis de Brézé that he should be such a catch for the equally well-born Diane de Poitiers, thirty years his junior?
I discovered that he was the godson of King Louis XI, a previous monarch, who had arranged for Jacques de Brézé, the son of a wise, older friend, to wed his beloved half-sister, Charlotte de France. And who was she, I wondered? None other than the legitimised daughter of the legendary beauty Agnès Sorel, mistress of Louis' father, Charles VII. Agnès had not only been the guiding light of that dissipated king, twenty years her senior, but also his one and only true love. It was said that Charlotte de France was ravishingly beautiful as her mother, but not as chaste! Her husband Jacques, the king's young friend and a famous huntsman, caught his lovely wife in flagrante with his own Master of the Horse -- and ran them both through "one hundred times" they said at his trial!
Louis was rather fond of Charlotte and for the crime of killing the king's sister, Jacques de Brézé was caged -- but not for too long since the king's hunting dwindled to poor sport without his young friend by his side.
Charlotte de France, mother-in-law of Diane de Poitiers, daughter of the "legendary beauty Agnès Sorel" and I had never heard of her? How could I resist following her trail? And that is how I found Yolande, "The Queen of Four Kingdoms". Yolande, Princess of Aragon, Duchess of Anjou, Queen of Sicily, Naples, Jerusalem and Cyprus, mentor of Agnès Sorel among others; and the first heroine of the long story which has become The Anjou Trilogy. I do not see myself as an historian. I am a story teller and this trilogy is fundamentally true.
Yolande's is a saga of loyalty and betrayal, a time of chivalry and yet its demise. It is the long chronicle of England's conquest of France. Throughout, Yolande, married from her native Spanish Aragon into her mother's homeland, France, holds sway over everyone she meets, in particular her glamorous young husband Louis II, royal Duke of Anjou, and with whom she falls deeply in love and he with her -- unusual in arranged marriages. Through him she gains most of her titles and his burning devotion to king and country. In Paris, the tall, blonde and already beautiful nineteen-year-old Duchess of Anjou meets and enchants her husband's cousin, the half-mad King of France Charles VI, his family and his court. Fortunately sane at their meeting, the king recognises in her a kindred spirit and slips on her finger his sapphire signet ring, there by granting her perpetual access to the seat of power.
The Anjou's capital is the mighty fortress and town of Angers, which becomes their base, their home in the north and the birthplace of most of their children. Winters are spent in the south, in the warmth of Provence, travelling mostly by river through fields of lavender and reveling in the bounty of their land's rich soil. Yolande learns to administer her husband's huge territories and does it well -- so much so that he feels able to leave her to re-conquer his inheritance of Naples and Sicily. This chimera kingdom; this cursed crown that will surely be their ruin. But such thoughts she learns to keep to herself. Yolande is a woman of her time and knows her place. But she watches -- and has others of her own kind watching and reporting to her.
Sleuthing led me to some astonishing and, in part, unknown characters and facts, and what began as one book grew into three. After six years spent researching, I was ready to begin writing what has become The Anjou Trilogy, not as a history, but as a true story.
'The Queen of Four Kingdoms' was published by Constable last October in UK and became a best seller. This October it has appeared in France, published by Éditions Télémaque, and by Beaufort Books in USA.
'Agnes Sorel Mistress of Beauty' will be published in the UK on November 6thSuggest a correction