Leonardo: A Life in Drawing ~ Southampton City Art Gallery

It goes to show just how out of touch I am with the local goings on in my town that I had absolutely no idea about the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition that had been going on at my local art gallery. It’s even more shocking that I had let something about a man who is part of an era I’m so passionate about almost pass me by. So today, I took myself up the art gallery for a quick lunchtime jaunt.

The exhibition at Southampton is part of a simultaneous number of events taking place across the country at 12 different venues – all of this is to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the genius’ death. Each venue holds 12 drawings. And then in May over 200 of Da Vinci’s drawings will go on display at Buckingham Palace and Holyrood House.

As such the exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery is very, very small. But to even be able to see such incredible works of art with my own eyes was absolutely astounding. The 12 drawings featured in Southampton’s exhibit included drawings of anatomy (including some wonderful sketches of muscles, bones and internal organs), sketches of horses and nature. At most it will take you around 15 minutes to peruse the drawings on display, but if you have any sort of interest in the life of Leonardo da Vinci and the era in which he lived, definitely try and take a few minutes out of your day to check this little exhibition out.

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Leonardo: A Life in Drawing takes place between 1 Feb – 6 May 2019 at Southampton City Art Gallery. Entry is free.

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[Review] Medici: The Magnificent

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When Medici: Masters of Florence was shown on Netflix, I fell in love with the series despite all its flaws. It brought to life a family from the Italian Renaissance who I’ve long held a great amount of love for, and it did so beautifully. Yes, there were some inaccuracies however it was the sort of historical drama series where you could look past that and just enjoy the series for what it was. It wasn’t like, say, The Borgias, where the writers turn the whole history on its head just to tell what they believe is a be.

Medici: The Magnificent is the second series and this one tells the story of a young Lorenzo – a man who would later be given the sobriquet of “The Magnificent” (hence the title of the show – clever, right?) and his rise to power. In this series we see the ongoing feud between the Pazzi and the Medici, leading up to one of the biggest and bloodiest events in Medici history. We also see romance blossom and jealousy and hatred bloom.

The main antagonists of the series are the Pazzi family – a family who utterly despised the Medici. They believed that they were nobility and therefore had the right to hold power in Florence, whereas the Medici were nothing more than “jumped up wool merchants”. The jealousy and hatred would later lead to an incredibly violent confrontation. The Pazzi were headed by Jacopo de’ Pazzi, played in the show by the utter brilliant Sean Bean.

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Bean truly brings the character of Jacopo to life and from the get go I utterly despised the character. What surprised me, though, was how by the end of the series and Jacopo’s nasty end I actually felt sorry for him. He and his family had been brought up to despise the Medici and knew no different – the belief had been utterly ingrained in not only Jacopo but his nephew’s also. Bean’s characterisation of Jacopo is utterly stellar – he drips venom is his words and you can truly see the hatred in his eyes.

The Pazzi family also includes Francesco and Guglielmo, the nephews of Jacopo who have been brought up to hate the Medici also. Both brothers evidently wish to be friends with the Medici, however. Francesco and Lorenzo are shown as friends in their youth, yet Francesco is twisted and moulded by his uncle. Guglielmo is the far more affable brother – he marries Bianca de’ Medici and, in a way, unites the two families. Unfortunately for Guglielmo, it’s not enough…

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As is always the case in historical drama, we have a heck of a lot of sex and romance. Lorenzo dallies with other women as well as his wife, yet learns that it is his wife who is the one for him. Their story is truly moving and I found myself absolutely adoring Lorenzo’s long suffering wife, Clarice. In history the two held a deep respect for each other and I felt that the series showed this really very well.

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Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici were my favourite characters in the whole series. Perhaps I’m somewhat biased given my long standing love for Lorenzo the Magnificent…the only gripe I have is that Daniel Sharman, who plays Lorenzo, is far too good looking!!! Lorenzo the Magnificent was known for being rather ‘ugly’ – yet he still managed to pull in the ladies! Giuliano, however, was incredibly good looking and Bradley James really was the perfect fit for the ill fated Giuliano de’ Medici.

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The inclusion of Sandro Botticelli was brilliant – many would have forgotten the part that Boticelli played in the early lives of the Medici but the show runners did it perfectly. I was so pleased to see that they showed him and his deep-seated love for Simonetta Vespucci, the woman who became his muse and whose figure appeared in some of his most famous artworks – Primavera and the Birth of Venus being just two examples. They also included the rumoured love affair between Giuliano and Simonetta, which was also done beautifully.

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I must admit that I was somewhat worried about how the series would show the brutal events of the Pazzi Conspiracy. However I was pleasantly surprised. There were a few inaccuracies in their version of events, however. They did not show Francesco stabbing himself in the leg during his attack on Giuliano, nor did they show that one of Lorenzo’s friends sucked at the wound on his neck just in case it was poisoned. They also showed Giuliano as still being alive despite the attack, dying only after he had seen his brother – Giuliano was long dead by the time Lorenzo was escorted from the Duomo and as he left he kept asking after his brother. He did not see his brother’s corpse. Nor did he show his face at the Palazzo della Signoria during the attempted coup. Instead he went to his home on the Via Larga and appeared there to prove that he was still alive. It was only then that the people truly turned on the Pazzi and chased their supporters through already bloodstained streets. Despite the inaccuracies, the final scenes brought me to tears. Giuliano’s death was incredibly moving and both Sharman and James acted their little socks off.

It is during these last scenes, as Lorenzo deals with the loss of his brother, that we see a big change in him. In these scenes Sharman acts with his eyes, and it’s beautiful. He shows us Lorenzo’s change from head of a family to a true leader in a totally stunning manner.

I’m very very impressed with Medici season 2. Very impressed. Yes, there are some inaccuracies but not enough to make someone who knows the era beyond angry. It’s a beautiful television series, incredibly well written with an insanely talented cast. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who loves well written historical dramas, whether they know the history of the era or not. And if you don’t know the history, it’s a GREAT stepping stone to spark someone’s interest.

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[Review] The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans

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“They say I am the last of them alive; they say I am the last roundhead.” Ancestor to Colonel Blimp, Sir Blandford Candy is an irascible old drunk with a hatred of poets and a love of hats. After an argument with his new neighbour Alexander Pope, he looks back on his life and the start of the Civil War.Young Blandford sets off for London following an illicit affair with his brother’s betrothed and joins the army to fight the King, taking part in the battles of Edgehill and Turnham Green.As he bounces from battlefield to bedroom, Blandford unmasks Cavalier plots, earns the enmity of the King’s agents and uncovers an attempt to steal thousands. All whilst dealing with murderous brothers, scheming sisters and puritan displeasure.Flashman meets the Three Musketeers in a picaresque romp through Stuart England at its nadir/through the Civil War

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Evans’ novel, The Last Roundhead, in a competition just before Christmas. So I began to read as soon as I received it, finishing it just a couple of days into 2019.

Wow. All I can say is, wow.

I must admit I was a little wary about reading a novel based in the English Civil War again, as the ones I have read have set the bar seriously high. And I was even more wary that this one is told from the perspective of a Parliamentarian. But, this novel blew all of my expectations out of the water and smashed that bar to pieces!

This book tells the story of Blandford Candy, a young soldier who fights for Parliament in the English Civil War. He’s young, impulsive and not at all like what you would expect a roundhead soldier to be. And it’s wonderful, making you love the scoundrel right from the outset, when an older Blandford begins to look back on his wartime shenanigans. The story itself is told mainly in first person – something you don’t often see anymore – and it really gets you hooked into Blandford’s story. You understand his feelings. You understand his mindset. And it’s written so well that the story flows wonderfully.

This novel is fast paced and full of exciting moments that make you want to just keep reading. It certainly is a page turner full of murderous plots, romance and scheming. Evans has done a remarkable job and let me tell you, I cannot WAIT for the next book!

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2018 Yearly Wrapup

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Here we are again – saying goodbye to one year and welcoming in another. As always, I’m continuing with my yearly tradition and writing a year in review post and…what a year it’s been, not only in my history career but in my personal life as well.

The first big event of 2018 was our trip to Rome, in the first week of February. What a trip it was – we spent three full days squeezing in as much of that gorgeous city as we possibly could, visiting places we hadn’t been before and seeking out places that were linked to the Borgia family. Some of my favourite places from the trip include the Castel Sant Angelo, seeing Vanozza Cattanei’s gravestone listing the names of her children, the Borgia apartments and the Salita dei Borgia.

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March saw the release of my course on the Medici family over on MedievalCourses as well as being on Truce, a podcast, talking about Girolamo Savonarola. In April I was signed off sick from the day job for a couple of weeks and spent the time visiting local museums – I visited the Solent Sky Museum, Tudor House and the SeaCity museum. The visits certainly kept me busy and it was so nice to explore some of the historical sites in my hometown.

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During the May bank holiday, my partner and I decided to take a walk across the city and head to Netley Abbey. If I ever say I’m walking there again, someone PLEASE stop me! We did have a wonderful day out, though – the ruins of Netley Abbey are utterly stunning and very peaceful. We also spent a good few hours wandering around the Royal Victoria Country Park where I was particularly taken with the cemetery. I also booked my very first author talk!

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I turned 30 in July and, following a rather messy night out a few days before, I spent the actual day getting a new tattoo! It’s become something of a birthday tradition to get inked on my birthday so, for my 30th, I got a very special tattoo done – Cesare Borgia’s signature!

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August was, on a personal level, a month of incredible highs and incredible lows. My little brother got married at the end of the month and we had an absolutely wonderful time – I was so proud of him and my sister-in-law. It was a gorgeous ceremony in a beautiful location in Falmouth. But unfortunately, the morning after, my grandfather suddenly passed away in his sleep. He’d had a brilliant day at the wedding and had been so chuffed to see his first grandchild get married. Rest in peace, Grandad. I love and miss you.

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As 28 September rolled around, during two weeks where I’d been signed off work (again), I gave my very first author talk at Southampton Central Library. The nerves were very, very real but I had an absolute blast giving the talk and will certainly be doing more in the future!

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October saw my favourite event of the year – the Winchester History Weekend! It’s always an absolute pleasure to attend the talks given at this event and this year we booked to see Dan Jones & Marina Amaral talk about their new book “The Colour of Time” – they discussed how Marina coloured her photos, how Dan Jones discovered her, the process behind writing the book and let me tell you. It was awesome. We had the chance after the talk to meet the both of them and, funny story, when it was my turn to get my book signed Dan Jones looked at me and said “I know you from the internet!” and asked how the blog and writing was going. Both him and Marina are absolute sweethearts and it was an honour to meet them both!

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We also said goodbye to my Grandad in October – I travelled up to Leamington Spa for his funeral. It was a very emotional couple of days.

On the day I got back from Leamington Spa, I went ghost hunting! Two friends and I had booked a night at Tudor House Museum in Southampton with the Paranormal Adventures team so, after a quick nap when I got home, off I went to meet them from work (as I was still signed off at that point) and we went ghost hunting! What an experience it was – a lot of very creepy things happened, including one of my friends seeming to channel the spirit of a young lady, a very intense Ouija board session and some creepy goings on up in the attic!

Now, I’ve been somewhat quiet here during the last few months of the year. And that is because I’ve been spending a lot of time concentrating on my current work in progress. It’s been an uphill climb however now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The first draft is VERY close to completion! So I should hopefully have more news on that during the first few months of 2019.

2018 has closed on a very sad note, however. On Saturday 22 December we said goodbye to our beautiful grey chinchilla, Cesare. The poor mite had been unwell for a while and dragging his back-end, struggling to go to the toilet. A xray showed a strange white mass which both the vet and specialist couldn’t identify. It was down to my partner and I to research what it could be and we discovered that it was 99% likely to be a kidney stone. By this point our boy was far too weak and would not have survived further x rays or even surgery – when we noticed he’d been passing blood in his urine we made the very difficult decision to have our boy put to sleep. Cesare had such a personality on him and really was the sweetest of boys – his passing has certainly left a hole in our hearts and this festive period has been difficult without his craziness. Love and miss you, Cesare.

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I’d like to wish each and every one of my readers a Happy New Year – thank you for all your support this year, you’ve been wonderful. Stay safe tonight and here’s to a happy and prosperous 2019!

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My Top 10 Books Of 2018

I’ve read a hell of a lot of books this year – and surprisingly a lot of them this year are novels! I’ve been on a bit of a fiction kick this year and it’s actually been wonderful – a nice break, as it were, from the heavy non fiction books that come with research. That’s not to say that I haven’t been reading non fiction, because of course I have. So my top ten books of 2018 are going to be a bit of a mix!

10. The Flames Of Florence by Donna Russo Morin

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This wonderful novel is set during the reign of Savonarola in Florence, and let me tell you….it’s bloody brilliant! Russo’s writing style makes this book so easy to read and you can really tell that she’s put her research in. Highly recommended.

9. Forsaking All Others by Catherine Meyrick

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If you love historical romance novels then this is a book for you. Romance novels aren’t normally something that I would read, let alone enjoy, but this book really is a diamond in the rough and it’s one that kept me up seriously late in order to finish it. Wonderful writing and brilliant characters – a joy to read!

8. The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev

 

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This book. Oh my God. This book. Lev’s biography of Caterina Sforza has become my bible on this remarkable woman. If you want to know about the life of one of the Renaissance’s most powerful and courageous women then I HIGHLY recommend this book.

7. The Private Lives of the Saints by Dr. Janina Ramirez

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I’m a huge fan of Dr. Ramirez’ work and this book is just brilliant. It’s scholarly, yet easy to read and chock full of wonderful information on a group of people from history who don’t seem to have had all that much work done on them.

6. The White King by Leanda de Lisle

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The Stuart’s are another fascination of mine and a very close second to the Borgia family. So when I received this book on Christmas morning last year I was VERY excited, and it was cracked open literally that day. This book is absolutely wonderful. Lisle has really done her research and put together and excellent biography of King Charles I that gives the reader a balanced view of a man so often tarred with the name of traitor. Definitely check this book out!

5. The House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin

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This is a book that everyone needs to read as it delves into the beginnings of a family who went on to found one of the biggest royal dynasties in history. It’s wonderfully researched and is another book that is an absolute joy to read. If you’re interested in knowing more about where the Tudors come from then definitely check out this book!

4. Riddle of the Runes by Janina Ramirez

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Riddle of the Runes is Dr. Janina Ramiez’ first foray into the world of fiction. It’s a children’s book but let me tell you….I absolutely devoured this tale of mystery in the Viking world. And I cannot WAIT for the next instalment. Highly recommended for both young and old alike!

3. How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman

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Marie Antoinette is another woman in history who absolutely fascinates me and I will quite happily devour anything about her reign and the awful Revolution that ended up taking her life. This book is a wonderful account of a scandal that only helped to bring about her downfall. This truly is a fascinating account of a scam that blackened Marie Antoinette’s name and the book is full to bursting with information on pre-Revolutionary France. Highly recommended and one I will definitely be re-reading!

2. The Colour of Murder by Toni Mount

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This book has to be my favourite novel of 2018. Toni Mount’s books are always absolutely brilliant but this book? This book has set the bar even HIGHER. The fifth installment of the Sebastian Foxley tales is a story set once again in Medieval London with murder and intrigue blighting the lives of our hero and his family. Mount weaves history with fiction seamlessly, bringing to life the streets of Medieval London and the lives of its inhabitants. A novel that is electric and emotionally charged – everyone needs to read this book, and the entire series!

1. The Colour of Time by Dan Jones & Marina Amaral

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My book of 2018 has to be The Colour of Time by Dan Jones & Marina Amaral. This book is chock full of re-coloured photographs and information on some of the most important moments in history 1850-1960. The work put into doing those photographs is insane and I have so much respect for Marina Amaral for taking on such a task. Those photographs, added in with Dan Jones’ text on the history of what is shown in the photos, make a book that everyone should read. Literally, everyone. It’s a book that will end up pulling people into history and that will spark an interest in it and that? That is brilliant. 

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