The Best Borgia Novels

I’ve been on a bit of a fiction kick lately – mainly because I needed a bit of a break from the heavy non fiction that I’ve been looking at whilst researching for my current work in progress. It’s not been all Borgia/Renaissance novels either – I recently finished a wonderful book set mainly in 1940’s England, a tale told by an elderly woman who once worked as a servant in a large country house and I’m currently reading a murder mystery set during the Great Plague of 1665. However, as I was sat in bed last night I had a thought – I’ve read a lot of novels set around the time of the Borgia family, some of them excellent and some of them utter tripe, so why not do a blog post in and around the best of them. So here we are! Below are the best (in my opinion) novels set during Renaissance Italy and the time of the Borgia family.

The Borgia Chronicles – Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn’s Borgia Chronicles is made up of two novels, both with Giulia ‘La Bella’ Farnese as the main character and heroine. In these novels we read of Giulia’s journey from mistress to Pope Alexander VI, to an independent woman in her own right. We also have the stories of Leonello, a dwarf who is pulled into the service of the ruthless Cesare Borgia, and Carmelina, a young cook who has run away from her family in Venice. These books have been meticulously researched, winding fiction in with fact in a fast paced manner that truly draws you in from the first word you read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of these and highly recommend the both of them.

The Borgias: Two Novels in One Volume (Madonna of the Seven Hills & Light on Lucrezia) by Jean Plaidy

51Dv1ERQowL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

The Borgias – made up of “Madonna of the Seven Hills” and “Light on Lucrezia” – was the first ever Borgia novel that I read. Originally published in the 1950’s, these two novels tell the story of Lucrezia Borgia and, looking back on it now, I’m actually surprised that Plaidy doesn’t use the myth of incest and make out that it’s true. The novels are exceptionally well researched and wonderfully written. I would say that this book (or the two separately) are the perfect read for someone new to reading Borgia fiction – it’s a great, perfectly and easily readable, stepping stone.

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

40898-bloodbeauty

Where should I begin with this utter joy of a novel? Sarah Dunant’s Blood & Beauty tells the story of the Borgias from the beginning of Cesare and Lucrezia’s lives. Dunant has really put in her research for this book and damn, you can tell. This has to be the most historically accurate Borgia novel I have ever read – and it’s my absolute favourite.

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

51TG4uoXxLL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_

In the Name of the Family is the sequel to Sarah Dunant’s “Blood & Beauty” – Dunant set the bar seriously high with her previous Borgia novel and, dare I say it, she has surpassed herself in this excellent work. This novel tells the story of Cesare and Lucrezia’s later lives and involves characters such as Niccolo Machiavelli, who witnessed Cesare’s rise to Prince of the Romagna. There are some incredibly sad moments in this novel – death stalks the characters and, if you know the history, it will truly bring tears to your eyes. This is another brilliantly researched piece of work and it truly makes you feel as if you are there, in Renaissance Italy, with these truly interesting people.

Posted in book, books | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Borgia’d Up for my Birthday

So. Today marks the day when I turn 30 years old. I’ve been dreading it, to be perfectly honest. But that’s by the by – it’s just a number, right? It’s just two lots of 15…

Anyway, as has become somewhat of a tradition on my birthday, I’ve gone and got myself another Borgia inspired tattoo. Last year I had the Borgia coat of arms done and this year I’ve gone and had Cesare’s signature inked on my skin.

20180731_111400

20180731_111403

It’s positioned so it sits nicely underneath Cesare’s motto “Aut Caesar Aut Nihil”, almost looking as if he’s signed off on the quote himself. And it’s really inspired me to get cracking on my talk for September and my next book!

I must say I am absolutely in love with this latest bit of inkwork. Arran at Asgard Southampton has done an absolutely tremendous job with it and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Posted in cesare borgia, photo post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Real Alias Grace

scan0132_1287314676

Grace Marks

The other day I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s novel “Alias Grace”, after thoroughly enjoying the Netflix adaptation – I hadn’t realised before I a) started reading and b) started watching, that the story is based on a real double murder and that Grace Marks was a real woman. I was immediately intrigued by this and began having a dig around for the real story behind Grace Marks and the gruesome double murder of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery.

alias-grace-watching-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600

Grace Marks was a servant of Thomas Kinnear, living in his house just outside of Toronto. James McDermott, also a servant of Kinnear’s, also lived in the property. Both Grace and McDermott were Irish Immigrants – Grace had travelled to Canada with her alcoholic father and multiple siblings, whilst her mother had died on the trip over and had been buried at sea.

Following the murders – Kinnear had been shot twice in the chest whilst Montgomery had been struck in the head with an axe and then strangled – Grace and McDermott fled the house having stolen a number of Kinnear’s possessions. Montgomery’s body was found crammed beneath a tub in the basement of Kinnear’s home and it was later found that she was pregnant at the time of her death.

Their disappearance from the Kinnear home was immediately treated as suspicious. The two were found in Lewiston, New York, not long after the murders had taken place and were arrested. The two were taken back to Toronto where they were put on trial – McDermott was found guilty of first degree murder whilst Grace was found guilty of being an accessory to murder.

They were both sentenced to death.

Grace and James

Grace and McDermott at the time of their trial

Grace was spared the hangman’s noose, however and her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. But whilst many of the witnesses at the trial gave differing statements, neither Grace nor McDermott confessed to being totally innocent of the crime. Grace insisted however that McDermott had forced her into helping him kill Kinnear and Montgomery and said that she had tried to run away from the house – McDermott shot at her and witnesses testified to finding a bullet from a pistol lodged in the kitchen door. McDermott, whilst standing on the scaffold where he would meet his maker, made out that Grace had been happy to help him and had even been the one to strangle Montgomery with a piece of cloth.

Grace Marks was imprisoned for a total of 29 years. 15 months of that were spent in the Lunatic Asylum before she was returned to Kingston Penitentiary. During her incarceration, many petitioned for Marks’ release. She was released from prison in 1872 and moved to New York – however after that point, Grace Marks disappears completely from the historical record. Perhaps she changed her name, got married and let herself fade into obscurity – after all, she had been the subject of much discussion and spent a good portion of her life locked away in a prison – the conditions of which can’t have been very nice.

One last question was asked of her before she was released back into the world – what has been the cause of the crime for which you have been sent to the Penitentiary? She answered clearly, and in my mind gave an answer that showed her innocence – “Having been employed in the same house with a villain.”

Atwood’s “Alias Grace” is of course a work of fiction – there is much about Marks’ life that is unknown and so Atwood has had some room to manoeuvre with artistic license. The book is absolutely wonderful, with a narrative that truly hooks you and reels you in. I lost many hours of sleep, just wanting to read that little bit more and know more of Grace’s story. Atwood gives us a character who you can truly sympathise with – Grace’s story is a sad one, her life full of awful events that have shaped her, and Atwood shows us a young woman who has been manipulated into helping with a crime so awful that it hardly bears thinking about. The Netflix series also shows this and is a wonderful adaptation of Atwood’s work.

Further reading:

George Watson, The Trials of James McDermott and Grace Marks for the Murder of Thomas Kinnear and his Housekeeper Nancy Montgomery

Posted in 19th century | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Review] Riddle of the Runes by Janina Ramirez

51Sq5CIisyL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Alva rushes through the trees in the dead of night with her sniffer wolf, Fen. Being out alone when there’s a kidnapper on the loose is reckless, but if she ever wants to be an investigator like her Uncle Magnus, she’ll need to be first to the crime scene. But what Alva discovers raises more questions than it answers, drawing her into a dangerous search for truth, and for treasure.

I’ve been a fan of Dr Janina Ramirez’ work for a long time so when I found out that she was writing a novel, I knew that I just had to read it. Riddle of the Runes is Ramirez’ debut novel and although it is marketed as a children and young adults’ book, let me tell you – it’s a bloody good read for grown-ups, too!

I cracked this delightful little book open on the day it arrived and utterly devoured it within a couple of days. It tells the story of a young lady named Alva who lives in the Viking town of Kilsgard with her mother Brianna, her little brother Ivan, her uncle Magnus and her wolf Fenrir. This young lady has the spirit of a shieldmaiden and a quick mind that makes her a brilliant investigator. And when two outsiders go missing, when she finds a piece of a casket covered in runes, she knows that she has to get to the bottom of the whole mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

This book is wonderfully written in fast paced prose that is both easily understandable to young adults and language that will delight the older reader too. The descriptions of the landscape surrounding Kilsgard is utterly beautiful and you find yourself transported into Alva’s world, living alongside her as she takes on this mystery. I was particularly delighted with the absolutely beautiful illustrations that are dotted throughout the book, too.

Riddle of the Runes is truly a masterpiece of a book and one that will delight both young and old alike. I, for one, can’t wait to read the next one!

Posted in book, book review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

24 June 1519 – Lucrezia Borgia dies

1520_Veneto_Idealbildnis_einer_Kurtisane_als_Flora_anagoria (1)

On 24 June 1519, Lucrezia Borgia passed away after a difficult pregnancy. She had given birth to a daughter, Isabella, on 14 June who had been so weak that Lucrezia’s husband had almost immediately had the child christened. Immediately following the birth, Lucrezia suffered with a mild fever but it was thought that she would quickly recover – it was not to be.

By 20th June she was in such a dangerous state of health that her doctors feared for her life, particularly as she had not been purged of the ‘bad material’ (believed to be the accumulation of menstrual blood during pregnancy). Lucrezia suffered from fits so the doctors bled her and shaved off all of her beautiful hair. Incapable of speech and having lost her sight, her husband Alfonso despaired. She briefly regained some of her strength and the doctors believed that if she did not suffer another fit then it was likely that she would survive. But Lucrezia knew that she was on death’s door and dictated a final letter to the Pope (Leo X) in Rome.

On the morning of the 24th June, Lucrezia barely clung to life. She had more and more fits and her doctors tried everything they could to save her life. Nothing worked. She died later that night, at the fifth hour, just two months after her thirty ninth birthday.

All her life she had been used as a pawn in the dynastic ambitions of her father and brother and in Ferrara, as wife of Alfonso, she had finally found some peace surrounded by her children. She had grown to be an incredibly pious woman who was haunted by the sins of the Borgia and the vicious rumour that followed her everywhere she went. Even after her death her name was vilified as that as an incestuous, poisoning harlot – none of which was true in the slightest.

Lucrezia Borgia was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara where she was later joined by her husband and two of their children.

Posted in lucrezia borgia, on this day in history | Tagged , | Leave a comment