[Review] The Colour of Cold Blood by Toni Mount

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A devilish miasma of murder and heresy lurks in the winter streets of medieval London – someone is slaying women of the night. For Seb Foxley and his brother, Jude, evil and the threat of death come close to home when Gabriel, their well-liked journeyman, is arrested as a heretic and condemned to be burned at the stake.

Amid a tangle of betrayal and deception, Seb tries to uncover the murderer before more women die – will he also defy the church and devise a plan to save Gabriel?

These are dangerous times for the young artist and those he holds dear. Treachery is everywhere, even at his own fireside

It was my absolute pleasure to receive an advance reader copy of Toni Mount’s third Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery. After reading “The Colour of Poison” I was absolutely hooked on the story of Sebastian Foxley and I must admit, developed a little bit of a crush on the young artist.

From the moment I picked this book up, and I know it sounds horribly cliched, I couldn’t put it down. Mount’s writing style, the twists and turns in the plot, make this novel a real page turner. The descriptions of Medieval London, the stinking back alleys and the sight of beggars who had fought for the King only to end up destitute, really make you imagine that you are there with the characters. Within this tale we see characters who have been prominent in the last books – the Foxley brothers, of course, Jack Tabor and his dog Beggar, Tom, Emily and a myriad of others; all of which are characterised perfectly. I have to admit that I found myself seriously disliking certain characters who, previously, I had loved. Without spoiling the story, all I will say is that there were points when I really hoped Sebastian would kick Emily out of his house! Other characters I grew to love even more, particularly little Jack Tabor with his constant questions on what certain words meant and his mischievous personality.

The tale itself is one of mystery, murder and heresy. With murders of young prostitutes, Seb Foxley must unravel that mystery whilst dealing with the threat of heresy in his own home and treachery from his own family. I was particularly impressed with how Mount mixed historical fact in with her tale – it was incredibly well researched which is a given for Mount. She is an incredibly knowledgeable historian and you can really tell when reading her work.

Normally, with historical fiction, I’m wary. But this novel is absolutely fantastic and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. Here’s to more adventures starring the Foxley brothers!

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It’s coming…

I am VERY pleased to announce that my second book, about the fanatical Girolamo Savonarola, will be coming SOON!

Watch this space for more details on the upcoming release from MadeGlobal publishing.

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12th March 1507 – The Death of Cesare Borgia

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Portrait of a Gentleman, traditionally said to be Cesare Borgia by Meloni Altobello

On 12th March 1507, Cesare Borgia was killed in battle outside the walls of Viana. Having joined up with the King of Navarre following his miraculous escape from the prison of La Mota in Spain, Cesare and the army of the King decided to take the town of Viana back into the hands of Navarre.

As the weather in Viana turned bad, Cesare believed that in such weather no attack would happen. In his mind, he and his soldiers were safe. Except this was the opportunity that the enemy had been waiting for. They attacked, and as the alarm was raised in the town confusion reigned. Cesare dressed quickly in light armour and ordered his soldiers to ride out with him to meet the oncoming enemy. Cesare, in his excitement, rode out before his soldiers – he rode so fast that he outdistanced himself and did not realise he was alone until it was too late. Three men ambushed Cesare as he rode forward – as Cesare raised his arm to attack one of the men struck him underneath the arm with a lance. He was mortally wounded but still, having fallen from his horse, fought for his life but he was overcome. Stabbed countless times, Cesare Borgia died just days before the Ides of March and the death of his hero, Julius Caesar. He was just thirty-one years old.

Stripped naked, Cesare’s attackers covered his genitals with a stone to cover his modesty. The man had absolutely no idea that they had killed Cesare Borgia, whom they had been ordered NOT to kill if they met him in battle. It was only when Cesare’s squire, Juanito, was shown his master’s armour that they realised. The boy had burst into tears.

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Cesare’s death in Los Borgia

Cesare Borgia was buried in the church of Santa Maria within the walls of Viana. His tomb was carved with the following epitaph:

“Here in a scant piece of earth, lies he whom all the world feared”

His body was removed from the Church by the Bishop of Calahorra in 1537 – the bishop did not wish such an ‘evil’ man buried in consecrated grounds. So, his tomb was destroyed and his bones moved outside the front of the church. His remains were walked over for centuries until in 2007, the Archbishop of Pamplona allowed Cesare Borgia’s remains to be brought back inside the church. He lies there still, a simple stone plaque marking his final resting place.

Further Reading

Sarah Bradford – Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times
Michael Mallet – The Borgias
Mary Hollingsworth – The Borgias: History’s Most Notorious Dynasty
Ivan Cloulas – The Borgias
Christopher Hibbert – The Borgias & Their Enemies
Samantha Morris – Cesare Borgia In A Nutshell
Paul Strathern  – The Artist, The Philosopher & The Warrior.
Raphael Sabatini – Cesare Borgia

 

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[Review] In The Name Of The Family – Sarah Dunant

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It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womaniser and master of political corruption is now on the Papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two, already thrice married and a pawn in her father’s plans, is discovering her own power. And then there is Cesare Borgia: brilliant, ruthless and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with the diplomat Machiavelli which offers a master class on the dark arts of power and politics. What Machiavelli learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince.

But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasing maverick behavior it is Lucrezia who will become the Borgia survivor: taking on her enemies and creating her own place in history.

Having brought and loved Blood & Beauty a while back now, when I found out that Sarah Dunant’s follow up to that wonderful novel I knew I had to preorder it. Dunant’s previous Borgia novel was a gripping narrative of the early years of the Borgia papacy and the rise of Cesare to prominence in the military. So when I opened this book I had high expectations. Expectations that were met from the word go.

Dunant tells the story of the last years of Borgia prominence within Italy from the point of view of many different characters. Machiavelli is a prominent character in the narrative which pleased me greatly – he was an important part of Cesare’s story, as a diplomat and envoy to the man’s court after he had taken over parts of the Romagna. In many Borgia fiction works Machiavelli isn’t mentioned at all – the authors are more interested in bringing the incest and poisoning myths to life than telling the story as it actually was.

Yet again, as in Blood & Beauty, Cesare’s characterisation was written so well I could imagine myself being in the same room as him as he raged against his father, as he visited his sick sister, as he fought for his life after contracting a deadly fever. His famously bipolar mindset poured from the page and more so, I was struck by how he lost his grip on power following the death of his father. The gaunt, sick young man came across on the page as I imagine he would have in real life – panicked and confused yet trying to keep up the facade of being a powerful and dangerous man.

Lucrezia’s story was probably my favourite part of this novel. Twisted in with her narrative was the narrative of her new family in Ferrara – the utter dislike of Ercole towards the Borgia family and his cruelty in keeping Lucrezia’s allowance from her had me despising the horrid old man! Yet throughout it all, Lucrezia Borgia maintained her pose and grace despite the whispers about her. I particularly liked how she found comfort with the poet Pietro Bembo, how she had feelings for him that couldn’t be shown because of who she was and where she was. I have a book of letters between Lucrezia and Pietro and they truly are the sweetest things – she found comfort in his poems and with his friendship during a time when she must have felt incredibly lonely, surrounded by those who despised her simply because of her name.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the Borgia family and the politics surrounding the last years of their power. It may be a work of fiction, however it tells the truth. It shows us how brutal the world was back then, how brutal Cesare could be, how Lucrezia was used as a pawn – and it is beautifully done. The only mention of the rumours are precisely that, rumours and whispers by those who wanted the downfall of the family – and I LOVE that about this work. Dunant tells the truth about these people- which is much more exciting than the myths (as many of you know I hate what Showtime did to the family with that show) and also included a detailed bibliography at the back of the work for anyone interested in learning more about the family and the time period.

A fantastic piece of work for which Dunant deserves the highest praise.

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Lucrezia Borgia – More Sinned Against than Sinner

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Portrait of a woman, traditionally said to be Lucrezia Borgia. By Bartolomeo Veneto

The name Lucrezia Borgia conjures up images of a harlot killing her enemies via use of a poison ring, committing incest with her father and brother. But the truth is, this image is one that has been pushed on us by enemies of the Borgia family who wished the sully the name of the daughter of the Pope. And the truth of this woman is much more complicated than the rumours and stories try to tell us. And the fact is that Lucrezia Borgia is a woman more sinned against than she is a sinner.

Born in the April of 1480 to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and Vanozza Cattanei, Lucrezia found herself as the only daughter amongst a family of boys – Cesare, Juan and Gioffre. As such, she was considered as the “darling of the family”. In 1492, her father was elected as Pope Alexander VI after wheeling and dealing within the locked Vatican following the death of the last Pope. Now, as the daughter of the Pope, Lucrezia would become nothing more than a pawn in her father’s political machinations.

Lucrezia’s first marriage happened in 1493. She was married to Giovanni Sforza – a marriage simply of politics, nothing more. Shipped off to Pesaro, Lucrezia did not last long there – her father tired of the alliance with the Sforza family and arranged a divorce. A divorce that was scorned by Giovanni. The marriage was dissolved on the grounds of Giovanni Sforza’s impotence. Sforza was certainly not impotent – his first wife had died in childbirth! He also stated that he had known his wife (Lucrezia) hundreds of times, but that it was obvious to him that the Pope only wanted Lucrezia for himself. It seems likely that it was this moment that started the incest rumours that plagued the Borgia family – rumours persisted that Alexander slept with his daughter and that Cesare slept with his sister also. Whilst incest was something that happened a lot during these times, spreading such rumours was the perfect way to vilify the names of those in the Holy Family.

Following her divorce from Sforza, Lucrezia became involved in an affair with a young man named Perotto, who worked for the Pope. His body was later found floating in the Tiber. Many said it was Lucrezia’s brother, Cesare, who arranged the killing to save his sister’s name being dragged any further into scandal. It wouldn’t work.

Lucrezia’s second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biscelie, and seemed to be a happy one but yet again this would end in disaster. Cesare soon became jealous that Lucrezia was giving the handsome Alfonso all her attention. Early in the marriage Lucrezia suffered her first miscarriage (a pattern that would manifest throughout her life) and on 15th July 1500 her husband was publicly attacked in Rome and was badly wounded. Yet he began to recover, being looked after by Lucrezia and one of her trusted doctors. Cesare was blamed for the attack, yet it was bungled. Had Cesare been behind it, then there is no way that Alfonso would have survived. It was more likely an attack orchestrated by the Orsini family as revenge for the slights that the Borgia had given their family. On 18th August when Alfonso was sat up in bed talking to his wife Michelloto de Corella burst into the room stating that Alfonso’s uncle had been taken prisoner and that Lucrezia must petition the pope for his release. When she returned Alfonso was found strangled, dead in his bed. Rumour sparked yet again that this was the deed of Cesare, which seemed likely considering that Michelloto was known to be Cesare’s henchman and assassin. Cesare even spun a story that Alfonso had been planning on killing that. In truth, it was because Cesare (and the Pope) were aware that the alliance with the Aragon family wasn’t working for them – Cesare was working closely with the French by this point, and Alfonso was a Spanish inflience that the Papal court did not need. Lucrezia mourned the loss of Alfonso heavily, so much so that her father sent her away whilst her father began to get her back on the marriage market. She was soon to become Duchess of Ferrara.

Lucrezia married Alfonso D’Este in around 1502 and lived a comfortable life with her new husband. Whilst the two of them often committed adultery they ended up developing a mutual respect for each other, despite not loving each other. Lucrezia though gave Alfonso many children, and they were happy enough. The mutual respect may have even made way to a kind of love from her husbands side, and they often wrote letters to each other whilst her husband was away, the both of them concerned for each others safety. During this time, the biggest event in Lucrezia’s life was to happen: the death of her brother Cesare. He was killed in a battle at Vianna after escaping imprisonment at the Medina Del Campo in Spain, and Lucrezia found out much later. Once again she grieved heavily and despite all the wrongs he had done to her, she still cherished him. On the outside though Lucrezia did not show her grief, it was as if through all her hardships she developed a tough outer shell and was determined not to look weak, a sign of the Borgia strength that she so often exhibited and an asset to her personality.

In July 1509 Lucrezia passed away after developing complications giving birth to her eighth child. Despite clinging to life for ten days she remained very unwell and her doctors were of the opinion that her illness was caused by a buildup of menstrual blood that had become infected. The doctors tried everything for her, from bleeding to cutting off all her hair yet nothing worked. She had just turned 39 when she died, and was buried in Ferrara.

At the end of her life, Lucrezia Borgia had survived the intricate play of Italian politics, and she had survived it with a dignity that many would not have if they had been faced with the constant rumours and attacks on their person. Lucrezia Borgia may not have been a Saint – none of us are – but she certainly was not the incestuous harridan that the enemies of the Borgia want us to believe. It is, sadly, something that has still stuck within the public imagination. With television shows such as The Borgias showing Lucrezia as a woman who poisons her enemies and who conducts illicit affairs with her own brother, is it any wonder that even now, over five hundred years since her death, the public imagination is fixed upon Lucrezia Borgia being evil?

Further reading

Sarah Bradford – Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love & Death in Renaissance Italy
Sarah Bradford – Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times
Christopher Hibbert – The Borgias & Their Enemies
Ivan Cloulas – The Borgias
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