I have long been fascinated by historic fiction centered around the Tudor Court in England. It’s an interesting period in history for so many reasons and the political, religious, and romantic intrigue are legendary. But with so much attention paid to the Tudors it’s easy to forget the cutthroat situations of other royal courts in Europe. When I saw Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot as an upcoming release–a novel centered around Marguerite de Valois, the youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis—I was eager to see how another royal court of the period compared on the page (Catherine de Médicis, her husband, and his mistress also featured in It Ended Badly so with the names fresh in my mind, the premise caught my attention quickly).
Marguerite—Margot—is only about ten years old when she is finally invited to join her mother’s household in her older brother, Charles’ royal court. Initially close to her other older brother, Henri—later the Duc de Anjou—she slowly learns to navigate the flirtations and manipulations of French court, eager to do her duty to her family, her king, and her faith. The French Wars of Religion impact life at court for all but for Margot perhaps most. Though the court and her main companions are all strictly Catholic, there are other factors at play—family loyalties and plays for power and influence. Margot—struggling to build a future that suits herself—finds herself used and abused by her closest family and friends. But as she grows, she learns, and when the time comes Margot can and will take a stand against her mother and the formidable power she wields.
With how important a factor the Catholic/Protestant divide was in England during the same period, it’s easy to forget just how torn France was by the same issue. In so many Tudor novels, France is simply another Catholic nation looking to usurp power in England. But in Médicis Daughter it becomes painfully clear just how unstable and vulnerable the divide made France itself. As complex as the political power struggles of the court become with opponents and proponents on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide, the power plays that prove most disturbing fall within the Valois family itself. As a royal family with sons and daughters to spare, the rivalries between the brothers—for power over the kingdom, glory and notoriety, and their mother’s affections—brush the likes of Margot aside, robbing her of agency constantly and paying attention to her only when they can use her.
In the context of the story, Margot proves to be an adept but largely unwilling participant in the games of her family and the court. She longs to be valued for herself as opposed to her position or what she can accomplish for others. Patronized at every turn by her temperamental mother and siblings, watching Margot struggle—especially when remembering just how young she is as she goes through everything—can be agonizing, as one person after another disappoints and betrays her. But seeing the growth, determination, and presence of mind she displays in the novel’s final chapters is also amazing. As Perinot states in her author’s note at the end, Marguerite de Valois doesn’t get the historic credit she deserves.
Médicis Daughter will be available for purchase December 1, 2015.