Right Place Wrong Time

Well, I survived Monday’s return to the office–and there wasn’t a body count.

It is, however, still early in the week.

Yesterday’s heat was simply insane. The heat index was about 115, I think, and it felt every one of those degrees every time I had to go outside. It was 95 last night when I drove home from work at eight o’clock, which is also just completely insane.

I did a little bit of writing yesterday, not much, trying to get going on the WIP again. I’m a little bit at sea with the WIP right now; not touching it over the course of my vacation wasn’t exactly much of a help, and the heat and everything  yesterday, as well as adjusting to getting back to the office, kind of made that a bit on the difficult side. I will, of course, try again tonight.

Paul also got home really late last night, so Scooter and I are no longer on our own here in the Lost Apartment anymore. I’m glad he’s home–he’s always gone just long enough for me to get over the “home alone” thing; I enjoy the solitude at first, and then it gets a bit lonely by the end of his trip. And now we can get caught up on everything we’re watching, which is also another one of those win-win things. Huzzah!

I’ve been watching Netflix’ The Last Czars, which I am enjoying–it’s very well done, and the actors cast playing Nicholas and Alexandra are perfectly cast; but it’s a little bit different watching a show about doomed royalty than it used to be. There’s been a kind of tectonic shift in my mind and my way of thinking, and while the story of the last Romanovs is certainly tragic on a human scale, on a national scale I don’t really have that much sympathy for them as I might have in the past. He was an ineffectual ruler, and they were both religious bigots; they actually believed they had a divine mission from God to be autocrats and sole authority in Russia; and therefore they were always in the right–as their people starved and his bad decisions and policies brought the country to the brink of ruin, while they lived and dined in luxury and spent, spent, spent. It’s really not hard to think they sort of deserved the basement in Ekaterinburg–and the way history is taught, I’ve come to realize, with its emphasis on royalty and nobility with no interest on the lives of the people whose bodies, taxes, and lives were exploited by the ruling class–all with the blessings of their religion–isn’t necessarily the right way to teach history. I’m not saying the lives of the rulers aren’t important to the histories, just that the emphasis on them is misplaced. History should be taught as the history of the people, and the development of law and modern government–which the people have had to fight for, every step of the way…one thing I’m enjoying about this show–an odd combination of documentary, reenactment, and actual footage from the time–is that it doesn’t shy away from the crimes or the arrogance of the Romanovs, especially when it comes to their people. There’s one particularly brilliant scene where Alexandra scolds Nicholas for even considering giving in and creating a duma (the Russian version of parliament), while the nation is on the brink of revolution. “They’ll want more,” she scoffs, convinced of their divine right to power, “they’ll always want more, and then what?” She wasn’t wrong about that, but she was most definitely wrong about their divine right, and she was almost always wrong about the people.

I have agreed to write a forward to a new edition of an almost forgotten gay classic back from the plague years; the book was published posthumously after the author died from AIDS in the early 1990’s. The author, Jay B. Laws, had only managed to write two gay horror novels before died; the first, Steam, is better known than the second, and is one of my favorite horror novels as well as one of my favorite gay novels. I had read the second, The Unfinished, years ago but it’s quite odd; I don’t remember anything about it, so rereading it is like reading it for the first time. It’s quite good, and I don’t think I’ll have any trouble writing the forward–and I am also glad this has kind of forced me into rereading the book, which is practically like a new book to me. And, as a gay novel, it fits into the Diversity Project quite nicely.

There’s a low-pressure zone drifting from mid-Georgia into the Gulf, which will most likely turn into either a tropical depression or a tropical storm; forecast to dump a shit ton of rain on wherever it comes to shore, either Thursday or Friday, possibly this entire weekend. Hurray. The water in the Gulf is also ridiculously warm–89 degrees off the coast of Louisiana, near the mouth of the river and New Orleans–which isn’t really going to help matters much. (This heat wave has me already dreading my next power bill.)

Oh, yes, I also spent some time rereading the opening chapters of the Kansas book, which I’d started revising one last time last summer before being pulled away into other projects, and it’s in much better shape than I had remembered–I was still marking up the pages with a highlighter and my pen–but it also has me thinking that perhaps this final rewrite isn’t going to be nearly as painful as I first thought, or had been thinking since I got pulled away from it to work on something else. Huzzah!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

IMG_1672

Loves Me Like a Rock

Saturday.

So, yeah, yesterday was something. I slept relatively well on Thursday night, woke up at eight, and while doing my usual morning blogging over my coffee as I woke up, I kind of casually mentioned an idea for a book I had several years ago–and now that I think about it, talking about James Ellroy, which then morphed into talking about Megan Abbott’s staggeringly brilliant period noir novels was what brought it back to the front of my mind–and some friends on Twitter fell in love with the idea for the book and began pressing me to go ahead and write it, which was really unexpected and lovely and overwhelming and nice. I posted the blog entry, went and did the dishes, and when I came back to the computer my Twitter mentions had blown up (I think that’s the way to say that, hopeless Luddite that I am).  Then I walked away again, started laundering the bed lines and then cleaned the staircase only to come back to even more mentions, and some lovely new followers.

But like I always say, I never ever will have enough time to write everything that I want to write. I had already kind of decided that next year’s plan was to write three gay noirs I’d been wanting to write for quite some time (Chlorine was one of these, the others being Muscles and Heatstroke), and then a couple of weeks ago I sat down and wrote the first chapter of yet another Chanse book, despite the fact I’d officially retired the series with Murder in the Arts District several years ago. The Chanse story is already burning in my mind, aching to be written, and I’d kind of figured I’d try to get it written by the end of the year…and all the while these thoughts and ideas and creativity are running through my fevered little brain, I am also not working on the WIP or the revision of the Kansas book, which I kind of need to get done at some point….and there’s yet another unfinished manuscript (it needs another two drafts, at least) languishing in my CURRENT PROJECTS folder.

This is why writers drink.

I also spent some more time with Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, which is simply extraordinary. I’m not even a fifth of the way through and it’s a marvel I cannot recommend to you highly enough, Constant Reader; it makes me wish I was a judge reading for a Best First Novel award so I could pick it, it’s really that good.

But I did manage to get the proofing done, or at least a first pass at them (I’ll most likely do it again this weekend since I got a bit ahead on things with it). They aren’t due back until Monday, so I think I’ll probably give them another going over tomorrow, with fresher eyes again, just to make sure nothing gets missed. Huzzah!

I have to venture out into the heat today–we are in a heat warning, I think, and an air quality warning as well–to get the mail and make groceries. Usually going out into the heat drains me of all energy, but I think what I’m going to do when I get home is self-care–use the back roller/self massage thing, exfoliate my skin, shave my head and face, so a psoriasis treatment, take a long hot shower, and perhaps then recline for a moment or two in my easy chair with Angie Kim’s novel.

I’ve not written a word this entire vacation, but I am going to get my proofs finished, which is lovely, and I’ve gotten a lot of cleaning done, too. I’ve wasted more time than I’ve spent doing things, but I don’t care. I’m allowed to have some down time, and I feel very rested, which is cool. I also seem to have trained myself to go to bed every night around ten…and get up around eight. Ten hours of sleep per night has been lovely; no wonder I’m rested, right? Also, I’ve managed to stay off social media for most of the time, other than yesterday’s Chlorine-fueled blowing up of my Twitter mentions. I also have discovered these amazing, short videos on Youtube that look at some moment in history–the Wars of the Roses, the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Hundred Years’ War, Charlemagne’s empire–with animation, humor and all in under ten minutes. They’re terribly clever, and are also informative in a very macro way; there was a lot, for example, that I didn’t know about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that was filled in by the video explaining it in ten minutes, which also explained how the British came to be in charge of Palestine and Egypt, as well as how the French wound up with Algeria–which I’d never really known before. This also led me to researching the history of the Franco-Spanish kingdom of Navarre; I never really quite understood how Henri IV, King of France, managed to be the son of a regnant queen of Navarre–particularly since Navarre is barely ever mentioned throughout European history (Richard the Lion-Hearted’s wife was from Navarre); I now understand it.

I love how, despite knowing more history than most people, there are so many gaps in what I do actually know.

I also need to figure out what I have agreed to write. I think there are at least three anthologies I want to write for, or have been asked to write for, so I need to figure out the deadlines and what I want to write for them. I am going to try for the Mystery Writers of America anthology again–I have a story already written that fits; it just needs some serious tweaking and revising before submission–and I think there are three others I’ve been asked to contribute something to? I really have been scattered this spring/early summer, which is disconcerting. I also, because of all the Chlorine stuff on Twitter yesterday, sat down and wrote down all the manuscripts I have started and have some version of finished, as well as the others I want to do, and some others I’ve been asked to pitch, and I am sure it will come as no surprise that Greg, the underachieving overachiever, has ten books on said list; and I want to do them all.

And of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t have more ideas in the meantime, either.

This is also why writers drink.

Correction: I just remembered two more, so it’s a list of twelve.

Yup, I am certifiably insane, in case there was ever any doubt.

And on that note, the bathtub isn’t going to scrub itself, the bastard.

Off to the spice mines, have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

IMG_1682

O Say Can You See

The 4th of July; the supposed birthday of the United States of America, aka Independence Day.

It really isn’t the nation’s birthday, but rather the anniversary of the day that the thirteen English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard essentially said enough, and declared themselves to be free of the yoke of what they saw as royal and parliamentary tyranny; the war against the English had been going on for just over a year at this point, and the troubles between Mother England and her thirteen American daughters for just over ten years at this point.

As Constant Reader is aware, Gregalicious loves him some history. The United States did not spring into existence on July 4, 1776; the very concept of a “united states” was neither broached nor discussed during the process of the development of the Declaration of Independence, summarized in the previous paragraph (which leaves out, and/or ignores some very pertinent and important details).

The creation of the United States occurred eleven years later, in 1787, with the development and ratification of our true founding document; the Constitution. How the Constitution came into being is beautifully and intelligently described in one of my favorite books of history, Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Bowen’s book describes the painstaking process through which our government was developed, written, and agreed to by representatives of the thirteen independent states, and the lengthy, seemingly endless debates, held over between these extraordinary men during the oppressive heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer.

In the centuries since the Constitutional Convention, those Founding Fathers, those colonial Americans, have become rather deified in histories and common parlance; a pantheon of truly American gods whose names and reputations should never be besmirched or discussed in  human terms. But remarkable men as they were; they were also men, and they were, as such, just as flawed and complicated as any modern American. Thomas Jefferson had a slave as mistress, who also bore him numerous children; John Adams was not only vain but petty; and so on.

Of course the Constitution did not outlaw slavery, one of the country’s original sins; the repercussions of which are still felt today. The debates over slavery, the debates over the power of government and the freedoms held most dear, make for fascinating reading, even if one most always keep in mind the white supremacy that absolutely and positively drove almost every delegate at the convention. The United States was formed with only concerns for the rights of straight white men of European descent, and almost every freedom for the individual put into the document was for the benefit of straight white men–i.e. predicated on what they saw as abuses of their rights and privileges by the British government during the colonial period.

The ideals of the country, as set forth in this founding document which is still the basis for our government some two and a half centuries later, are most impressive; we have, as a nation, failed to live up to those ideals regularly. The founders’ compromises on slavery, their determination to make horrific compromises in order to forge a nation, unfortunately directly led to the sectional strife and divide that led to our bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, less than a hundred years after the Constitution was ratified. But even that conflict didn’t resolve the issues of white supremacy; racial conflict and strife continue to this day. The Constitution didn’t give women the right to vote or participate in the government; that didn’t come until 1920, and the equal rights of women are still not enshrined in the law to this day. Women are also still playing catch-up when it comes to representation in government either. All of our presidents have been men, and most elected officials to this day are primarily men. Racial equality is still a dream, an ideal, that we are still struggling to achieve; LGBTQ+ Americans also still are not seen as full citizens in the eyes of the law just yet.

And yet I love my country, despite its many flaws, despite its inability to live up to its founding ideals and the years of  floundering when it comes to equality for everyone un the eyes of the law. Our system is flawed because human beings are flawed; and we still have a ways to go before we are finally the nation of free people envisioned by those men in Philadelphia in 1787.

Here are the words Jefferson wrote in 1776, stirring words and ideals that we as Americans must continue to strive to achieve.

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

“For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

“For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

“He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Happy 4th of July to all.

IMG_4531

Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

37974616_1901683620125872_4497797199568044032_n

Here Comes the Sun

For right now, I am trying to clear my head and figure out what I need to do. In the meantime….

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been watching Versailles and really enjoying it. I often talk about the sixteenth century and how I am utterly fascinated by it; I also love the seventeenth century, but in that particular century my fascination is almost entirely with France. Don’t get me wrong–the Stuarts in England were very interesting, and Charles II and the restoration period is definitely one of my favorites; but my heart, alas, is really in France.

And part of that, of course, has to do with Louis XIV.

2048x1536-fit_louis-xiv-1701-hyacinthe-rigaud-musee-louvre

The Sun King, le Roi Soleil, le Grande Monarch. The third king from the house of Bourbon, who took the throne at age five and reigned for seventy-two years; which is the longest reign by a king (there were dukes and princes who ruled longer; but his was the longest for an actual King) in European history. His father was Louis XIII, the feckless and foppish king from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers; his mother was Anne of Austria, the Spanish princess whose honor the Musketeers and d’Artagnan were trying to protect/save (despite the fact, of course, that covering up the Queen’s adulterous affair with the Duke of Buckingham, the nation’s biggest enemy, was actually treason). His younger brother was Phillippe, duc d’Orleans; from whom most of Europe’s royal houses are descended. Louis XIV was the king who said l’etat c’est moi (I am the state), ruled without a chief minister, and centralized all political power in France in the person of the King; making him an absolute monarch and the envy of every other king in Europe who chafed under the rules and restrictions placed upon them by their governing bodies.

He also built the magnificent palace that was (is) Versailles; and because nobles couldn’t be trusted away from court–and also because he didn’t trust Paris, he made it mandatory for the court to live at Versailles, where he could keep his eye on them. It enhanced and centralized his power, but at the same time it planted the seeds for the eventual collapse of the French monarchy. But he built France into the major power all of Europe always had feared it could become; the conspiracies and ambitions of the great nobles had crippled the country for centuries–going back to the Norman conquest, which made the great northern province of Normandy the property of the king of England, setting both countries on the road to centuries of war and hatred.

Louis XIV fought several major wars in his later years, and France lost both, and was greatly weakened by those wars. But one must also take into consideration the fact that it took almost ALL of Europe combined years to defeat France in first the War of the Grand Alliance, followed almost directly by the War of the Spanish Succession. The fact that France was able to rally so quickly after defeat to wage another major war against almost all of Europe is indicative of just how strong and powerful the country became under Louis XIV. (Germany was also divided and squabbling for centuries, but that’s a tale for another time.)

I heard about this series a while ago, and it’s only recently become available in the US. I got it from iTunes.

title-card

The series takes place early in the reign of Louis XIV, shortly after his mother/regent Anne of Austria has died and he has taken control of the reins of government. (No mention of Cardinal Mazarin, though.) Louis’ distrust of his nobility and his capital came from the civil wars known as the Fronde, which took place when he was still in his minority, and were basically a revolt of the nobility–which the backing of the Parisians–against his mother and Cardinal Mazarin’s regency. It was eventually suppressed, but Louis never trusted his nobles again, nor did he ever live in Paris once he started turning his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles into the palace it became.

The show is beautiful. I know some of it was shot on location at Versailles itself, and the palace is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I cannot imagine how amazing it must be in person. I’ve always wanted to go there, and now I really do.

The costumes! The sets! I love the way men dressed–well, royalty and the nobility, anyway–during this period. (The 1974 version of The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite movies of all time.)

shoes

Stunning.

versailles_4-large_transeo_i_u9apj8ruoebjoaht0k9u7hhrjvuo-zlengruma

And of course, the fountains and the grounds.

versailles_tapis_vert_1

The plot itself isn’t great–it gets off to a very slow start; and Louis XIV, while interesting, isn’t Henry VIII; his life doesn’t quite loan itself to the soapy fun that was The Tudors.

But they did not shy away from his brother Philippe’s sexuality…Monsieur, as he was known, preferred men to women; he had lots of children with his two wives, but he always had a male lover, or “favorite”, as they were called then.

I’m enjoying it, but it may not to be everyone’s tastes.

Let Her In

I often talk about the sixteenth century, primarily in the context of how in that particular century women held major positions of power, or were in positions to not only have an impact on history but did. Constant Reader knows I love me some history–right now I am thoroughly enjoying Versailles and having a bit of a seventeenth century period–but during this past football season, during games, I was rereading a book I first read when I was ten years old: Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots.

Ah, the tragic romantic heroine that is the Queen of Scots! I first discovered her, I think, when I was maybe eight years old when I read Genevieve Foster’s John Smith and His World; and there really wasn’t much about her, as Smith was only alive in the late Elizabethan period. I do remember reading the entry about her execution, and about how her spaniel was hidden inside her skirts as she went to her death–and how when the headsman held up her head, she was wearing a wig, her head fell to the ground, and the whimpering spaniel curled up around it.

How romantic! Almost sounds like the start of a ghost story, doesn’t it? “And ever after, at Fotheringhay Castle, the sound of a whimpering spaniel could be heard on the anniversary of her mistress’ death.”

Hmmmm….

Anyway, the first book I read about Mary Queen of Scots was one I found in the school library (her title always bothered me–shouldn’t it have been Queen of THE Scots?), and it was sanitized for children, and again, highly romantic: Mary was a romantic heroine, doomed by her gender to be treated as a pawn by the men of her court and, of course, her cousin Queen Elizabeth I was the villain of the piece. The 1971 film, with Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson (who was AMAZING) as Elizabeth pretty much told the same story; Mary was a romantic heroine and Elizabeth the villain.

It makes for a lovely narrative, and it’s one that is incredibly popular in fiction; the young beautiful Scottish queen who falls in love with and marries her cousin Lord Darnley only to realize it’s a colossal mistake, but then throws everything away because of her deep love for the Earl of Bothwell, winds up imprisoned by her wretched cousin Elizabeth who eventually has her executed. It does make for a lovely story.

Fraser, in her bestselling biography, tried to get to the truth of who Mary was, rather than paying lip-service to the romantic narrative. It is her thesis that Mary was actually much smarter than anyone at the time or since has given her credit for; and that her decisions weren’t emotional but made coolly as political moves in the game of thrones she was playing–and the end goal, of course, was to ascend the throne of England, uniting the entire island into one realm; an ambition her son James finally achieved.

Mary’s life, once she started getting into her marriage entanglements, was the stuff of high drama. She inherited her throne when her father died from wounds inflicted in the Battle of Solway Moss against the English; she was only six days old. She was the third child of King James V and his second, French wife, Marie de Guise; her two older brothers died of fevers while her mother was carrying her. (Inheriting the Scottish throne as children was a sad Stewart family tradition; James V was less than a year old when his own father was killed in battle–again against the English–in the Battle of Flodden Field; Mary herself abdicated in favor of her own son when he was less than a year old; James I was only twelve when he became king; James II was only seven; James III was nine, and James IV fifteen. These minority reigns helped empower the Scottish nobility and prevent the throne from becoming strong, as it did in say England, France and Spain.)

Her royal family was Stewart; her marriage to her cousin Henry Stuart changed the dynasty to the English spelling, which is why the royal family of England was known as the Stuarts, not Stewarts.

Her grandmother was Margaret Tudor, eldest surviving child of Henry VII of England and elder sister of Henry VIII, which is where her claim to the English throne came from. Until the birth of Edward VI to Henry VIII’s third wife in 1537, James was the only male heir to England. The marriage of Edward VI to young Mary was probably the wisest move, uniting the two crowns and ending centuries of strife between the two kingdoms, but Marie de Guise, Mary’s mother, was French and instead sent her infant daughter to the French court, where she was engaged to the Dauphin. The Tudor direct line ended with Henry VIII’s children, who were all childless; the death of Edward VI in 1553 brought the Catholic Mary to the throne. Once Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth became queen; but Catholics didn’t recognize Elizabeth’s legitimacy–Henry’s marriage to her mother Anne Boleyn was bigamous in the eyes of the Catholic Church and so therefore Elizabeth was a bastard. The nearest legitimate heir, in their eyes, was the young Queen of Scots–who was married to the heir to the French throne and a Catholic.

Obviously, the thought of those three crowns being united was a threat to both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, so they recognized Elizabeth. A year later Mary and her husband were King and Queen of France–a year later Mary was a childless widow returning to Scotland. Elizabeth never forgave her for claiming herself to be queen of England; and the game of thrones was on.

Four years after her return, Mary married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. This is where it gets complicated. Margaret Tudor, Mary’s grandmother, only had one child with James IV; after he died she married again and had a daughter, Margaret Douglas–who had no claim to the Scottish throne but a claim to England as a Tudor. She in turn married Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox–who was a descendant of James I and thus also was an heir to the Scottish throne. Their son Henry thus had claims to both thrones; he married Mary, and their son James would obviously be King of Scotland thru his mother; had a claim through his paternal grandfather, and a claim to the English throne from both his mother AND his father, both of whom were great-grandchildren of Henry VII.

Madness.

Lord Darnley, her husband, and other lords of the court were jealous of her closeness to her Italian secretary, and they murdered him in front of her when she was about six months pregnant. Somehow, later that night, as a prisoner of her husband and lords, Mary convinced her husband to come back to her side and they escaped together, rose an army, and with her loyal lords defeated the conspirators–who included her illegitimate brother. Mary had a son, and then, a few months later, her husband was murdered–the house he was recuperating from an illness in was blown up, but his strangled body was found in the gardens. Mary then married the Earl of Bothwell, who was commander of her armies–it was an incredibly volatile time, the Queen was Catholic and most of her subjects were not–and so it was very easy for public opinion to turn against her; particularly since most people believed Bothwell had murdered her husband so he could marry her.

Was she complicit? The marriage made it appear so–and soon enough her army was defeated, she was a prisoner, and forced to abdicate. She escaped to England, where Elizabeth promptly placed her under house arrest.

George R. R. Martin has nothing on the Queen of Scots.

She was eventually implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth–after being a prisoner for almost twenty years–was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death.

So, was she a wanton adulteress and murderess? Was she a silly woman who allowed her emotions to lead her down the wrong path, or was she a calculating player who wound up being outplayed? Despite her high station, she had a pampered and spoiled childhood, and wasn’t raised or educated to be a regnant Queen; it was always assumed her husband the King of France would rule for her. So the odds were stacked against her from the beginning; and she learned her lessons the hard way; unlike her contemporary, Elizabeth, who spent her childhood and early twenties with the shadow of the executioner across her neck.

Fraser does a great job of defending her thesis; I’ve read many other books about both the royal cousins and the game they played with each other, and I think Fraser probably paints the most accurate picture of the Queen of Scots: a smart woman who played the game against overwhelming odds and lost.

Is there anything so romantic as a lost cause?

One of the biggest disappointments of the CW show Reign was, in order to try to draw in the younger audience, they told the story when she was a young girl in France–probably the most boring part of her life. Her life in Scotland was MUCH more interesting, and would have made for greater television. The best part of Reign was Megan Follows as Queen Catherine de Medici of France–one of the most fascinating women in history. Apparently, the struggle between the cousin queens became a part of the story in the third season…but Paul and I had bored of the show long before then.

And now back to the spice mines.