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Authors: Freda Lightfoot

The Hostage Queen

BOOK: The Hostage Queen
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Hostage Queen

 

 

Freda Lightfoot

This first world edition published 2010 in Great Britain and in the USA by SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of 9-15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DE Trade paperback edition published in Great Britain and the USA 2010 by SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD

 

Copyright C 2010 by Freda Lightfoot.

 

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

ISBN -978-0-9566073-8-6 This ebook edition

 

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

 

Published by Freda Lightfoot 2010

 

 

 

 

Marguerite de Valois is the most beautiful woman in the French Court and the subject of great scandal and intrigue. Her own brothers: the mad Charles IX and the bisexual Henri III, will stop at nothing to control her. Margot loves Henri of Guise but is married off to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. By this means her mother Catherine de Medici hopes to bring peace to the realm.

 

But within days of the wedding the streets of Paris are awash with blood in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Not only is her new husband’s life in danger, but her own too as her mother and brother hold them hostage in the Louvre. Can they ever hope to escape and keep their heads? In a court rife with murder, political intrigue, debauchery, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task.

 

 

 

 

‘Let no man say that marriages are made in heaven; the gods would not commit so great an injustice . . . All the harm that ever came to me in life came through marriage, the greatest calamity that ever befell me.’

 

Marguerite of Navarre

Author’s Note

 

The life of Marguerite de Valois was so full of drama, romance, intrigue and danger that very little in this story needed to be invented. I have nonetheless used my imagination to interpret her reaction to events, her love affairs, and to fill any gaps. Much that was written about her was pure malice or propaganda, rather than factual history, and I have done my best to stay true to what seemed most likely. Although they form the background to her story, this is not a history of the Wars of Religion, rather the effect upon them by one woman. While historians agree that the seed for the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew was sown in the talks at Bayonne, there is some dispute on how much was pre-planned. I have made my own decision on this, which I feel is logical. Where these are known, I have used a person’s actual words, modifying them slightly to suit the modern ear.

Part One

 

PAWN IN A ROYAL GAME

 

Bayonne 1565

Summer 1565

THE HOT SUMMER SUN seared through the drawn curtains of the litter as the cumbersome vehicle trundled with bone-aching slowness through the French countryside, every jolt jangling Margot’s already shredded nerves. A fly buzzed annoyingly around her flushed cheeks and she flapped it impatiently away. The clink of harness, the clomp and thud of hundreds of tired feet from those walking alongside, pounded ever louder in her ears, making her head ache. She felt hot and sticky and cross, for once uncaring of her appearance, of her rumpled gown and the fact that her dark curls hung in damp tangles instead of shining with their usual luscious richness.

Margot was bored. She longed to be out in the fresh air, galloping across the open countryside, not forced to sit demurely beside her governess breathing in the sweaty stink of horses and baggage mules from the confines of her mother’s litter.

However luxurious, however pretty a shade of green were the plush velvet cushions, it felt very like a prison.

Occasionally some incident would occur to enliven the journey: a brawl or a duel, which Margot always found entertaining. So when she heard the screams and sobs and heart-rending wails coming from some distance behind them, she couldn’t resist poking her head out between the curtains to see who was making such a din.

‘Sit still, child, and stop fidgeting,’ Madame de Curton chided.

Ignoring her governess, Margot asked a young groom riding alongside what was amiss.

‘Some court lady has been discovered in an indiscreet affaire,’ the boy confided. ‘She has been abandoned at a roadside convent to reflect upon her folly.’

Margot felt a surge of pity for the poor woman, and turning to her governess, chestnut eyes blazing in outrage, cried, ‘Is that not the cruellest way to treat a wife?’

‘It is not for us to judge, child.’

‘But why should a husband be allowed to spread his favours as he wishes, but not his wife?’

Madame de Curton stifled a sigh of exasperation. She was not above indulging in a little gossip and scandal herself, and after more than a year of travelling any diversion to break the tedium was welcome. Stalwart that she was, even she had grown weary of the jolting to her aging bones. But while she might sympathize, or even agree with her young charge’s passionate defence of the poor lady, it would be wrong to say as much.

‘Because that is the way of the world, dearest. A lady must at all times conduct herself with propriety and modesty, and of course obey her lord.’

‘But that is so unfair!’

Numbering almost a thousand souls, the Royal Progress comprised some of the noblest Catholic lords in the land
, Princes of the Blood and great officers of state. Loyal as she was to the crown, Madame was the first to accept that their brilliance was displayed more by the splendour of their robes and the length of their
private retinue, rather than the virtue of their morals.

She smiled fondly upon her charge. ‘You might do well to learn the art of obedience yourself, my child. Now close those curtains and sit still.’

 

The entire court was on the move: maids and cooks, guards and grooms, doctors and priests, the usual hangers-on seeking
favours
, merchants and charlatans
who would join this
seemingly endless royal progress
for a part of the journey, staying in local inns if they could find rooms available, before returning home exhausted and often much the poorer for their efforts. Rogues and pickpockets lurked amongst the crowd, local peasants came to gawp, children and feral dogs ran alongside, excited by this long caravan of people that stretched for miles. It was as if a whole town had suddenly got up one morning and decided to take a walk together.

This great procession had been planned by Margot’s mother, Catherine de Medici, who loved nothing more than to devise magnificent tours in order to display the wealth of the realm and impress the people.

The baggage for such a large number of persons was considerable, for they must needs be accompanied by huge wagons
and mules loaded with trunks of magnificent clothes, and all the paraphernalia needed for the many masques and pageants held en route. Then there were the oak beds and silken sheets, washbasins, trenchers, linen, trestle tables and gold plate for banquets that were required by the royal family on their travels.

Today, Catherine had ridden south to Bayonne on one of her finest horses to get everything ready for the reunion with her eldest daughter, Elisabeth, Queen of Spain. Margot was filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing her sister again, and said as much to her companion.

‘Why could I not ride with the Queen, my mother? You know I ride well, Lottie, and it would be such a relief to escape the litter for a while.’

‘Her Majesty does not have time to linger over admiring the scenery or picking pretty flowers. She has important business to attend to.’

‘What sort of business? Not the war again?’

The nation had been torn apart by civil war for years, and Margot knew that the Queen believed it essential that France should be seen to triumph. Her aim was to bring the two opposing factions, Catholic and Protestant, to a greater tolerance of each other at a local level.
She had driven the cavalcade through province after province, town after town, bestowing smiles and false promises, or stern admonitions, as the fancy took her.

It mattered not that the court often shivered under winter snows, forded turbulent rivers, ploughed through fields thick with mud, or, now that summer was here, fever and disease stalked them daily. Margot was only too aware that any inconvenience must be suffered in silence, as it was of vital importance for the people to see her brother, King Charles IX, now that he had reached his majority at fourteen.

‘I trust not, sweeting,’ Madame said. ‘Her Grace must prepare for the meeting with King Philip of Spain, and there is to be a marvellous water picnic by way of celebration. You will enjoy that, will you not? You know how you do love to dance. Now, what shall you wear?’

Instantly suspicious of this diversion, which was a favourite tactic of her governess when faced with an awkward question, Margot’s eyes flashed with rebellion. ‘I’m too hot to care.’

‘You must care,’ Madame de Curton gently scolded. ‘The Queen Mother likes you to dress well, as she herself is always supremely elegant and magnificently attired.’

Margot thought her mother looked like a fat old crow in her habitual widow’s black, however bejewelled, but then she was in the mood to be as difficult as possible. She might even refuse to attend yet another masque and go hunting instead, except that she loved her darling Curton dearly. Her beloved governess was an intelligent, remarkable woman who had taught her well: not simply the more traditional female skills but literature, philosophy, Latin and Greek, in addition to her religious devotions. At least the Queen had ensured a proper education for her children, even though she’d shown them little affection in the process.

It was to Madame de Curton that Margot had turned for love, which she’d received in abundance. The governess was fiercely protective, keeping her fully informed of all that was going on, essential in this mischievous court of plots and double dealing. Margot was never quite certain whom she could trust since her own brothers continually squabbled, t
heir childhood bickering and petty jealousies turning bitter and dangerous as each vied to wear a crown.

Now she heaved a dramatic sigh, for her resistance was mostly sham, in keeping with her ill humour. There was nothing she liked better than to dress up and look pretty, but she had no wish to give in too easily. ‘The Queen my mother constantly accuses me of being difficult, light-minded and frivolous, which is not true at all.’

Madame de Curton smiled as she stroked Margot’s damp curls from her hot brow. ‘It is most certainly true that you have an inquisitive mind, sweeting, and display far more spirit and intelligence than is perhaps quite appropriate for an obedient daughter. Now tell me, which gown do you favour?’

Margot pouted. ‘I may choose the orange gold, since that is my favourite colour.’

‘I believe Her Majesty would prefer you to wear the silver tissue, far more appropriate for a young princess on such an important occasion.’

Margot gave a shrug of careless agreement, bowing to her mentor’s superior knowledge in such matters. These extravaganzas were commonplace in court life, yet her keen mind warned her she’d been neatly sidetracked, and she resolutely returned to her unanswered question.

‘Then if it is not the war which concerns my mother, what is the purpose of this so-important meeting?’

Madame picked at a thread on her gown, avoiding the girl’s probing gaze. ‘They are to discuss a marriage proposal.’

‘For me?’

‘It is time. Your sister Elisabeth was betrothed at thirteen, only a year older than you are now.’

Margot fought to keep her voice steady as she asked the most vital question of all. ‘And who is the proposed groom?’

The governess manufactured a bright smile. ‘Why, none other than King Philip’s own son, Don Carlos.’

Physical discomfort paled into insignificance by comparison with this shocking discovery. For several long moments Margot could not speak. It was as if every breath had been knocked from her body. She felt dizzy, close to fainting in the suffocating heat of the litter. Margot regarded her governess with frightened eyes, her voice barely audible.

‘Don Carlos, Philip’s mad son? Are you saying that the husband whom the Queen my mother has proposed for me is insane, a hunchback who likes to roast rabbits alive?’

Charlotte de Curton quailed beneath the intelligent, furious gaze. It was indeed typical of the Queen’s manipulative nature to leave the difficult task of telling her youngest daughter the decision about her future to a third party. The woman known as Madame Serpent did not soil her own hands with unpleasantness when others could do it for her. Yet none of her own children, certainly not Margot, would dare to stand against her. The governess’s eyes softened as she sought to offer some comfort, however small. ‘I am sure rumour exaggerates his condition. He suffered a terrible accident as a boy by falling down a stone staircase, which almost killed him. You should feel nought but compassion.’

‘I feel more for myself.’ A sick fear lay like a lead weight in the pit of Margot’s stomach. ‘Were not the doctors obliged to drill a hole into his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain, which left him sorely damaged? I have heard the tales, Lottie, that he tortures dogs and cats, even horses, simply for the pleasure of it. I was also told that, fearing he might progress to humans, his father keeps him close at home. Has my mother taken none of this into account?’

Madame de Curton fixed her gaze on a fly crawling up the warm curtain, unwilling to answer this question either. ‘You are Marguerite de Valois, the third daughter of Catherine de Medici and King Henri II, a Princess of the Blood and a Daughter of France. Of course you must marry where the Queen your mother deems appropriate.’ As if this excused such an abomination.

Margot’s response was barely audible. ‘I marvel at this fresh proof of her devotion.’

‘Do not take it to heart so, child. There is more to consider than your wishes.’

‘My mother never considers my wishes. She may claim to love all of her six surviving children equally, yet everyone at court knows she cares nought for me. The Queen hates me because I possess the good health and strong constitution she covets for my brothers, whom she much prefers, in particular Henri, duc d’Anjou. He has ever been her favourite.’

The governess could not deny that
Anjou was the apple of his mother’s eye. Nothing was too much trouble for this favourite son. He must have the finest clothes, the choicest meats, sleep only in a warmed room, be pampered and cosseted by all of the Queen Mother’s women, her dames galantes, the bevy of beauties, or flying squadron, as they were mockingly called. But then Anjou always did love to be the centre of attention, even as a small boy when he would pose in his silks and satins before them all. It was no surprise to her that he played on his mother’s love while he patiently, or perhaps it would be more correct to say impatiently, waited to succeed his brother to the throne, should that poor boy’s uncertain health overtake him.

‘Anjou is the heir,’ she reminded Margot now, wishing to be fair. ‘Therefore he is bound to be the favourite. And you are a foolish young girl who thinks
of nothing but amusements: of dancing, hunting, and the like.’

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