Monday, May 10, 2010

C. W. Gortner is HERE!

This week at Historicsal Fiction Bloggers Event we are hosting the Grand C. W. Gortner Event!

Today, the exceptionally talented author of ,

is  honoring my blog with a fit-to-measure Guest Post that will amaze you!  Once you read the splendid piece he's written, you'll agree that Gortner goes beyond what is expected, in getting closer with his audience.  This brilliant author shines not only through his enthusiasm for his craft, but also pours his genuine interest in what people actually want to read.  I feel so lucky to have him write this especially for my readers at EBJ!  Thank you so much C. W. Gortner:)

Catherine de Medici: An Italian in the Court of France
It took several weeks to get my new gowns fitted. In the meantime I began practicing my riding every day on a docile mare, using my Florentine saddle, which had a higher ridge and shorter stirrup length than customary in France and thus, Madame d’Etampes informed me, allowed me the extra advantage of being able to hike up my skirts to show off my ankles. “You do have lovely legs, my dear,” she remarked. “And the gentlemen always appreciate a hint of thigh.”  – Excerpt from The Confessions of Catherine de Medici © C.W. Gortner 2010.
Popular history has painted Catherine de Medici as the perennial evil widow—the notorious queen mother who poisoned her foes and wreaked havoc upon France. Of course, history rarely tells us the whole story and Catherine’s is no exception.  Still, the legend persists, and so we see Catherine enshrined forever in her unadorned black skirts and veil, a reptilian being without any glamour. We tend to forget that in fact she was once a pretty girl— thin, with the Medici’s slightly protuberant eyes, long beautiful hands, and, it was said, thick, curly auburn hair. She was not unattractive by our modern standards; though in her day, when willowy blue-eyed blondes were prized, she was never described as a beauty. Still, she had spirit and, most importantly, she had intelligence and a formidable education. A true product of the Italian Renaissance, she could speak several languages, read and write (in an age when literacy among women not of royal birth was a rarity, not the norm); and she imported with her to France the seeds of a cultural heritage that continues to flourish today.
It’s almost impossible to verify the claim that Catherine first brought pasta to France, though dried pasta was a staple in the 16th century for sea voyages. However, we can safely assume that if she did bring pasta, it wasn’t served in its most popular Italian incarnation, seeing as the first recipe for pasta with tomatoes was written in 1839. However, Catherine did import several other interesting devices, and her patronage of the arts made significant contributions to the French Renaissance and the world at large.
Like every well educated Renaissance person, she believed forces beyond our comprehension shaped the world; in particular, she was a firm believer in the power of astronomy and astrological influences. The French seer, Michel de Nostradamus, shared her belief and he dedicated many of his quatrains to her and her husband Henri II. She in turn patronized Nostradamus, safeguarding him and his rather unorthodox practices from the ecclesiastical authorities. Without Catherine de Medici’s protection and support, we may never have had the opportunity to read the visionary prophecies of Nostradamus.
Catherine was an avid art connoisseur who re-modeled the Louvre to house her vast collection. She was following in the footsteps of her beloved father-in-law, Francois I, whose obsession with purchasing art—in particular Italian art—is responsible for the Louvre’s housing of such masterpieces as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Madonna of the Rocks. After Francois’s death, his collection languished in various palaces including Fontainebleau; under Catherine’s guidance, the art was protected ad preserved. In the same vein, Catherine had a keen appreciation for portraiture—a direct reflection of her humanistic education, in which the secular individual assumed vital importance. Under her patronage, the school of Clouet and others created astonishing images of some of the most important people of the age, including Catherine’s own children, allowing us centuries later to bask in their vivid, almost photographic likenesses. Her patronage of artists continued throughout her life; today, much of Catherine’s collection of portraits is on display in the Musée Condé, in the Château of Chantilly.

Architecture was another lifelong passion of Catherine’s, one in which she reputedly indulged rather wastefully. It is unfortunate that so little of her original architectural projects remain. Her chateau at Chenonceau, surely one of the most beautiful palaces on earth, bears testament to some of her work, including the gallery spanning the Cher River and sumptuous gardens. Another of her extant surviving projects is the impressive tomb she had built for herself and her husband in the mausoleum of kings in Paris’s Abbey of St Denis. It is sad to contemplate that the tomb now stands empty, as the royal skeletons were removed from the Abbey during the Revolution and tossed together into a common pit.

Catherine collected books and reputedly amassed a significant library, amongst which were several important treatises on nature and the occult. She was an amateur poet and patronized poets liberally at court, including the famous Pierre Ronsard, whose verses evoke the era so beautifully. Under her guidance, the theatrical scene of the era was enlivened, as well, with many court events including plays and other forms of stage entertainment, setting the scene for the Sun King’s later extravaganzas.

Perhaps most fascinating, however, are the smaller contributions she made: Catherine is believed to have imported the first artichokes to France, as well as the first example of the modernized side-saddle.  She was also the first documented user of female undergarments in France— which, if true, indicates that before she arrived, the ladies went commando under their gowns. It does make one wonder just how Catherine went about introducing the benefits of underpants to the ladies!
Thank you so much for spending this time with me. To find out more about The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, as well as special features about me and my work, please visit:

Wasn't this AMAZING?!  Thank you C.W. Gortner, This has been such a pleasurable read.

Please be sure to check out the fabulous GIVEAWAYS, Guest Posts, Reviews, Creative Posts and other fantastic happenings this week, by checking The Calendar of Events back at HFBRT


BurtonReview said...

A very intriguing inside look at Catherine. It is so interesting how much Catherine enjoyed the arts and learning in general. I feel that should be expanded upon more in regards to her history, as opposed to the fact that her husband had a mistress throughout their marriage.

Lucy said...

You're right Marie. It seems that the times deemed a woman's intellect less than secondary compared to climbing the ladder through sensual prowess;) I love this article- And-I love the way Gortner's book highlights Catherine's importance in so many ways...this time Diane seems so washed out (well it's about darn well time!) Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post! I had no idea that changes that Catherine wrought and can't wait to now read the book.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you so much for inviting me; I'm delighted to be here with my new book and am so pleased you're enjoying the guest post!

Unknown said...

It's interesting that the first thought that comes to my head after reading this post is about the ladies going commando under there gowns! haha. Wonderful post full of many things I didn't know about Catherine.

Allie ~ Hist-Fic Chick said...

Oh wow, I can't wait to visit the Louvre this summer, even more after reading this post! I was already planning on visiting Chenonceau, but I've now added the Musee Conde to my list!

CW wrote some great guest posts for this event - the one he wrote on the royal menage a trois for my blog later this week is completely different yet equally as fascinating. Fun to read the art history perspective here, especially to get the "back story" to how in the novel, Catherine is always admiring Francois for his passion towards art. She truly did follow in his footsteps in that regard!

Anonymous said...

After this wonderful post, I went to his post and listened to the videos where he talks about his books and their subjects. I find it interesting that he has chosen women who have been maligned
in their time and have not been treated well by history. I can't wait to read his other posts and to get my hands on his books.

Lizzie said...

I did not know that about the Louvre and Francis collection. Such an interesting post, and artichokes are one of my favorites.

In Devils Queen, Francis mistress was on a ride with him and the ladies Catherine included when the mistress took a dive off her horse and landed completely the wrong way and the commando secret was out.

Anonymous said...

CW, your post reminds me of some research I was recently doing about Elizabeth I. She, too, was interested in the occult, was educated, could speak several languages, and was a great patron of the arts. I now find it fascinating that these two queens, both of whom were contemporaries of one another, were so similar!

They even both had very scandalous personal lives, although for very different reasons.

Great post. Can't wait to read your book.

Radu Prisacaru said...

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Michelle Stockard Miller said...

I'm a week late to the events, as I was sick last week. This was a very interesting post. I'm embarassed to say that, history buff though I am, I really do not know much about Catherine. She was an intriguing persona and I can't wait to learn more about her.