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Bringing the Cleves sisters back to life

A short life and a romance to boot.

For such a short life (sorry, spoilers!), Marie of Cleves had more adventure than most women of the 16th century.  Marie’s life peaked my interest from the first when I read her Wikipedia article.  When I read that she and her husband were given the choice to “convert to Catholicism or die,” and that she remained a genuine Catholic to her death, I was intrigued.  Of course, I failed to notice just how long she managed to practice Catholicism.

There was little on the article about her connection to Henri III of France.  I had to learn that juicy tidbit when I started researching contemporary accounts of her life.  When I learned about Henri’s desire to make her his Queen, I knew I had to write a novel about her life.

Exploring Queen Margot’s squad

I could never shake the idea that Henriette de Nevers was Queen Margot’s “ride or die.”  I guess it’s due to watching too much of the French version of Queen Margot from 1994.  Yet Henriette’s life was much more than just a foil or sidekick to Margot’s adventures.

When I was writing The Valois Mistress, I learned that Charlotte de Sauve was credited (accused, condemned), for coming up with the evidence that lead to the execution of Mole and Coconnais.  I loved the idea of writing a story from the point of view of the men’s lovers, which would really add to Charlotte’s story.

When I looked at the birth and death dates of Henriette’s children, however, I was horrified.  I had no idea that she had lost her only son mere weeks before the men were killed on Charles IX’s orders.  I started to imagine what those two losses would mean for Henriette.  That did the most to humanize her for me when writing Lady of the Court.

More children than I had bargained for

When I started my initial sketches for Catherine, Duchess de Guise, I was really excited to have a turbulent, sexy book filled with her sexual escapades.  My plans went in the crapper, however, when I looked at the birth dates of her fourteen (!) children.  Not a single contemporary source gave the slightest hint that any of her children were fathered by anyone other than Henri, the Duc de Guise, her husband.  Poor Catherine was pregnant during most of the time frame that I covered in her book. 

I still wanted to portray her as lively and determined to be more than just a barefoot and pregnant wife.  Sticking as closely as possible to the historical record, I portrayed her as active in the royal court and later taking on her own roles within the Catholic League.  I did use a little artistic license in the book, which I address in the historical note.  I hope Catherine will forgive me for veering off of the record just a touch.

Writing the Three Graces Trilogy was an education, both as a writer and as a historian.  In some cases, the story just deepened what I knew about my protagonist.  In others, it completely threw a monkey wrench into my plans.  I loved writing it and hope that I did the Cleves sisters justice in the end.

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