The Medici Child
(The second book in The Medici series )
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‘’Magic Alchemy, violence and murder, and the birth of a very special child, Victoria Mosley has outdone herself in the second book of the Medici series, both in terms of plot and style……..I’ve never read anything like it……. ‘’
‘’ Everything is energy, beyond that is divine……..’’ Einstein
Set in Florence between 1565 and 1587 and in the present day, this is a historical and supernatural thriller. We meet the dark brooding Francesco 1 de Medici, his hapless Habsburg bride Johanna, and his gorgeous mistress Bianca Cappello. Francesco’s overriding need is to produce a male heir and neither woman can seem to give him one
Isabel de Cordova is known in Florence as the ‘’Traveller in Time ‘’ after the success of her book ‘’For Love of a Medici.’’ When this story begins she is forty and the glitter of the past eludes her. She returns to the city and with the help of an Ayahuascquero Luis Delguardo enters a vision quest into the past of the Medici Court where she meets Francesco 1 and the unthinkable happens.
Hofburg Palace Innsbruck 1st November 1565.
It is decided.
Johanna stares out at the lowering mountains above the Palace, their grey granite summits obscured by snow.
—-The same snow that is blurring her vision of the courtyard beneath her window, huge soft crystals of magical white powder, beautiful but deadly—
She shivers and turns back into the room where her ladies are sewing the intricate embroidery on the nightgowns and intimate linen of her trousseau. She is to marry the Italian Prince, if he can be called that, Francesco de Medici of Florence, son of Cosimo 1. Fretfully she pulls out the miniature that she wears on a golden chain around her neck to stare at the dark hooded eyes of the man who will become her kismet, her fate.
He is handsome in a dark swarthy Italian sort of way; she can say that for him: a Medici from the banking family that over the last one hundred years or so has ruled the tiny but powerful Duchy of Florence. Her brother Maximillian needs the alliance to protect the borders of his Holy Roman Empire so she and her sister Barbara are to be sold off to Italy to procure this security. It gives a certain ring to the term:
Of course she has always known from a very small child that her destiny was to become a brood mare for an Imperial alliance, but she had never until now realised how it would actually feel. She has had a magical childhood in the fairy-tale Palaces of her family and although she takes a pragmatic stance in life only half of her lives in the ‘’real’’ world. The other half inhabits a mystical realm of mysticism and myth of devout Catholicism of which she is the pivotal point. She touches the palm of her hand to her heart, it beats in the same way that it has always done but soon her body will no longer belong to her although she supposes that her immortal soul is not to be sold along with it!
She taps her small foot on the floor in irritation, what use are her expensive education and her grasp of the classics, her interest in politics and her love of literature now? They might as well have sent her to the nearest brothel; the tricks of the prostitute will be of more use to her than the Prie Dieu and Latin.
Mind you neither of the Hapsburg Princesses has come to the marriage table cheap that is at least some consolation. Gifts are beginning to pour in from Italy, each suitor vying to outdo the other in the game of etiquette and precedence that will now ensure Imperial Princesses married to minor Dukes! She has heard tales of the Medici court, its brilliance and panache, run by Francesco’s beautiful sister Isabella. The stories of the parties and the intrigue, the love affairs the murders and the drama of a dark kind of magic have filtered across Europe. There is certainly nothing shy about this family she is to join. Really she wonders if she is being sent into the lion’s den for the sake of the Empire and a bolt of pure fear runs through her.
Isabella her soon to be sister in law………the brightest star in the Medici firmament…….Isabella who behaves more like a man than a woman, by all accounts that is. Why Isabella’s husband’s cousin Troilo Orsini is rumoured to be her lover. The same Troilo who is so welcome at the court of the spider Queen, Catherine de Medici in France. Everywhere she looks there are Medici women battling for power and influence, how is she Johanna to make a life for herself in all of this glitter which has the bright shine of fool’s gold?
Yet what can’’ they’’ the future wives to be, do about any of this? They have little say in the matter of who they are to marry and even less control over their husband’s lovers, for she understands clearly that Francesco has a mistress, she is under no illusions on that score. At least she is to fare better than her sister Barbara who is to become the second wife of Duke Alfonso of Ferrara. It seems that the Duke somehow managed to kill off his first pretty young wife, the little sister of her Francesco: Lucrezia Medici. Poor Lucrezia she was married to the very much older Duke at sixteen and only to live for two years. There is gossip of Alfonso keeping a permanent mistress, the only woman he actually deigns to sleep with, and of his poisoning his little Medici wife but let us hope upon hope that poor Barbara manages the tricky situation in a more fruitful manner. All the Princesses need to do is produce children, lots of children preferably boys and not die in childbirth and then the Kingdom of Earth shall be given to them.
Johanna is to wed Francesco in Florence, he is the heir to what will soon be the Grand Duchy of Florence, but it will take their marriage, and her royal blood to make sure Cosimo 1 receives the Grand Dukedom. Her heart skips a beat, in what in another person might be called excitement, but she is so inured to anything but duty that she is thrown off kilter by the sensation and a blush rushes to her pale cheeks.
Her thoughts are whirling almost as fast as the snow falling outside the window it seems so strange to her that for a little while now, the reins of her life might be loosened and she will be a bird free to fly. She will escape the narrow confines of Austria and visit countries and courts that she has only dreamed of. This sense of freedom will be allowed to her for a few weeks. The weeks of travel across Europe between the signing of the marriage documents and the wedding of the pair: and in this interim space she will become the focus of everyone’s attention for the first time in her short life. Yes absolutely everyone in all the courts in Europe will be looking at her. Till now she has been the youngest daughter of her handsome father Ferdinand who grew up in the palaces of Spain.
—-Poor Johanna who never knew her mother and is afraid of any kind of feeling. –
Her life up until now has been bounded by rationality and education and of course the Church. But for a few short months she will take her place upon the stage of Europe, as the Royal Princess who brings honour to her Italian husband.
Outside the walls of this predominantly medieval Palace there are mountains to cross both physical and metaphorical, but for this moment she can dream like other girls, can’t she? Of course time is made up of single moments woven together to a solid tapestry of life she watches her breath cloud the clarity of the window…….paralysed by the immensity of the idea. Ever since she was a very small girl she has worried about such insoluble problems, metaphysical ideas that have no answer and that might be heretic in their very origin. She grabs hold of any book available on the insoluble metaphysical problems of the age and recently has been reading Giordano Bruno with his ideas of the ‘’infinite universe’. In his thesis of the Universe everything has a unique interconnectedness with everything else. Then of course there are the writings of Copernicus with his insistence that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. His book completely shatters the age old theory of the whole cosmos being a series of immobile crystal spheres. Rationally she is perhaps prepared to consider this, it is infinitely more reasonable than the whispers of Magicians and Alchemists and the prophecies of court Astrologers.
She pauses at the Venetian glass mirror hanging over her dresser and gazes into its gilded depths as if seeking an answer to a question that she can’t yet quantify. She thinks for a moment of childhood bedtime stories of another world on the other side of the mirror and stretches out to touch the glass expecting for a split second that her fingers may dissolve into the reflection. But no she only sees her small pale face with the large Hapsburg nose looking back at her, her chin receding into the ruffs of her gown.
She isn’t pretty, she looks like one of the Spanish horses in her father’s Imperial stable, and all her other sisters have the same equine look. Far too many of her Uncles have married their own nieces and first cousins and this has stamped the genetic pool of the Imperial family and not in a good way. Still her dark Italian Prince might like the colour of her blonde hair might he not? It is hidden now scraped back from her high forehead under her lace cap but who knows what the fashions in Italy may be? As she smooth’s her hands over her small flat figure she wonders what it will feel like to be touched in this way by someone other than herself.
Last week she had a gypsy visit her; the woman had some unpronounceable name Valetta Indira ………she forgets, and does it really matter what these people are called? Johanna has the incurious manner of royalty as to the origins or habits of mere human beings. The woman had come from the Spanish court with her brother after the death of dear Papa last year. For the first time ever she had been faced with a sense of ‘’otherness’’ and she had been spellbound by the dark skin and silver trappings of the woman. A smell of musk and dried herbs had permeated the room with her and she had the blackest pair of eyes ringed with even blacker grease to accentuate their size. Looking into the depths of her blackest of eyes was like looking down into a bottomless well; the pupils huge and merging with the iris as if the woman had imbibed of Belladonna. For the Princess knows a little of the uses of plants and potions, as a child she had helped the court apothecary mix his potions in the large storehouse kept for the purpose at the back of the Palace. Johanna had felt that she was doing something illegal and devilish and indeed if they had been found entertaining the gypsy woman, goodness knows how many Hail Mary’s she would have had to say in retribution. Her ladies had arranged the soiree and it had been delicious, there is no other word for it.
They had doused the candles of the large crystal chandelier in the north tower and by the light of smoking beeswax candles and the glow of the fire the woman had spread her Tarot cards.
……. A circle of strange figures and rune like signs that covered the table in front of them…..
Well of course they all speak Spanish as well as French but the crone had muttered away in her Romany tongue and the faces of the cards had looked back at Johanna with their shadows and colours.
She remembers some of the cards, the lovers, the Queen of Cups, the Prince of Pentacles, but after that she didn’t recognise any. The Gypsy had said she would be married soon and be rich in gold and children but there was suddenly the Devil card turned up in the spread, glaring at her and for that card the old woman had refused to comment. With an intriguing horror Johanna had stretched forward and snatched the card, brought it close to her short sighted eyes. She had seen a pair of naked lovers chained beneath the larger figure of the Devil who pulled at them choking the fetters that caught at their necks and wrists. All the gypsy woman would say was that a love triangle was inevitable and sighing and sweeping the cards beneath her skirts she had pressed a small metal disc into the Princesses hand before being led away and given a large fat purse for her troubles. Johanna has had the disc strung on the gold chain that carries Francesco’s image. It seems that it is a Talisman for good luck and fortune, the woman had continued to mutter unintelligibly as she was led away. Johanna fingers it now; it looks very ancient and feels rough to the touch. Of course she had gone immediately to the Royal library and consulted Agrippa’s ‘’Three books of Occult Philosophy’’ and then copied out his comments. She can remember them clearly,
“So the magicians affirm that not only by the mixture and application of natural things, but also in images, seals, rings, glasses and some other instruments, being opportunely framed under a certain constellation, some celestial illustration may be taken, and some wonderful thing may be received…”
“…the beams of the celestial bodies being animated, living, sensual, and bringing along with them admirable gifts and a most violent power, do, even in a moment, and at the first touch, imprint wonderful power in the images…”
The door is flung open and disturbed from her reverie she hastily returns the gold chain to the depths of her small innocuous bosom; she is not alone and the large doors create a moment’s vacuum and then suddenly the room is filled with courtiers. They are carrying more gifts from Francesco who is determined to outdo the Duke of Ferrara in the variety and quantity of jewellery and precious gems that he is sending to her. Yesterday it was a pair of diamond earrings and thirty seven pearls brought to her by the Duke Paolo Orsini who is the husband of her soon to be sister in law the beautiful Isabella de Medici. Today the clatter of hooves in the courtyard below heralded the arrival of a gift of six Arab horses, three stallions and three mares with silver and blue velvet saddles and bridles. They had paraded them beneath the window as it was far too cold to go outside. Now she sees armfuls of gold cloth and tapestries and a beautiful small bronze figure of David.
Sighing she turns away from the window and composes her face into its usual blank nondescript haughtier. Outside the snow still falls, now it has turned to sleet and balls of hail smash against the glass, she shivers and feels herself apart from the warmth of the room that beckons to her. On her desk is a letter from Francesco, the first love letter she has ever received. He talks of the beauty of Florence and the Italian cities she is to travel through. He talks of his joy at their forthcoming union and his sense of honour at the thought of being her husband, but nowhere in all this is there mention of love, and indeed what is this word ‘’love’’ that the old gypsy woman used ?
Johanna struggles to remember, the gypsy had talked about the notion that the whole power of love is magic and that the Talisman she has given the Princess is a Venus Moon Talisman cast to bring the wearer love and good fortune. The Princess knows all about honour and duty and she knows about filial love and sisterly love and more than anything she understands the love and duty she bears towards her country as an Imperial Princess. Wars have been fought won and lost, and out there across Europe soldiers are dying for their duty to their country. Her honour is to uphold the dignity of her status; this has been ingrained into the very fibre of her being ever since she can remember.
There has been little frivolity in being a Hapsburg Princess, but she clearly understands from some of the stories her father told her that she is descended from her great grandmother Isabella of Castile, a woman who fought to unite the whole of Spain under one crown. Isabella and her handsome consort Ferdinand of Aragon had lived and died for the kingdom that Philip her cousin now rules. Yet she is also descended from Juana, her father’s mother who they say was mad, although Johanna likes to think that she was used and abused by her husband and her father so they could rule Spain in her stead.
One woman so strong and seemingly inviolate, and the other locked away for forty six years because she held the title of Queen in a country that refused to acknowledge the Hapsburg claim of her consort husband. The thought of politics is giving her a headache again; often she wishes that she could just be an ordinary girl without the weight of nations to carry on her shoulders.
What she really wonders about, as her long thin fingers draw patterns on the frosted glass of the icy widows are the feelings that tie two people together. This ‘’love ‘’ equation that the poets speak of, that is something unknown to her. Her heart is as cold tonight as the glacier cascading down the mountainside and she has no idea if the coming of spring, a change of climate or the marriage to an Italian noble will ever melt it .Yet here in this moment, in this split second before it all begins she is suddenly terribly afraid of stepping into the unknown ripple of the future. She sighs, her brother the Emperor would say that she is thinking too much, that God has a plan for them all and all she has to do is step confidently into it but tonight when she is to meet the Italian for the first time she is not sure of anything, even for a heretic moment ……… she is unsure if there is a God.