In 1498, Anne of Brittany pines to marry King Louis XII of France, but considerable political hurdles must first be cleared in this sequel.
Anne is the duchess of Brittany and the sovereign ruler of the land now that her husband, the philandering Charles VIII, has died. She deeply loves Louis XII and he returns her affections. The two yearn to have a child together, but Anne refuses to entertain his offer of marriage until he can legitimately annul his union with Princess Jeanne of France. Jeanne is a decent woman but is grotesquely deformed physically and incapable of bearing the child for whom Louis so desperately pines. Problematically, Jeanne is exceedingly popular with the people, so Louis must tread carefully in dissolving the union. While he was forced by Jeanne’s father to wed her out of practical concerns, he was still at the age of consent (14 years old) and he did consummate the marriage. Louis turns to Pope Alexander VI, reliably corrupt, for his blessing but in return must grant his eldest son, Cesare Borgia, an elevated title and a French princess. Cesare chooses Charlotte of Naples, but she rejects his attentions—she is “one of the most refined maids of honor at Anne’s court,” and he is repulsively coarse as well as infamously dangerous, reputed to have murdered his own brother. Cesare, though, remains obstinate: “The young braggadocio had taken up residence nearby and wouldn’t leave France until he had gotten what he came for: a noble French bride, preferably a princess.” Gaston (Anne and Charles, 2018) continues her dramatic exploration of Anne’s life, and as in the novel’s predecessor, the duchess’s extraordinary travails and triumphs are depicted in lively, expressive terms. In addition, the author’s historical research is scrupulous and exacting, down to the dialogue. Gaston expertly depicts Anne’s—and Brittany’s—predicament (“She would return to Brittany and Louis would follow, should he obtain his annulment. She would not consent to become his wife unless a marriage contract was signed that assured her full rights as sole sovereign and administrator of her duchy”). In addition, the author skillfully explores the intersection of the French world with a budding Italian Renaissance.
A dramatically engrossing and historically searching tale about a powerful duchess.