Wrapping Up Loose Ends Before NaNoWriMo

In preparation for NaNoWriMo (beginning on November 1), I’m wrapping up the first draft of a short story I began two weeks ago. I’m devoted to giving long-forgotten women in history a voice in today’s world, and I’ve found just the woman to write about. Her name is Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie. What a name, right? But she’s most notably known as Joséphine Bonaparte (1763–1814). Before marrying Napoléon in 1796, who called her Joséphine, she was simply referred to as “Rose.”

640px-Josephine_de_Beauharnais,_Keizerin_der_Fransen

Josephine de Beauharnais, by François Gérard.

I could do an entire series of short stories based on her, which I may do after NaNoWriMo. My first story about Rose chronicles her early life, specifically, when she’s sixteen years old in 1779. Rose left her home on the island of Martinique and set sail for France in order to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais (1760-1794), a wealthy young army officer. His father was the governor of Martinique; her aunt was his mistress. Rose grew up on her father’s sugar plantation, forged relationships with the slaves, and wasn’t as refined as Alexandre would’ve liked. Needless to say, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple managed to have two children: Hortense and Eugène. Rose grew weary of Alexandre’s dispassion and obtained a legal separation.

My first story doesn’t delve into Rose and Alexandre’s marriage, but gives an embellished account of her culture shock upon arriving in France from Martinique, as well as the pressure to please her father, her aunt, her father-in-law, and her handsome husband-to-be. She sees her marriage collapsing in front her, even though it hasn’t taken place yet.

Rose has been such a fascinating woman to research and write about. It’s been a delight to place myself in her head and write what she could’ve been feeling at such an uncertain time in her life. I’m truly looking forward to writing another story about her once she’s older and wiser and not taking any crap from anyone!

Historical Tidbit: John Quincy Adams’s Pet Alligator

Historical Tidbit: John Quincy Adams, the 6th U.S. president (1825 to 1829), kept a pet alligator at the White House during his presidency.

John Quincy Adams by George Caleb Bingham, c. 1850 after 1844 original. Exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, USA.

John Quincy Adams by George Caleb Bingham, c. 1850 after 1844 original. Exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, USA.

A Snapshot of Sophia Dorothea of Celle (1666-1726)

Meet Sophia Dorothea of Celle (1666-1726), the focus of a new historical short story I just finished, titled “Escaping the Chambers.”  She’s a real historical figure, also known as the Princess of Hanover.  My short story is written from the viewpoint of a fictional character named Anna, who’s lady-in-waiting to Sophia Dorothea.  Anna is in fear of losing her head after she’s caught having aided the Princess in her adultery.

Sophie Dorthea, Princess of Hannover and Princess of Ahlden, 17th century

Sophie Dorthea, Princess of Hannover and Princess of Ahlden, 17th century

Some facts about Sophia Dorothea that I threaded through my story:

  • 1682, Germany, at 16 years old, she married her cousin, George Louis.
  • She was having an adulterous love affair with a Swedish Count, Philip Christoph von Königsmarck.
  • The day before she and Philip could run away together, he was mysteriously murdered.
  • George Louis was known to have violent outbursts.  He once attacked Sophia Dorothea, pulled her hair out, and left bruises around her throat in his attempt to strangle her.
  • The couple managed to have two children.
  • George Louis imprisoned Sophia Dorothea for thirty years (until her death) for her intent of abandonment.
  • He also had a long-term mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg.
  • George Louis became King George I of England in 1714.  Melusine moved to England with him, where he bestowed many noble titles upon her. She was all but Queen.
  • If he hadn’t imprisoned Sophia Dorothea, she would’ve been Queen of England.
Sophia Dorothea

Sophia Dorothea

The Mysticism of Astrologers & Astronomers in the Late Renaissance

For the historical novel I’m currently working on, I’m researching all things Elizabethan. I also have a short fiction workshop starting in two weeks, and my research is giving me a lot of fodder for short stories. I’m amazed by how liberal Elizabeth I was in her beliefs in astrology, astronomy, and even alchemy. The Queen’s interest in “magic” and “mysticism,” as it was viewed at the time, is seen in how she chose the date of her coronation. John Dee, one of the most fascinating men of the Elizabethan Era, was an astrologer, alchemist, mathematician, and astronomer (among other things).

John Dee, 1527-1609

John Dee, 1527-1609

Dee forecasted Elizabeth’s horoscope and told her that January 15, 1559 should be her coronation date. That was, in fact, the day of her coronation. I’m assuming that Elizabeth’s Protestantism allowed her to explore scientific beliefs. But I’m a writer first and only an aspiring historian working towards a B.A. in History. Considering the European Renaissance was a “rebirth” that promoted forward-thinking, I can see how Elizabeth would be interested in mysticism and having her horoscope forecasted. Yet, when England was ruled under her half-sister, Mary Tudor, the devout Catholic queen who reigned before Elizabeth, such “magical” practices and books were banned. People were burned at the stake for owning books relating to astrology or for forecasting the future.

What’s more fascinating is that in Italy, Church officials sentenced Italian astronomer Galileo to life in prison.  And this was in 1633, thirty years after Elizabeth’s death.  Galileo resided in Catholic Italy and Elizabeth in Protestant England, but it’s thought-provoking to consider how religious divides affected the Scientific Revolution in different parts of Europe.

Portrait of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) by Giusto Sustermans

Portrait of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) by Giusto Sustermans

Galileo wasn’t even dabbling in magical subjects like alchemy, that I know of.  Nonetheless, I would think that scientific practices would’ve been more acceptable three decades later.  When Galileo visited Rome in 1611 with his telescope, authorities in the city wouldn’t even look through it.  Since a telescope showed things that weren’t visible to the naked eye, they considered it devil’s work and comparable to hearing voices and seeing apparitions.

I would love to hear others’ views on this topic.  It’s fascinating to see the differences between Protestant England, where Elizabeth employed John Dee, and yet, in Rome, the Catholic Church imprisoned Galileo for his research, writings,  and beliefs.

Queen Elizabeth I & Mary Stuart: The Struggle Among Cousins

A Bond Through Letter-writing

While researching Elizabeth I (1533 –1603) I became intrigued by the Queen’s relationship with her cousin, Mary Stuart (1542–1587).  Also known as Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was living in Scotland, the cousins formed a bond through writing letters, but their relationship was tested once Mary arrived in England after being accused of murdering her husband in Scotland.  Many people believed Mary Stuart as the rightful heir to the English throne, including Mary herself.  Shortly after Elizabeth succeeded the throne of England in 1558, Mary made it her goal to push Elizabeth into naming her as her successor to the throne, but Elizabeth refused.  Mary also conspired to overthrow Elizabeth, yet was never successful.

Elizabeth I in coronation robes.

Elizabeth I in coronation robes.

Mary, the Murderess

Mary Stuart was full of schemes, affairs, and murder plots.  She poisoned her first husband, collaborated in the murder of her second husband, then MARRIED the murderer, who she hoped would die in battle.  It was after the accusation of murdering her husband, Lord Darnley, that Mary escaped to England.  Upon her arrival, Mary was placed and watched under guard, where she caused Elizabeth much grief for twenty years.  However, the Queen could not put Mary on trial in England for murder.  Since Mary was a foreign ruler, she was not subjected to English law.  While Elizabeth’s council did a thorough inquiry, the January 1569 decision was that there wasn’t enough evidence against Mary.

Elizabeth I’s Big Decision

Elizabeth continued to keep her cousin as a prisoner.  Rightfully so, considering Mary had Catholic support in the north and was collaborating with the devout Catholic, Philip II of Spain, to stage an invasion of England.  Elizabeth’s spies gathered evidence by having Mary’s letters intercepted.  Just when her councilors thought Elizabeth would send Mary to the execution block, the Queen stalled.  By 1584, Mary was still held prisoner, yet continued to get secret letters to Philip encouraging him to continue the plan to invade England.  Mary was finally tried in 1587 and beheaded. Elizabeth was deeply saddened by her cousin’s execution and blamed her councilors for forcing her hand in signing Mary’s death warrant.  Being a Queen who deeply cared for her subjects, Elizabeth knew that in order to keep herself and her people safe, she had to bring herself to execute her own cousin.

Mary, Queen of Scots in captivity, by Nicholas Hilliard 1578

Mary, Queen of Scots in captivity, by Nicholas Hilliard 1578

Sources:  Weir, Alison.  The Life of Elizabeth I.  New York: Ballantine, 1998.