Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Duchess of Milan - A novel of the renaissance by Michael Ennis

You know what it is like when you find such a good book that you never want it to end. When it does, it is like parting with a good friend. This is such a book. As you saw from my last blog I am into history (again) for the time being. Therefore I grabbed this book from my TBR shelves. And it sure was a good choice?

I love books set in a historic perspective and especially when following history as well as this one. It's almost like reading a biography about a historic person. To sideline a bit I would just like to mention a couple of my favourite historic biographies:  'Potemkin' by Simon Sebag Montefiore (absolutely excellent). Luckily I have two other of his books on my TBR shelves ('Stalin' and 'Jerusalem') so something to look forward to. Another favourite writer of biographies is Mary S Lovell ('A Scandalous Life' (Lady Jane Digby), 'A Rage to Live' (Sir Richard Burton the explorer, absolutely fantastic) and 'The Mitford Girls'. There are still books from her to explore.

Back to this wonderful book which is from 1992 and I bought it on a sale years ago. Michael Ennis says in the foreword that this is as work of fiction but very true to historical facts. The persons he writes about have all lived and the events that take place are all real events. He has recreated their world as exact as possible with the help of letters, paintings, archive material and research in the actual places. The rest is in the imagination of the writer and is imagination is very good.

He argues that the last decade of the 15th century is a time when a lot of things happened in the world (Columbus discovery and other seafarers and travellers) but for most people the amazing place was renaissance Italy where trade and culture were blooming and it was an era that also saw geniuses like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Duke of Bari - Il Moro
The main characters are Beatrice d'Este and Isabella of Aragonia. They are cousins and married to the duke of Bari  and duke of Milan. The duke of Milan is not interested or capable of governing Milan so the duke of Bari is the regent. The book covers the period from 1490-1498 which indeed was turbulent times in Italy with the powerful city states of Milan, Venice, Florence, Rom and Naples among others. The problem was that they were all independent and too small to be able to defend themselves from an external threat. This threat existed in the French king who wanted to conquer the kingdom of Naples. To come there he had to pass almost all of Italy.

We follow these turbulent time through the eyes of Beatrice who is married to the duke of Bari called Il Moro. Her cousin Isabella is married to the duke of Milan. From the beginning they are good friends but politics and the strive for Isabella to keep her husband at the throne and preventing Il Moro from taking over not only the regent post but also the dukedom puts them in different camps. Beatrice who is very young when she marries matures with her new life and also interests herself in the politics of the time and is assisting her husband.

Duke of Milan

The books contains extracts from real life letters which somehow credits the events in the book. One can of course never know what happens behind the official world of historic figures but the book is written in such a way that it is believable. Having read this book and thinking I know the people quite well it was quite a chock to see how Il Moro and the duke of Milan are portrayed in the TV series 'The Borgias'. Yes, I know you can't trust these series and they do say the events are 'loosely based on  X's life' but nevertheless. They could be a little bit truer to historic events. Because after all;  life often surpasses fiction.

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