April 29

Happy 1st Anniversary to Prince William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge! 


April 26

April 26th 1478 
The Pazzi attack Lorenzo de’ Medici and kills his brother Giuliano during High Mass in the Duomo of Florence

Like the Medici family, the Pazzi's were a rich family of bankers, think of them as the JV version of the Medici's varsity team. Basically they were sick of being second class to the Medici's and they decided to try to take over control of Florence by plotting against the Medicis. The Medicis had a lot of enemies - it comes with the territory of being the de facto rulers of a city - among them was Pope Sixtis IV (probably not a good idea to make an enemy of the Pope) and it was actually the Pope who sought to destroy the dominion of Medici - they had grown too powerful for his liking - and it was for this purpose he created an antimedicei group, lead of course by the Pazzi who had replaced the Medici's as the Pope's personal bank. 

On Sunday April 26th 1478 while attending High Mass in the Duomo, before a crowd of 10, 000 they attacked. There had been rumors of assassination of various members of the Medici family - the would be assassins weren't very good at keeping it under wraps - and of course Lorenzo de' Medici found out and of course made appropriate precautions. I guess he didn't think that they would attack in the House of God so he left the Duomo unprotected. Oops. Lorenzo, these are assassins, they don't care about murdering in the House of God, what were you thinking! Honestly man! They even had the POPE's blessing - that is like having permission from God himself!

Lorenzo's brother Giuliano was stabbed 19 times by Bernardo Bandi and Francesco de' Pazzi. While Giuliano lay bleeding to death on the cathedral floor, Lorenzo was able to escape to the sacristy with serious, but non life-threatening injuries. The coup d'état had failed and at the same time it enraged the Florentines - who dared to hurt their beloved Medicis! The Florentines seized and killed the conspirators - Jacopo de' Pazzi was tossed from a window then dragged naked through the streets and thrown into the Arno River by an angry mob; Francesco de' Pazzi and Bernardo Banid were hung all despite Lorenzo's pleas to the people of Florence not to exact their revenge. 

The Pazzi family were stripped of all their possessions in Florence, very remnant of their name was erased and banned as well as their family crest. In the aftermath, Pope Sixtus IV forbid Mass and communion in Florence for the execution of the Salviati archbishop. I guess he was a little ticked off that the conspiracy failed and that the Medici's remained in power . . . although Florence did kill an archbishop, but he was trying to kill their rulers.  

April 26th 1923
The Duke of York (George VI) weds Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at Westmister Abbey

When the Duke of York married his bride Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 he was merely the younger brother of the Prince of Wales, the second son of King George V. Fast forward thirteen years when Edward VIII abdicates and low and behold the second son, Albert, Duke of York is made King George VI and his lady Duchess became Queen - and she eventually became the beloved Queen Mum.

It took Elizabeth, a while to accept Bertie's proposal - he proposed on 3 different occasions! He must have really loved her to keep on asking (and being turned down twice)  and eventually his persistence paid off. His choice in a bride caused some controversy considering he was an heir to the throne and she was legally a commoner by birth - princes were expected to marry princesses of course or at the very least a girl from a noble family. But Bertie would have none of it - he only wanted Elizabeth. 

Like all royal weddings, it was a grand affair however it was clearly a ceremony fitting a prince and not a future king (after all Edward was still alive and kicking and he had not yet made the decision to marry a divorcée). There were a total of eight bridesmaids and Elizabeth's dress was made from deep ivory chiffon moire and it was embroidered with pearls and silver thread - in fact it was designed to match the traditional Flanders lace which was provided by her future mother-in-law Queen Mary. After the ceremony the happy newly weds took off on their honeymoon which ended with Elizabeth catching the "oh so romantic" whooping cough during their stay in Scotland.

Happy Birthday to . . .

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor
(121 – 180)

William Shakespeare
(1564 – 1616)

Marie de’ Medici, wife of Henry IV of France
(1573 – 1642)


The King’s Agent ~ Donna Russo Morin

To the casual observer, Battista della Paglia is an avid art collector, or perhaps a nimble thief. In reality, the cunning Italian is an agent for François, the King of France, for whom he procures the greatest masterpieces of the day by any means necessary. Embroiled in a power struggle with Charles V, the King of Spain, François resolves to rule Europe's burgeoning cultural world. When he sets his sights on a mysterious sculpture, Battista's search for the elusive objet d'art leads him to a captivating woman on a mission of her own . . .

Having spent her life under the controlling eye of her protector, the Marquess of Mantua, Aurelia longs for freedom. And she finds it in Battista. Together, they embark on a journey to find the clues that will lead him to the sculpture-- a venture so perilous it might have spilled from the pen of Dante himself. From the smoldering depths of Rome to a castle in the sky, the harrowing quest draws them inextricably together. But Aurelia guards a dark secret that could tear them apart--and change the course of history.


Clues hide in great works of art—symbols that speak of other worldly forces—political forces collide, secret societies and enemies abound, and danger lurks in every challenge, those that mirror the passages of Dante’s Divine Comedy – and it is Dante’s work that holds the key to the quest.

The King’s Agent was a quick and enjoyable read. It is an entertaining historical fantasy adventure set in Renaissance Italy that centres around Battista della Palla, a rogue, cunning, quick and deliriously handsome art collector who is commissioned by King François of France to “acquire” one of the most unique and powerful art treasures known to man - a mystical relic. The quest François has sent him on requires Battista to break into a palazzo where he meets the beautiful, feisty, intelligent and mysterious Lady Aurelia, the ward of the Marquess of Mantua, who longs for freedom and who carries a great secret. When Battista’s attempt to steal the first clue from the Palazzo of Mantua goes awry it is the Lady Aurelia who comes to his rescue. Aurelia holds some valuable knowledge in regards to the piece Battista is searching for and she convinces him to take her with him on his quest. Soon the two are deciphering clues hidden in great works of art – symbols that speak of other worldly forces – political forces collide, secret societies and enemies abound, and danger lurks in every challenge. As they work to unlock the mystery that mirror the passages of Dante’s Divine Comedy, they trek perilously in dark corridors, beneath castles, muddle through labyrinths, through secret doors and discover mysterious clues that lead to dark secrets.

The novel is filled with pages of brilliant descriptions and dazzling details, typical of Morin’s style. It is extraordinarily intricate and it has a captivating romance sprinkled with intrigue, adventure, gothic style labyrinths, history, art, mystery and more. I especially enjoyed the intricate infusion of Dante’s Divine Comedy – the only problem was that I found myself sometimes distracted by the story as I was dying to reread the Divina Comedia again! The novel takes us not only on a journey through Renaissance Italy but also through the Divine Comedy a treat for those who have read the Divine Comedy and even for those who have not.

The novel combines fiction with fantasy and art history with mysticism; there is romance, action, adventure, history, art, drama, danger and mystery – there is something there for everyone to enjoy.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves any of those genres or to anyone who is just in the mood for a great read. 

April 25

Happy Birthday to . . .

King Louis IX of France
1214 – 1270

King Edward II of England
1284 – 1327
Picture of King Edward II

Carlota of Spain, Spanish Infanta and Queen of Portugal
1775 – 1830

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
1776 – 1857

Alice of the United Kingdom, Grand Duchess of Hesse
1843 – 1878

Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
1897 –1965

April 24

April 24th 1558
The marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and François, Dauphin of France

The doomed marriage of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and François, Dauphin of France on the 24th of April 1558 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The bride and groom had been raised together in France ever since the marriage was arraigned when he was just 4 and she was 5 and it was at this time that Mary was sent to France to live with her future husband’s family. Although the 14 year old groom was beloved by his parents Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici and his grandfather François I, he was a sickly, small for his age, timid and stammering whereas his 15 year old bride was tall for her age, full of confidence and good humour, in good health and stunningly beautiful. François absolutely adored his bride – Mary loved François as well but more like a brother rather than as a husband. Mary was fully aware that it was her destiny to marry the Dauphin and to one day become Queen of France and this was potentially dangerous – a strong willed and impulsive Queen who wanted nothing more than to be loved, for passion, romance, and adventure all paired with a less dynamic husband – much like the reign of a future Queen – Marie Antoinette and Louis XVII.

The wedding itself was a lavish affair needing months of preparations to make sure that every detail was absolutely perfect for the big day. All of Paris was expected to come out to celebrate with Lords and Ladies; Dukes and Duchesses; Counts and Countesses; and of course with the Royal couple themselves – they were to line the route leading from the Palais de Louvre to Notre Dame. Mary wore a magnificent gown of white and was covered in pearls and precious stones. The white gown was chosen not only to emphasize her pale redheaded beauty but also her virginity – it was an unusual choice at the time as white was worn while in mourning. Even though the wedding was a beautiful affair, the marriage would be short lived – François died two years later in 1560. 


April 23

Saint George's Day

The feast day of Saint George celebrating the patron saint of England - Saint George. The tradition diminished after the union with Scotland at the end of the 18th Century and it has not been widely acknowledged. Traditional customs were to fly the St. George's flag and to wear a red rose in one's lapel. It the times of the crusades, it is said that St. George presented himself outside of Jerusalem and led the Crusaders into battle. It was after this, in the 14th Century, that the English soldiers began to wear a sign of St. George on their chests and on their backs, as the Saint was regarded as a special protector of the English. In 1348 King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, the premier order of knighthood in England on St. George's Day and the Order was put under the Saint's patronage. It was in 1415 that St. George became the Patron Saint of England when the English were victorious at the battle of Agincourt during the 100 years war. Edward IV and Henry VII then oversaw the construction on the St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

April 23rd, 1661
King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland is crowned in Westminster Abbey

File:Charles II of England in Coronation robes.jpg

No coronation was attended by as much enthusiasm as that of Charles II - it was more than just a coronation; it was a restoration of everything that England had abandoned. It was joyous and hopeful occasion after twenty long years of Civil War, anarchy, and usurpation. 

Happy Birthday to . . .

Isabella of Hainault 
(1170 - 1190)

Joan of France, Duchess of Berry and Queen of France 
(1464 - 1505)


April 22

Happy Birthday to . . .

Isabella I of Castile
(1451 - 1504)

April 21

April 21st 1509
Henry VIII ascends to the throne of England upon the death of his father Henry VII

Henry VIII ascended to the throne of England the 21st of April 1509 at the age of 17 upon the death of his father Henry VII due to tuberculosis. Henry was the complete opposite of his father - were his father like to live simply and squirrel away money into the treasury Henry enjoyed to live lavishly and extravagantly. He was handsome, intelligent, athletic . . . all the things that any good king should be, however he did have one mean temper. Two days after Henry was crowned king, he arrested two of his father's ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley and had them charged with high treason for which they were executed. This was to become Henry's trademark tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way or who defied him - too bad his future wives weren't paying attention . . .

Happy Birthday to . . .

Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II
Born 1926


April 19

April 19th 1770
The marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste of France

On April 19th 1770 Marie Antoinette of Austria and Louis-Auguste of France were married by proxy in the Augustine Church in Vienna. Marie Antoinette was 14 at the time and the Dauphin was 15. Marie Antoinette would leave for France two days later - she officially crossed the border into France on May 7th 1770. The couple's French wedding was held on May 16th 1770 at Versailles in the Chapel Royal.

Winter Palace ~ Eva Stachniak

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power. (No, it didn't) — as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne. (Through the eyes of an orphaned Polish immigrant with nothing to lose actually – and she wasn't that close to the throne either, just one of many of Empress Elizabeth’s spies.)

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen
(I would have loved to have read more about this… it was all over in a matter of, well, a few disconnected paragraphs) — and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power. 

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.
(What dazzling details and intense drama? There was barely any real drama and it was kind of lame and predictable)

Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales.
(Magnificently written? Really? It was full of choppy, short, fragmented sentences and paragraphs that did not flow from one to another.)

☆☆½ --- ☆☆☆ 

This book would.not.end. It honestly took me forever to get through this novel. I have been agonizing over what rating I should give this book . . . It is somewhere between 2 ½ stars and 3 stars . . . I’m being generous with the 3 stars because there were some decent chunks of the novel amongst the rubble.

I found at times, well a lot of the time, that the story just seemed to drag on and on and on . . . there were times where I found my mind wandering away from the story and I would end up rereading parts of the novel multiple times. I could not finish this book fast enough, which is really disappointing because it really wasn’t the story itself (well, not entirely) but more so the way that it was written. The writing was choppy and full of short, fragmented sentences and paragraphs that did not flow.

The title was misleading as the story really wasn’t about Catherine the Great, at least not how I expected it to be. Though the subtitle of the novel is “a novel of Catherine the Great”, it is really a novel about a young Polish immigrant named Barbara (or Varvara in Russian), the daughter of a bookbinder who is left in the care of Empress Elizabeth’s court in the Winter Palace once her father dies. Varvara is enlisted as a “tongue” or spy for Empress Elizabeth and is to report back to her about the new Grand Duchess Catherine.

Yes, Catherine the Great is part of the novel, though a very small part – she does not become Catherine the Great until the very end of the novel, before that she was simply Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst and the Grand Duchess Catherine. I was really hoping for a novel that revolved around Catherine as the Empress of Russia, or at the very least a novel about her time in Russia. This was neither of those. It seemed like Catherine played a supporting role to Varvara who was at the centre of the story.

The story is told in the first person – I don’t have a problem with this but when the story is told in the first person from a secondary character I find that you lose some of the closeness to the characters and the intimacy of the plot, especially if your character leaves the main action, as it is in the case of The Winter Palace as Varvara is banished from court for seven years and she is married off so the story’s focus deviates from the Russian court to her family life. As a result we hear about Catherine’s actions (who is suppose to be the main character) from tertiary sources – letters, rumours, reports all of which are passed on to Varvara. If this is supposed to be a novel about Catherine the Great, shouldn’t it be her with whom we sympathize and suffer with and not with a secondary character? Speaking of the characters, they fell flat and were never fully developed. I would have loved to have experienced more of Catherine’s character in the novel.

Definitely a disappointment, I had such high hopes for this novel. I probably will not reread this book and unfortunately it is not one that I would highly recommend. 

Another issue, and this isn’t the author’s fault but rather the publishers . . . the cover image is not even of Catherine the Great nor Empress Elizabeth but rather of Maria Theresa of Austria. Come on now, with all of the pictures out there of Catherine the Great they couldn’t choose one of those?

April 18

Happy Birthday to . . . 

Lucrezia Borgia 
(1480 - 1519)

Lucrezia Borgia

1518 – Bona Sforza is crowned as queen consort of Poland


April 15

Happy Birthday to . . . 

Empress Catherine I of Russia 
(1684 - 1727)


April 14

Happy Birthday to . . .

Princess Beatrice of the UK 
(1857 - 1944)

April 13

Happy Birthday to . . .

Catherine de Medici 
(1519 - 1589)


April 11

Happy Birthday to . . . 

Marguerite of Navarre 
(1492 - 1549)


April 10

Happy Birthday to ... 

James V of Scotland 
(1512 - 1542)

Hortense de Beauharnais 
(1783 - 1837)


April 9

April 9th 1413

Henry V is crowned King of England

Henry V was born on the 16th of September 1386 - he was the son of Henry IV of England and Mary de Bohun. At the time of his birth, his father had not yet taken the throne but it was his cousin Richard II who was king of England and Henry was not yet in the direct line to inherit the throne. In 1399 the Lancastrian usurpation brought his father Henry IV to the throne and Henry became the Prince of Wales at his father's coronation. On the 10th of November 1399 Henry was given the title of Duke of Lancaster - he was the third person to hold that title that year.

Henry was quite a military leader and during the Hundred Years War he lead his troops to victory at Agincourt over the French. A treaty with France brought about his marriage to Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France. They were married on June 2nd 1402 a Troyes Cathedral.

When Henry IV died on the 20th of March 1413 his son became King of England and he was crowned Henry V of England on the 9th of April 1413 at Westminster Abbey. The ceremony was marked by a huge snowstorm - the common people could not decide if this was a good omen or a bad omen - I guess only time would tell.

Henry V was a huge fan of the English language as he promoted the use of English in government and his reign marks the appearance of Chancery Standard English.In fact, Henry V was the first English King since the Norman Conquest to use English in his personal correspondence.


April 2

Happy Birthday . . .

 Elisabeth Valois
(1545 - 1568)

Happy Birthday to Hans Christian Andersen
April 2nd 1805

Hans Christian Andersen was born on the second of April 1805 in the town of Odense, Denmark. As a youth King Frederick VI took a special interest in Andersen and he even paid for a part of his education. Despite the fact that he had royal support, Andersen was still forced to support himself. He worked as a weaver's apprentice and later a tailor. Andersen was even a part of the Royal Danish Theatre however when his voice changed so did his focus- from acting to writing. 

It was in 1835 that Andersen published his first installment of his immortal Fairy Tales - the other installments were published in 1836 and 1837. His most popular works include Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea

Andersen died on the 4th of August 1875 as a result of injuries from falling out of bed in the spring of 1872. At the time of his death, Andersen was an internationally renowned and treasured artist and he was even proclaimed as a "national treasure" by the Danish Government. 

Today is also celebrated as International Children's Book Day - a yearly event that takes place on Andersen's birthday and that is sponsored by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). It is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children's books. . Activities include writing competitions, announcements of book awards and other events with authors of children's literature. 

International Children's Books Day Poster 2012