Book Review: “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth

51601860The 15th and 16th centuries were full of dynamic political and religious reforms, but they were also known for cultural changes throughout Europe. The medieval foundations started to crumble, and the early modern age emerged. One of the centers of change was Italy, a series of states with their rulers vying for power and prestige. These rulers would help finance masterpieces in art, literature, and architecture, but it was their rivals that threatened to tear the Renaissance society apart. In “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution,” Mary Hollingsworth explores the lives of the men and women who helped shape the Renaissance.

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. This title was intriguing to me, and I wanted to learn more about Italian history. The Italian Renaissance has been an area in history that I have been interested in studying more, but I was unsure where to begin.

Hollingsworth takes the tales of some of the most famous families in Italy to tell the story of the Renaissance. Each chapter focuses on two or three dynamic figures that shaped the era. Men like Cosimo de’ Medici, Alfonso of Aragon, Francesco Sforza, Leonello d’Este, Ferrante I of Naples, and Doge Andrea Gritti knew how to change the political landscape of Italy while acting as patrons for the artists that would define this era. The artists that they would employ were masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian. We also saw powerful women like Lucrezia Borgia and Isabella d’Este, who impacted the Renaissance.

Although Hollingsworth mentions the works that the princes helped fund and did include stunning images of the masterpieces of art and architecture, the bulk of this book is looking at the drama behind the art. We see a complex political landscape of lords fighting each other, family members, and even papal authority for land and prestige. Things were bound to be complicated with famous families like the Estes, the Medicis, the Sforzas, and the Borgias. Still, it created a beautiful mosaic of different influences of colorful figures.

One thing that I wish Hollingsworth would have included would be family trees of the prominent families. As someone who is not that familiar with the significant Italian families and the individual states, I think it would have helped those who are not that familiar with Italian history.

Overall, I found this book an enjoyable and fascinating read. I think it provides gorgeous images of new aspects of the Renaissance with thrilling stories of love, jealously, and the desire for power. Suppose you want a great introduction to the Italian Renaissance and those who funded these masterpieces. In that case, you should check out “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth.

Book Review: “Rizzio” by Denise Mina

57147033 (1)David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.

We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.

The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.

I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.

Book Review: “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson

55781068A man hidden from the world languishes for decades in a prison cell. He is not allowed to speak to anyone, or he will face severe consequences. Often in literature, his head is covered in a mask made of iron. His identity and why he angered King Louis XIV so much have remained a mystery for centuries. The prisoner was known as the man in the iron mask throughout history, but who was this enigmatic figure? In her latest book, “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner,” Josephine Wilkinson dives deep into the archives to construct his story and the stories of the men behind the mystery.

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. I usually do not read books about 17th century France; however, I had heard high praise about this particular title. I wanted to learn more about different great mysteries in history, so I decided to try this narrative.

Wilkinson’s narrative follows Eustache Danger, who many believe to be the infamous prisoner. He spent nearly 30 years in the prison system of France during the reign of King Louis XIV and was constantly under the watchful eye of his jailer, Benigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars. Saint-Mars followed the direct orders of the minister of war, Francois Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois. Eustache was not the only prisoner who was kept under Saint-Mars’ surveillance. Wilkinson also tracks the movements of prominent prisoners like Nicholas Foucquet and Antonin Nompar de Caumont, Comte de Lauzun to show how drastically different Eustache’s punishment is compared to the higher echelons of society.

Eustache’s story is broken down by who he was associated with and the actual prisons he would call home for 30 years. The story of the man in the iron mask is often associated with Bastille, but that was his final destination. Starting in Pignerol, Eustache would follow Saint-Mars to the Chateau d’Exilles and the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, until finally ending up at the Bastille; each prison had its unique accommodations and transportation issues for the silent prisoner. No one was aware of what crime he committed and why silence was his punishment. Yet, people have speculated throughout the centuries, from Voltaire to Alexander Dumas, with Wilkinson providing her theory about who he was and the crime he might have committed to enduring the wrath of the king for so long. These theories would take an obscurely silent prisoner to a man whose face was hidden from the world in a mask made of iron.

There is a reason that the story of Eustache Danger’s imprisonment has captured the imagination of historians for generations, and that is because it is so mysterious. Wilkinson’s narrative and her meticulous research into the archives have brought his story back into the spotlight. The descriptions of prison life are so vivid, with details of Eustache’s life interwoven beautifully. He may not have had a chance to speak while he was alive, but Wilkinson has given the prisoner a voice that will capture anyone’s attention. If you want a thrilling read full of intrigue, drama, and myths galore, you should check out “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson.