Book: The Serpent and the Moon : Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King by HRH Princess Michael of Kent
Genre: Biography / History
Publication date: 2004
Summary: Henri II, King of France, was in love with one woman, Diane de Portiers, and married to another, Catherine de’ Medici. These three people lived in the midst of the Renaissance, a time known for its resurgence of the arts but also for incredibly complex machinations, and no small number of wars, among European monarchies. The history of Europe at this time is told in The Serpent and the Moon by focusing on this triad of people and the circles around them.
Thoughts: I read this book because Chateau du Chenonceau was on our travel itinerary for France. I intend to put up my photos of Chenonceau up for Wordless Wednesday this week, but check out the ones on the official website (in English) while you wait: Chenonceau. The part built in arches over the Cher River makes this truly memorable among the French chateaus.
I had both The Serpent and the Moon and a fictionalized version of the story of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici in my stack of library books, but once I started The Serpent and the Moon, I sent the novel back. This is a wonderfully readable version of the story, no need to read fiction and find myself constantly wondering what parts are true and what are not.
Chenonceau is famous as being the chateau that Henri II gave to his lover Diane de Portiers, only to have his widow take it for herself after his death. That’s only a small part of the story told in The Serpent and the Moon but held a lot of fascination for me given the itinerary of our trip. In particular, since we were on a garden tour, I loved reading about Diane de Portiers’ efforts on the grounds:
In all, the gardens comprised four acres, surrounded either by moats or by stone walls with terraces above. In the midst of the terraces stood a fountain with a water jet. The grounds also boasted an orangery and an aviary, and yielded a sumptuous feast of peaches, apricots, strawberries, gooseberries, artichokes, cucumbers, and melons, as well as the usual French vegetables. (p. 242)
This book helped a lot with my understanding of French history during our trip. Even when I encountered places and buildings from different times, I was able to place them as before or after the events in this book, so it served as a kind of compass rose to keep me oriented in European history.
Appeal: A great book for lovers of history who are more interested in the actions of individual people than in the movements of armies.
Challenges: This is the seventh book I’ve read for the Books on France challenge. I’m winding down my French reading, but still have at least two more books I want to write about.
I’m also linking this to the Monday meme at An Accidental Blog: Dreaming of France. Check today’s post for links to French-themed reviews, photos, and thoughts around the web.
Do you like to read history books before you travel? What’s been your favorite?