These days, history has become the new reality show. From the blood-soaked antics of the Borgias to the bed-hopping of the Tudors and dervish intrigues of Leonardo da Vinci and the Medici, history – in particular, my favorite era, the Renaissance— has come out of the closet and stepped onto center stage. Divested of its dusty shrouds, it has even revealed a brazen, come-hither air that has audiences clamoring for more.
The truth is, history has always been sexy. We just tend to forget it. Somewhere between grade school and graduation, we’ve been taught to memorize important dates and events, but the people who actually lived those facts are nebulous shadows whose names we sometimes can recall but not much else. And of these names, the ones we tend to remember are men. You know the usual suspects: Napoleon, Henry VIII, Richard III, Cesar, etc.
Nevertheless, history is also full of fascinating, extraordinary women who happen to be quite sexy.
In my first novel, The Last Queen, I decided to write about a woman who’s a legend in her native Spain and a cliché to everyone else: Juana la Loca, or the Mad, who became queen of Castile and embarked on one of history’s most bizarre sagas. Accused of being certifiable – and not to operate heavy machinery— she dragged her husband’s coffin around with her because, it was said, she was “mad for love.” She was certainly into him, that’s for sure. Their arranged wedding when she was fifteen and he the strapping heir to the Habsburg fortune became a scandal when they took one look at each other and decided to forgo the ceremony in favor of hitting the sheets directly. Several children and epic quarrels later, she’d won a promotion to the throne and he was . . . grumpy. Did tragic love drive Juana to pitch her now legendary fits? Or was she motivated by that ageless curse we call gender discrimination? Good sex aside, nothing turns a girl off more than a man who expects her to stay home and darn socks, and Juana was having none of it.
One lady who scoffed at discrimination, and indeed almost everything else, was Catherine de Medici, the anti-heroine of my second novel, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. Did she have stuff to confess? Did she ever! Brought to France to marry a prince she’d never met (kind of like “The Bachelorette” without options) she found herself shopping all day while he frolicked with his cougar mistress. How she lured him to her bed is worth the price of admission, but what makes her so interesting is that Catherine refused to play by the rules. She ended up ruling in the name of her sons, contending with ambitious nobles who wanted her dead and a particularly aggravating but drop-dead gorgeous heretic leader. And she did all this while managing a large kingdom – talk about your overworked queen— a flamboyant gay son; a revenge-fueled daughter; and smorgasbord of massacres.
And in my latest novel, The Queen’s Vow, I depict the tumultuous youth and rise to power of that most infamous of stiff upper-lips: the formidable Isabella of Castile, who united Spain and was one of the Renaissance’s first bona fide female CEOs. Known to us as the queen who sent Columbus to America and revived the Inquisition, her reputation is hardly approachable, much less sexy. Nonetheless, Isabella proved quite the hothead in her day. No one thought she was destined to be anything more than a foreign noble’s trophy wife, but she had other plans— such as, marrying that handsome prince of Aragon she’d barely met but whom she knew would not only let her set up house in Spain but eventually, if she inherited the throne, be a match for her in more than just the boardroom. Did Isabella get her man? And did she enjoy him? You’ll have to read the book. Suffice to say, she wasn’t a woman who believed prayer was the only way to hear angels sing.
Yes, history can be sexy. Just remember, it’s about people who did all the things we do, only in better clothes. Which historical bad girl is your favorite? I dare you to tell me.
#Giveaway – 2 books to two random commenters – US only!! Good luck
WINNERS chosen & noted below – thanks for blogging with us – CW