Marguerite de Valois is the most beautiful woman in the French Court and the subject of great scandal and intrigue. Margot loves Henri of Guise but is married off to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. By this means her mother Catherine de Medici hopes to bring peace to the realm. But within days of the wedding the streets of Paris are awash with blood in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Can they ever hope to escape and keep their heads? In a court rife with murder, political intrigue, debauchery, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task.
Bayonne Summer 1565
THE HOT SUMMER SUN seared through the drawn curtains of the litter as the cumbersome vehicle trundled with bone-
Margot was bored. She longed to be out in the fresh air, galloping across the open countryside, not forced to sit demurely beside her governess breathing in the sweaty stink of horses and baggage mules from the confines of her mother’s litter.
However luxurious, however pretty a shade of green were the plush velvet cushions, it felt very like a prison.
Occasionally some incident would occur to enliven the journey: a brawl or a duel, which Margot always found entertaining. So when she heard the screams and sobs and heart-
‘Sit still, child, and stop fidgeting,’ Madame de Curton chided.
Ignoring her governess, Margot asked a young groom riding alongside what was amiss.
‘Some court lady has been discovered in an indiscreet affaire,’ the boy confided. ‘She has been abandoned at a roadside convent to reflect upon her folly.’
Margot felt a surge of pity for the poor woman, and turning to her governess, chestnut eyes blazing in outrage, cried, ‘Is that not the cruellest way to treat a wife?’
‘It is not for us to judge, child.’
‘But why should a husband be allowed to spread his favours as he wishes, but not his wife?’
Madame de Curton stifled a sigh of exasperation. She was not above indulging in a little gossip and scandal herself, and after more than a year of travelling any diversion to break the tedium was welcome. Stalwart that she was, even she had grown weary of the jolting to her aging bones. But while she might sympathize, or even agree with her young charge’s passionate defence of the poor lady, it would be wrong to say as much.
‘Because that is the way of the world, dearest. A lady must at all times conduct herself with propriety and modesty, and of course obey her lord.’
‘But that is so unfair!’
Numbering almost a thousand souls, the Royal Progress comprised some of the noblest Catholic lords in the land, Princes of the Blood and great officers of state. Loyal as she was to the crown, Madame was the first to accept that their brilliance was displayed more by the splendour of their robes and the length of their private retinue, rather than the virtue of their morals.
She smiled fondly upon her charge. ‘You might do well to learn the art of obedience yourself, my child. Now close those curtains and sit still.’