PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY IS AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY, BUT IT’S ALSO A TOUR OF FLORENCE

Welcome Donna Russo Morin to Layered Pages! 

Thank you so very much for hosting me today. It’s always a pleasure to have a chance to chat with bloggers and their readers.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples has its historical basis rooted firmly in truth…one of the greatest conspiracies of the 15th century, a conspiracy that reached all the way to the Vatican. An assassination plot history now calls the Pazzi Conspiracy. With such a firm historical foundation, it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the city of Florence, as it was in 1478. And thanks to the many resources, both paper and virtual, the details of the setting found their way onto my page. It even allowed me to create a map, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Renaissance Florence map

Today, I’d like to share some of those remarkable architectural delights with you.

We must start where the story starts, where the assassination takes place: in Brunelleschi’s Duomo. In truth the Gothic style basilica, part of the complex of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral), was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Built on the ruins of the 7th century Santa Raparata Church, construction on the new structure began in 1296; it wasn’t complete, as it stands today—as it was in 1478—until 1436.

 

Duomo collage

The exterior façade is a checkerboard of marble using three different colors and strains of the opulent stone. Only in comparison, can the inside be called rather plain. By far one of its most enchanting features is the mosaic pavements that cover the floor.

But it is the dome itself that has always made the Duomo not only one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, but one of its most innovative. Using buttresses was forbidden in Florence, for it was a favored technique of their enemies to the north. Creating an unsupported dome had never been done before. Only a Renaissance genius such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) would dare attempt it. For decades, Florentines feared it would fall upon their heads, especially during times of unrest, when they believed the wrath of God would strike the dome, burying any beneath in a fatal rubble. Today, the golden-bricked dome is one of Florence’s most recognized monuments and dominates the skyline.
Palazzo della Signoria collage

Giuliano de’ Medici is murdered. His brother, the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici survives. But he would never be the same again. He sets out on a rampage of vengeance that would eventually find close to one hundred executed. Lorenzo’s preferred method of eliminating his enemies…throwing them out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria (now known as the Palazzo Vecchio), a rope wrapped around their throats.

The government palace is made of solid rusticated stonework and is enhanced with two rows of Gothic windows. It is from these windows that the Otto, the eight that ruled the police forces of Florence, flung the Medici enemies.

Built in 1299 by the citizens of the original Florence commune, it has been enlarged and enriched by decorative details in the many years since. It is at one of the main entrances to the palace that Michelangelo’s David originally stood. This most famous sculpture has since been replaced with a copy when the original was damaged in one of Florence’s many military challenges.
Santo Spirito collage

The secret society of women artists that inhabit Portrait of a Conspiracy are a product of my imagination only. Santo Spirito, the church in whose sacristy the woman have their ‘secret studio’ is very real.

The Basilica of the Holy Spirit (simply known as Santo Spirito) is located in the Oltrarno quarter of the city, in 15th century Florence, one of the wealthiest sections of the city.  The original structure was also built in the 13th century. The existing structure was also designed by Brunelleschi after it suffered both physical and spiritual ruin during a period of the city’s civil unrest. The first cornerstones of the building, the pillars, were delivered ten days before Brunelleschi’s death. His followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea completed the work begun by the master.

Santo Spirito will play a major role in all volumes of the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It is not only the home of this secret art society, it is the location of some of their most decisive challenges.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Florence. You’ll find more, including the actual names of the streets as they existed in the 15th century, within the pages of my books.

Book Blurb:

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One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

 Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 About the Author

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Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on

Twitter@DonnaRussoMorin.

 Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Giveaway

To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Susan Appleyard

susan appleyardI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Susan Appleyard today to Layered Pages. Susan was born in England, which is where she learned to love English history, and now lives in Canada in the summer. In winter she and her husband flee the cold for their second home in Mexico. Susan divides her time between writing and her hobby, oil painting. Writing will always be her first love. She was fortunate enough to have had two books published traditionally and is very excited about soon publishing her fourth ebook.

Susan, how did you discover indieBRAG?

Hello, Stephanie, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself and my work.

I first came across IndieBrag through an author posting in one of my groups about her success in winning a Brag Medallion. I submitted one of my books and soon I was the one doing the ‘bragging’.

Tell me a little about your story, Queen of Trial and Sorrow.

The book I submitted relates the story of Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the Princes in the Tower. The story juxtaposes Elizabeth’s happy marriage to King Edward IV with the perilous years of war. When death removes the King’s shielding hand, Elizabeth is unable to protect her family from the enmity of those who regard her and her family as upstarts.

Queen of sorrow

Please tell me a little about the period in which your story is set.

My book is set in the fifteenth century during the turbulent period known as the War of the Roses. The war encompassed all of Edward IV’s reign and Elizabeth was inevitably caught up in it.

What fascinates you the most about Elizabeth Woodville?

To a large extent Elizabeth was a typical medieval queen, in that she sat in her palaces and received news of the exciting events going on beyond. Nevertheless, her life provides a wealth of drama, from her controversial marriage to her ultimate capitulation to the man she believed murdered her sons. It must be admitted that Elizabeth’s story is enriched by the people who moved through it: her handsome and charming husband, whose reign is marked by war and treachery; her two brothers-in-law, the volatile faithless Duke of Clarence, and the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. Supporting characters include the matriarch, Cecily, Duchess of York, whose tragedy was to outlive all her sons and all her legitimate grandsons; and the Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’. In this list I must also include the two doomed princes, whose lives, though short, contribute so much to the fascination of Elizabeth’s story. I doubt there was a queen who suffered such tragic losses as Elizabeth Woodville.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

I hope the mood of my characters in the beginning of the book is one of optimism, with a new and idealistic king on the throne and a new marriage for Elizabeth, but as the story progresses and storm clouds gather, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future. When the king dies the mood foreshadows the tragedies to come.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

As queen, Elizabeth is motivated above all by the need help her family rise in the world and to avoid the impoverishment she suffered with the death of her first husband. She believes with wealth and power comes safety. But it is fatal reasoning. The more wealth and power her family accrue, the more they are resented by the old nobility. The Woodvilles pay a high price for Elizabeth’s elevation to the throne.

What is your personal opinion of Richard III?

My personal opinion of Richard III is expressed in my book. It is not a popular opinion these days. Nevertheless, I hold that he usurped the throne and then realized that as long as the princes lived they would be a danger to him and his son, and had them murdered. I have read extensively on the subject, fiction and non-fiction – I was even a member of the Richard III Society for a few years – and I have engaged in debate with those who hold the opposite view, but I have never read anything to make me change my mind.

Why do you love English history so much?

The period of the War of the Roses has been overwhelmingly popular with authors, and no wonder. Although it is my favourite, there are so many others, all with their share of drama, surprises, interesting characters, triumphs and tragedies. English history in incomparable, and it is all around in ruined castles and abbeys, in museums and libraries. Wherever you travel it is impossible to avoid reminders of England’s wonderful past.

How long did it take to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?

I always write in the mornings at my antique roll top desk in my office/spare bedroom. I cannot tell you how long it took to write my book. It went through several versions over several years before I arrived at the present one. I’ve become a little quicker since.

Where can readers buy your book?

In the U.S. my book can be found here

In the U.K. here

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Susan Appleyard who is the author of, Queen of Trial and Sorrow, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Quuen of Trial and Sorrow, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money

Stephanie M. Hopkins -indieBRAG Interview Team Leader 

indiebrag team member

Review: The Temple of Light by Daniela Piazza

The Temple light

It is the early fifteenth century, and the Italian peninsula is ravaged by war. While Milan fights for its political and economic life, Duke Filippo Maria Visconti lies on his deathbed with no heir to succeed him. But the old nobleman has a secret: He has a son.

Visconti hands over the one-year-old child to the archdeacon Onorio, who agrees to keep him safe. Little does young Niccolò know that when he comes of age, he will inherit the great Visconti fortune and become the city’s next duke.

Years later, in the shadows of a new cathedral, the members of a secret brotherhood practice alchemy and plot court intrigues, working to fulfill the ancient prophecy of the goddess Belisama. The brothers, sustained by blind faith, will do whatever it takes to achieve their Grande Opera, but first they need peace in the city, and Niccolò is the only one who can help. But when he starts to witness mysterious rites and killings, Niccolò will be forced to reconsider his destiny.

Review:

The story begins with a brutal rape scene and it turned my stomach. In my opinion this is not a way to start a story. I have to admit; I didn’t think I would finish this book. Though I am used to writers writing violence in stories-when needed-I felt this story focused on too much brutality and took much away from other themes of the story. Though I do realize this story takes place in a period of history ravaged by war. Still, too much brutality for my taste.

I was intrigued with certain aspects of this story. Milan captured my attention and the political and economic life during that time. However, I found it hard to follow due to the fact that some of the names were not known to me. Which I will be researching on my own time. Also, I would like to add that I felt like I was back in history class.

The premise of a Visconti dying and had no known surviving male heirs intrigued me at first but did not hold my attention.

None of the characters appealed to me. I am all about character development AND wanting to find a connection to the characters. That did not happen for me in this story.

I lost interest in this story quickly and as an avid reader of Historical Fiction I found that very disappointing. I do like the book cover and title. That is what first captured my attention and had high hopes going in. I am sad to say I have rated this book two and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

The Life of Henry VII: Part I

As many of you know, I am currently writing a story of the Tudors, titled “Poison Letters” It is an alternate story about Prince Arthur of England. The story will be told in the present time but the letters revealed in the story take you back to the Tudor dynasty. But first, in order to learn  about Arthur I felt I needed to go back a little further and learn all I could about his father, King Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor. Going forward, as I research the Tudors, I will be writing articles on this subject and I am honored to be able to share with you some of my discoveries. I will also be writing other articles about the Tudors that you might find interesting. To start off, I would like to say from the various books I have read, I find the different opinions historians/historical fiction writers have on the subject to be compelling, and gives the reader the chance to form their own opinions of the facts and what-ifs. It gives you the perspective that history is open to interpretation and is often told by the victors or the people in power as well.

Henry VII

Henry VII

There seems to be a diverse of information about Henry VII’s life and reign. For example, some say his mother Margaret Beaufort was the only one with royal blood. Others say both his parents could claim royal ancestry. Another example, Henry VII worked hard early on in his reign to build a myth claiming to be the rightful royal heir to England. (He wasn’t the only one to take the throne by force or questionable right. A prime example of that is Cnut and William the Conqueror. But out of all three maybe Henry had more justification then the two I just mentioned. Something I look forward to exploring.) Having to basically build the monarchy in his own right-he seemed obsessed –but who could blame him– with it and later on was described as a paranoid and suspicious ruler. But we won’t start with this intriguing speculation, we need to go further back.

On his father’s side, Henry’s uncle and grandfather, Jasper and Owen Tudor were staunch supporters of the Lancastrian cause. (If you want to know more about Jasper and Owen, read about the War of The Roses. A war between 1455 and 1485, fought between rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Or you can check my website for upcoming articles on them as well). By the time of Henry Tudor’s birth, power of the Lancastrian monarch was slipping, making the youngest member-Henry Tudor- a valuable pawn in some dangerous games of politics. But, wait a minute, you see there, here I go again getting ahead of myself! I will stop there and take you to the time of Henry’s birth, his early childhood and his mother’s side of the family.

Lady Margaret Beaufort and Son

Margaret Beaufort who was born on May 31, 1443 or 1441 (the year of her birth is uncertain) was a direct descendant of John Beaufort, first Earl of Somerset, who was the illegitimate child of John of Gaunt- Duke of Lancaster and the third son of King Edward III. Margaret was also a key player in the War of the Roses and matriarch of the house of Tudor.

Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort

The Beauforts were tainted with illegitimate blood but were legitimized by a statute of Richard II. However, in 1407, Henry IV wrote letters confirming their legitimacy, adding that the Beauforts could not inherit the throne of England. To this day it is still in question whether the Beauforts had the right to succession or not.

Margaret was just twelve years old when she married Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond in 1455. He got her pregnant soon after. Edmund died of the plague the year after in 1456, leaving Margaret a thirteen year old widow.  On January 28, 1457, Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke castle and spent his earliest years with his mother there, under the protection of Jasper Tudor.

The pregnancy birth was traumatic for Margaret, as a result of that, she only bore one child. It is no wonder, giving birth at such a young age is incredible. It is amazing she survived.

*****

Roughly two years before the time of Henry Tudor’s birth, Henry VI’s right to the throne was challenged by Richard Duke of York. Henry VI and Richard both laid claim to the throne as descendants of Edward III. York was respected and experienced in warfare and was considerably wealthy. Henry VI was to be considered a schizophrenic and was in and out of a depression. In 1450, Henry VI was basically useless in governing and in three years’ time was seen as unfit to rule, Richard became regent and began the work of changing the government. This did not last long, when Henry was- again- in his “right mind” so to speak, his authority was back in his hands and under the influence of his advisors. Richard feared he would be arrested for treason and in 1455 was summoned to appear before the King’s council, he began to raise an army in the north and this marked the first battle in The War of the Roses. Although, from what I am reading in my research, this conflict goes back even further.

*****

Pembroke castle one

In 1461 Edward IV became king and Pembroke Castle fell to the Yorkist. About this time Henry was four years old. With his Uncle Jasper now in exile, a Yorkist noble Sir Henry William Herbert gained control of Henry. He was well received in Herbert’s family’s home in Southeast Wales. This however was the start of a long separation from his mother. I can imagine how painful that was for mother and son and how confusing Henry’s childhood must have been for him.

Pembroke castle two

At this time, Margaret was grown and was known to be pious, a woman with a strong mind and character. She married Henry Stafford in 1464 and moved with him to England.  I believe not by her choice but duty. Henry’s separation from his mother had to be incredibly hard for both of them. Margaret’s separation from Henry makes me wonder if she may have been angry and resentful. However, I believe (and this is purely speculation) this marriage to Stafford was the start of her being treated as a person of royal blood and maybe sparked hope in her heart that her son one day would be king and as we know this hope changed the destiny of Margaret and Henry….

So there you have it. My first installment of a series of articles on the Tudors. Now, for all you history enthusiast out there, I know I have left out a LOT of detail.  It would take several books to cover all that occurred during that time. My goal is to give a series of small overviews of what I have researched and to share some of those findings hoping that this will intrigue many of you to want to find out more. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and I hope you enjoyed it!

By Stephanie M. Hopkins

The pictures of Pembroke Castle are courtesy  of Marsha Lambert.

A few sources I researched from: The Tudors by Jane Bingham; The Tudors by G.J. Meyer; The Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley; Winter King by Thomas Penn; Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir.

Disclaimer: I checked historical facts and crossed checked, some of what I wrote is solely my opinion and speculation. For example: There are different opinions on how Edmund Tudor died. I went with what I felt was factual.