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Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Gabrielle Kimm: Duke and Duchess in Sixteenth Century Tuscany

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Gabrielle Kimm, author of the historical novel, His Last Duchess. Set amid the lushness of a ducal court in sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara, His Last Duchess is the story of the real people behind the characters in Robert Browning's poem. Here she tells us about the two main characters in her book, Lucrezia and Alfonso.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of His Last Duchess which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Gabrielle will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Gabrielle selected is catslady! Congratulations, catslady, and thanks to all who came over.

Welcome Gabrielle! We're happy to have you.

Gabrielle Kimm:

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog!

You’ve asked me about the real Lucrezia and Alfonso. A fascinating pair. Now, my novel was always meant to be the back-story to Robert Browning’s poem, rather than a detailed historical account of real events; as I point out in my Author Note at the back of the book, I’ve created a work of fiction rather than a history book, so where I’ve felt the need to tweak either historical events or geographical locations, I’ve done so with impunity! But my story is nonetheless grounded in historical reality and my research was painstaking.

Here are some of the things I discovered about Alfonso and Lucrezia:

Alfonso was the son of Ercole d’Este and Renée of France and the grandson of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia. I think if must have been a fairly dysfunctional family - apart from anything else, poor Renée was eventually banished from the Este court on charges of blasphemy. (As I understand things, she – a Calvinist - stood in support of one of her servants who had been accused of blasphemy while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic chapel at the Castello Estense. Both she and the servant were banished).

Alfonso married three times – to Lucrezia de’ Medici, to Barbara of Austria and to Barbara’s niece, Margherita Gonzaga. He had no children, either legitimate or otherwise, and he ended up being the last duke of Ferrara – the lands and title passed nominally to his cousin Cesare on Alfonso’s death, but they were subsequently incorporated into the Papal States, and the duchy thus lost almost all its might.

One surprising fact: Alfonso was a very gifted tennis player (this is something I deliberately omitted in my novel – it seemed far too physical and healthy an interest for my emotionally complex duke!). The game he played was ‘real’ tennis (something more akin to modern squash than Lawn Tennis) and Alfonso at one time had four courts at the Castello, and was a fearsome opponent, by all accounts.

Just as previous members of the house of Este had been before him, Alfonso was a devoted and knowledgeable patron of the arts – something Robert Browning picks up on in his poem, and thus I do in my novel – and he supported many artists and musicians (though some accounts will have it that this was not always out of his own pocket … apparently the taxpayer footed a fair number of the bills!)

Poor little Lucrezia is a much more shadowy figure. Daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici and Eleanora of Toledo, she was married to Alfonso d’Este at fourteen in 1559 (I upped her age to sixteen in my book) and less than three years later, she was dead. Opinion is divided as to the cause of her death – some sources cite natural causes, probably tuberculosis or typhoid, but most suspect foul play, and many (including Robert Browning, of course) point the finger at Alfonso himself. Lucrezia achieved little in her short life, and in reality, for most of the two years of their marriage, Alfonso was absent from the court. This, for obvious narrative reasons, was one fact with which I took authorial liberties!

I hope these are the sorts of facts you were after. As I said at the start though, my novel has always been intended to be an extension of Browning’s creation, rather than historical fact.

I’ve loved fleshing out these shadowy historical figures, and giving them a new lease of life.

The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d'Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke's entire inheritance–and Lucrezia's future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.

About the Author
Gabrielle Kimm is a graduate of the creative writing master's program at the University of Chichester. She is writing her second novel, The Courtesan's Lover, which features one of the characters of His Last Duchess as the heroine.


Karen H in NC said...

Hi Gabrielle,

You are a new-to-me author so I enjoyed meeting you and learning about your book today. I have to confess it is not a time period or setting that I normally read, but from what I just read, I'm willing to step outside my comfort zone and read your book. Sounds very good!

kareninnc at gmail dot com

Linda Banche said...

Sounds like a fascinating historical period, and one which we know too little about.

Gabrielle said...

Thanks Karen and Linda - I hope you enjoy the book! It certainly has been a fascinating era to research and write.

catslady said...

I agree that it is a time period that is unfamiliar to me too but that makes it even more intriguing. I love variety and learning from my reading (and thanks so much for explaining the backdrop of your story and true vs. author's perogative). I always appreciate the research that goes into historicals but it's the blending of the author's imagination that makes it come to life! And have to add that it's a gorgeous cover too.

Gabrielle said...

I love my cover too! Thank you to Sourcebooks!

kimmyl said...

A new author and a new book. I love the title and book cover. I can't wait to read it. I love reading historical romances and I love it that this one is certainly different and interesting.

kimmyl said...
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