The Alchemist Prince

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24 Feb 2014 Advance Copies of The Red Lily Crown!

Want to get your hands on THE RED LILY CROWN before everyone else? Sign up for my newsletter and you could be one of three winners to receive an advance copy! Here’s the link:

Notes from Elizabeth Loupas Newsletter

These are the rare, plain-brown-wrapper ARCs, and they will be signed and personalized and accompanied by postcards which a) will feature the full color cover, and b) make great bookmarks.

Sign up now! The winners will be announced in the first copy of the newsletter on March 4th, and the books shipped immediately to the winners!

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13 Jan 2014 Eyes of a Revolutionary

2014 is here at last!

My own dear mother always chided me: “Never wish your life away.” But I have to admit I’ve been wishing for 2014 to arrive, and with it, on April 1st, The Red Lily Crown at last.

My mother was one of the models for Nonna, Chiara’s grandmother, who suffers fools not at all and is no fool herself. Well, here she is as she steps into the story:

 

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And then Nonna herself came to the door of the shop. She wore the same severe black widow’s habit she’d worn for as long as Chiara could remember, with an unbleached linen wimple and a black veil like a nun. Her face was wrinkled as a walnut shell, but her eyes were hard and bright and aware, the eyes of a young woman, a revolutionary. Which she had been, fifty years ago in the days of the third republic. They were changeable eyes, brown to green to gold, set deeply under slanting brows. All her life people had told Chiara she had eyes just like her Nonna’s.

 

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11 Dec 2013 Advance Copies…

…of The Red Lily Crown have gone out, and we’ve been priveleged to receive some of the loveliest and most amazing comments in return. I can’t possibly express sufficient gratitude to the writers who’ve taken the time from their own busy lives to read and comment. Alphabetical thanks to the wonderful Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Marina Fiorato, C.W. Gortner, Sophie Perinot, and Kate Quinn, all of whose books I myself have gobbled up and loved.

You can see what they had to say here, on the page for The Red Lily Crown. And if you haven’t already read their books, well, Christmas is coming! Books by all these fabulous authors are perfect additions to your gift lists.

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25 Nov 2013 Renaissance Roleplaying

It seems like an anachronism, but is it? Playacting and pretense are profoundly human activities—from Paleolithic peoples re-enacting hunts to modern players in online sites like Second Life.

My Francesco de’ Medici, the alchemist prince, is a roleplayer. The idea came to me when I looked at a painting called Il Laboratorio dell’ Alchimista by Giovanni Stradano, which was (and still is) in Francesco’s private studiolo. In the painting the master alchemist is surrounded by apprentices and workmen who are doing the actual work of alchemy. In the lower right corner, wearing a plain doublet and hose, his sleeves rolled up as he stirs a concoction under the alchemist’s direction, is a workman clearly painted to represent Francesco de’ Medici. Is this how Francesco saw himself, in his secret heart?

It could have been. (A historical novelist’s favorite words.) Here is my Francesco, describing his alter ego Franco:

 

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It was his own elaborate and deeply satisfying conceit, that he was a simple laborer named Franco. Franco worked every day with his hands, with minerals and acids, noble metals and glassworks and fine porcelains, and when the day was finished and he had no more work to do, he needed only to come home to his adoring and compliant little wife Bia, and she would tend to his every desire. Francesco, the prince—he had been the eldest, the heir, but even so he had never been the favorite, never been clever and charming and affable as his brothers and sisters had been. From the day of his mother’s death and his father’s descent into self-indulgence, his responsibilities had never ended. His wife, the emperor’s sister—she was pious and proud and never forgot who she was, not even when they came together in their interminable quest to beget an heir. It was all too much. It was so much easier to be Franco, even if it was only for a few hours.

 

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12 Nov 2013 A Neat Touch with a Pick

The hero—well, the hero/anti-hero, as he definitely has his dark side—of The Red Lily Crown is Ruan Pencarrow of Milhyntall, a man who has taken a twisted path from the devastation of the Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall, to the opulent courts and dark laboratories of Francesco de’ Medici in Florence.

A student of Agricola’s work, Ruan represents the sciences of metallurgy and chemistry, which at the time of the story are just emerging from the chrysalis of ancient, magical alchemy. Although he does have his own touch of magic…

 

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“It is a sulphide of silver,” Ruan said. He took a small pick from his belt and tapped gently around the silver crystals. They fell into his hand like a cluster of hazelnuts from a tree. He put them into the mine master’s bag and extracted more samples, taking also some of the shining calcite that surrounded them.

“A neat touch you’ve got with that pick,” Ziegler said. “Not many great men will come down a shaft and into a tunnel, their ownselves.”

“I have had experience,” Ruan said. He did not specify what kind of experience, or when it had occurred, or what it had cost him…

 

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04 Nov 2013 The Red Lily Hounds

Of course I wouldn’t write a book without at least one hound in it! The Red Lily Crown has several, and it turns out they’re descended from Tristo and Isa, the “pocket beagles” in The Second Duchess. The hounds of The Red Lily Crown even merit a section of their own in the “Cast of Characters,” just so we can keep straight who’s descended from who.

 

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…Giovanna of Austria, now the grand duchess and first lady of the court, stood in solitary hauteur, with two of her small parti-colored hounds at her feet. They were the sire and dam to Donna Isabella’s Rina, Chiara had learned, and had been sent to the grand duchess some years ago by her sister Barbara, the Duchess of Ferrara…

 

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28 Oct 2013 Tests of Virginity

Just how does Chiara prove she’s a virgin? No, not in the way you might think. The tests actually used in the law courts of the sixteenth century are pretty amazing, and I swear I am not making them up. Of course, for the details you’ll have to wait for the book itself.

This is Prince Francesco speaking to Chiara…

 

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“Chiara Nerini, daughter of Carlo Nerini, bookseller and alchemist.”

Saints and angels. How had he found out her full name?

“Strip yourself. You will be naked for your testing.”

Her first thought was try to strip me and see how far you get. She thrust out her chin and actually opened her mouth to say it. Then she saw Magister Ruanno shake his head very slightly and caught her tongue before it ran away with her. Who cared if they saw her naked? She’d prove she was a virgin and then they wouldn’t dare touch her no matter how she flaunted herself, lest they sully her purity.

 

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21 Oct 2013 The Alchemist Prince

We meet Francesco de’ Medici, the alchemist prince…

 

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He had a narrow, swarthy face with a high forehead, so high he had his cropped dark hair brushed forward—he was losing his hair, then. His eyes slanted downward, sensual, melancholic and secretive. Saints in the churches, painted on panels and murals, had halos of light around their heads and bodies; the prince seemed to have a tracing of darkness, as if he were standing in front of a prince-shaped hole that led into something terrible, and you could just catch glimpses of it when he moved….

 

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02 Oct 2013 The Latest News from the UK

The Alchemist Prince (which is still The Alchemist Prince for the moment, but watch this space) is now scheduled for release in May 2015 in the UK. I know, I’m sorry—but the mass-market paperback of The Second Duchess will be released in the UK in 2014, so Chiara and Ruan and Francesco and Giovanna and Bianca and Isabella will have to wait a bit. Francesco is off in one of his dark sulks about it, and Bianca is outraged. Heh.

The Red Lily Crown is firmly on track to be released April 1, 2014 here in the US.

After the first of the year, when I have books, I’ll host some giveaways here, including special international giveaways. Another reason to watch this space…

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19 Jul 2013 The Red Lily Crown Cover

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Here’s the beautiful and dramatic cover for The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of the Medici (I do love that it has a subtitle), which is scheduled to be released in April 2014. The back cover copy is as follows:

Elizabeth Loupas returns with her most ambitious historical novel yet, a story of intrigue, passion, and murder in the Medici Court…

 

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.

 

Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.

 

Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

 

I’m deep in my final revisions, and I can’t wait for this new story to fly free! Hopefully I’ll soon have artwork for the cover in the UK, where the book will be called The Alchemist Prince.

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14 Apr 2013 The Red Lily Crown

My next book, which is scheduled for the first half of 2014, has had a working title of The Alchemist Prince, because it is set in the court of Francesco I de’ Medici, historically known to have been obsessed with alchemy. However, my US publishers asked for a different title, and after considering dozens of possibilities, we came up with The Red Lily Crown.

Cosimo I de' Medici wearing the red lily crown

The red lily—a red fleur-de-lys—has been the heraldic symbol of Florence since the 1200s, and still is. When Cosimo I de’ Medici (Francesco’s father) managed to coax (or bribe) the pope into creating him the grand duke of Tuscany, he had the most outrageous crown made for himself, with a huge red fleur-de-lys in the front and seven red lilies around the rays, crammed in among all the jewels. At right is a portrait of him wearing it.

The crown with its red lilies is a symbol of ducal power in Florence, and really, that’s what everyone in the story is either angling for or struggling against. The word “red” evokes passion, fire and blood, and the story has a lot of all three. So The Red Lily Crown really does fit the book.

However, at the moment it does look as if the book is going to remain The Alchemist Prince in the UK, and that’s great, too, because Francesco, with his dark sadness, his malevolence, his vengefulness and his power, is not exactly the hero (or even really an anti-hero), but he is certainly the primary moving force of the story. I just want everyone to know that it’s the same book with two different titles!

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06 Jan 2013 Happy Epiphany!

labefana

I’ve just finished writing a chapter set in the midst of sixteenth-century Florentine court revels for the Epiphany, also called Twelfth Night. In medieval and Renaissance times, gift-giving was associated with the Epiphany and not with Christmas day. And in Italy, children received gifts (if they were good—they got lumps of coal if they were bad) from la Befana, pictured at right.

La Befana, so the story goes, was an old woman whose greatest joy in life was keeping her cottage spic-and-span. She was in the midst of her sweeping when the Magi knocked on her door and invited her to join them as they searched for the Christ Child. She refused, being determined to finish her housework.

Later she regretted her decision, and with her broom she set out to catch up with the Magi and offer her own gifts to the Christ Child. To this day she is still looking for them, riding on her broom, and on the eve of Epiphany (in Italian “la Epifania” and “la Befana” are related words, and often used interchangeably) she gives her gifts to good children.

And of course since any hint of a cookie recipe always gets my attention, her traditional gifts are cookies called befanini. There are hundreds of different recipes out there, most of which seem to be pretty basic sugar-and-butter cookies spiced with anise and orange peel, occasionally spiked with rum or sambuca, and decorated with colored sprinkles. Here’s an easy one, and here’s a traditional one.

Buona Befana!

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31 Aug 2012 Crocodile Tears

I do love research. And language.

This morning I was writing along and I came to a moment when someone (the Ferrarese ambassador at Cosimo de’ Medici’s funeral, which will make perfect sense to readers of The Second Duchess) is weeping large crocodile tears. I assumed this was some kind of modern figure of speech and went to my beloved Online Etymology Dictionary to check on it. Imagine my surprise to learn that the concept of crocodiles crying false tears goes back to at least the ninth century, figured prominently in medieval bestiaries, was spread widely in English by the mysterious and possibly fictional explorer/adventurer “Sir John Mandeville” in the fourteenth century, and turns up in two Shakespearean plays (Othello and Henry VI, Part 2). So crocodile tears it is.

One of the great joys of writing is that there’s always something new and intriguing to learn.

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08 Aug 2012 A Second Wife Named Camilla

One meets the most interesting (and sometimes heartbreaking) people around the fringes of history. Here, for example, is Camilla Martelli, the second wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first grand duke of Tuscany. But was she the grand duchess? No. Cosimo married her morganatically (meaning she didn’t get to share his title) and reluctantly, only because the Pope insisted he confess all his sins and regularize his life (Camilla had been his mistress for several years and borne him a daughter) before being elevated to the title of grand duke.

Poor Camilla. Cosimo’s grown children loathed her (she was younger than both Francesco and Isabella), considering her vulgar and grasping. If the dress she’s wearing in this portrait is any indication, she did have a rather gaudy taste in clothes and jewels. But to me she looks sad.

When Cosimo died in April 1574, the new grand duke Francesco immediately (the very same night!) sent Camilla to a convent called “Le Murate,” which means “the walled-in ones.” Needless to say, it was a prison for Camilla. Supposedly she made life for the actual nuns such a living hell with her hysterics that a few months later she was moved to a different convent with a somewhat less severe way of life—but imprisoned she remained, pretty much for the rest of her life. She was allowed out to attend the wedding of her daughter Virginia de’ Medici to Cesare d’Este (remember the “weedy little boys,” Duke Alfonso’s nephews, in The Second Duchess? Well, Cesare was one of them), and once again, briefly, toward the end of her life; she apparently could not help attempting to meddle in politics and was soon forced back into the convent, where she died in 1590.

One is left to wonder why Francesco treated his stepmother so harshly. There is a hint in a letter in the Medici Archive in Florence, which comments that in January 1576 Camilla gave up her property, including her jewels and the villa were she and Cosimo had been living, the Villa di Castello, to her eight-year-old daughter Virginia. For all practical purposes this gave the property back to the Medici, and this property, particularly the Villa di Castello, may have been at the bottom of it all. There must have been more hysterics when Camilla learned that even after giving up her property, she was to remain behind convent walls—forever.

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08 Feb 2012 Research Adventures

I’ve been digging around in various sources trying to pinpoint the marriage dates of Isabella de’ Medici and Lucrezia de’ Medici. The thing to remember here is that although Isabella is a secondary character in The Alchemist Prince, at the time the story starts she’s been married to Paolo Giordano Orsini for over fifteen years, and the specific date of her wedding is pretty much irrelevant. But two of my favorite books on Isabella and her contemporaries—Caroline Murphy’s Murder of a Medici Princess and Gabrielle Langdon’s Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love and Betrayal—give different dates. This sort of thing is irresistible to historical novelists. How could the specific date of Isabella’s marriage be in question? What was it really?

Part of the answer may be in the damnatio memoriae (“condemnation of memory,” the erasure of a personage from the historical record) that appears to have been instituted against Isabella after her ignoble (for her time and place, at least) death. One would think there would be more portraits and letters and records of a woman who was Cosimo I de’ Medici’s eldest surviving daughter, the “star of the house of Medici” and the de facto first lady of Florence from her mother’s death until her brother’s accession. But no. So much seems to be missing.

Isabella’s younger sister Lucrezia, of course, is one of the narrators of The Second Duchess. The date of her wedding ceremony is given over and over: 3 July 1558. This is supported by Alfonso d’Este’s presence in Florence for the wedding, and the lavish celebrations and games. But Murphy gives the date of Isabella’s wedding as 3 September 1558—after the wedding of Lucrezia, who was her younger sister (something that would have been extremely unusual for the time), and as a sort of private family party as opposed to a public celebration. Langdon says rather vaguely that Isabella was married in “June 1558,” with no source given for the date. So what is going on here? Was Isabella married before or after her younger sister? And if Paolo Giordano Orsini and Isabella were not yet married, why did he sponsor an elaborate and expensive game of calcio (Florentine football) as part of Lucrezia’s wedding celebration, with one team dressed in cloth of gold and the other team dressed in cloth of silver? Surely he was already a member of the family?

In the state archives of Florence (Archivio di Stato di Firenze) I found a paper by Georgia Arrivo giving brief biographies of Medici women, and extensive bibliographies and source notes. This paper gives Isabella’s wedding date as 29 January 1557, with the consummation delayed until 3 September 1558. (Aha, so it was the consummation. Leave it to the Medici to make a family party out of it.) Of course, with dates in January before the Gregorian reform of 1582, we’re never entirely sure if the year is given “old style” or “new style.”

To me it makes sense that Isabella would have been married in the January prior to Lucrezia’s wedding in July, so in January 1558 new style. Part of this is due to the fact that Alfonso d’Este was originally betrothed to Maria de’ Medici, Cosimo’s eldest daughter, and most likely her wedding would have been the first of the Medici daughters’ weddings. Sadly she died (there were whispers that her father murdered her, which couldn’t possibly be true—could they?) in November 1557, and Lucrezia was hastily substituted as Alfonso d’Este’s bride. With Maria dead, Isabella became the eldest daughter and the first wedding was her due. So my personal conclusion is that she was indeed married in January 1557 (1558 new style), and because she was not yet sixteen, the consummation was delayed until September, after her sixteenth birthday at the end of August.

Now none of this has anything at all to do with the story of The Alchemist Prince. But I’m writing about Isabella and I wanted to know such an important detail about her life, or at least come to a conclusion that worked for me. I needed to know. I do just love historical fiction…

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11 Jan 2012 The Flower Reader in the UK

I am so happy to be able to announce that The Flower Reader will be released in the UK (including Australia/New Zealand) by Random House/Preface. The publication date is set for June, so readers in the UK and Australia (you know who you are) should be able to find The Flower Reader in local shops only a couple of months after the US release.

I am absolutely over the moon! Preface has also bought the UK/ANZ rights to The Second Duchess, for publication in 2013, and to my new book, tentatively titled The Alchemist Prince (more Medici! more murders! exotic alchemical experiments! and Barbara of Austria’s little sister Giovanna!), which is scheduled for 2014.

In a press release from Preface, my wonderful editor Rosie de Courcy said:

From the moment I read the first sentence of The Flower Reader, I was spellbound and had butterflies in my stomach. I adore the mixture of romance, history and menace which is the hallmark of Elizabeth’s writing.

*Dies.*

The Flower Reader is also going to Germany and Italy so far, so my heroine Rinette and I have an exciting year coming up. I am so grateful to everyone who read and reviewed and talked about The Second Duchess, because by doing that you helped make The Flower Reader a reality.

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