Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Launch Guest Post: The Dartington Bride, by Rosemary Griggs

29 March 2024

Book Launch Guest Post: The Dartington Bride, by Rosemary Griggs

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1571, and the beautiful, headstrong daughter of a French Count marries the son of the Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West in Queen Elizabeth’s chapel at Greenwich. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven…

In 1559, on a hot summer’s day in Paris, the course of French history took a dramatic turn. The unexpected events that unfolded on that fateful day would also transform the life of a young girl, Lady Gabrielle Roberda Montgomery. Her story inspired the latest novel in my ‘Daughters of Devon’ series, The Dartington Bride, due for release on March 28, 2024.

Everything was going well for King Henri II of France. The succession was guaranteed, as he had four sons with Queen Catherine de Medici. The French army had reclaimed Calais from the English. The 60-year-long Italian wars had finally come to an end. Through successful negotiations with the Hapsburghs and Queen Elizabeth of England, he had achieved The Peace of Cateau Cambresis.

King Henri II of France (1519-1559) after Francis Clouet
(Wikimedia Commons) 

In June 1559 lavish festivities were held to celebrate the peace agreements and two royal marriages. The festivities reached their peak with a magnificent tournament, held near the Place des Vosges, and set to last for 5 days. On the third day, June 30, forty-year-old King Henri himself would take on challengers.

King Henri had been training hard to excel in the joust. But Queen Catherine was troubled by the alarming predictions of her astrologers, Nostradamus, and Luca Gaurico. They foretold that Henri’s reign would end with an eye injury he would sustain in a duel. Gaurico, the astrologer of the Medici family in Italy, went as far as writing a letter to the king, advising him to:

‘… avoid all single combat in an enclosed field, especially around his forty-first year… for in that period of his life he was threatened by a wound in the head which could bring about blindness, or death.’

Under the scorching sun, a crowd gathered on Paris’ widest street, the rue Saint-Antoine. Colourful banners fluttered from the surrounding buildings, adding to the festive atmosphere as the spectators vied for positions in the stands. Queen Catherine begged Henri to let others take the field in his place. But he was having none of it. The anxious queen looked on as, proudly wearing the colours of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, Henri rode out.

Despite winning the first contest, he faced a formidable challenge from his second opponent, who nearly knocked him off his horse. The Duke of Savoy and Queen Catherine both urged him not to ride again. But Henri was stubborn. He insisted on another contest and commanded Gabriel de Lorges, the Captain of his Scots Guards, to ride against him.

Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgomery, (5 May 1530 – 26 June 1574)
(Wikimedia Commons) 

From the fifteenth century, the King’s Scots guards served as an elite personal bodyguard to French monarchs. A few years before the tournament, Gabriel took over from his father as their captain. A handsome and fit soldier, he was at least ten years younger than King Henri. At first he resisted, but he dared not disobey his king.

The two horses thundered towards each other. Gabriel’s lance struck the king in the right shoulder and, in a move that was not the usual practice in the sport, held onto his lance. The impact caused the lance to splinter, sending wooden shards into Henri’s forehead. In his haste to prove a point, the king may have let down the visor on his helmet without fastening the buckle, making him especially vulnerable. The visor failed to protect his right eye, and a shard of wood from the lance pierced it, reaching into his brain.

At first, Henri stayed in the saddle. But when his attendants saw how serious his injury was, they lifted him from his horse. They carried him into the nearby Hôtel des Tournelles, where, according to an eyewitness, Bishop Antoine Caraccioli, Gabriel begged for forgiveness at the king’s bedside. He even asked that the king cut off his head and hand. Henri refused, saying that Gabriel had merely followed his orders.

Ambroise Paré, the renowned barber-surgeon and French court physician, hoped to operate and save the king. According to some sources, he may have even practiced eye surgery on prisoners in the Bastille to refine his technique. Additionally, Philip of Spain sent his physician, the equally renowned anatomist Andreas Vesalius, all the way from Brussels. They tried everything. Despite the combined efforts of the two learned men, King Henri died on 10 July 1559. After his death, jousting declined as a sport, particularly in France.

On his deathbed, King Henri again declared Gabriel blameless. However, Queen Catherine would never forgive him. From that day, she took the broken lance as her emblem. Gabriel de Lorges had become the French regicide.

Gabriel, who became Count of Montgomery after his father’s death in 1562, came from a noble family of Scottish descent. His father, Jacques, had forged a successful career as a soldier under King Francois II. In 1545, during the Anglo/Scottish wars, known as Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing,’ he led a French force to support the Scots. Jaques married his third wife, Charlotte de Maille, in 1550. 

It was a double wedding as Gabriel married Charlotte’s daughter, Isabeau de la Touche, on the same day. Gabriel and Isabeau would go on to have had four sons and four daughters. Gabrielle, affectionately known as Roberda in the family, was about five years old at the time of the tournament.

After the accident, Gabriel spent a few days in the ‘Montgomery Tower’ within the wall of Philippe Auguste in Paris. Then, still in fear of his life, he fled. He went first to the family home at Ducey in Normandy. By mid-July, he had travelled to Jersey. In December, diplomatic papers mentioned him being in Venice.

In the spring of 1560, Gabriel arrived in England. He met many influential people, including Lord Robert Dudley. He also made, or renewed, his acquaintance with Sir Arthur Champernowne of Dartington Hall. The two men may have first met some years earlier, in1554. Once the investigation into his supposed participation in the Wyatt rebellion had concluded, Queen Mary released Arthur from the Tower of London and permitted him to travel to France. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Sir Arthur, a staunch Protestant, held the important position of Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West.

While her husband was in England, Isabeau embraced the teachings of John Calvin, joining his followers, the Huguenots. By the time Gabriel returned to Ducey in December 1561, he too had converted to the Protestant faith.

Religious tensions had been simmering in France for some time. They came to a boiling point on 1 March 1562 when the troops of the powerful Catholic leader, the Duke de Guise, murdered a group of Protestants in a barn at Vassy. The massacre marked the start of the bitter wars of religion that would engulf France for the next 30 years. As France spiralled towards war, Gabriel joined forces with Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and emerged as a Huguenot military leader.

Isabeau was, by all accounts, a formidable woman who gave her unwavering support to her husband. When she followed Gabriel on the battle trail, she took all of her children with her. In October 1562, the entire family was at the heart of the fighting in the besieged city of Rouen. The sights Roberda and her siblings witnessed there must have had a profound effect on them.

In 1565, Gabriel granted Isabeau full power of attorney to act on his behalf in all matters concerning his estate and finances. She began negotiating marriages for their children, seeking alliances that would strengthen Gabriel’s position as a war leader.

Isabeau is probably the French lady Sir Arthur Champernowne entertained in Plymouth in 1568. Katherine Astley, one of Sir Arthur’s sisters, had been Queen Elizabeth’s childhood governess. Until her death in 1565, Mrs Astley was Chief Lady of the Privy chamber and a trusted confidante of the Queen. No doubt Gabriel hoped that an alliance with the well-connected Sir Arthur would strengthen his position when seeking support from Queen Elizabeth for the Huguenot cause.

After a good deal of discussion, Roberda left her family in France and started a new life in England. Researching and crafting Roberda’s story has been both challenging and fascinating. The Dartington Bride explores themes that resonate with us today; the devastating impact of war on innocent populations and societal attitudes towards refugees. It also reveals startling insights into women’s lives, and attitudes to marriage amongst wealthy families in sixteenth century England.

The Dartington Bride is available to pre-order as an ebook and as a paperback. An audiobook version follows soon.

Rosemary Griggs

# # #

About the Author

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. An avid researcher, she is now a speaker on Devon’s history and leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall.  She also creates and wears sixteenth century clothing which she often uses to bring history to life for local museums and community groups.  Rosemary lives in Devon with husband David, and her first novel, a Woman of Noble Wit features many of the county’s well loved places.  Find out more on Rosemary’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RAGriggsauthor

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting