Starting research – Minette

12 April 2011

There are few things in life that are more exciting (to a writer anyway) than that thrill as you first throw yourself hopefully into the research for a new project. I went to the Book Barn (a huge second hand book emporium – it really is a barn full of books!) in between Bristol and Bath today to get a couple of books that I needed for my new project and have been happily devouring them ever since.

The first is Charles II’s Minette by Bryan Bevan, about Henriette-Anne Stuart and the other is First Lady of Versailles by Lucy Norton, about Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie. This is just the start though – maybe tomorrow I will post a list of the books I used while writing about Marie Antoinette, so you can see just how much research I put into these projects!

I know the basics of Henriette and Adélaïde’s lives but am really enjoying this first flush of the writing phase in which I get to know them better, not just by reading about their actions but by reading their own words and those of the people around them.

She had a way of speaking to anyone which seemed to ask for love, however trivial were the words‘ – Armand de Guiche on Henriette.

Her gracious and appealing ways made her the idol and model of the court‘ – Voltaire on Adélaïde.

It was not exactly that he was selfish, but he had been king since he was four, and had been trained to consider only himself… his every wish was instantly acclaimed; for instance, when he wanted the windows opened wide, in January, everyone immediately discovered that they had been feeling too hot. It never struck him that other people might be different from himself‘ – Madame de Maintenon on Louis XIV.

What is becoming quickly clear is that this is as much a book about Louis XIV and Versailles as it is about Henriette and Adélaïde – one of whom was one of the first loves of his youth, while the other brightened the sunset of his life. It will be interesting to write about the Sun King at two such very different points in his life.

I’m keen to write about his aunt Henrietta Maria and fascinating cousin, Charles II too of course. I’m really intrigued by the idea of a book that has both Stuarts and Bourbons in it – you can’t not have drama when they are around! Also, you have to wonder about just how powerful Henriette’s charm must have been to have been loved by both of them – it’s been said that Charles loved her more than anyone else, while contemporaries believed that Louis XIV never loved anyone in all his long life as much as he loved her granddaughter, Adélaïde.

I also keep finding myself thinking about the fact that Louis XV (who was Adélaïde’s son) and therefore Louis XVI too were direct descendants of Charles I and Mary, Queen of Scots. I wonder what they made of their supposedly unlucky Stuart heritage?

Anyway, if you had to choose between Louis XIV and Charles II, which would you pick? I’d definitely go with Charles II, but on the other hand, Versailles…