Thursday 18 April 2024

The Maiden of Florence by Katherine Mezzacappa BLOG TOUR #TheMaidenofFlorence @katmezzacappa @rararesources #BookExtract #Giveaway #Win #Prize #Competition


'My defloration was talked about in all the courts of Europe. The Prince boasted of his prowess, even as preparations were being made for his wedding, as boldly as if he had ridden across that causeway with bloodstained sheet tied to his lance.' 

1584, Italy: Twenty-year-old Giulia expects she will live and die incarcerated as a silk weaver within the walls of her Florentine orphanage, where she has never so much as glimpsed her own face. This all changes with the visit of the Medici family's most trusted advisor, promising her a generous dowry and a husband if she agrees to a small sacrifice that will bring honour and glory to her native city. 

Vincenzo Gonzaga, libertine heir to the dukedom of Mantua, wants to marry the Grand-Duke of Tuscany's eldest daughter, but the rumours around his unconsummated first marriage must be silenced first. Eager for a dynastic alliance that will be a bulwark against the threat of Protestant heresy beyond the Alps, the Pope and his cardinals turn a blind eye to a mortal sin. 

A powerful #MeToo story of the Renaissance, based on true events.

The Maiden of Florence by Katherine Mezzacappa is published today, 18 April 2024 by Fairlight Books.  
As part of this Blog Tour organised by Rachel's Random Resources I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today. 

Extract from The Maiden of Florence by Katherine Mezzacappa 

Giulia has been taken from her Dominican-run orphanage to enable a proof of virility for Vincenzo Gonzaga, heir to the dukedom of Mantua, a condition imposed by the parents of his prospective bride, a Medici princess. Their meeting happens in Venice, under conditions of secrecy. Giulia will have a husband chosen for her; he will be bribed with a generous dowry. In this extract the test has been successful, and Vincenzo suggests an alternative career to marriage to Giulia.

Some time later, in darkness, he came at me again, wordless in his attack. I tensed, expecting more pain, but it was easier. I confess also, and have learned not to blush when I think this, that it was pleasurable, only that he finished too soon. I wanted him to put his fingers, or his mouth to me again, but he did not and I did not dare to ask him. But I stroked his body, the way that Vinta had told me to, and he rewarded me with happy murmurs and by stretching like a cat. He complemented me on the gentleness of my touch. I wish that is all he had said.

‘Why don’t you stay in Venice? A girl like you with such a pretty way about her could sell her maidenhead again and again. There are women in this city practised in those arts: some astringent to tighten the passage, a little bladder of pig’s blood, a modest expression and some regretful tears, and one of your dupes would want to keep you, in recompense for having dishonoured you.’

I do not think he could have hurt me more if he had struck me across the face.

‘I want to go back to Florence. I want my dowry. I want a husband,’ I said, fighting the tears. I shifted away from him on the bed; I hated him – the touch, the smell of him, but most of all those cruel words.
‘Ah yes, the dowry! That will be the sixth one paid out over this matter – an expensive business, getting me wed!’

‘The sixth!’ I exclaimed.

‘Ssh! Let old Vinta and the others sleep. There were four in Parma, I believe.’ 

I listened to him in a kind of horrified delirium.

‘Yes, when they examined poor Margherita – that was my first wife, who was malformed, as you, lovely maiden, are not! They didn’t know quite what they were looking for, those doctors. They could have asked me. Probably the only maidenheads any of them had encountered had been owned by their virtuous wives, and the desires of a young husband trump the curiosity of the doctor, so they never stopped to look first, and there is but one eye in the head of a penis, even if it weeps when it is happy, and that eye is blind. The only women they ever got to anatomise were hanged whores, you see.

 Virtuous girls and chaste wives may go to their graves unmolested. Four peasant girls were brought to them, all of an age with Margherita, so that they could see how a normal girl was made. I wish I’d been there; what a winsome parade that must have been! I’m told Cardinal Borromeo – it was he who signed to make me a free man – lived on bread and water for days in expiation. I don’t know why – those girls were all paid off with dowries, so they could make better marriages than they would have dreamed of.’

‘Who was the other?’ 

‘Oh, I never saw her either.’

He had one arm behind his head as he said this, and with the other played idly with his member, which was stirring again. I could see him now, for outside it had to be day, and a sliver of light was visible around the closed door, so that gradually the details of the room, and of the Prince himself, became visible. I remember the hair of his body, dense to the top of his thighs, where it stopped as though a line had been drawn across, only for it to blaze out again around his sex, and to shade that little well in his stomach that all of us have, that once connected every one of us to a mother.

‘That girl was in Ferrara, and had been prepared just as you were. I wanted to see her beforehand, but they wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t stand their handwringing, their orders, their insistence, and most of all I couldn’t abide the Medici ambassador, dull old fool! At least Vinta one can reason with. So I left for Mantua.’

‘And the girl?’

‘Got her dowry, and it paid her way into the convent… ah, I see this talk has pleased him. Look, Giulia, he has raised his head in your honour. Let us oblige him once more.’

After he had joined himself to me that time, he did not sleep, but instead spoke of himself. He described a childhood unimaginable to me, in which he ran laughing from his tutors through endless long galleries hung with tapestries and portraits of people he could name for they were his forebears – and, horrible to relate even now, the mummified corpse of a former lord of his city, vanquished by the Gonzaga, displayed in a sort of cabinet of curiosities along with a unicorn and those strange armoured crawling creatures they call crocodiles, such as Saint Teodoro stands upon on his column looking out from Piazza San Marco.

Katherine Mezzacappa is an Irish writer of mainly historical fiction, currently living in Italy. 
She has published several novels under pen names with publishers Bonnier Zaffre and eXtasy. 
She works as a manuscript assessor for The Literary Consultancy. 
Katherine reviews for Historical Novel Society’s quarterly journal and is one of the organisers of the Society’s 2022 UK conference. 
In her spare time she volunteers with a used book charity of which she is a founder member.

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