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A Portrait of Marguerite de Valois - an Editorial Review of "The Serpent and the Rose"

Book Blurb:


"The Serpent and the Rose" is a captivating tale that skillfully weaves together historical, dramatic and personal elements. Catherine Butterfield brings to life a fascinating period in French history and paints a complex and memorable portrait of Queen Marguerite de Valois." 5 stars, Highly Recommended Award of Excellence.


"A sweeping but intimate story that highlights the author's clear attention to detail....." "Over the course of the novel, Butterfield employs diary-style from Marguerite's perspective that make for a brisk read, and Marguerite, despite her royal background, comes off as approachable and very human throughout."

In 16th century France, Marguerite de Valois is growing up in one of Europe's most dysfunctional families - the Medici clan. Their extreme inbreeding has led to an alarming number of genetic defects in France's kings.

Marguerite alone has escaped this curse. Uncharacteristically beautiful, intelligent, and sane, she is seen as a useful pawn by her mother, Catherine de Medici. In a scheme to unite the country during the raging religious wars, the queen decides to marry her Catholic daughter to Protestant Henri, Prince of Navarre, a charming libertine. De Medici's plan backfires, however, when the populace recoils at the union. Immediately following the wedding a key Huguenot figure is murdered, which leads to the deaths of thousands of Huguenots in Paris, slaughtered by their neighbors in what has come to be known as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Henri barely escapes Paris with his life and Marguerite, sequestered at court by order of de Medici, finds herself a newlywed without a husband.

To make matters worse the Duke of Guise, the powerful man she spurned for Henri, is determined to make her pay for wounding his vanity. In a tale that covers the trajectory of her life, Marguerite, who narrates her own story, comes to understand that to set herself free of the machinations of others, she'll have to outplay them at their own vicious game.

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Author Bio:

Catherine Butterfield began her career as an actress and then turned to writing plays, many of which have been published and performed in the US, England, Australia, and Spain. She has been a writer or writer/producer on the television programs “The Ghost Whisperer,” “Grimm”, “Party of Five, and “FAME LA" and has done uncredited work on a number of feature films. Two of her short films, "Faultless" and "Just Another BIrthday in Bedlam," have won Telly awards, a gold and a bronze for Best Remote Production. Her Youtube channel has a large number of the short films she shot during the pandemic under the heading "Life During Lockdown," as well as readings of a few of her plays.

“The Serpent and the Rose” is Ms. Butterfield’s first novel. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

Editorial Review:

"The Serpent and the Rose" by Catherine Butterfield explores the tumultuous period of the

French Wars of Religion, a historical episode marked by conflict, political maneuvering, and

the complex relationship between the powerful Catherine de' Medici and her youngest

daughter, Marguerite de Valois. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the years

1562-1589, a period in which millions perished, and France faced internal conflicts that

threatened the stability of the monarchy and its position in Europe.

The author skillfully navigates through the political maneuvers of Catherine de' Medici, who

managed to become regent for her second son, Charles, after the death of Francis II in 1560.

Known as the "Snake Queen," Catherine's extreme actions in the name of saving France have

left an indelible mark on history, although Butterfield suggests that her legacy may be

unfairly prejudiced.

At the heart of the narrative is Marguerite de Valois, Catherine's youngest daughter, portrayed

as a figure of unusual beauty, intelligence, and ingenuity. However, Catherine's attempts to

exploit Marguerite as a political pawn lead to resentment on both sides of the religious

conflict. The author highlights the impact of a political pamphlet from 1660, entitled "The

Satiric Divorce," which depicted Marguerite in a negative light, irreversibly affecting her


A political pamphlet published in 1660 entitled “The Satiric Divorce” depicted

Marguerite as a deranged sexual deviant whose unnatural number of lovers included a

couple of her brothers. Her reputation never really recovered.”

The novel provides a vivid glimpse into the daily struggles and intrigues of the characters,

using Marguerite's perspective to add a personal and emotional touch to historical events. The

author skillfully weaves details about court life, political alliances, and constant threats faced

by the royal family.

The use of Marguerite's journal adds a personal and intimate dimension to the story, offering

readers a glimpse into her thoughts and emotions. Including historical figures such as

Nostradamus and references to Plutarch's ideas about inner change adds an additional layer of depth to the narrative.

The writing style is captivating, capturing the essence of the characters and the era. The

dialogue is precise and reflective, bringing historical figures to life with their distinct

personalities and motivations. The narrative skillfully balances historical context with the

personal struggles of the characters, creating a captivating and immersive experience for the


As the story of "The Serpent and the Rose" by Catherine Butterfield unfolds, we are drawn

into a whirlwind of political and personal events that underscore the complexity of the

relationships between the characters involved. The selected excerpts from Marguerite de

Valois's journal provide a detailed look into court life, political intrigues, and the emotional

turmoil through which the princess navigates.

At this point in the narrative, it is revealed that Jeanne d'Albret, Marguerite's mother, funded

the bloody siege with the crown jewels and committed to continue doing so. This revelation

adds a note of irony and critique, highlighting the apparent contrast between the value of

royal jewels and the massive human losses during the siege.

The author explores the complexity of political and personal relationships at the royal court.

Guise, initially reserved and affected by human losses, seems to overcome resentments to

pursue his own political interests. Well-defined dialogues and precise narration contribute to

shaping a vibrant and captivating atmosphere, offering readers a glimpse behind the scenes of intrigues and negotiations in this tumultuous era.

Events unfold rapidly, and the long-awaited marriage between Marguerite and Henri

approaches. The author builds subtle suspense, detailing the solemn atmosphere of the

ceremony with finesse. However, Marguerite's temporary joy is overshadowed by the

shocking revelations during the wedding.

Through the surprising turn of events, Guise is granted permission to kill a guest, Admiral

Gaspard de Coligny, an event that completely changes Marguerite's perception of her own

life. Suddenly, the princess shifts from the happiness of marriage to the ominous awareness of

political intrigues and dangers surrounding her.

The detailed description of the journey from Florennes and the tense episode in the castle

adds tension and an intriguing surprise element. The attempt to find a safe haven, only to be

met with suspicion and fear, adds a complex layer of realism and humanity to the story. The

author manages to capture the reader's attention with every twist of events.

The date of August 10, 1582, becomes a key moment in the narrative, marked by

determination and a shift in perspective for Marguerite. This internal transformation,

documented with introspection, adds depth to the character and builds a captivating narrative:

It was a glorious morning. I awoke with fresh resolve and the sense that the tide had turned. I had refused to be alarmed by Von Duffel’s news; whatever wars these men were fighting had nothing to do with me. I felt strong and capable, and I had the sense that things were going to progress smoothly now.”

The excerpt depicting the "Questions of Love" game:

in which each lady in turn describes their perfect romantic encounter and illustrates it by acting it out for the others’ amusement”, it offers a note of ease and camaraderie amid political and personal tensions. The reader is invited to explore the human and intimate side of the characters through this game, adding a new dimension to the narrative.

Marguerite's complicated relationship with her mother, Queen Catherine, undergoes a

surprising change with a letter that appears devoid of subtext and the usual tensions. This

shift in their relational dynamics contributes to Marguerite's emotional relief, creating a note

of optimism in the midst of a tense environment:

We are not insensible to the services you have rendered your brother and trust that your time in Chenonceau has been felicitous to the resurrection of your health. Know that as your mother I am always protective of your welfare and though your actions in Flanders may not have been fully authorized at the time, I take pride in the wit and discretion demonstrated to produce such felicitous results. Joy be to the crown with this accomplishment. ”

The tragedy unfolds when we learn that Marguerite's husband, Jean, has not returned home

for two weeks, and Adrienne, her friend, warns her of the danger and conspiracies

surrounding her friendship with Mr. d'Aubiac. These events build a tense and mysterious


Marguerite's journal evolves to a dramatic climax when we discover Jean's death and the

deep sorrow and anger Marguerite feels. Political intrigues become personal, and her desire

for revenge against Queen Catherine, King Francis III, and especially the Duke of Guise

becomes the focal point of her emotions.

Spanning from 1584 to 1610, the book captures the dramatic transformation of Marguerite,

marked by political conflicts, personal tragedies, and profound introspection. Author

Catherine Butterfield vividly captures the atmosphere of the era and paints a complex portrait

of a strong and intricate woman.

At the age of 37, Marguerite reflects on the ongoing wars, family losses, and decades of

political turmoil. Time and her experiences have brought a change in her perception of virtue

and goodness, and the character's internal struggle becomes palpable. The journal becomes a

testament to maturity and the search for meaning amidst chaos.

The book also reveals Marguerite's quest for refuge in literature, music, and laughter—an

escape from an environment marked by conflicts and conspiracies. Plans for divorce and

withdrawal to the castle of Usson provide a note of hope and personal rediscovery for the

central character.

As for me, I want to escape all these horrors and surround myself with literature, music, laughter, and peace. I should like to pretend that the world outside those castle walls doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’ll come to Paris for the odd baptism if God should be so good to Henri. I can be the benevolent and somewhat distant aunt to whatever issue he produces. In short, I just want to be left alone.”

The book's conclusion brings an emotional retrospective as Marguerite, returning to Paris

after years of seclusion, reminisces about moments of joy and sorrow. The memories from the

beginning of the book become a touchstone for her, and the story concludes with a blend of

nostalgia and understanding of the past.

"The Serpent and the Rose" is a captivating tale that skillfully weaves together historical,

dramatic, and personal elements. Catherine Butterfield brings to life a fascinating period in

French history and paints a complex and memorable portrait of Queen Marguerite de Valois.


“The Serpent and the Rose” by Catherine Butterfield receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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