Barbara of Austria
Barbara of Austria was one of the four daughters of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and Anna of Bohemia. Athough her blood was as blue as it gets, in the beauty department, she was sorely lacking. Rather, she was known for being deeply religious, kind, and empathetic.
The daughter of an emperor, regardless of her looks, would be considered quite a catch for any young man of the nobility seeking to raise their social status and power because of her connections to Austria and Spanish royalty. Despite her lack of beauty, numerous proposals were made for her hand in marriage. It was Duke Alfonso II, the Duke of Ferrara who ultimately was permitted to marry her.
Duke of Ferrara
But Barbara was not his first wife. In fact, Alfonso was previously married to the very wealthy and great beauty named Lucrezia Medici. Not long into their marriage, poor Lucrezia became ill. She began to lose weight, developed a horredous cough that would not cease, suffered from fever, and endured constant nose bleeds. The symptoms could not be curtailed and steadily grew worse until she finally died. Although the cause of death was said to be tuberculosis, rumours abounded that she had been poisoned.
So it was under this shadow, that poor Barbara came to Ferrara to be Alfonso's second wife. By all accounts, they were happy, even though they were not blessed with children. Barabara was a kind and compassionate duchess who used her own money to support young orphan girls after a devastating earthquake. Like her husband’s first wife, at a tender age, Barbara also fell ill with the exact same symptoms as those of her predecessor, Lucrezia. Barbara died at the age of thirty-three.
Coincidence? No one can never know for certain. History shall never reveal its secrets.
The story of these two fascinating women is immortalized in the story, The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas.
Back Cover Blurb
A rich, compelling historical novel-and a mystery of royal intrigue.
In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria. At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate.
Renaissance Italy is my favourite genre of historical fiction, and Elizabeth Loupas has written a wonderful story about two of this era's leading ladies. When Barbara of Austria marries Alfonso d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, she has no idea she will be forced to encounter the ghost of his first wife, Lucrezia, who was said to have been poisoned. For the sake of her marriage, Barbara does her best to ignore the rumours, but she soon finds her husband to be less than what he appears. He is arrogant, coldly assessing, and a man who would be more than capable of murder to suit his own needs. Despite all this, Barbara is determined to unearth the secrets behind a hidden painting of his first wife and how and why she died.
The story is told through the points of view of Barbara and the ghost of Lucrezia - a fascinating tool that I found very powerful when it came to the development of both characters. These two distinct voices highlighted the differences and the similarities between the two minutes. But it was through the malevolent spirit of Lucrezia who revealed the secrets of her marriage.
I loved this story. It engrossed me from the very first page and held my interest until the gripping ending. The author has done an excellent job of bring the royal courts of Renaissance Italy to vibrant life. The characters are ever evolving, always doing the unexpected, and becoming larger than life as more and more secrets are exposed. This is a wonderfully engaging story! One of the best in the genre of Italian historical fiction.