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Katherine of Aragon as the Madonna by Michael Sittow. Baby is NOT Henry IX

Katherine of Aragon was reigning queen of England for twenty-two eventful years, which Starz is packing into eight episodes. Viewers who complained that the first episode was rushed were right: it roared by some scandalous and fascinating events detailed in my latest real history mystery, Cannon Conspiracy. For example, Episode 1 did not mention Henry VIII's affair with the Duke of Buckingham's sister during Katherine's first pregnancy, which ended in stillbirth (a daughter) and a rip-roaring royal fight when Queen Katherine found out about Anne Stafford. Go to link below if you want that missing story.


To be fair, Starz got what historians would regard as the important historical details right. King Ferdinand of Spain did double-cross Henry, which left English soldiers stranded and starving while Ferdinand conquered Navarre, using Henry's army as a distraction. And wily old Ferdinand wrote letters bragging about how he had outfoxed his young, naïve son-in-law. The diplomatic history behind those events involved Pope Julius II's campaign against France and was much more complicated than portrayed. But the essence was right.


However, while Starz portrays Ferdinand and most other central characters well, it changed some human details to make the story more dramatic. As an amateur historian that saddens me, because the real history is dramatic already:  


Baby Henry only lived 53 days, and did not die lying on a cold floor next to Katherine while she was praying. Cannon Conspiracy gives a (minority view) reason for his death.  It was definitely natural causes, but Henry—not Katherine—may be accountable. Cannon Conspiracy is only $2.99 and the first chapter addresses this question. Go to  or follow the link on this site.

King Ferdinand never visited his daughter Katherine in England, much less dragging his "heir, Charles V" with him. Charles—his grandson, oldest son of Juana "La Loca"—was eleven years old and known as "Charles of Burgundy" when this scene occurs. He didn't become Charles V for another 7 or 8 years, lived in the Netherlands (then called "the Low Countries") with his paternal family, and was not yet Ferdinand's heir. (Ferdinand remarried after Queen Isabella died, and still hoped for a son. He and Isabella had five children but only one boy, who died in adulthood.) Princess Mary was, at the time of this scene, betrothed to Charles of Burgundy—Starz got that much right. But she was only 14 or 15 herself, if we fix the date for the scene to 1511. (Baby Henry was born January 1, 1511 and Henry held an enormous celebratory joust shortly afterwards, as shown by Starz. King Ferdinand's double-cross that stranded the English army occurred in 1512.) So both Princess Mary and Charles of Burgundy were portrayed as being much older than they actually were. They never met, at least in youth.           


Their betrothal was broken off for diplomatic reasons, shortly after the events in Episode 1, and Princess Mary ended up marrying….but no, Starz will surely cover that. And you will find yourself saying, "Poor Princess Mary" because Henry forced her to marry someone repulsive.

To my knowledge, Katherine never gave a speech like the one at the end of Episode 1, though she was certainly capable of it. The English loved her throughout her reign and beyond, and her loyalty to Henry (as opposed to her father) was not questioned.


I will continue to blog about the real history behind the events as portrayed by Starz as new episodes play. (Some of you saw Episode 1 early. How did you do that?)  You will be able to find those blogs at  or through my Facebook page,  


Meanwhile, enjoy this great new series!

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Why Did Martin Luther Publish his 95 Theses on Halloween?

Why did Martin Luther choose Halloween to launch his 95 theses?


Halloween is a Celtic holiday, so it was likely unknown in Luther's Germany.  But All Saint's Day is the next day, November 1, and relics owned by the Wittenburg Cathedral were displayed on that day, among very few others in the church year.  So scholars think Martin Luther posted his theses then, because he knew many people would see them.  Thanks to the printing press, they went viral, beyond his wildest dreams.


In recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I recently launched Martin Luther, Machiavelli and Murder the third Real History Mystery in the Nicola Machiavelli series (which have collectively consistently rated 4 out of 5 stars after 170+ Amazon reviews).  The mystery takes place in Rome, during the two months Luther spent there as a young monk, as historic fact.  If you  want to hear a Luther scholar talk about how these two months influenced Luther's life and works, you can use the link at the end of ths blog post.  If you want to have fun hearing essentially the same thing, read my book.  


 As Luther was still a staunch Catholic when in  Rome, the "real history" in the book is the corruption and scandal there that provided the tinder when Martin Luther lit the match, 500 years ago today. You will meet or learn about the most corrupt popes in history, and the beginnings of Luther's disillusionment with the existing Church. 


 You can read the first 20%, and follow a first page link to all the great Renaissance art in the book, here: And of course buy it, for $2.99(ebook)/$7.99 (hard copy).  Here is a plot summary:


The corruption and grandeur of Renaissance Rome during young Martin Luther's real-life visit form the backdrop to this tale of murder, war and papal politics. On arrival, Luther is nearly struck by the body of a naked, murdered cardinal thrust from a whorehouse window. Prime suspects behind this and other assassinations include "warrior" Pope Julius II and two future Medici popes, one of whom will become Luther's future nemesis, Pope Leo X. Leonardo da Vinci and the infamous Niccolò Machiavelli play roles in a deepening mystery that ranges across war-torn Italy. Forced to work with the licentious artist Raphael and Machiavelli's winsome daughter Nicola to solve the mystery, Martin Luther battles temptation and sin, while witnessing abuses key to shaping Protestant theology and his future destiny. 


And here is a scholarly video that tells many of the same stories:



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Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World

Martin Luther as a young monk by his friend and contemporary, Lucas Cranach, lower right 

I watched yesterday's PBS documentary, "Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World" with interest, hoping it portrayed Luther as I did in my new (fictional and fun) Real History Mystery Press book,  Martin Luther, Machiavelli and Murder.  In recognition of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 theses—the  October, 1517 document that ignited the Protestant Reformation and changed the face of Europe—my third book follows Luther as a young monk when he was in Rome, as historic fact.  The "real history" in the book is the corruption and scandal there that provided the tinder when Martin Luther lit the match.


I am very serious about the history in my books, and hoped for confirmation that I portrayed Martin Luther accurately. I got it! The man I saw in the PBS documentary was my Martin Luther, with all his contradictions.  Earnest, self-effacing, and sometimes depressed by his supposed sinfulness, Luther was also a brilliant and pugnacious writer and thinker who could not keep silent about perceived religious wrongs, even knowing he was likely to be burned at the stake for heresy.  PBS was fair to him, bringing out his love of family and music and, in a balanced way, his least holy pronouncements. (After years of advocating relatively generous treatment of Jews he reversed himself, advocating property seizures and other harsh measures against those who refused to convert to Christianity. He also supported crushing a violent peasant rebellion.) The show spends little time on Lutheran doctrine (nor does my book—Luther was young and still a staunch Catholic when it occurs).  There were no gross inaccuracies, though.  It is also silent on the Catholic scandals of the time (which my book is not), and superficial though fair in its treatment of Catholic "indulgences," the primary subject of Luther's 95 theses, which then involved the outright sale of salvation.


In my book, Martin Luther occasionally discusses indulgences and other religious subjects with my free-thinking female protagonist, the illegitimate daughter of real-life bastard Niccolò Machiavelli, of "Machiavellian" fame.  To his guilty horror, Luther also falls in love with her. Martin Luther, Machiavelli and Murder is the third book in the Nicola Machiavelli series, which has consistently rated 4 out of 5 stars after 140+ Amazon reviews and will eventually chronicle the entire High Renaissance in Italy. You can read a plot summary and the first 20% for free, and follow a first page link to all the great Renaissance art in the book, here: And of course buy it, for $2.99(e-book)/$7.99 (hard copy).  If you are seeing this on my website,, there should be a link to the right through which you can purchase as well.



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Why I Write "Real History" Mysteries

Why do I write "real history mysteries"? Due to serious family illnesses I abruptly  left a busy career and was stuck at home, second-guessing decisions already made, about illnesses I could not control.  Unable to concentrate on even the best historical fiction—my favorite form of escapism--I decided to give my poor brain something to work on in my spare hours, other than worry. At Stanford University I had majored in Renaissance History because I loved it.  I resolved to return to it, and write my own historically correct fiction, the only kind that I personally like.  


My Nicola Machiavelli mystery series will cover the entire Italian high Renaissance, I decided, eventually giving me opportunities to re-visit Italy and practice my now-rusty Italian, learned at Stanford and its Italy campus in Florence, where I saw and experienced what I was studying.  


Writing has helped me weather widowhood.  And after thousands of copies sold, my first two books have consistently rated 4 out of 5 stars after more than 170 collective reviews on Amazon. The first, "A Daughter Dies," introduces Nicola Machiavelli as a young girl and lays out the history of the infamous Borgia family, and Leonardo da Vinci's improbable relationship with it. The second, "Da Vinci Detects," has as its historically accurate background the fifteenth century witch hunt for homosexuals that ensnared Leonardo da Vinci and an astounding number of other Florentine men, through means that violate nearly every provision related to criminal process in our modern day American Constitution.


 In recognition of this year's 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 theses – the 1517 document that ignited the Protestant Reformation and changed the face of Europe—I have just brought out "Martin Luther, Machiavelli and Murder." The "real history" in this book is the church corruption and scandal that provided the tinder when Martin Luther lit the match. The unorthodox views of Nicola Machiavelli, the fictional bastard daughter of real-life bastard Niccolò "Machiavellian" Machiavelli, propelled some lively dialogue between her and Luther.  It gives the reader a bit of the history of religious thought. If that doesn't interest you, though, you probably won't notice it.


You can read the first 20%, follow a first page link to all the great Renaissance art in the book, and order a copy either in e-book form ($2.99) or in paperback ($7.99) here: 


If you like the book, PLEASE post a review, and let others who might be interested know about the book.  Here is a brief plot summary:


The corruption and grandeur of Renaissance Rome during young Martin Luther's real-life visit form the backdrop to this tale of murder, war and papal politics. On arrival, Luther is nearly struck by the body of a naked, murdered cardinal thrust from a whorehouse window. Prime suspects behind this and other assassinations include "warrior" Pope Julius II and two future Medici popes, one of whom will become Luther's future nemesis, Pope Leo X. Leonardo da Vinci and the infamous Niccolò Machivelli play roles in a deepening mystery that ranges across war-torn Italy. Forced to work with the licentious artist Raphael and Machiavelli's winsome daughter Nicola to solve the mystery, Martin Luther battles temptation and sin, while witnessing abuses key to shaping Protestant theology and his future destiny.

Luther was a colorful, courageous and fascinating man, despite his intense devotion to faith.  I hope you enjoy him.  

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Lucrezia Borgia, Pregnant in a Convent?

Convent of San Sisto, Rome
Where Lucrezia Borgia was educated and had her baby 

Did Lucrezia Borgia really spend time in a Roman convent?  She did indeed. Its cloister is pictured here.  It is called San Sisto, or San Sisto Vecchio, and has been an active convent for close to 900 years. The bell tower, the well, and the cloister arcade have been there since the beginning, or close to it.


The nuns do not speak English and do not welcome visitors. It was a feat, getting into this place, but because I speak Italian, I was able to do it.  


What was Lucrezia  doing in a convent? Short answer: hiding from her father and her first husband, who were fighting about her divorce.  She was educated in this convent, as a young girl.  The pope sent soldiers to extract her when she sought refuge from the battle between him and her first husband, but she refused to leave.  She was not as passive as the Showtime series sometimes portrays her.


Was Lucrezia pregnant with another man's child in the convent, while her father the pope was claiming she was a virgin?  Probably. (See my post on this subject.)  The baby's father, though, was not the character in the Showtime series, who is fictional. It was someone much higher born than that. 


Did her husband attempt public sex with prostitutes to prove his manhood, as shown on Showtime? No, but he did offer to have sex with Lucrezia in public, for the same purpose. No wonder she hid from him.   


If you want the real story, told in a fun way, read my murder mystery, A Borgia Daughter Dies, which tells the entire Borgia saga, beginning with Lucrezia's time in the convent. I wrote this book a long before the Showtime series started, and was careful to get the history right. You can find it here:


With the Borgias, the truth is often stranger than anything a screenwriter could possibly make up.



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Incest between Lucrezia Borgia, Cesare Borgia, and her father Pope Alexander VI? Unlikely.

Lucrezia Borgia, from the Disputation of St. Catherine, the Borgia Apartments, the Vatican

Rumors of incest between Lucrezia and her father and brother have dogged the Borgia family since Lucrezia's first marriage. Are they true? No one knows for sure, but probably not. You can get the whole story of how the rumors got started and why they aren't credible in A Borgia Daughter Dies,  available at Amazon and Smashwords.


This is documented: the rumors were started by Lucrezia's soon-to-be-ex first husband, who was very angry with the Pope for accusing him of impotence in order to grant Lucrezia a divorce. (Non-consummation of marriage was one of few available grounds for divorce then.) Hubby #1 wrote a letter to a cousin stating that the Pope "wanted Lucrezia for himself"–a statement as ambiguous in Italian as it is in English– and the rumors went viral from there. Soon Lucrezia was rumored to be having sex with both her father and brother. Roman poets, the yellow journalists of the day, wrote doggerel about Borgia incest and sold it on the street, thanks to the newly-invented printing press. (Things like duels and libel laws weren't around yet.) 


A mysterious baby fueled the rumors, too. Lucrezia hid herself for months in a convent while her first husband and father fought over the divorce, and likely had a baby there. The pope and Cesare successively declared themselves the father of a baby "by an unknown mother," which led their enemies to declare that Lucrezia was confused about who the father was. This is pure malice—the Borgias were way too smart for that. The pope and Cesare acknowledged fatherhood to give this child–-who obviously had a very important mother, whoever she was—-rights to financial support and inheritance. The pope was close to seventy, so it made more sense to have Cesare assume these obligations, which he did. Lucrezia herself cared for this "half-brother" from afar her whole life.


Why is Lucrezia the likely mother? First, she spent a lot of time hiding in a convent. Second, the bodies of her maidservant and a handsome young man who had visited while she was in the convent were found in the Tiber, tied up and stabbed. And before that, a prominent individual witnessed Cesare chasing this handsome young man down the hallways of the Vatican and stabbing him as he clung to the pope's ankles, begging for mercy.


But the young man was not a former groom named Paolo, the fictional "daddy" in the Showtime series. If you want to know who he really was, read A Borgia Daughter Dies.


Here are more reasons incest is improbable: Cesare and his father had plenty of sexual outlets and didn't live in the same place Lucrezia did. The pope was close to 70, fat, running the papacy hands-on, and absolutely besotted with "La Bella Giulia," his young mistress who was supposedly the most beautiful woman in Italy. How did he have time for incest, much less the energy?


As for Cesare, who had multiple mistresses and a number of acknowledged bastards: he had already contracted syphilis by the time this baby was born. But there is no evidence that Lucrezia ever had syphilis—she had miscarriages, but also a number of healthy children.  She also lived much longer than Cesare did.


Incest?  Very unlikely.

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Borgia Showtime Series: Most is Fiction

Actor Luke Pasqualino, who played "Paolo" in the Showtime Borgia miniseries 

A post from 2012:


The Borgia series seems to be drifting further away from historic fact as it goes on.  The "Paolo" episode, Season two episode two, is the first in the series that is almost purely fictional.  The characters seem to be adrift from their historical moorings, too.  It's too bad, because the first season did a pretty good job of getting the essential characters right.


The elder statesman pope whom Jeremy Irons played so capably  seems to be gone, though it didn't happen in real life. Fact:  once Cesare escaped from the King of France,  Pope Alexander  formed a coalition of Italian states that chased the king of France out of Italy.  In the series, he's running around discovering poor people  and deciding to throw a party, to give the people "joy."  The party was actually  called a "Jubilee,"  which is biblical, and it was 1500 and time for one.  (The papacy throws them regularly. The last one was in 2000.)  As always, Alexander VI made the most out of this Jubilee,  amassing a huge fortune for the Church in exchange for "plenary indulgences" for  the pilgrims who came from around the world to confess their sins and enjoy themselves.


The female artist who disguises herself as a male and joins with the pope and "La Bella Giulia" Farnese in a threesome?  She is fictional, though "La Bella Giulia" isn't, and that kind of thing could have happened.  "Paolo, "  Lucrezia's lover?  Again,  pure fiction.  I've already blogged about who the father of Lucrezia's baby really was.   He was dead by the time Lucrezia gave birth,  so  the sex and touching family scene in Seasons two, episode two  never happened.


And it wasn't Juan who killed Lucrezia's lover.  It was Cesare.  Juan wasn't  around. (Eventually, the series is bound to show why.)   By the way:  Juan was already married.  He was married at eighteen, the year after Lucrezia's wedding to Giovanni Sforza.   His wife was in Spain, though, and he paid no attention to his marital vows.


Cesare's sex life would have made great theater but the Showtime writers seem committed to making him into a good cleric, which he wasn't.  He was sexually active from an early age and  already had acknowleged bastards and syphilis by the time  he escaped from the King of France.  Sancia (little Jofre's wife) was reportedly Cesare's  mistress, not Juan's. Seeing Cesare with  a Roman courtesan called "La Fiametta"  ("little flame"),  his favorite at the time according to her own tombstone,  would have been fun.  But that's not the way the series is going.


The real history of the Borgias is so colorful that fiction isn't necessary.  If you want the real story in a fun way, read my murder mystery, A Borgia Daughter Dies,  available at Amazon and Smashwords. 


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Caterina Sforza: What a Woman!

Caterina Sforza 

A Post from 2012:


Caterina Sforza was an actual historical figure, whose most famous line was featured by Showtime. She displayed her genitals over the battlements to soldiers who demanded her castle in exchange for her kidnapped children.  She told them, "You see?  I can always make more!" Historic fact: they abandoned the children and fled. She pursued and slaughtered the kidnappers.


This event, however,  did not involve the Borgias.


 Her scorn and slaughter of her children's kidnappers was only one of many outrageous acts committed by Caterina, who was known as the "virago" (female soldier) of Forli, and a legend in her own time.  If you want her full story, you can find it in my historically accurate  e-mystery, A Borgia Daughter Dies, available through Amazon   or Smashwords


Catherine was certainly involved with the Borgias. Cesare Borgia eventually captured the castle at Forli from her, allegedly raped her,  and definitely imprisoned her in the Castel Sant' Angelo.  She tells this story herself in A Borgia Daughter Dies.


It's a shame, though, that Showtime portrays Caterina being rescued by her cousin Il Moro--something he did not do-- using weapons that didn't exist yet. (The first musket, the arquebus, was more like a mortar, and probably operated from the ground. Though inventors were racing to downsize the cannon—a topic touched on in my books—it hadn't been accomplished yet.) Caterina got no help from anyone. It demeans her to show her rescued by a male relative who never managed to rescue anybody, including himself. (The French beat him twice.)


 The "Virago of Forli" stood on her own.


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The Borgias and the "New World"

First map of the "New World," unknown in the Borgia's time

A post, edited,  from 2012:

Showtime has Juan Borgia bringing presents to his father the pope from "the New World."   Though Roderigo Borgia had much to do with the future of the New World, this didn't happen. In fact, Juan's  repeated  reference to "the New World"  is one of several anachronisms in this episode.


Here are the facts:  though  Columbus "discovered" America the same year that Roderigo Borgia became pope, both went to their graves believing that Columbus  had "discovered" the spice islands, such as Ceylon and Borneo, that are east of India, but west of Europe. This is why  the islands south of Florida  were called "the West  Indies" and  their natives "Indians," labels that have stuck.  The "New World" was a phrase coined later, when persistent efforts to reach India finally made it obvious that  there was a land mass--portrayed as a long skinny island on the first New World map, featured above-- between Europe and Asia, namely North and South America.  (My second book, Da Vinci Detects, tells this story when it actually occurs, showing why two continents carry an obscure Italian's first name, which fortunately was  not something common like "Luigi" or Giorgio."  Can you imagine North and South Luigi?) 


The Borgias never knew about this.  They died too early to know.


What about "conquistadores," the soldiers Juan presented to his father as gifts from Spain? Undoubtedly, Columbus tried to bring Christianity to "the West Indies."  But "conquistador" means "conqueror"   a term that stems from Spain's later attempts to "conquer" the New World and its inhabitants.  Once they knew it was there.  So this, too, is an anachronism.


What about the cigars?  Columbus did bring tobacco back from "the West Indies."  So Pope Alexander could have enjoyed a cigar.  It is unlikely, however. It was an oddity, not a commodity, at the time. (Cigars are featured as an exotic luxury in my third book, Martin Luther, Machiavelli and Murder,  which takes place ten years later.)


Nonetheless,  Pope Alexander VI  had a great deal to do with the history of the Americas.  In fact, he is the reason  why Brazilians speak Portuguese.  He settled a dispute between Spain and Portugal over the "islands"  they each discovered, by choosing a longitude line to delineate their claims.  Spain got the better deal—everything west of Brazil, which sticks out into the Atlantic.  But Portugal got Brazil.  And Brazilians got Portuguese.  And but for the later Protestant Reformation,  all of us in America would speak Spanish.  Because Pope Alexander enforced the boundary he established  with the threat of excommunication from the Church.  (I capitalize "church" because there was only one, back then.)


The other glaring anachronism in this episode is the use of guns resembling muskets by the army of Il Moro, who rescues Caterina Sforza. ( By the way, this never happened.  See my blog titled, "Caterina Sforza: What a Woman.")  The first such weapons, "arquebuses," were very heavy, and  probably fired from the ground, like mortars.   And "arquebusiers"—squads of  footsoldiers armed with "arquebuses"– didn't exist in Juan Borgia's lifetime, at least not in Italy.


So Showtime was off by a decade or two, here and there.  So what?  It was five hundred years ago. The Showtime writers have succeeded beautifully in showing that the Borgias came to power at a colorful and critical point in the history of western civilization.  It's better history than you will find in most TV series.


If you want to know what really happened during the Borgia papacy  and have fun while learning it,  read my  e-mystery, "A Borgia Daughter Dies."  The murder mystery is fiction but the background history is accurate.  It's available on Amazon and Smashwords, for all e-readers as well as for PC's.  Enjoy.


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