It’s two years since my first novel, The Medici Mirror came out. Halloween was the perfect time to launch it and seems a fitting time to revisit it and tell you a little about the dark character at its heart and some of the creepy locations in which it is set. The storyline centres on the infamous sixteenth century French Queen, Catherine de Medici and her connection to an old, blackened, seemingly magical mirror, which has been passed down through the centuries leaving a trail of murder in its wake. Johnny, a twenty-first century architect, unearths this mirror while renovating a Victorian shoe factory, and all hell, literally, breaks loose.
Catherine de Medici has been called the Black Queen, Madame la Serpente. She has been labelled a plotter, poisoner and practitioner of the occult. But while the stories of her villainy have been exaggerated by her successors, there is evidently some truth to them. Catherine was no doubt a skilful politician – she ruled France alongside her sons for over 30 years. Yet it is clear that if strategy failed, she did not shy away from murder. It is said that her Italian perfumer, Maitre Rene, created poisoned gloves to kill off her enemies and that on one occasion he infused an apple with deadly vapours to despatch someone on her behalf (it is said to have killed a dog by accident instead!). Also part of her entourage were the Ruggieri brothers – Cosimo and Tommaso -renowned astrologers who also practised necromancy and the black arts.
As part of my research for The Medici Mirror, I travelled to the Loire valley to visit a number of Catherine’s palaces. Blois was one of them and is the chateau where Catherine’s alleged apothecary of poisons was located – 237 secret compartments hidden behind wooden panelled walls. The cabinet room is right next to her private chapel and bedchamber. It’s a small intimate space and you can walk right around it and touch and open the panels where Catherine’s armoury of poisons were supposed to have been hidden. This inspired a chapter in my novel where Catherine, arsenic in hand in her hidden chamber, plots the downfall of one of her enemies.
I also visited Catherine’s palace at Chaumont. In this chateau it is said that a black magic ceremony was performed with a mirror to see how long Catherine’s sons would remain on the throne. It is also where other evidence of sorcery was found after Catherine vacated the premises – pentacles drawn on the floor, altars decorated with skulls, the remains of animal sacrifices. Here’s some pictures of Chaumont.
I hope that you get a sense from them of just how spooky this castle was. I found it incredibly creepy, more claustrophobic and more sinister than the others and could entirely imagine an occult ceremony having taken place deep in the cellars. It inspired a similar supernatural scene in The Medici Mirror, focusing on Catherine, the Ruggieri brothers and an act of dark bewitching. If you’re interested in reading this chapter, click here (http://www.melissabailey.info/chapter17.pdf) or visit my website (http://www.melissabailey.info) to see a video of me reading it in a candlelit, cobwebbed basement!
Whatever you’re doing on the 31st – whether you’re reading something suitably spooky at home or out trick or treating – I wish you all a very Happy Halloween!