Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Guest post from Laurel Corona, author of THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER

I'm delighted to welcome Laurel Corona, a friend and colleague whose latest novel THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER is now available. Set in 15th-century Spain, this beautiful and vivid novel explores the forgotten women of the Spanish Inquisition, as seen through the eyes of Amalia Riba, a converso forced to hide her religion from the outside world, She is the last in a long line of Jewish mapmakers, whose services to the court were so valuable that their religion had been tolerated by Muslims and Christians alike.

But times have changed. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquer Granada, the last holdout of Muslim rule in Spain, they issue an order expelling all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. As Amalia looks back on her eventful life, we witness history in the making—the bustling court of Henry the Navigator, great discoveries in science and art, the fall of Muslim Granada, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. And we watch as Amalia decides whether to relinquish what’s left of her true self, or risk her life preserving it. This is a sweeping saga of faith, family and identity that shows how the past shapes our map of life.

Please join me in welcoming Laurel Corona, who offers us this interesting perspective on the famous Henry the Navigator.

Henry the Navigator and his “Gay Company”

When I was in grade school I always thought Henry the Navigator was the coolest figure in the Age of Exploration, but there were a number of things my teachers didn’t share, or didn’t know, about him. He was the first to kidnap Africans for economic gain and and bring them as slaves to Europe. He also never navigated, staying on dry land the entire time his ships went off to discover the world.  And one last thing: he was almost certainly gay. Researching Henry for my new novel, THE MAPMAKER’S DAUGHTER, I ran across an early historian who said that the prince “spent his whole life in pure chastity, and went to his grave as a virgin.” Another said that "he did not wish to marry because of his great chastity." A third added that "he always lived so virtuously and chastely that he never knew a woman."

Of course “chaste” does not equal gay, so let’s dig a little further.

What might his brother, King Duarte, have meant when he wrote Henry to say he should avoid "giving pleasure to men" beyond what he could do in a "virtuous manner"? What does one contemporaneous historian mean when he describes Henry’s household as “habituated to the gay and spontaneous company of his servants,” adding that, “he was very attached to them”? This archaic use of the word “gay” always brings a smile to modern lips, but the point about Henry’s preferences is not contained in that word.

What does it mean that most of those Henry gave the chance to conduct highly lucrative slave raids in West Africa were young men raised from youth in his "c├ómara"? When his early biographers used this word, its most common meaning was bedroom, or by extension the private quarters of his palace, where it is apparent from the sources that many young men (and never a woman) were free to come and go in a manner befitting a prince’s most intimate friends.

In The Mapmaker's Daughter, Diogo Marques is one of Henry’s handsome young favorites who subsequently receives a commission to go slaving.  My protagonist Amalia, not yet in her teens when she goes to Henry’s court with her father, wonders about this absence of females in the palace.  Though later she will pay for her naivete, at the time she simply grumbles that if there were women around, someone might notice she had outgrown her clothes.
Biographers during his lifetime and the century afterward tiptoed delicately around the subject of Henry’s personal life for good reason.  Sodomy was a grievous sin and a crime punishable by death.  To make the heinousness even clearer, after execution (or as a means of it) the body of the accused had to be so thoroughly destroyed by fire that no trace remained.  It was common to exhume the dead to desecrate their bodies if offenses of this and other sorts were discovered later.  Obvious, honesty both during and after Henry’s lifetime was not consistent with building him into the national hero of Portugal, so biographers kept their silence. 

And then there’s very phallic personal crest Henry designed, which would raise the eyebrows of anyone who has ever heard of Freud. It seems there is much more to Henry than the well-dressed prince looking to sea with a model ship in his hand.

Thank you, Laurel. To find out more about Laurel and her work, please visit her website.

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