Houston Matters

Turning Historic Love Letters into a Novel

Maybe this Valentine’s Day you’ll write or receive a love letter. But what if, many years from now, someone were to find your love letters and use them as the basis for a novel? That’s essentially what writer – and Houston native – Nelda Hirsh has done with some love letters between an historical figure […]

King Henry IV of France

Maybe this Valentine's Day you'll write or receive a love letter. But what if, many years from now, someone were to find your love letters and use them as the basis for a novel?

That's essentially what writer – and Houston native – Nelda Hirsh has done with some love letters between an historical figure and his many mistresses. She tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty the story behind The Royal Huguenot, which is based on love letters between France’s King Henri IV and his mistresses.

What’s a Huguenot?

The Royal Huguenot Book CoverFirst of all – for the uninitiated – a "Huguenot" (pronounced HEW-guh-naht) is a French term for a Protestant, and continued, bloody conflicts between Protestants and Catholics dogged the reign of Henri, who ruled France during the late 1500s and early 1600s. It was King Henri's unusual religious tolerance that drew Hirsh to want to learn more about him. A few years ago, she was in a library in Europe doing some research on his life and stumbled upon many of the king's letters.

First, there were some fairly benign ones between him and England's Queen Elizabeth I. But that led her to some more interesting ones. She says Henri IV had at least 47 documented mistresses, but she focused specifically on five women who were prominent in his life.

A Warrior With a Sensitive Side

Hirsh also describes how one of his mistresses, Gabrielle d'Estrées, helped Henri with the political maneuvering needed to pass the Edict of Nantes, a progressive religious tolerance law. But more importantly, his letters with d'Estrées showed another side of a powerful ruler we're not used to seeing — it turns out a strong military leader can also have a sensitive side.

(Image: France’s King Henri IV. Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain)

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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