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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 33a - The 100th Episode - Where My Heart Goes

Saturday, April 6, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 100 (previously 33a) - The 100th Episode - Where My Heart Goes - transcript

(Originally aired 2019/04/06 - listen here)

I ran through a lot of ideas about what to air for the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast’s 100th episode. The fact that it’s episode number 100 isn’t obvious from how I label the shows. For the first year, I did one show per month, and when I switched to a weekly format, it was convenient to keep the numbering by month and use the letters to distinguish the individual shows, so I could keep track of the different episode types more easily. So you may have to trust me on the math.

As I say, I ran through a lot of ideas about content. In the end, I circled back to the reason why I started doing the Project in the first place: as research and inspiration for my own historical fiction with lesbian characters. It isn’t quite the case that all my published fiction falls in that category--in fact, I’ve published only two stories that are set solidly in history with no fantastic elements of any type, though a lot more that include fantasy elements. But the research I do for the blog and podcast always harks back to my long list of historic story ideas, and the more research I do, the more inspiration I get.

So today, to celebrate having kept this show up through 100 episodes, I’d like to share one of those stories with you.

“Where My Heart Goes” was originally published in the collection Through the Hourglass edited by Sacchi Green and Patty G. Henderson. It was inspired by the real historical figures of Margaret Duchess of Parma, the bastard daughter of Emperor Charles V, who married into two of the most prominent families of 16th century Italy, and later in life served as Governor of the Netherlands, and by Laudomia Forteguerri of Siena, an intellectual and poet, who wrote a series of sonnets dedicated to Margaret, and disappeared from history after participating in the unsuccessful defense of Siena against the Holy Roman Empire and its allies. Their contemporaries praised the love and devotion the two women had for each other, and held it up as a model of female friendship. Later writers suggested that their friendship had not been limited to platonic ideals. The truth is hidden in silences and lost correspondence. My version of the story is one that can be fit into those silences and absences. If you want to know more about the historic facts, check out the podcast I did on the topic.

But for now, this is a possible truth, a possible history, a story that could have happened in those spaces and silences.

This recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License. You may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it, you may not transcribe it, and you may not adapt it.

* * *


by Heather Rose Jones

Copyright © 2015


Siena had fallen. The news spread quickly along the roads to Florence, to Milan, to Venice. It came to me in Parma on a pale spring morning with the clatter of a messenger’s hoofbeats in the courtyard. After I paid and dismissed him, I hurried across the piazza to the cathedral to pray, clutching the pendant with Laudomia’s portrait between my hands as if it were a holy relic. Mother of God, let her be safe; let her be alive. It had been nine years since we had spoken or written. Nine long years of my own making—I could admit that now. It was like the stain of sin on my soul that she might have died without forgiving me. Now all that was left to me was to wait and pray, but the only words that came to my lips were from that last poem she wrote for me: May it not please God that I should ever live without my treasure! Ah cruel fortune, will you not arrange for my body to go where my heart goes? And I remembered when we first met, twenty-two years before.

* * *

I never believed Laudomia Forteguerri when she called me goddess and praised my beauty. I knew what I was. I always remembered how they spoke of me as a girl in the Low Countries when I was still “the little bastard”, before my father the emperor recognized me and betrothed me to a Medici and I became Madama. After that it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been hunchbacked or squint-eyed—though I wasn’t. I was only very plain, with a bit too much of my father’s lip and chin for beauty.

I never believed her when she said I was beautiful, but I believed her when she said she loved me, though I never knew why. It was easy to know why I loved Laudomia—everyone loved Laudomia. I loved her from that first day I saw her on the hot dusty road winding out of Siena as we passed Villa Olivia.

We should never have met. Rebellious Siena had not hung banners in my honor as so many towns had done on the road winding down from Verona through Mantua and on to Florence. I was tired—not tired of the gifts and fine gowns and being made much of. I was tired of sitting stiffly for hours before a crowd of strangers who spoke a tongue I couldn’t understand. I was tired of the constant presence of my betrothed: a man whose mercurial temper frightened me, though he always spoke me fair. Florence—that queen of cities that I would next enter as a bride—had welcomed me with cheers and song and endless banquets…and sidelong looks of pity, and whispers and glances toward my future husband that were filled equally of hate and fear. But he had stayed behind in Florence and now I was only tired. I saw no other fate before me. I was eleven years old.

* * *

We were still five days from Rome. Siena had fallen out of sight behind us among the winding hills when a splintering crack was followed by men’s shouts and women’s screams. The first wagon of our cavalcade had lost a wheel and driven a second off the road into a ditch. Madame de Lannoy drew aside the curtains of my traveling chair and said, “You needn’t fear, there’s nothing lost. But it will be some hours to repair the wheel and they need to unload the wagons to set them right. Would Madama like to take the air?”

I liked Madame de Lannoy, who had been set to teach me what I would need to know as Duchess of Florence—and even more as the emperor’s daughter. But a question from her was to be thought of as a command, and so I stepped down from my chair and looked to see where we had stopped. Just above the road stood a red-roofed villa, like many I’d seen dotting the hills all through Tuscany. Low walls spilled down towards the road showing glimpses of tall junipers and close-clipped laurel trees. In the stillness of the noonday heat, once the uproar of the accident had faded, I could hear the sound of music and laughter from the gardens beyond. And when the men in charge of the wagons returned from the villa in company with a wheelwright and smith to survey the damage, they were followed by a small crowd of bright-gowned ladies, peeking curiously through the side gate from the gardens.

I still remember how Laudomia looked to me then: tall and elegant, her dark hair braided up with pearls and her eyes bright with laughter. Only seven years older than me, but so assured! She spoke quickly with Madame de Lannoy in Italian—which I still stumbled to understand—then turned to me and opened her arms with a smile as bright and inviting as a statue of the Madonna. Madame de Lannoy said, “The Signora Forteguerri has invited you to take your ease while the wagon is repaired.”

Some said it was only one more move on the chessboard—that knowing who I was, Laudomia had calculated what my friendship might some day be worth. That was a lie. Every moment of that brief visit is burned in memory. They sat me on a chair beside the fountain, with my ladies and Madame de Lannoy standing by to make certain of the proprieties. Three girls were singing to the strains of a lute while another pair danced. Laudomia made me a garland of roses with her own hands and then a garland of poetry with her own mouth. And when two men began a jesting debate on the movements of the spheres, Laudomia bade them speak only Latin so that I might understand.

I had stepped outside the world into a garden of delights as only a painter could imagine, where no time passed and no cares could reach us. But all comes to an end, and at last my chamberlain came to tell us that the wagons were ready. I needed no prompting from Madame de Lannoy to give my thanks for their hospitality and welcome. And before Madame could think to protest, Laudomia had bent to kiss my cheek and said, “Write to me and I will send you the little verse I made for you.” From that moment my heart found a second home in Siena, wherever my body might lie.

She was beautiful—of course she was beautiful. But it was her soul I loved: that bright soul that burned like the Tuscan sun. And because of that, I believed her when she said she loved me too.

The Sienese villa faded like a dream when we arrived in Rome. But the pomp and splendor was left behind when we arrived at Naples. I became a girl again, with tutors and lessons and endless study. When I was set to learn to write in the Italian tongue, I asked Madame, “Would it not be proper for me to write to Signora Forteguerri to thank her for her kindness to me?” And Madame consented.

Castel Pizzofalcone, Naples, 18 August 1533—My most esteemed Signora Forteguerri, I hope you will not laugh at the mistakes in my writing. The time I spent in your garden made me very happy. I beg you please to send the poem you made for me as you promised. Your friend, Margaret of Austria.

* * *

I did not see Laudomia again for five long years. Can one fall in love only through the written page? She sent me that first poem, followed by others. I read them to myself in moments when I was alone. I knew the words by heart before my Italian had mastered their meanings. I never wrote to Laudomia about important things. My letters would be read by many eyes before they reached her. I didn’t tell her of my hopes when His Holiness died and it seemed the Medici marriage might be forgotten.

Castel Pizzofalcone, Naples, 2 December 1534—To the noble and wise Signora Forteguerri, It gave me great joy to hear of the birth of your daughter. I have sent with this letter a set of coral beads for her and hope that you will accept them. I have been reading the book you sent me of the Marchesa di Pescara’s poetry but I think that yours is better.

I said nothing when my father the emperor came to Naples or of the whispers that he would now marry me to the new pope’s grandson. I pretended not to hear the rumors that my betrothed Alessandro had murdered his cousin.

Castel Pizzofalcone, Naples, 15 June 1535—My most honored friend Signora Forteguerri, I thank you for the new verses you sent. It pains me to think that there is nothing I can write in return that would give proper recompense. As my own talents are so small, I send instead this small volume of Erasmus who, like me, comes to you from far to the north.

* * *

There was no need to tell her when I was wed to Alessandro de’ Medici, so I only described the beautiful red velvet zimarra I wore when I entered the gates of Florence at midnight with rows of blazing torches lining the roads, and how kind all the people were, and what they served at my wedding banquet. I didn’t tell her how one by one those around me were replaced by Alessandro’s creatures.

Palazzo Ottaviano, Florence, 28 October, 1535—My beloved friend Signora Forteguerri, I write to ask your advice on what may seem to you a small matter. Monsignore Giuliani has asked to dedicate a volume of poems to me. They tell me I should permit it to be polite, but I do not think he is a very good poet. It may be that you have spoiled me for any other verses than yours. What would you advise? I wish that I could ask Madame de Lannoy but she has returned to Naples. I long to have my friends about me and wish that I could see your face once more.

* * *

There were no letters to Laudomia in the confusion after Alessandro was murdered. She would not have expected that. I didn’t tell her how Cosimo de’ Medici kept me safe until my father the emperor removed my household to Prato and I could breathe again.

Palazzo Datini, Prato, 4 August, 1537—My dearest friend Signora Forteguerri, I have given thanks to God that you are again safely delivered of a daughter. We are settled comfortably here though we have not the elegant refinements of Florence. If you know of a musician who could lighten my days, I beg you will send him here. I long to see you again. We ride out hunting in the hills above the town and I sometimes wish to turn my horse’s head south and not to stop until I come to Siena. If only I could join you in your garden I think my heart could be at rest.

It was not Alessandro’s death that weighed on my heart but the question of my next marriage. An ordinary widow might use the black veil to turn away men’s eyes and thoughts but I could never be ordinary. There was a new Farnese pope, and popes have ambitious families. Once again, I was to be the bridge to Rome and this time the choice fell on Ottavio Farnese, the Holy Father’s grandson.

Palazzo Datini, Prato, 10 October, 1538—My beloved friend Signore Forteguerri, I am summoned to Rome at last. My noble cousin Cosimo de’ Medici will come to fetch me and I have begged him, as a sign of the affection he holds for me, that we might break our journey in Siena. Letters cannot take the place of your beloved face which I hold in memory as if it had been yesterday. Please write to tell me that I may come. There is so much I cannot write in these pages that I long to say to you.

* * *

She had not changed in my eyes—I think she could never change. And if I had still been a girl of eleven in her mind, I saw that fall away as she greeted me on the steps of the villa and quickly discarded the stiffness of Madama for the warmth of mia amica. Angelic beauty would not delight me more, she had written me, and she made me believe it. Villa Olivia was given into my hands for my stay, and I in turn sat Laudomia at my right hand and her husband at my left.

After that first day, we left formality behind. The olive-dotted hillside called to my restless spirit and we climbed up above the formal garden into the orchards. My ladies trailed behind and we settled on a marble bench with the entire countryside spread before us.

“You’re too young for widow’s black,” Laudomia laughed and twitched my skirts aside to sit as closely as clothing would allow. “Sixteen is far too soon to leave gaiety behind. Do you mourn Alessandro so deeply?”

“I rejoiced when I heard he was dead,” I said. Here there was no one to overhear. No need for anything but truth. “Alessandro was a monster and Ottavio is a brutish boy. If a black veil would keep all suitors at bay, I could pretend to a broken heart. But I am an emperor’s daughter, no one cares for my heart.”

“I care.” Laudomia took up my hand and pressed it to her lips. “You are the sun that graces these poor hills.”

I didn’t believe her, but I believed the longing that stirred within me. Words didn’t matter. I only knew that she had no reason to say them except for love. My answer stumbled in confusion, uncertain what I desired. And then my ladies finally came in sight on the path, panting from the slope and looking affronted that I had outpaced them. The moment passed.

“How old were you when you were married,” I asked Laudomia.

“Scarce seventeen.”

“And are you happy?” I knew it wasn’t a question one should ask. I had never looked to marriage for happiness.

“Marriage suits me,” Laudomia said, but that was no true answer. “I love my children and my husband is kind.” There was an empty space within her reply and she searched my face for something to fill it. I didn’t know what I might give and so I stood and we retraced the path back to the villa.

Laudomia’s friends came to Villa Olivia the next day. Like bees they descended on the garden: poets and philosophers, musicians and artists, learned men and beautiful ladies. Though the year was beginning to turn, we filled the space around the fountain with couches and cushions, and tables spilling over with fruit, and braziers to keep the hint of chill away. There was wine and witty conversation, games of chess and dancing. Laudomia sat at my side again and held her cup for me to drink and slipped sweet grapes and comfitted cherries between my lips until we giggled like girls. This was what I’d tried to build at Prato. Perhaps I would succeed in Rome.

“They’ve come in your honor,” Laudomia whispered behind her hand. I knew better: they came to bask in Laudomia’s sun. And like the sun, she bade them bloom and they obeyed.

“A poem!” one man entreated her. “We must have a poem from our Muse!”

“And which muse shall you have?” Laudomia answered playfully. “Shall I be Clio and recite histories for you?”

“It is for you to choose,” he replied with a bow.

“Then I shall be the tenth Muse for you—my own translation.” She turned to me and I felt her hand shake as she passed me the winecup. “I think he is a great man—like to God—who sits beside you.” She held my gaze and I felt her words like fingers on my skin. “Meeting you, I cannot speak, or see, or hear—I tremble and turn pale.”

And I, too, trembled.

Later, when the twilight turned to true night and the gardens turned chill, when the dishes had been cleared from the tables and the braziers were being put out one by one, Laudomia took my hand and said, “I have one more poem to offer you tonight, if I may?”

She led me to my chamber and our ladies unlaced our gowns and laid them aside and saw that the sheets were warmed and scented before retiring. Then she whispered verses closely in my ear—I know well that you left heaven only to show me divine things—and made poetry of her hands and lips playing across my skin, with even the finest linen of our camisias too great a barrier to allow.

The wind was chill the next day and we made our garden in the hall with dancing and playful debates. At night she came to me again and taught my tongue new words. All thoughts of Rome and Popes and marriages left me for days at a time. But time was a serpent in our garden. Too soon I was driven out of paradise.

“Write to me,” I begged as they repacked the wagons and the men of my escort crowded the courtyard on restless steeds. “Write to me in Rome and remind me that you love me.”

“I will tell the whole world I love you,” Laudomia whispered. “And when you are acclaimed the queen of Rome, do not forget your poor friend who longs for you.”

* * *

Villa Madama, Rome, 6 June 1539—Carissima Laudomia, It is a fine thing, I find, to be the first lady of Rome. Ottavio troubles me not at all and I trouble him even less. The Farneses are not well loved here and the people of Rome find it no fault in me to hold them at a distance. My father the emperor has named me Duchess of Camerino and Penne and given the governorship of Abruzzo into my hands. I am finally able to begin to order my life as I see fit. Your friend the painter Franzetti presented himself to me and I have set him to work on the frescos we discussed. In a year the gardens here will be worthy of the guests I hope will fill them. In everything I do, my dearest wish is to honor what you have seen in me.

Laudomia was true to her word. She wrote poems for me openly now, her passion couched in the ordinary praise of princes. Flow, ancient Tiber, and reflect the image of a brighter truer sun!

Villa Madama, Rome, 10 January, 1540—To my beloved Laudomia, I send the portrait you requested by this messenger. I would not have delayed so long except for the need to find a worthy artist. Would that I could send myself! In summer when I travel to Camerino, I will pass your way.

* * *

Villa Madama, Rome, 23 November, 1540—Mia Carissima Laudomia, I beg you will pay no mind to the news you have heard and will visit me here as you have planned. The Farneses have been badgering me about that silly boy Ottavio, but my father the emperor is pleased, I think, that I keep him dangling. I keep the golden chain with your portrait always close to my heart, but the image will be a poor substitute if I cannot have the substance.

And Laudomia came as promised. I held a great banquet in honor of the astronomer Piccolomini who had dedicated his books to her, but it was truly to honor Laudomia herself. The people of Rome smiled to see us ride out together and called us inseparabile. It was a golden season—but seasons turn.

* * *

Villa Olivia, Siena, 1 March, 1542—My beloved friend Marguerita who allows me the joy to call her so, When I heard of the terrible news from Algiers, the one consolation that remained to me was to think that now we would both be widows together. I rejoice to know the rumors were mistaken and you are not doubly bereft of husband and father. You may not think it, but life can be hard for a woman left alone and I at least have the comfort of my children. I pray for your continued health and that you may find some small space in your life to think of me. If you are able, I pray your steps will bring you to Siena soon. I know not when I may find myself in Rome again.

* * *

It was the next year before I was able to answer her plea. The gardens at Villa Olivia seemed to be in mourning themselves, the paths sodden with dead leaves and the branches bare, though it was only the late winter that made it so. We sat in her chamber with only a few ladies in attendance, listening to a mournful air. Laudomia was full of somber silences and I knew nothing of the cause until I asked what I hoped would lift her heart.

“Join me in Rome,” I urged. “Your life is your own now; share it with me.”

She shook her head. “My darling Ghita, it is impossible.”

I took her hand and warmed it against my cheek. “Nothing is impossible. Your daughters are married, your son is in the care of his grandfather, what is there left to keep you here? Who could need you as much as I do?”

“Marguerita, there is talk.”

And what of that, I thought, but she laid a finger across my lips.

“They say you are bewitched—that enemies of the Farneses have made unholy bargains to keep you and Ottavio apart. They look for a place to lay the blame…and we have made no secret of our love. For now the world holds us blameless: you are famed for holding yourself chaste from men and my love is praised as pure and noble. But what would they say if I came to you in Rome now?”

All my protests were in vain.

“Marguerita, you must be wise. Silence the whispers. Give your husband a child. It is long past time. And I…I will marry again. It is the only way.”

That night when we were alone I wasted the precious hours in rage and lamentation but she would not be moved.

* * *

In time it becomes a sickness, I think—the desire to turn every step into a bargain. All my life I had been bargained away to others and I learned to set my own price. I gave myself to Ottavio and gained nothing except a swelling belly. I paid my debt twice over, with twin sons quitting me of what I owed my husband. Should I not be rewarded with more? The Duchy of Milan was, perhaps, too much to ask. My father the emperor had turned his heart elsewhere. So I asked for something smaller. And I stumbled, not in the asking, but in writing to Laudomia before that gift too was denied.

Villa Madama, Rome, 24 February 1546—My dearest and most beloved friend, Soon, if my plans prosper, there will be no distance between us. My father is pleased to hear of my sons and I have asked him, in return, to grant me the governorship of Siena…

I had not thought what it might mean to her, beyond a chance to be together. I had not understood that every drop of blood within her veins was of the Noveschis, the founders of the Sienese republic who still clutched tightly to the dream of freedom. Laudomia’s reply cut like an icy wind.

Villa Olivia, Siena, 3 March, 1546—To her grace the Duchess of Camerino, Is my home no more than another pawn upon your chessboard? Come to Siena as friend and guest or not at all.

 Perhaps she should have made allowance. Perhaps I should have begged forgiveness. Perhaps and perhaps: the matter lay uncrossable between us, like the Alps in winter, for nine years. For nine years I neither saw nor heard from Laudomia, not when one of my sons died, not when I was finally confirmed as Duchess of Parma, not when we both found ourselves besieged by enemies.

* * *

All of Italy was suspended between the Empire and France like a bone between two dogs. But the bones had teeth. Siena was not the only city to cast their lot with France, and for that my father the emperor unleashed the Medicis who hungered to extend their reach south. And my foolish husband, thinking I could stay the worst if it came, made secret treaties with France that earned him only empty promises. We, too, had a greedy neighbor, and my father gave Gonzaga license to lay siege.

I thought of Laudomia throughout that ordeal, hearing how she had lent all her wealth to build fortifications, and had led a thousand women of Siena in defense of the city. The months dragged on and Gonzaga fumed outside the walls of Parma while my father gave him orders to let wagons through that I should not starve. I thought how Laudomia knew no such mercy and wondered if she went hungry. When the tide turned once more and Gonzaga was ordered back to his kennel, I wrote in secret to the leader of the forces outside Siena.

Palazzo del Vescovo, Parma, 13 June, 1554—To my beloved friend, Cosimo de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, It has been long years since I knew your kindness in those dark months after Alessandro was murdered, but I have never forgotten. I beg you, if there remains anything in your heart of the love you felt for me, to show mercy to one I hold more dear than life itself. Within the walls of Siena there is a lady of grace and beauty and more perfection than can be imagined. Her name is Laudomia Forteguerri…

* * *

Siena had fallen and I waited, hardly daring to hope. The news came at last as I walked in the garden on a warm day in April. The walls shut out everything but the twittering of sparrows. When the messenger was announced I thought it must once more be news from Ghent where Ottavio had gone to make peace with my father. But then I saw the man wore Medici livery and my heart stopped.

“Madama,” he said, bowing deeply and holding out a sealed letter. “My lord the Duke of Florence sends greetings.”

My fingers trembled so that I could scarcely break the seal. I scanned the first few lines, passing over the empty salutations. For the sake of our friendship, I send you a gift that I found within the walls after the surrender. I read no further. “Where?” I demanded.

“In the wagon,” he said. “Madama, there are conditions. You should read it all.”

But I had picked up my skirts, heedless of dignity, and ran through the corridors to the courtyard to pull aside the curtains from the back of the wagon that stood there. Do not think that I would not have recognized her. I would have known her at the ends of the earth or the depths of hell. But I think she had been very near to the latter. The hand she reached to me was gaunt. I could feel every bone and when I helped her from the wagon only my arms kept her from stumbling. I buried my face in the hollow of her neck and could only sob, “Holy Mother of God be praised,” over and over again.

* * *

There were conditions.

“I am exiled from Siena,” Laudomia said as I plied her with comfits and fresh oranges and every dainty thing she had forgotten could exist on the face of this earth. “From Tuscany—from any place the Medici hold sway. I should have been imprisoned, he said. To make an example. But then he asked if I would swear to accept exile, and he brought me out of the city in secret at night and set me in a wagon…”

I took her hand and stroked it. “And your husband?”

She shrugged. “He fled to Montalcino with the others. Hope maintains them, but I think France will do so no longer.” Laudomia looked up at me, her hollow eyes full of uncertainty. “What is to become of me?”

I had asked the same question for myself so often in the dark of night, praying for guidance. Would she be willing to follow my path? “We are reconciled with my father once more, for the moment. He has traded peace in Parma for the custody of my son. I have been told to make ready to bring Alexander to him in Brussels. I have thought—” This I had not yet spoken to any mortal soul. “I have thought to remain in the Low Countries. God knows I cannot even see my own fate, but will you share it with me?”

She smiled, a thin smile like the winter sun striving against clouds.

* * *

A year passed before we set out: a cavalcade to rival the one that had brought me to Italy twenty years before. This time I shared my traveling chair, not with the stiff and formal Madame de Lannoy but with the lady of my chamber. As the roofs of Parma disappeared behind us I said, “There is a garden at the palace of Coudenberg, walled in with hedges of yew and eglantine. In the spring the paths are lined with crocus and hyacinth. The scent of apple-blossom from the orchards drifts through the air like angel song. In the summer, it will be filled with music and poetry. Will it please you, do you think?”

Laudomia nestled closely against me. Her arm curved about my waist and her lips brushed my neck as she whispered, “My heart goes there; it gives me joy to follow.”

Show Notes

To celebrate the podcast’s 100th episode, I offer you a bonus story.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: