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Tuesday 21 February 2023

My Coffee Pot Guest Stella Riley - The Black Madonna

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About the Book

Book Title: The Black Madonna
Series: Roundheads & Cavaliers (Book 1 of 4)
Author: Stella Riley
Publication Date: 31st May 2013
Publisher: Stella Riley
Page Length: 622
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance
(Audiobook narrated by Alex Wyndham)

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda. A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian.

Hampered by the warring English, his quest growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves.

From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt 5  (1520 words)

Luciano takes Richard Maxwell into his confidence … and asks a favour.

February became March and in London, the House continued to prepare for the opening of Strafford’s trial on the 22nd. It compiled the twenty-eight articles of impeachment – sixteen of which were aimed at the Earl’s Irish policies – and then allowed the indictment to be printed so it could be read by the public.  Meanwhile, crushed by the responsibility of trying to deal with the rising Irish opposition, acting Lord-Deputy Wandesford succumbed to a chill and died.

It was this, when he heard of it, that caused Richard Maxwell to spend a little time pondering the Irish question and eventually, towards the end of the month, to discuss the matter over dinner with Luciano del Santi.

‘I suspect,’ he said at length, ‘that there’s going to be trouble.  The Irish supported Strafford because he offered the best hope of curtailing the sale of land to English profiteers.  So the burning question now, I suppose, is what line his successor will take.’

‘Quite.  The word in the City is that the Earl of Ormonde has been suggested but that he’ll be rejected in favour of someone less likely to provoke Lord Cork and his merry band of speculators.’  The Italian’s deep cobalt eyes met Richard’s grey ones.  ‘Do you understand Irish politics?’

‘Does anyone?  What little I know comes from the infrequent bulletins Dorothy’s brother sends us.  He’s served under Strafford for the last couple of years – and has presumably stayed on in Ireland to try and hold things together.’

‘Yes?  Then I hope that he is well-paid,’ came the arid response.  Then, ‘We spoke some time ago of Strafford and you declined to comment.  What is your opinion now?’

Richard’s expression grew grave.

‘I don’t know.  I think he may have been sincere according to his lights ... and he certainly doesn’t look like Black Tom Tyrant any more.’

‘No.  He looks like a sick old man.’

‘You’ve been to the trial?’

‘Yesterday.  I shan’t go again.  I’ve seen what I wished to see … and not even for the pleasure of hearing more of Strafford’s quite masterly defence will I spend another hour on the public benches, squashed between fellows swilling ale, eating onions and relieving themselves on the floor.’

Richard nodded slowly but it was a long time before he spoke.  Finally, he said, ‘You admire Strafford?’

‘I like precision and the ability to stick to the facts.  I respect the fair-mindedness he applied to his role in Ireland.  Yes. I think it’s fair to say that I admire him.  Certainly, I wish him well.’  Luciano paused, smiling sardonically.  ‘I enjoyed seeing the credibility of the prosecution being reduced to pulp.  But it can’t last.  I’m sure Pym has something up his sleeve.’

‘He has.’  Richard stared carefully into space.  ‘Secretary Vane has been a mite careless with his papers.’

There was another silence.

‘Let me guess,’ said the Italian with heavy irony.  ‘Harry Vane the younger – that well-known, fire-breathing Puritan – has been rifling through his father’s drawers.  Yes?’



‘And according to the notes of a Privy Council meeting held in May of last year, Strafford suggested raising ‘an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom’.’

Luciano del Santi appeared supremely unimpressed.

Which kingdom?’ he asked calmly.

‘Well, that is the crux of the matter.  We all knew about the army Strafford was raising to fight the Scots.  But what if there had also been some idea of using it here?’

‘Are you seriously asking me that question?’


‘Then either Pym’s a cleverer man than I took him for – or you are a lesser one,’ came the uncompromising reply. ‘Do you really suppose that if the King was planning to unleash an Irish army on the undutiful English there would be a record of it in Council? And any dozen words quoted out of context can be made to sound incriminating.  You know that.  But your problem is that you also know what will happen if Strafford is allowed to resume his position at the King’s side.  However … if you’re going to help destroy the man, at least acknowledge why – and for God’s sake don’t try placating your conscience with sanctimonious clap-trap. It’s not worthy of you.’

For a long time, Richard stared back without speaking.  Then he said gently, ‘How old are you?’

Amusement and perfect comprehension touched the sculpted face.


‘God help us, then, when you’re thirty,’ remarked Richard feelingly.  ‘All right.  The truth is that Strafford needs to be removed but I don’t like the way it’s being done. On the other hand, because I put my country before the life of any one man, I’m unlikely to lift a finger to save him.  Is that better?’

‘It is, at least, honest.’

‘You set great store by that, don’t you?’

The dark brows rose.  ‘It surprises you?’

‘No – not exactly.  It makes me wonder why.’

The Italian laughed with an odd mixture of mockery and reluctance and reached for his glass. Green fire flared from the great emerald on his hand and, idly watching it, Richard wondered how much he had drunk – how much they had both drunk.  He himself felt pleasantly mellow and, though the shadowed eyes held a gleam of something he could not quite name, del Santi did not look cup-shot either.  But at the back of his mind lurked the suspicion that they had arrived at a sort of crossroads; one from which there would be no going back.  He refilled his glass and waited.

‘You wonder why?’ came the eventual response.  ‘Of course you do. There’s a reason for everything, isn’t there?  And a reason why – against every sensible tenet I’ve ever held – I’m now obliged to take you a little way into my confidence.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘There’s a compliment in that.  I always swore I’d never trust an Englishman.  And, to be frank, I don’t trust many people at all.  Next to love, trust is probably the most dangerous condition known to man – and as such, best restricted.  So I trust Giacomo who has known me since I was sixteen and Selim to whom I owe my life; and now you … of whom, unfortunately, I must ask a favour.’

‘I see,’ said Richard neutrally.  ‘Regarding what?’

‘My sister. In three weeks’ time, I leave for Genoa. I go there every year in April to acquit a financial obligation to my uncle.  I can’t take Gianetta with me – and I can’t leave her here because Giacomo can’t cope with her and Selim travels with me.  So I wondered if you might possibly be good enough …’ He stopped, plainly finding it hard to ask.

‘To take her off your hands and place her in safe-keeping at Thorne Ash?’ finished Richard obligingly.

‘Yes.  It’s not a small thing, I know … but there’s no one else I can ask.  And at least she’s stopped throwing things.’

‘I’m glad to hear it.  Dorothy will want a written guarantee against damages.’

‘She shall have it.’

‘In triplicate.  Very well. How soon would you care to deliver Mistress Gianetta? Or are you hoping that I’ll do it for you?’

‘I hadn’t thought that far ahead.  First, there are other things I ought to tell you – because if I don’t, certain things Gianetta may say will puzzle you.’


‘Quite.  To begin with, she wants to force me into returning her to my uncle so that she can marry his youngest son.  I’ve no intention of doing so – nor would my uncle wish it.  Like me, he’s fully conscious that – he and my father having married a pair of sisters – the relationship between their children is too close to admit marriage. Gianetta, however, can’t accept that having indulged her every wish since she was six years old and taught her to look upon me as part of the hired help, our uncle can’t be brought round her thumb this time. Consequently, I’m the villain of the piece.’  He paused and sipped his wine. ‘And that’s why I have to tell you a long and not particularly edifying tale about the ability of English law to do a man to death on the strength of  little more than his nationality and religion.’

The room seemed suddenly airless and Richard set down his glass, aware that the turning point was upon him and that he wasn’t sure he wanted it.  He said, ‘I think you’d better start at the beginning.’

‘Yes.’  A faint frown entered the Italian’s eyes and he gazed down into the ruby liquid in his glass.  ‘After so long, it’s hard to know where to start – or how to make you believe me.  But in the end I suppose the most I can hope for is that you’ll listen.’

‘I’ll listen.  Where does your story start?’

‘It starts here in London in the spring of 1615 when a young man left Genoa with his bride to set himself up as a goldsmith and money-lender in Foster Lane.’  A crooked smile dawned. ‘His name was Alessandro Falcieri … and he was, of course, my father.’

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Stella Riley

Winner of three gold medals for historical romance (Readers’ Favourite in 2019, Book Excellence Awards in 2020, Global Book Awards in 2022) and fourteen B.R.A.G. Medallions, Stella Riley lives in the beautiful medieval town of Sandwich in Kent.

She is fascinated by the English Civil Wars and has written six books set in that period. These, like the seven-book Rockliffe series (recommended in The Times newspaper!) and the Brandon Brothers trilogy, are all available in audio, narrated by Alex Wyndham.

Stella enjoys travel, reading, theatre, Baroque music and playing the harpsichord. She also has a fondness for men with long hair – hence her 17th and 18th century heroes.

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note: Helen has not yet read this title - it is on her TBR list!

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  1. Thank you very much for hosting Stella Riley with an excerpt from The Black Madonna today, Helen. xxx

  2. Thank you so much for hosting The Black Madonna!

  3. This sounds really interesting, especially the line ‘Do you understand Irish politics?’ with the response,
    ‘Does anyone?' How relevant, even today in 2023!


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