All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion

on October 1, 2010

Apparently Alice Perrers is some sort of notorious figure of her time but given my lack of knowledge on Yorks and Lancasters and Tudors and whatever, I’d never heard of her. I read a highly praising review of The King’s Mistress on a book review blog and given my enjoyment of both The Other Boelyn Girl and The White Queen I ordered this in from my local library.

When the book opens Alice is barely 12 but ready to be paraded in Church in a pretty gown ’emphasizing her body’s readiness to bear children’ to acquire a husband. As often as I read novels set in this time, I can never really get my head around marrying off 12 and 13yo girls, often to men significantly their senior, as in this novel. Alice’s first husband, Janyn Perrers is about 33 and she just 13 when they wed -and connsumate that marriage. Luckily for Alice, this is a match that shines well on her. She loves Janyn and he loves her and it seems to be a mostly happy and prudent match, despite the overshadow of the patronage of the Dowager Queen Mother, Isabella. Often referred to as the ‘she-fox’ due to a plot where her and her lover overthrew her husband the former King, Isabella is a notorious figure of this time and is feared and reviled by much of the population. Mother to the current King, Edward III, she lives in a sort of exile (but seems to mostly move around however she wants) after the King beheaded her lover for treason against his father, King Edward II. Isabella is very generous to Janyn and his family, something that worries Alice, and with good reason. Although the bulk of the reason for the Queen Mother’s generosity is mostly hidden from her nearly her whole life, she still feels the weight of it and the fear that it will bring danger.

She’s right of course, because what sort of novel would this be if there weren’t a few dead husbands and political plots along the way? Widowed at 18 or 19, she is taken into the household of Queen Philippa, the wife of King Edward III as an advisor in her wardrobe. Alice’s father was a merchant cloth dealer and he taught her well about fabrics and weaves and cuts and what is suitable. Her husband Janyn, also a merchant, furthered her education and Queen Philippa comes to respect and court her counsel. She works as a servant to Queen Philippa and is taken into her protection, sacrificing her infant daughter to a royal household so that she may be raised safely, and not become a victim of the danger that claimed the life of her husband.

Although in mourning for her husband, Alice soon finds herself drawn to the charismatic King Edward III. Although significantly her senior (somewhere in his late 40s, Alice is about 19 or 20) he apparently possesses a great charm and vitality which draws her eye and excites her. He too seems interested in her, spending time with her. Queen Philippa soon draws her further into her confidance and she becomes one of her favourite ladies in waiting. Alice’s relationship with her own mother was tenuous and disintegrated into nothing and Queen Philippa is almost looked upon by Alice as a maternal figure. She praises many time Queen Philippa’s class, grace, patience and elegance. She fails to see at first that she is being groomed as a mistress for King Edward III until she is moved into private apartments.

Although wracked with guilt at betraying Queen Philippa, she cannot deny her attraction to the King and the two become lovers. It seems an unconventional relationship, based on more than just a bored King’s wanderlust. Queen Philippa had a horse riding accident which injured her pelvis, meaning no more relations (or babies) and although King Edward obviously still loves and respects her, he does the whole ‘man with needs’ spiel and enjoys the benefits of being a man in charge having both his diplomatic, well liked and respected Queen and his beautiful (very) young lover at his beck and call.

Despite the disappearance of her husband and his eventual death, life is still considered dangerous for Alice and she is considered to be under the King and Queen’s protection. Her daughter Bella is removed from her and raised in a royal household for her own protection. The secret that her late husband’s family bore for the former Queen Mother was so big that her safety was still threatened. So she lives out her days accompanying the Queen, choosing her wardrobe, concealing the Queen’s growing physical problems with clever cuts and stitching and being the King’s mistress. She bears him several children and that goes on for about 15-odd years until the death of the King, which comes several years after the death of the Queen.

From then on life is a while different ball game for Alice. The common people loathe her for being the King’s mistress and for rising above her station, usurping their beloved Queen (or so they all believe) and it is alleged that she used her position with the King to obtain huge amounts of property and jewels. She is forced to fight for what is rightfully hers, the legacy she has for her daughters and the way in which she will have to sacrifice herself in order to at least try and have a chance to keep her property is heartbreaking for her.

While this novel was basically quite enjoyable story, my biggest problem with it is that it absolutely crawls along pace-wise. It’s called The King’s Mistress so right away you know that she’s going to be exactly that but it doesn’t happen until about halfway, perhaps more, throughout the book. You get so bogged down in the details of the dresses, fabrics, cuts, cloths, the social intricacies of the royalty and those beneath them that at times it feels like there is no story. It’s just Alice saying ‘And I woke up and then I did this and then the Queen summoned me and then we did this and then I went hunting and falconing and then it was time to eat and then I went to the King and then I went to sleep”. And it feels like pages and pages of that, over and over. And the big secret that Alice’s husband and his family were keeping for the Queen Mother? Well, I don’t know a whole lot about the royal family and the uprisings and overthrowings and the family backstabbing but when the secret all finally came out I found myself thinking Huh? Is that it? Seriously? Which given the whole novel is kind of build around this secret, is probably not a good thing. At all.

For me, this novel is at best a social dictation on the times of 1350-1400. I didn’t feel at all invested in the mystery and danger surrounding Alice and most of the time I forgot it was there until Alice moaned about missing her children or someone reminded her that she was in grave danger and had to remain under the protection of the King. But for a portrayal of the times it it is set in, I feel it has great strengths. Alice was a gifted social observer and although she mentions many times that she feels a fish out of water at Court and with all its intricacies, she gives a great insight to what life must’ve been like for any young female plucked from obscurity and given a place to serve in Court at the whim of the Crown. I didn’t really -get- the charisma and aura that was made much of regarding King Edward III and his apparent irresistability to a young and pretty woman such as Alice. Alright, he was the King and he seems to have been portrayed as quite kindly and likable and not at all creepy but I still couldn’t see the great attraction for Alice. In contrast, I did see Alice’s love for Janyn and I was a bit sorry he died actually because I enjoyed their marriage far more than I enjoyed her liason with the King, which was mostly uninteresting to me. He could’ve been any older man, the fact that he was the King didn’t really add much to the story other than him tossing her a few jewels each time she gave birth to one of his illegitimate children!

A novel that was enjoyable enough so that I kept reading until the finish, but not something that I would read again, nor did I ever really feel like I had to keep turning those pages. So-so.

6/10

(Book #68 of my 75 Book Challenge)


2 responses to “The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion

  1. Just finished reading this myself and although I think I liked it better than you did, I really enjoy your review. You are spot on about the portrayal of the time, in fact I usually read these kind of books just to educate me on history (even though it is fiction). Thanks for your review.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I did not read The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion, but I am reading The King’s Concubines by Anne O’Brien. I am confused. I know that these books are fiction, but I thought that they tried to be as historically accurate as possible. The first thing I noticed was that Alice and Janyn Perrier’s marriage could not be more different between the two books. And that is just the beginning. This is a real letdown. I can’t have an educated conversation about Alice Perrer’s or anything to do with Edward III because now I have to suspect everything I have read. This has been a problem with other books I have read. I realize that they can’t have known the conversations from day to day, but the age differences or how one died should not be that dramatically different I wouldn’t think. I thought these authors did a lot of research. I suppose if there wasn’t enough in the history books to say whether certain people were young or very old then that would have to be made up obviously, but then how can they say it is based at all on their lives. There are other glaring differences, I just don’t want to ruin the book if others have not read it. And I don’t see how these authors could have done all that much research when they are so far off from each other on basic things. I am having trouble getting through this book as well. It has kind of the same problems and so I am forcing myself through it. I thought I was learning a little history though before. I don’t know now whether I’m going to be able to stay awake long enough to read it now.

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