Title: The King’s Mistress
Author: Emma Campion
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Genre: Historical Fiction
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher – The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
Synopsis: History has not been kind to Alice Perrers, the notorious mistress of King Edward III. Scholars and contemporaries alike have deemed her a manipulative woman who used her great beauty and sensuality to take advantage of an aging and increasingly senile king. But who is the woman behind the scandal? A coldhearted opportunist, or someone who was fighting for her very survival?
Like most girls of her era Alice is taught obedience in all things. At the age of fourteen, she marries the man her father chooses for her, dutifully accepting the cost of being torn from the family she holds so dear and losing the love of her mother forever. Despite these heartbreaks Alice finds that merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and the two settle into a happy life together. Their bliss is short-lived, however, unraveled by the dark day a messenger appears at Alice’s door and notifies her of Janyn’s sudden disappearance.
In the wake of this tragedy, Alice learns that her husband kept many dangerous secrets – secrets that have resulted in a price on her head and that of her beloved daughter. Her only chance to survive lies in the protection of King Edward and Queen Philippa, but she therefore must live at court as a virtual prisoner. When she is singled out by the king for more than just royal patronage, the stakes are raised.
Emma Campion paints a colorful and thrilling portrait of the court of Edward III – with all of its extravagance, scandalous love affairs, political machinations, and murder – and the devastating results of being singled out by the royal family. At the center of the storm is Alice, surviving by her wits in this dangerous world where the choices are not always of her own making. Emma Campion’s dazzling novel shows that there is always another side to the story.
My Review: Prior to this novel, I hadn’t read anything set during this time period. I knew virtually nothing about King Edward III or the Plantagenet family, but I wanted to learn more so I figured this would be an interesting way to do it. What better way to learn about a King than to read about his mistress!
The first thing that struck me was how young poor Alice was when she was thrust into this new life, which honestly seems like it would be beyond me even at my current age, let alone at fourteen. It doesn’t seem like much is known about this part of Alice’s life, so even if everything was completely fictional for the sake of the novel, we all know that it’s very likely she would have been married off as soon as she was able to have children.
For whatever reason, she catches the eye of the King, and I believe her fate was sealed from there. She lived in a time when she was only considered to have value if she was benefitting the men in her life, whether that be her husband, father, or brother. It’s doubtful that any man in control of her life would have taken her away from court, either because they want favor with the king by being married to his mistress, or because they would be terrified of the repercussions of taking her away.
This novel makes Alice out to be the scapegoat for everything that went wrong during the last part of King Edward III’s reign, everyone claiming she had bewitched the king and convinced him to only serve her interests. I think that unlikely – King’s notoriously bestow all kinds of favor on their mistresses and don’t think of the consequences of doing so. Furthermore, it was rare for a man to think a woman capable of thinking strategically, so to assume Alice talked Edward III into wars and spending is pretty far-fetched.
I think the more probable situation is that Alice was doing the best she could with something she had no choice in. She had three children by the king, two of which were girls who would have no real prospects due to the station of their mother. Alice would have had no way to guarantee their future, other than receiving lands and gifts from the king. She was a victim of circumstance who did her best with what she was given.
Read this book if: Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this, I think. It’s got everything you could want in the genre!
My Rating: 4/5 – Borderline Amazing!