A Royal Scandal

Title:  The King's Mistress
Author:  Emma Campion
Publisher:  Crown
464 pages
ISBN:  978-0307589255
Source:  Amazon Vine Program
Grade:  B

Royal scandals - even ones that took place several hundred years ago - are a guaranteed way to sell a book. The trick, for the savvy historical fiction author, is finding a royal scandal that hasn't been done over and over and over and over. And over. (Seriously.  One more dysfunctional Tudor might send us over the edge.)

Enter new historical fiction author Emma Campion who has capitalized on her medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature education by writing a novel about the villified and scandalous mistress of England's King Edward III.

Eddie, you old goat.

Her name was Alice Perrers and she was a simple commoner who history has largely forgotten. What little is known about her has been anything but flattering and a handful of historical novelists have vilified her even more over the years.

Campion turns it all around and wonders what if Alice Perrers wasn't the evil seductress that history records her to be?

So here's the history:  Edward III ruled England for fifty (!) years in the mid 14th-century.  He was married to a lovely and popular woman by the name of Philippa of Hainault, who was a baby-making machine, giving birth to fourteen children throughout their marriage.

 Queen Philippa

But men being men (and kings being kings), when Philippa became ill and virtually incapacitating (gee, could it have been related to punching out FOURTEEN babies?), Eddie developed a wandering eye.  Enter Alice Perrers, a merchants wife that caught Eddie's fancy and became his mistress.

Evidently Alice made Eddie quite happy because he lavished her gifts, land, jewelry and money.  Lots of it.  And as you can probably imagine, this didn't sit too well with Eddie's kids and other greedy nobles sitting in the corner wanting their piece of the pie.  In Eddie's waning days, much was made over Alice's control over the King and her enrichment of herself and her friends.

In fact, after Eddie kicked the bucket, Alice was even put on trial and lost most of her lands.

New historical fiction author Emma Campion takes a new tact....she surmises that Alice wasn't the devil in disguise history makes her out to be and was really a victim in the whole mess.  And she's got a good premise here because really, if Alice was just a commoner, how much choice would she have had in the matter if the King of England decided he wanted her to decorate his bed?  Probably not much if she valued what little she had in life.

But like all good things, it's possible to go too far and that is exactly what this otherwise well-written novel suffers from:  too much goody-two-shoes Alice.  While it is indeed likely that Alice wasn't entirely evil, there is  usually a kernel of truth buried inside of all historical reputations.  As the novel continues, the reader's faith in Alice's saintliness wears thin.

Saccharine aside, Campion has a good grasp of the era and passes that on to the reader in easily digestible fiction.  If you have an interest in this time period, we'd recommend this novel.  Her writing is solid and interest doesn't wane throughout the book.  Worth your time if you're a history buff!

1 comment:

  1. Never heard of this mistress, I will surely add this one to my wishlist.


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