The King's Mistress
Crown, 2010 (2010)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
edieval scholar Emma Campion, who has extensively researched her subject, tells a very sympathetic tale of young Alice Salisbury, whose arranged marriage to merchant Janyn Perrers quickly turned into a love match, but also pulled her into perilous court circles. As the author tells Alice's story, Janyn's family kept a very dangerous secret for rebellious Queen Mother Isabella ('
the daughter, sister, widow, and mother of kings
'), one that left them exposed and vulnerable on her death.
ampion's Alice grows up with an unloving, selfish mother and with Geoffrey Chaucer as her best friend (one who later keeps her well informed on court rumors). Married to Janyn Perrers as an innocent of fourteen, she wonders at the interest Queen Isabella takes in her and the Perrers family, giving Dame Alice valuable gifts and acting as godmother to her new daughter Bella. But as the queen mother ages and her health fails, Janyn warns his young wife that a day might come when she and Bella will have to go on without him. He and the queen mother arrange for Alice to take a position as Queen Philippa's handmaid, while Bella is fostered at court but apart from her mother.
fter Isabella dies, Janyn and his mother flee and her father-in-law advises Alice to consider herself a widow. She soon catches the attention of Edward III (seemingly with the approval of his queen), falls under his spell, and the rest is history. Long after her husband is murdered, Alice learns the reason he acted as a courier for Isabella and the dangerous secret that he and his mother kept for her. Through this account, Alice Perrers constantly asks '
When had I a choice to be other than I was?
' She is portrayed as being at the mercy of fate, struggling to make a life for herself and her children, Bella as well as the three she bears Edward, and only reluctantly accepting the king's extensive gifts.
hough I suspect the truth of Alice Perrers' life lies somewhere between monk Thomas Walsingham's record of '
a shameless, impudent harlot
' and this account,
The King's Mistress
is an absorbing story with a valiant and engaging young heroine, trying to make her way through the maze of court intrigue that surrounds her.
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