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The Kings mistress is a historical fiction novel by Emma Campion set in the reign of Edward III between 1370 and 1400; the main character is Alice Perrers, who will end up as Edward's mistress. Alice is a real historical character though she has become known for her greed, avarice and desire for power rather than any redeeming features such as beauty or dignity. This is a fictional telling of her life using as much historical detail as could be found, the book is told as a first person narrative of Alice from around the age of 13-14.
The first time we meet Alice she is Alice Salisbury who is going to enter London society at the age of around 13, her father is a wealthy merchant, her mother a cold domineering woman, Alice is paraded past her father's merchant colleagues and soon becomes engaged to an Italian/English businessman called Janyn Perrers. Marriage to Janyn much her senior beings release from her mother, a loving and physical relationship but also into the sphere influence of the kings powerful mother the she-wolf of France Isabella. Isabella is aged but powerful and demands many strange missions from Janyn, soon Alice fears for her husband and new born daughter and when the impossible happens and Janyn in called away she is left alone.
Loss of Janyn brings Alice to court and she soon becomes noticed by the king, Edward is a man in his 50's but still vigorous and engaging. He woos Alice after news of her husband's death reaches her and eventually she becomes his mistress and bears him a son and three daughters. The rest of the novel details her time with king, her dislike of the parliament and hatred for a man who would become her husband once the king died.
I think this book is one for the ladies should we say, clearly aimed at the more romantic view of the middle ages it is heavy on depicting Alice as a lady around town, her dresses get a lot of mention as does her actions in and around the bedchamber and her love of fine clothes, wine and good food. There is an attempt to inject some skulduggery and espionage into the novel with her first husbands supposed missions for the old queen but to be honest they all appear to be extremely unlikely and are clearly padding between the sections discussing different colours of cloth or the latest tryst with Janyn or the King. There are loving descriptions of hunting with the King, what she's wearing, the colours, the clothes, the jewels, the sunsets, the mist on the moors, the blowing of the horses etc before the pre-requisite trysts. All lovingly and sentimentally put, all described in details and all very much the focus of the novel.
Remember this is a time of wars with France, the plague and the eventual bloody coup removing Richard II. The war with France gets barely a mention, the plague only appears when Geoffrey Chaucer (a close friend apparently) tells Alice of the death of her grandmother from the pestilence. Chaucers presence is further exploited at the beginning of each major section with an insert from out of his novels Troilus and Cressida. I think I can say with certainty that I wasn't the chosen demographic for this novel when the parts written in 14th century old English where my favourite sections.
I think this novel would have been far better without the cloying sentimentality, the need to redeem Alice by making her over virtuous rather than a simple merchant's wife made good. The author claims to have unearthed evidence of Alice's real character but does include the notorious actions of stealing the dead kings rings from his fingers and riding through the city of London wearing the dead Queen's jewels just a month after her death. I was hoping for a final twist at the end explaining some of the early actions of her husband but there wasn't and you get a sense that the author wanting to get to the saucy bits with the king as soon as possible.