Monday, March 19, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion is an absorbing, sympathetic look at the life of Alice Perrers, the lowborn mistress of King Edward III. I’ve caught glimpses of Alice before in historical novels of the times, and she has always been treated with disregard. She was a gold-digger, a young woman who latched on to the aged king and extorted riches and favors from him to the detriment of the treasury. The kindest thing that could be said about her was that she didn’t abandon him at the end.

But who was she, really?

Campion presents Alice to us first as a thirteen-year-old girl being prepared for the marriage market. Her father has decided who she should marry—the wealthy merchant Master Janyn Perrers. He is significantly older than she is and a widower, but he is kind and generous to her. The only difficulty is that her mother is dead set against the marriage, but even that can be overcome.

They are married, happily at first, but Alice becomes increasingly aware that Janyn and his family harbor dangerous secrets. These secrets allow them to run in high circles, even to be acquainted with the king and queen. But the danger grows greater than the benefit. To protect her, he arranges for her to become a servant to the queen. And then, one day, Janyn disappears.

Alice is devastated. She takes some comfort from the kindness of the queen. But even more, she enjoys time spent with the king. Eventually, she becomes the king’s mistress. She then must live with the consequences, good and bad. She falls in love with the king and their time together is precious, but she becomes an object of scorn, envy, and hatred at court and throughout England.

Campion does a wonderful job of bringing Alice to life as a three-dimensional, fully developed character. She is not a particularly strong protagonist. She falls back on obedience at each of the major decision points in her life and her choices are therefore made by default. However, Alice is resilient and luck is with her. She’s fortunate in that whenever disaster strikes, someone is there to help her.

The King’s Mistress is also a richly detailed foray into fourteenth century England. It sweeps you along from the merchant’s homes and shops, into the streets and churches, and through the palaces of the king. The author’s knowledge of the setting and politics of the period helps pull the reader into the protagonist’s world. You may end up with a different view of Alice after seeing the world through her eyes.

This is my fifth book read for the Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted by Historical Tapestries.


  1. An interesting sounding book, it seems like it doesn't simplify the situation. I'll keep an eye out for it :)

  2. Thank you for the review.

    It sounds like something I would enjoy.