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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Countess and the King: A Novel of the Countess of Dorchester and King James II » User review

"There are few things more fearsome than a libertine who has reformed for the sake of a virtuous woman."

  • Sep 7, 2010
Pity the fate of the plain woman in the Restoration Court of Charles II. Fortunately for Katherine Sedley, only child of a wealthy family, such worries are premature. Attended by "Romish" priests, Katherine's mad mother is scuttled off to a convent, leaving the child's father, Charles Sedley, to frolic at will with his libertine friends, King Charles, the Dukes of Dorchester and Buckingham- and his ten-year-old daughter, who cuts her teeth on the bawdy discourse of plays and the ribald humor of her father and his cronies. Charmed by actress Nell Gywn and in awe of stage and players, the young Katherine is celebrated for her cutting wit, an enfant terrible with a ready riposte, the adults screaming with laughter.

Promised the right to choose her own husband, who can blame a young woman who has no interest in the ordinary men who propose with one eye on her fortune? As she grows, Katherine never loses sight of the fact that she is not beautiful in a world where kings select their mistresses from the great beauties at court. Ironically, Katherine's intelligence charm and humor are her most attractive features, not insignificant in a shallow court of sycophants and revelers. At odds with her newly-reformed father, the fortunate Katherine is invited to court on the day that the Duke of York weds the exotic, very Catholic Mary Beatrice d' Este, Katherine's long interest in the handsome James Stuart finally bearing fruit.

In spite of public opinion and the outrage of the king's intimates, Katherine becomes the mistress of the Duke of York, bearing the pointed barbs of critics for the sake of her lover. It isn't love, but politics and religion that eventually deliver Katherine to an unavoidable reckoning with fate. Upon the death of Charles II, James Stuart is next in succession to become king of England, his attachment to Catholicism signaling trouble, the country riven with fear and dissent, citizens suspicious of the Pope's influence on the throne. It is at this point that Katherine meets her most difficult challenge, faced with an impossible choice between country and lover. At last, the sharp-tongued, brutally frank Katherine Sedley is blunted by political expedience, buffeted by her emotional attachment to James and the instinct for survival in an unfriendly court.

It is impossible to know the true character of Katherine Sedley, particularly in the context of the political and religious conflicts of that era, easier to relate to the little girl basking in the laughter of self-satisfied libertines and their female companions, when Charles was a lively king and the Duke of York the handsome heir without the taint of Catholicism to turn England against him, a man who saw the beauty in Katherine's nature... and loved her for it. Luan Gaines/2010.

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June 18, 2011
Nice review. A book I wouldn't have thought of.
June 28, 2011
I agree!
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #108
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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In this vivid portrait of Katherine Sedley, mistress of King James II, Scott (The French Mistress) unravels the intricate web of court intrigues that has long fascinated historical romance enthusiasts. Supposedly plain yet intelligent and seductively charming, Katherine grows up amid wealth, indulged by Sir Charles Sedley, her libertine father. Attracted to James, the married duke of York, Katherine embarks on an illicit relationship that continues after Charles dies and James becomes king, though he eventually feels compelled to end their scandalous relationship, which has produced a son who died in infancy and a daughter. Katherine is a strong protagonist--well-realized and confident in her flouting of convention--and provides a stellar centerpiece to Scott's fast-moving tale about the challenging world of kings, queens, and mistresses caught in a time of sharp political, and religious upheaval.
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ISBN-10: 0451231155
ISBN-13: 978-0451231154
Author: Susan Holloway Scott
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: NAL Trade
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