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(3.5) "Such was the imperfection of our union... the power Edward held over me."

  • Jun 28, 2010
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The book jacket suggests Campion seeks to put a more human face on the reviled commoner, Alice Perrers, mistress to Edward III and lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault. Although the author makes a valiant attempt to flesh out a figure spoken of with disdain in nearly every historical account, I found it difficult to empathize with this protagonist and her endless rationalizations for behavior that led to court gossip. As the wife of wealthy merchant, Janyn Perrers, Alice is content until she learns that her husband's family has entered into an agreement with Edward's mother, Isabella, the dowager queen. It is the unfolding of this mystery that propels the novel, the threads of Janyn's family promise binding Alice to the royal family for protection after her husband's mysterious disappearance.

A woman of great appetite and beauty, it is not surprising that Alice becomes Edward's mistress, even with the tacit permission of an ailing Philippa. While it is unusual that a commoner should enjoy such elevated status, rather than a lady of royal blood, Campion's Perrers seemingly has only the best interests of her children at heart when accepting the king's lavish gifts. Court life is never easy for the fairer sex, their lands and titles ripe for plunder by ambitious noblemen and Perrers is no exception. Protected by Edward while he is alive, the raptors close in to get their revenge on the woman who has risen above her status and served as the right hand of the king after the death of the queen. Alice is suddenly vulnerable, made to wed William Wyndsor after the king's death, a most unhappy and strife-riddled union.

While Campion adds emotional texture to Perrers' tale and turn the memory of a courtesan into a lady of elegance and grace, there is no way to ascertain the truth of the matter. Did Perrers bear Edward three children? Yes. Did she wear the dead queen's jewels in public, outraging the crowds and inciting her detractors? Yes. Did she seek to secure property for her daughters by Edward? Most certainly. Alice's commoner status brought her grief a more royal concubine might have averted through well-placed friends in the court. Unfortunately, I found this novel one of the most tedious historical fictions I have read of late, from Alice's confusion at the loss of her beloved husband to her stunning naiveté in Edward's court, not to mention the endless scenes of lovemaking with the decrepit king and her willingness to hide his increasing frailty from the public. No doubt Perrers resorted to what any woman might to insure her protection after the king's death, used cruelly by his royal offspring and the nobles with their own agendas. The 14th century was not kind to women, Alice trading on her youth and beauty to secure her fortune. Luan Gaines/2010.

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review by . August 08, 2010
I picked up "The King's Mistress" wondering how I would like it. I had never heard of Alice Perrers and had never read anything by Emma Campion. It turns out that Emma Campion is from my part of the world - and I wish that there were other works by her that I could read!     Alice Perrers was the daughter of a Hertfordshire knight whose life span is said to have been approximately from 1348 to 1400. I found the following description of Alice's character on the Middle- [...] website …
review by . July 28, 2010
Alice Perrers was a phenomenal woman in medieval history and one of the most famous English courtesans who ever lived. In the days when women were second class citizens the beautiful Alice was ambitious and just plain greedy as she climbed up the greasy pole of success and eventually connived her way into the bed of King Edward III. As a non-royal person her success was astounding but she was certainly nothing like the pleasant, considerate woman described in this book but much more like the "devil's …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #109
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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About this book


Alice Perrers scholar Campion debuts with a dynamic fictionalization of the life of Alice Salisbury, who, at 14, leaves family and best friend Geoffrey Chaucer behind to marry Janyn Perrers, a prominent merchant who has the patronage of Isabella, the Queen Mother. Alice accustoms herself to the royal lifestyle, grows close to her husband, and bears a daughter. Her happiness is destroyed when royal fortunes shift, Janyn disappears, and Alice is summoned to court by Queen Philippa. To secure her daughter's safety, Alice complies and is quickly drawn into the machinations and extravagance of Edward III's mid-14th-century court, where she captures the king's interest. Campion stays true to the facts of Alice's life as the mistress of Edward III, the mother of his son John, and a successful businesswoman. This is a detailed rendering of Edward III's court, one that provides an empathetic but realistic portrait of a colorful and, if Campion is to be believed, misunderstood woman.
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ISBN-10: 0307589250
ISBN-13: 978-0307589255
Author: Emma Campion
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown
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