Emma Campion states that she wrote this book to satisfy her curiosity about Alice Perrers who is painted in history as "an impudent harlot of low birth" who through manipulation finds her way into being the Mistress of King Edward III. But Campion states that she wanted to give Alice Perrers a voice in stating what really happened.
I was transfixed by the story from the opening line, "When had I a choice to be other than I was?" That line alone caught my attention. It made me want to delve into the book and find out whether or not Alice Perrers did have choices in her life, or was she the `victim' of chance.
Through the superb writing of Campion the life of Alice Perrers and the court of King Edward the III and Queen Philippa comes alive. You as the reader are drawn into the story through well written dialogue and word pictures that help you feel the pain, grief, agony and joy of each individual through the twists and turns of their lives.
Alice finds herself as a wife, mother, widow, confidante to the Queen and eventually the Mistress to King Edward III. But unlike what you expect of a mistress who shares the bed of the King and nothing else, Alice finds herself becoming the full-time companion to the King and someone that he comes to rely upon for her expertise in business affairs.
The story is written in the time frame of 1350 to 1380. During this time England experiences a season of "the plauge" and many people succumb to the deadly disease. The King's court is not immune to this illness nor is Alice's family of origin. All experience the heartbreak of death, some more than others.
What impressed me through this novel was the fact that I came to see Alice Perrers in a very good light. She impressed me as someone who fell in love easily, but never waivered from that love. She was loyal to those she loved. She was faithful through the good times and the bad.
I think I found myself as Campion did, if Alice Perrers was such a bad person (according to some historians), i.e. just an opportunist, then why did she stay with King Edward until the end when she could have formed any number of other unions that would have benefited her.
I wish all of history was written in such an intriguing fashion. It would certainly make learning about past times much more enjoyable.
Thank you Emma Campion for your research and excellent writing skills and bringing such a wonderful story to life.
Enjoy reading this great novel!
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.
"When had I a choice to be other than I was?"
This quote foreshadows the constant barrage of wangst in store for you when reading The King's Mistress by Emma Campion. This is a historical fiction of the life of Alice Perrers, who's regarded as one of the more infamous ladies ever to keep royal company. She was the longtime companion of Edward III, whose rule was once considered glorious but was later encompassed in fiscal and political scandal. The above statement is inserted at the start of each section of the book, reminding you how poor Alice was ever a victim of powers beyond her reckoning. Might as well have been Gwen Stefani singing, "I'm just a girl... in the world..." It would have been interesting to see her as she's been portrayed: a woman surviving by her wiles in the shark-infested waters of the royal court, instead of as a helpless leaf blown in the storm winds.
Our heroine was born Alice Salisbury, simply the bestest daughter ever. She's pious, humble, loves her father, honors her mother, cherishes her family, rescues kittens, feeds the homeless, cures the sick, negotiates peace treaties (lol)... and blossoms into such a flower that of course, her own mother is utterly jealous of her. This thing wasn't written in ink, it was High Fructose Corn Syrup.
This fairy tale is delivered in four purple-tinted segments: Part I/An Innocent Encounters The World- Where Alice comes of age and her father arranges a marriage for her to a widowed merchant, Janyn Perrers, whom its discovered has complicated ties to the scandalized Queen Mother Isabella, who helped overthrow her husband the king and set her son, Richard III, upon the throne. The Perrers family fortunes are intricately bound to the royals, but with privilege comes peril, so much so that Janyn ensures her safety by placing her in the Queen's service. What choice does she have? Her husband wills it!
Part II/The Queen's Handmaid- Alice becomes established in Queen Philippa's retinue and comes to be noticed by Edward III, king of England. As Philippa's health declines, the queen is driven to seek an amiable companion for her husband, someone she can trust... What choice does she have? The King & Queen desire it!
Part III/The King's Mistress- Alice and Edward form a deep, abiding relationship, and she even bears him children and he bestows lavish gifts of land, jewels and whatnot upon her. What choice does she have- the king made her take them! Yet the more she becomes a fixture in Edward's life, the more she is targeted by the differing factions at court. What choice does she have? She's but a commoner at court!
Part IV/Phoenix- In the wake of the king's passing, the nation is left in some difficulty from Edward's excesses and a scapegoat is needed. What choice does she have? She's but a woman alone who's blamed for leading their beloved king astray, taking the realm down with him! Yet Alice manages to rise somewhat from the ashes of her ruination.
There are two overwhelming problems with this story. One, the character of Alice is an uber MarySue- an embodiment of author's wish fulfillment whom every man must possess and every woman either admires or despises, and of course any characters that dislike this person are obviously up to no good. Alice is so much this she could almost be her own trope. The author has clearly fallen prey to what seems to be a trend in historical fiction- falling completely in love with the character and somehow trying to redeem them through fantasy instead of simply telling their story. Alice is so overflowing with compassion that at the end of the book she can even forgive everyone who's ever wronged her. Campion even goes so far as to give Alice a new life with another man while admitting to having no evidence that they ever did anything more than conduct business together- can't have a fairy tale without a happy ending, right?
Two, nothing much happens. For a person so embroiled in political scandal and panned by history Alice is spectacularly uninvolved in events; Campion always keeps Alice on the periphery, supplying the true love and support her man needs until she's swept along by the tides of fate simply because she's there. Beginning with her own arranged marriage to Janyn, we're given exposition-delivered intrigues filtered through Alice's limited perspective, all making for very dull reading. For someone constantly in the eye of the storm, she's often caught unawares despite constantly being warned about what's happening (But what choice does she have? She is unused to such manipulations, even after living at the palace for almost twenty years!). Yet with every step you're expected to cry with her pain and laugh with her joy, except you won't. You'll just want it to be over with. Despite a few insights into the social mores of the times, I suggest you don't even start.
on June 24, 2011
As a huge reader of historical fiction, I was excited to find this book. Alice Perrers and King Edward III are a duo that I have not encountered very much. I am sad to say that this book, while somewhat interesting, did not live up to my expectations.
The author, Emma Campion, states that she wrote this book to explore the relationship between Alice and Edward. While history views Alice as a commoner who manipulated and seduced an aging king, Campion was a bit too eager to rise to her defense.
The premise of the novel is to tell Alice's story from her own perspective, to give her a voice and explain her life. However, Campion clearly goes too far in her quest to redeem Alice. While it is true that many women in history had little say in the directions their lives took, Alice is shown as being a victim of the men in her life. First her father, then her husband, and then King Edward and Queen Philippa use her to meet their own ends. Not to mention the ridiculously unbelievable role Queen Isabella is supposed to have taken along with her grandson John of Gaunt. In her efforts to redeem Alice, Campion has painted an Alice who obediently followed the dictates of the men in her life. She was married to a man she adored and was miserable to be sent to court in an effort to keep her safe from unknown assassins. (While history has its myths and mysteries, this story line was a bit far fetched.) She was naively unaware of the King's interest in her and would like to reader to believe that Queen Philippa sanctioned their relationship. Alice can't understand why the court, the country, and the King's sons all resent and revile her connection to the king.
While I am not certain that Alice was the "impudent harlot of low birth" that history has painted her to be, I am also not certain that she was as innocent and blameless as Campion has portrayed her. In all, it is an interesting time period that just wasn't given the justice it was due. I can still hear the violins playing in sympathy for poor Alice, who repeatedly asks the question, "When had I a choice to be other than I was?"
on February 3, 2016
For a woman who supposedly was not just beautiful but so intelligent men sought her advice, she didn't seem to learn much from experience and was constantly played the fool. She is given opportunities most would sacrifice everythiing to obtain, yet it is never sufficient. The character described in the book received only small tokens from the king with the only motive to provide dowries for daughters not yet born or even desired, The historical Alice received sufficent properties to make her one of the wealtiest in the realm
Rather than consider that every historical record depicts Alice Perers as manipulative magnetic, she i/s in this book supposedly naive and always, always the victim. Others are greedy and grasping while Alice, the daughter and wife of merchants, is the sole person immune to desire for wealth. Alice Perers is perfection incarnate, with the evil world full of demons is constantly on the attack.
In a period when the world was still reeling from a near 50% decline in population with massive economic and political consequences, little to no mention is made of anything that went on outside of Alice's eye sight.
This is another of those historical fiction novels with the emphasis heavily on 'fiction.' It would have to be. After some poking around on the Internet, I gather there's not much on record about Alice Perrers outside the realm of her various property purchases, lawsuits, and marriages; she's mentioned unfavorably by contemporaries as a greedy social climber. It's known she was once married to Janyn Perrers but not whether the marriage was happy or how it ended. She may have had children by Edward, but there's debate on the subject. No story of her life could be told without making up the details. As fiction, this version has some merits--I enjoyed the first three quarters of it--but it fails as a history, only in part out of necessity.
You could like the book if accuracy isn't a big issue. There are fewer stories set in the reign of Edward III than in that of, for example, Elizabeth I, and the locations and fashions and political atmosphere are all very different. I appreciate the characterizations of certain figures like Joan of Kent, fascinating enough to send me off on a hunt for more information about her. Alice's concerns as a very young bride and then the lover of a powerful King of England make a good narrative.
But--Alice's characterization is an overwhelming problem. I can't believe in this interpretation of Alice Perrers. I couldn't believe in her as a fictional character, either. Not only is nothing that happens to Alice her fault, but she's desired by all, a loving mother, a devoted wife, innocent, naive, wholesome, and only wicked people ever oppose her.
She begins as a thirteen-year-old girl about to marry for the first time, an inexperienced child whom I kept picturing as even younger. Her emotional immaturity combined with Janyn's oft-mentioned lust unfortunately squicked me. Their ages--Janyn is thirty-four--are perfectly realistic for the time period. Were the frequent reminders of how randy they are necessary, though? Did he have to behave more like a fond uncle outside of bed? Eesh.
Anyway, Alice eventually loses some of the innocence, but never all that much of her naivete: this version of Alice Perrers sways as the wind blows. This, too, is realistic for her time period; she's a common woman among noble men... except she's also Alice Perrers. She was the King's mistress who paraded around as his Lady of the Sun after Phillippa died. (Of course, that was all Edward's idea! What could she do but obey?) She wore the dead Queen's jewels. (Edward told her to! What could she do but obey?) She owned much land, thanks in part to the King. (Edward wanted to give her something! What could she... you get the idea.) Her friends received royal preference. She held power in Edward's court. She was *not* a common woman, whatever her birth. She is supposed to be exceptional. Clever. Shrewd. There is nothing exceptional about this Alice.
Characterization is the major problem I had with the novel, hers and a few others, but mostly hers. It's enough. I would rather Campion's Alice had been closer to the greedy, grasping harlot that Walsingham described. Perhaps then the story wouldn't have flagged when Edward began to fail. Once he dies he story makes such labored effort to protect Alice from *any* shred of fault, it becomes ridiculous.
_King's Mistress_ is still okay fiction--Alice is sympathetic, it's pretty easy to get caught up in her story, and if you want to escape to another place and time, this book can be a door. What I disliked about it I disliked a lot, but it kept me reading.
This novel took me by surprise. I was engrossed in the plot, the characters and the descriptions of the clothing. I read a lot of historical fiction, but this book stood out.
The King's Mistress is a fictionalized retelling of Alice Salisbury, a young girl who gets married at 14. (Young, but keep in mind that life spans were much shorter back then!) She is in love with one of her father's friends, Janyn Perrers.He is older than her, but she adores him anyway. (Sorta like the crush I had on Anthony Hopkins when I was growing up) Alice leaves behind a difficult and competitive relationship with her mother by marrying Janyn, but adapts quickly to living a life of wealth and luxury. Her household is even visited by the former Queen Mother, Isabella!
After tragedy strikes, Alice goes to live in the household of Queen Philippa, the currently reigning Queen. There, she attracts attention of the King. She tries to remain loyal to her Queen, but her feelings for the King are very strong.
This novel was like a fairy tale, but in a good way. I loved reading about the young girl who gets everything she has ever wanted and then looses it again. She becomes rich and famous. It's easy to imagine yourself back in those times and living the life Alice does.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to escape from real life and live in a fairy tale, just for a day or so. This is a distractingly good read!
on May 13, 2011
I suppose the only thing I really like about this novel is that it illuminated how much we don't know about Alice Perrers and that you cannot trust historical sources to be unbaisedly factual. That's a good point.
But the helplessly and blushingly falling into hoards of money and great sex seems rather a rather childish success-by- victimhood-fantasy. Oh, I couldn't help myself, the king made me do it. I'm a good girl, really I am. I was only thinking of my daughter. I'm sure there were elements beyond her control and also the need to survive. I have no judgement for the real woman (especially as I know so little about her). But there is very little believable about the girl/woman in this book, and even as a fantasy, she is shallow and the story feels like her bragging. She is superior in knowing how to make everyone look beautiful. She learns everything well and easily, mistakes only made because of her naive goodness. Her intentions are always good. There seems to be very little substance to the "love" in the story. Constant glorified infatuation with looking beautiful and great sex.
Not my sort of book.
on March 6, 2016
Not a whole lot is truly know about Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III, this story was a very good, enjoyable read. I liked Alice and her view of the world and life. The level of detail about court life was interesting and fun. If you enjoy light historical reads, I recommend this one.
on February 28, 2013
According to author Campion, she was inspired to investigate the facts about Alice Perrers, long-time mistress of King Edward III, after reading this appraisal of Perrers written by a "dyspeptic monk." I agree with Campion that such descriptions of women who managed to rise to power and influence during these times are highly suspect in that they are usually motivated by envy, jealousy and the widespread belief that women who made anything of themselves must have done so by underhanded means. Pretty much ALL royal mistresses get this hostile treatment from their contemporaries, so Perrers has not been singled out for slander. Although I appreciate Campion's interest in rehabilitating Perrers' reputation, this fictional biography does little to redeem her. She is portrayed as the proverbial pawn in the game (probably fairly accurate) as she is passed from man to man, always as the unwilling victim of the machinations of those in power. Although there is no question that Perrers had little choice about becoming the King's mistress, most of her raging against this and other perceived injustices is kept to herself or shared with her few friends, as outwardly she acquieses to everthing she is ordered to do. The explanation offered for her serial capitulations is that she was attempting to preseve her properties for her children to ensure their futures. A veritable saint with no personal interest in all the jewelry, manors, clothing and other goodies rained down on her by her senile lover. Whether motivated by avarice or empathy, Perrers' life depicted here quickly becomes tedious. After interesting opening chapters regarding her first marriage to the mysterious Janyn Perrers, the bulk of the book thereafter is a simple chronological recitation of "now I returned to Gaynes; then we went to Windsor; this was a very happy period; this was a very unhappy period" for years (and pages) at a time. The result is a fairly tedious narration, the end result of which was this reader's total loss of interest as to her fate. This book would have been improved by some incisive editing. Kind of a mongrel romance/historical biography, but not a great example of either.