Keeping counsel: Mistress to the Crown

I can’t quite believe that so many wonderful people are keen to become part of the TBYL Reviewers team! Today I get to welcome the lovely Kate Barber.

Over the summer break, Kate read Mistress to the Crown, by Isolde Martyn (Harlequin). It was a different kind of book to that which she’d normally read, and Kate shared what she thought of this historical drama…

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After having a few weeks off reading over the summer holidays, I was eager to get back into a good book, and so when Mistress to the Crown arrived on my doorstep, having not read many historical novels, I was ready to ‘read outside my comfort zone’.

mistress to the crown“The day Lord Hastings came into her husband’s store, Elizabeth saw the opportunity she had waited 12 years for – a way to separate herself once and for all from her dull, impotent husband, William Shore. The handsome stranger presented not only the chance to partake in the dance of desire, but legal counsel to annul her 12 year marriage.’

And so begins the real historical tale of Elizabeth Lambard – Mistress Shore, Mistress to King Edward IV of England in the 15th century.

Australian author Isolde Martyn is well known for her brilliantly researched and vivid accounts in her historical novels and has won numerous awards. She is a historian and former chair of the Richard II Society, and is more than qualified to write a book such as this!

The beginning of the book sees Elizabeth, at 14, trying to get legal counsel to annul her marriage to her husband while her ‘maidenhead’ is still intact. Having been ‘chosen’ to marry at 12 years of age by the 26 year old William, two years later she cannot stand her husband who she describes as ‘dull, dull, dull’ – not to mention impotent –  and she embarks on her not so easy quest to be granted a divorce, a notion almost completely unheard of in the 15th Century.

Fast forward 11 years and she is still married to William, working in his shop and bored, dreaming of grander things. When the handsome and debonair Lord Hastings (Lord Chamberlain and close friends of King Edward IV) visits the shop and spies her, she decides that this is her way out – she promptly asks him to ‘teach her’ the ways of love and so begins their affair.

All is going well with Lord Hastings until King Edward – Ned to his friends – spies her and thinks he would like in on the action. Being the King, he is not to be refused, and so Lord Hastings hands her over to the King. After some convincing, Elizabeth obliges and becomes his Mistress.

It is turbulent times within the Kingdom – wars, power struggles, take-over bids for the Crown, hangings, beheadings, the pox… but despite the hard times, Elizabeth is soon nickname ‘Jane’ by the King (as his wife is Queen Elizabeth and he doesn’t want to confuse the two!!) and moved into her own quarters within the Palace grounds where she is at Ned’s beck and call. They fall in love and the King begins to rely on her for ‘counsel’, friendship and comfort.

However, Elizabeth is labelled a strumpet and a whore and ostracised by her family and friends. She is scorned and despised by King Williams’s posse (except Lord Hastings, who still holds a flame) and frequently propositioned by the men at the Palace who despise the hold she has over the King. Nonetheless, Elizabeth is a strong and sure woman who stands up to her enemies and remains faithful to Ned.

That is until, after a short illness, Ned dies and the Kingdom is thrown into turmoil. Without the protection of the King, Elizabeth is on her own and her sorry downward spiral, at the hands of the King’s Counsel, begins. She moves from the Palace grounds and is labelled a witch, accused of sorcery and treason. She is taken to trial, thrown in jail and threatened to be burned at the stake.  When her only ally (and ex-lover) Lord Hastings is beheaded for treason she thinks there is no way out and concedes that she may well be killed.

But, a last minute reprieve, with the intervention of the new King’s Crown Solicitor, who just happens to fall for her quick wit and womanly charms (which apparently she has not lost despite being in prison with no toothbrush or shower!) and her destiny is once again changed. He devises a plan – if he marries her and gives up his Royal commitments, he can free her from the charges against her and make her a free woman. And so it is.

Having not read many historical novels, I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy this novel was to read and how much I enjoyed it. At the beginning of the book there is a ‘Family Tree’ and a list of characters appearing in the novel which comes in handy when the various Kings, Princes, Lords and Royal Counsel are discussed. There is also a ‘Glossary of Medieval Words’ at the back of the book – would’ve been good to be aware of this before I finished the book! Elizabeth is portrayed as a witty, feisty and clever woman trying hard to change her course and get out of the shackles that women in this era were bound by. The story has been told with humour and passion and gives an insight into the tumultuous times that were the 15th Century.

If you love an historical novel, I am sure you will enjoy this one too!

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If you’d like to find out more about Mistress to the Crown, by Isolde Martyn you can do so here…

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