The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers By Anne O’Brien
A child born in the plague year of 1348, abandoned and raised within the oppressive walls of a convent, Alice Perrers refused to take the veil, convinced that a greater destiny awaited her. Ambitious and quick witted, she rose above her obscure beginnings to become the infamous mistress of Edward III. But always, essentially, she was alone…
Early in Alice’s life, a chance meeting with royalty changes everything: Kindly Queen Philippa, deeply in love with her husband but gravely ill, chooses Alice as a lady-in-waiting. Under the queen’s watchful eye, Alice dares to speak her mind. She demands to be taken seriously. She even flirts with the dynamic, much older king. But she is torn when her vibrant spirit captures his interest…and leads her to a betrayal she never intended.
In Edward’s private chambers, Alice discovers the pleasures and paradoxes of her position. She is the queen’s confidante and the king’s lover, yet she can rely only on herself. It is a divided role she was destined to play, and she vows to play it until the bitter end. Even as she is swept up in Edward’s lavish and magnificent court, amassing wealth and influence for herself, becoming an enemy of his power-hungry son John of Gaunt, and a sparring partner to resourceful diplomat William de Windsor, she anticipates the day when the political winds will turn against her. For when her detractors voice their hatred,and accusations of treason swirl around her,threatening to destroy everything she has achieved, who will stand by Alice then?
As O’Brien admits – little is known about Perriers, and after a period of time the court of Edward III (as his mistress), she disappears from history with little known about where she came from or where she went. What is known about her is rarely good (as the saying goes – history is written by the winners)
O’Brien uses this slight frame to allow her to use her historical imagination to build a story around this woman, who was born into nothing, but came to the top of the land, and became wealthy and landed, only to lose much of it.
Whilst Alice is a strong willed and (at times) clever woman, she can also be short sighted, and her stubbornness can lead to her own trouble. On occasion she struggles to see that some of her troubles are her own fault, and can be very un-self-aware – blaming others for the situations she finds herself in. She regularly finds herself in situations where people (especially men) dont like being confronted by people challenging the status quo, especially women who come into money and property, and she chaffs at being unable to being denied recompense for her work simply for being a woman. She ends up being accused of witchcraft, fraud and treason, is banished (twice) and only keeps hold of her estates when her cunning husband (whom she married in secret) quite legally claims her property as his own.
Alice has a number of children with the King, but are rarely mentioned in the story – Alice seems to have no regrets with leaving the babies with nurses as she returns to Court, and the most amount of time spent with them is after the King’s death.
I had no issue with the way it was written – some other reviewers have decried the length and believe O’Brien could have done with an editor. So whilst the book was a reasonable story, Alice is not a totally sympathetic character.