When we think about royal relationships from the past, we do not associate them with love; it is more about cementing power. Princes and kings knew how much was at stake, so they tended to have wives for politics and produce legitimate heirs that would inherit their kingdoms. For matters of love and lust, kings and princes would have mistresses, either of noble birth or lower, on the side. These women have been deemed whores and homewreckers but is that a fair assessment of their legacies? Julia A. Hickey takes a closer look at these misunderstood mistresses in her latest book, “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes.”
Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, it intrigued me, and I was hoping to learn something new.
Hickey covers several hundred years in this book, starting around the year 1000 and ending in 1485. We begin with Queen Emma, Aelfgifu, and the confusion of whether Aelfgifu should be considered a mistress. With these Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings of England, we see many relatively hidden mistresses of William I and Henry I (who had quite a few). We then move to the Plantagenets with Henry II, King John, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV. Hickey also pays attention to other affairs in different countries, such as King David of Scotland and the Tour de Neste Affair.
Some of these mistresses would be familiar to readers, such as Isabella of Angouleme, Fair Rosamund, Piers Gaveston, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, Jane Shore, Eleanor Talbot, and Elizabeth Woodville. Many were new to me, including Princess Nest of Wales, whose abduction started a war, Edith Forne Sigulfson, and Elizabeth Wayte. She even included Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of the mistresses mentioned in this book, which I’m afraid I have to disagree with, as most of this stems from the black legend that has tainted her legacy.
I found the information provided in this book rather intriguing, but my one concern about this book was how it was structured. I wish Hickey had sections marked for each king she mentioned in this book so we could distinguish which mistress was associated with which king or prince.
Overall, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was a bit repetitive, and there were some arguments that I disagreed with. Still, the fact that Hickey could combine nearly 500 years’ worth of history about relatively hidden royal mistresses is quite admirable. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval England’s world of royal mistresses. In that case, I recommend you read “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey.