Book Review: “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey

61816116When 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.

Book Review: “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

49239093The year is 997 and England is in a dire situation. Fears of invasions from the Welsh and the Vikings leave the Anglo- Saxon residents rattled while those in power take advantage of their citizens. Chaos reigns supreme as those who rule the towns are in constant power struggles between themselves and their king, Ethelred the Unready, with the average villagers caught in the middle, like the villagers of Dreng’s Ferry. It is in this small village where three characters find their lives intertwined with the political and social drama. A young boatbuilder named Edgar endures heartache and sorrow when the Vikings attack his home. A Norman noblewoman named Ragna follows her heart to marry the man she loves and travels to a faraway land but soon finds out how difficult that love can be. Finally, a monk named Aldred works hard for the people while dreaming of transforming his meek abbey into a lively center of learning. Their tales are masterfully woven together in the much-anticipated prequel to the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett. This is “The Evening and the Morning”. 

When I heard that Ken Follett was writing a prequel to his Kingsbridge series, I was ecstatic. I read the Kingsbridge series a few years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the town of Kingsbridge. I wanted to know more about the origins of this town and I wanted another engrossing tale of strength and struggle, which Follett delivers in this brilliant novel. 

Follett introduces his audience to his colorful cast of characters with a Viking raid in the small village of Combe, the home of Edgar the boatbuilder. He lost everything that he cared about in one night, so he and his remaining family must pick themselves up and rebuild their lives in the town of Dreng’s Ferry. Edgar shows grit and determination as he realizes what is truly important in his life. Ragna is a vivacious Norman noblewoman who fell head over heels in love when she met a charming Englishman named Wilwulf. She decides to leave everything that she knows behind to marry a man she believes she knows very well. However, she soon realizes that Wilwulf and his family are not who she imagined. Ragna fights with vigor for what she believes is right for her immediate family and the people she has sworn to protect from her husband’s family. Her tenacity and courage to weather the storms that life throws her way are truly admirable. Finally, there is the academic monk Aldred who wants to pursue knowledge to better humanity. He believes that Dreng’s Ferry can become greater than what the people believe is possible, which often puts him on a political collision course with Wilwulf’s power-hungry family. 

The stories of these three dynamic protagonists are interwoven to create a sensational prequel to the fabulous Kingsbridge series. This novel is riveting with the gorgeous storytelling that readers have come to expect from Ken Follett. What I love is that Follett’s focus is not on the royal family, King Ethelred and Queen Emma, but the people who built England from the ground up. It is the nobles and the village people that had to endure every decision and mistake that the crown made. They were the ones who suffered when raiders like the Vikings pillaged towns and killed their loved ones. They were the ones who had to fight back time after time to make sure that their families survived. To focus on three people from three different walks of life gives the audience a complete picture of the fictitious town of Dreng’s Ferry. 

I applaud Follett for going back and giving his fans the prequel to the Kingsbridge series that they craved. To see how the town of Dreng’s Ferry became King’s Bridge was a delight. I had to slow down my reading pace to make sure I was fully immersed in the tale that Follett wrote. I loved every minute of reading this prequel and now I want to reread the Kingsbridge series. If you are a fan of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series or if you want to jump into a series that is a fabulous historical escape, “The Evening and the Morning” is a must-read. A sensational prequel to one of my all-time favorite historical fiction series.