Synopses & Reviews
History has not been kind to Alice Perrers, the notorious mistress of King Edward III. Scholars and contemporaries alike have deemed her a manipulative woman who used her great beauty and sensuality to take advantage of an aging and increasingly senile king. But who was the woman behind the scandal? A cold-hearted opportunist or someone fighting for her very survival?
Like most girls of her era Alice is taught obedience in all things. At the age of fourteen she marries the man her father chooses for her, dutifully accepting the cost of being torn from the family she holds so dear and losing the love of her mother forever. Despite these heartbreaks Alice finds that merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and the two settle into a happy life together. Their bliss is short-lived, however, unraveled the dark day a messenger appears at Alice's door and notifies her of Janyn's sudden disappearance.
In the wake of this tragedy, Alice learns that her husband kept many dangerous secrets--secrets that result in a price on her own head and that of her beloved daughter. Her only chance to survive lies in the protection of King Edward and Queen Philippa, but she therefore must live at court as a virtual prisoner. When she is singled out by the king for more than just royal patronage, the stakes are raised. Disobeying Edward is not an option, not when her family is at risk, but the court is full of ambitious men and women, many of whom will stop at nothing to see her fall fron grace. The whispers and gossip abound, isolating Alice, who finds unexpected solace in her love for the king.
Emma Campion paints a colorful and thrilling portrait of the court of Edward III--with all of its extravagance, scandalous love affairs, political machinations, and murder--and the devastating results of being singled out by the royal family. At the center of the storm is Alice, surviving by her wits in this dangerous world where the choices are not always of her own making. Emma Campion's dazzling novel shows that there is always another side to the story.
About the Author
EMMA CAMPION did her graduate work in medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature and is the world's foremost scholar on Alice Perrers. She lives in Seattle.
Reading Group Guide
1. Alice’s early interactions with Gwen and Dame Agnes teach her crucial lessons in being the mistress of a household. What would you say she learned? How does her relationship with Gwen develop over the course of the book? With Dame Agnes?
2. Despite the rift it causes between Alice and her parents, her marriage to Janyn Perrers brings her great joy. How does Alice mature during her years with Janyn? What aspects of her role as a married woman and a merchant’s wife does she most appreciate? If you were in her shoes, how would you feel about being summoned to court as one of Queen Philippa’s ladies?
3. The patronage of Isabella, the dowager queen, is profitable to the Perrers family, but at great cost. Do you imagine that Janyn’s family had much choice in their relationship with Isabella? How do you feel about Janyn’s marrying and starting a family despite the risks? Do you believe he comprehended the danger he might bring to Alice and Bella? Had Janyn confided in Alice once they were wed, do you think things would have turned out differently? How do you think you would feel to have such a third party in your marriage? Would how powerful the person was make a difference?
4. Dom Hanneye, Richard Lyons, and William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, prove to be Alice’s loyal friends. What is it about her that inspires their loyalty and respect? What does she give them in return?
5. King Edward takes his time luring Alice. What is it about him that attracts her—the compliment of his attention? His power? Do you think she loves him? Was there a point at which you thought she should leave him?
6. Anya Seton depicted John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, as a romantic hero in Katherine, but he was the subject of much animosity in the kingdom. Why does Alice distrust him? Do you find his behavior toward her when she’s up against parliament understandable?
7. William Wyndsor’s attentions toward Alice are nothing out of the ordinary—mere court flirtation at first. But Alice grows wary of him. Why? Some might have thought his attentions wonderfully, romantically persistent. Why does Alice question his motives? Why is she so angry about his relationship with her son?
8. Joan of Kent offers Alice friendship and advice on survival at court. Why do you suppose she befriends Alice? Do you think that she is sincere when she tells Alice that Prince Edward and John of Gaunt are her loyal friends? Do you feel Joan remains loyal to Alice? Do you feel she is to blame for John of Gaunt’s “solution” regarding Alice’s marital status after King Edward’s death?
9. King Edward relies on Richard Lyons and Alice Perrers to advise him on business and finance. Queen Philippa says she wishes Alice to teach her about merchant society in London, remembering the very close connection between the wealthy merchants and the aristocracy her parents had found crucial for their political strength in Hainault. Why, then, are Richard and Alice so distrusted by parliament? Alice herself doesn’t figure this out until it is too late—what is it that she comes to understand about their resentment and distrust? Why is she so hated by the people of London for her role as Lady of the Sun?
10. The king increasingly depends on loans from Richard Lyons and other foreigners to finance his war. But the London merchants resent the foreign merchants—why? During the peasants’ revolt, why are Richard and other Flemings singled out by the mob? Why would the monk Thomas Walsingham, in his chronicle, choose to insult Alice by claiming she was the mistress of a Lombard?
11. Telling a story in first person creates a relationship between the narrator and the reader much like that in actual conversation. As with anyone telling you their story, you must decide for yourself how candid they’re being, how reliable a narrator. As Alice tells her story, what do you feel she leaves out? Do you feel she holds back her emotions, her anger? If so, why do you think she would do so?