Jean Plaidy

The Young Mary Queen of Scots

This is one of three Young Adult novels by Jean Plaidy in Max Parrish’s “The Young” Series.

As in her novel Royal Road to Fotheringhay, Plaidy begins with Mary, Queen of Scots at the age of five. Scotland was in danger of being invaded by the English, who wished the young, fatherless Queen to be taken to the court of Henry VIII and eventually married to Prince Edward. However, she was whisked away to the island of Inchmahome and later sailed to her mother’s homeland, France. Instead of an English alliance, she was betrothed to the dauphin—the delicate eldest son of King Henri II and Catherine de Medici. Life at the French court was enchanting, except for the frightening Queen, who took every opportunity in embarrassing the Queen of Scots. There were also her power-hungry Guise uncles, who relentlessly steered her to policies that served their interests. This story, based solely on her younger years, ends with Mary leaving France for Scotland after the premature death of her first husband, King Francois II.

One very blatant absence is the character of Diane de Poitiers, who was not mentioned at all in this story. I am assuming this has to do with the fact that she was a “mistress” and was not considered fit for children to read, even though Plaidy’s descriptions of this sort are always vague anyway. Lady Fleming’s dalliance with the king was also not included—only the Queen’s displeasure with her role as governess and the lady’s departure to Scotland.

This book is increasingly hard to find, having been first published 50 years ago, though a paperback version was released in 1972. Plaidy also wrote a book in this series for Queen Elizabeth I as a young girl, and Meg Roper, the daughter of Sir Thomas More.

The Third George

Fifth in the eleven book Georgian Saga, The Third George covers the intermediary life of England’s King George III—after his liaisons with Hannah Lightfoot and Sarah Lennox, just before his marriage to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and ending with his first serious mental episode, which required the Prince of Wales to take over as Regent.

During much of the first portion of the book George is ruled by his mother and her lover, Lord Bute. Young and desirous of becoming a good king, George is tossed between his ministers for years, from the Great Commoner, William Pitt to Lord North, to Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox.

Charlotte was kept out of affairs of state and constantly pregnant, resulting in 15 royal children (with only two dying young). While George was content with Charlotte, the other women he had dallied with haunted his mind, as well as women of the court whom he desired (though never strayed). His greatest wish was to demonstrate to his people the manner in which they should all strive to live—family oriented with no scandals. In this his family members constantly disappointed him. His brothers and eldest sons continually had affairs resulting in embarrassing gossip and monetary settlements (much to the public’s delight).

The loss of the American colonies was not greatly detailed, but through the eyes of the King, was explained succinctly enough to understand the politics surrounding the issues that caused the American Revolutionary War. Partially responsible for George’s mental breakdown, I had imagined it would be a greater part of the book, but there were many problems that added to his eventual insanity: the strain of striving to live perfectly morally, competing political leaders bickering constantly, the antics of the Prince of Wales and the loss of two of his children.

Surprised by the depiction of Queen Charlotte, I found her one of the most endearing characters—from what I’ve previously read she was just the dull, boring Georgian Queen, keeping her many daughters locked up and sons on a string. But here we see an intelligent woman whom George foolishly kept out of state affairs. Had he taken her advice instead of self-promoting ministers, many of the problems of his reign may have been avoided.

My favorite Jean Plaidy series is the Georgian Saga, perhaps because it’s not an overly written era—the royals were not as exciting as others, but there were plenty of political maneuverings, salacious scandals and developments of the Prince of Wales’s philandering ways for comic relief. Inserted witticisms of Horace Walpole give the otherwise humorless facts a little spice for those less inclined to enjoy Plaidy’s factual writing style.

Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill
Georgian Saga #7

Those looking for a romantic love story will not find it with this Georgian royalty novel. Maria Smythe Fitzherbert was a twice-widowed Catholic, planning to spend the remainder of her life living simply on her stipend. When she met the Prince (future King of England, George IV) she pointedly evaded his company. His persistence lead her to leave the country for a year, traveling through Europe as a lady of means, and thus attracting the attention of fortune hunters. The Prince’s letters found her at every stop, finally persuading her to give up the game of cat and mouse and admit that the attraction was mutual. Her one concession was that there would be a legitimate, though secret, wedding ceremony. This was accomplished and they settled down for their happily ever after…

Of course, there were the Prince’s perpetually mounting debts, and his selfish ways that came between the couple. The King’s prime minister, Pitt, and the Tory party exploited every opportunity in hounding the Prince and his Whig party. This included trying to make public the illegal marriage in which the Prince had broken the law by marrying a Catholic, not to mention failing to gain the King’s permission to marry in the first place. Being in the public eye in such a manner grated on Maria, and the relationship truly began to crumble. George wasn’t the Prince Charming he imagined himself to be, and Maria had enough. The Prince, once again in dire straits with his debts, was under the thumb of the King and Pitt, and finally realized he’d have to marry a German princess of their choosing to be able to live within his means.

For any readers of Jean Plaidy’s previous volumes in the Georgian Saga, this is a continuation of the story of George III’s decline into madness, and the evolving of Queen Charlotte from a meek, child-bearing spouse, to the decision-making leader of the country, backed by Pitt. While the Prince thinks he will take of the reins of the government in his father’s absence, the Tories do their best to keep Charlotte in control.

This is a great view of the state of the monarchy during the late 18th century. While none of the characters are exactly inspiring–especially not the Prince Regent–it is a well-rounded narrative with a sympathetic view of Maria Fitzherbert, and, grudgingly, the plight of the long ignored, power-hungry Queen. It may not be the most page-turning of Plaidy’s novels, but it is historically accurate and, as usual, the characters have in-depth personalities that is the signature of the author’s works.

The Sun in Splendour

Elizabeth Woodville is the focus of this detailed account of the Wars of the Roses, beginning with her auspicious meeting with King Edward IV, where she boldly asked him to favor her with the return of her deceased husband’s estate, but ultimately won the crown of England for herself and her family. Cold and calculating, Elizabeth masked her true feelings behind a perpetual charming façade, enslaving her husband with her acceptance of his amours and other faults, in exchange for titles, lands and boons for her family members, placing the Woodvilles as the highest family in England. The great Neville family, specifically Warwick the Kingmaker, hated the Queen and her relations and schemed to bring them down—to his detriment.

Also a story of the King’s brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, we witness one’s downfall and the other’s rise and eventual demise at the hands of Henry Tudor. Richard III is characterized as extremely loyal to Edward and an all-around good man and fair ruler. All of the evil rumors spread during Tudor rule are played out as carefully planned and cleverly placed propaganda by Lancastrians.

Ending as Henry Tudor takes the crown (literally) and unites the country by marrying the Yorkist princess, this is a very good account of the rule under both Edward IV and Richard III. Diplomacy, war, scandal, treason—and the love stories of Richard and Anne, Edward and Jane Shore, and later Hastings and Jane Shore, this is a multi-faceted and intriguingly detailed retelling that is so steeped with facts it’s hard to believe that it’s fiction. Thus the allure of Jean Plaidy to historical accuracy aficionados.

For further reading on the characters portrayed, I recommend The Goldsmith’s Wife by Jean Plaidy on the life of Jane Shore, and The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy on Anne Neville. Uneasy Lies the Head by Jean Plaidy is the next book, and the first in the Tudor series.

The Star of Lancaster
#11 in the Plantagenet Saga

One of the idiosyncrasies of Jean Plaidy’s writing is her style of encompassing mini-stories within the main story, weaving them all together. This she has done with The Star of Lancaster, covering an aging John of Gaunt, his rising son, Henry IV of England, and the short lifetime of the great soldier-king, Henry V.

As usual the story covers a handful of women close to male protagonists: Mary de Bohun, wife of Henry IV and mother of Henry V; Isabella of Valois, Queen of England and second wife of Richard II; Joanna of Navarre, Queen of England and second wife of Henry IV; Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France; and Katherine of Valois, Queen of England and wife of Henry V. These characters take us through Richard II’s disastrous reign, Henry IV’s shaky one, and Henry V’s triumphant, but tragically brief stint as King of England (and France).

During the decline of Richard II, Mary de Bohun was a young heiress under the wardship of John of Gaunt. She was being pressured to go into a convent by her greedy elder sister and brother-in-law, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, who wanted the entire de Bohun fortune instead of half. John of Gaunt, interested in the fortune himself, contrived a meeting between Mary and his eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke, and the two were fortunately fond of each other. They married at a very young age to secure Mary’s fortune, though their heir was not born for another 8 years.

While Mary was busily having one baby after another, Henry was actively looking after his father’s lands, and following the court. He found himself involved in several intrigues against the king, finally ending in a decade long banishment from England. While staying at various houses in France, he met Joanna (then Duchess of Brittany), who would become his second wife and Queen of England several years later.

Harry of Monmouth (the future Henry V) meanwhile is growing up, and has always been a strong-willed and adventurous child. He was admired by many, because he mingled with the lower classes, and displayed strength and cleverness in dealing with every situation. He was ambitious and very much aware of his father’s tentative claim to the throne. When his father deposed Richard and accepted the crown, Harry began planning for the day he would become King of England.

This story covers Henry V’s glorious battle at Agincourt, and his clever decisions as King of England. His one-time friend and fellow tavern companion, John Oldcastle, plays a small role, involving himself the on-going religious movement of the Lollards.

This novel, like many of the Plantagenet Saga, is long and features many characters with detailed back stories. It will appeal to Plaidy fans, of course, and those interested in the intricate history of the Wars of the Roses, as it covers the early quarrels of Edward III’s sons and grandsons.

The next in the saga is Epitaph for Three Women, continuing the story with Henry VI:

“On the death of Henry V, a nine-month-old baby is made King of England. Ambitious men surround the baby king, including his two uncles, the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester, who both have plans. In Lancastrian England and war-torn France, there are three women whose lives are to have a marked effect on the future. Katherine de Valois, haunted by an unhappy childhood, finds love in an unexpected quarter and founds the Tudor dynasty; Joan of Arc leaves her village pastures on the command of heavenly voices; and Eleanor of Gloucester is drawn into a murder plot and becomes the centre of a cause celebre. Murder, greed and ambition flourish alongside sacrifice, dedication and courage. These are turbulent times as the defeated become the victorious…”

My favorite quotes from The Star of Lancaster:

“All men worth their salt are slandered by those who fear their own weakness.”

“A crown, he thought, what men will do for it. And when they get it, what joy does it bring them?”

“It was ironical that such holy places were so largely dependent on sinners…”

The Shadow of the Pomegranate

This is my first Jean Plaidy audiobook and the fact that I had already read the book (more than 3 years ago) did not diminish my enjoyment of the story. I’ve been reminded why Plaidy’s version of the Tudors is my favorite, and for the same reason I like all of her books: they mix political intrigue perfectly with the character’s personalities and offer excellent explanations as to the thoughts and actions of those characters.

The Shadow of the Pomegranate is the middle book in the Katharine of Aragon trilogy, the first being Katharine the Virgin Widow and the last The King’s Secret Matter. Though it is in a trilogy it reads as a stand-alone, beginning shortly after the marriage of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon. The foundation of Katharine’s relationship with Henry is laid, while she watches him slowly change from petulant boy to tyrannical man. She holds her place firmly in his affection until the perfidy of her father – using Henry to pay for his wars, while promising him conquest for England – and, of course, her many failures at producing the male heir Henry so greatly desires.

This novel covers the European powers of the time, from the Emperor Maximilian, Ferdinand of Spain and Louis XII of France to Charles V and Francois I of France. Henry’s disastrous early campaigns to gain territory in France and Katharine’s great defeat of the Scots are expanded upon, but there is also much intriguing in the court between courtiers , statesmen (like Cardinal Wosley) and the foreign ambassadors trying to rise in favor and in the process degrade one another. I really enjoy a book that can tie all of these together to make an intriguing story.

As usual there are mini-stories happening in the background to explain the actions of the main characters. A relationship between a peasant woman and one of the King of Navarre’s secretaries claims a chapter of the book in order to explain how his schemes were found out by Ferdinand and thus a war was started which robbed Henry of his desired campaigning on the continent. I marvel at small details like this because it is the product of such immaculate research.

As for the format, I really enjoyed listening to this book being read on my commute to and from work. Anne Flasnik is an excellent narrator and I plan to buy more Jean Plaidy audiobooks read by her. She can flawlessly execute a different voice for each character – so feminine for the ladies and a deeper tone for the men. She also has a gift with pronunciation and foreign accents.

Revolt of the Eaglets

This novel begins exactly where The Plantagenet Prelude left off. The aftermath of Thomas a Becket’s murder was still plaguing Henry II, while Eleanor was planning to urge her sons into revolt. Kings die, sons die, Eleanor is imprisoned for many years, but still she lives and is the ripe old age of 67 when she is finally released from her prison.

This book expands upon Richard’s dukedom of Aquitaine, while his brothers Henry and Geoffrey scheme and intrigue endlessly and to their detriment. They just cannot take empty titles from their father. In a way, I felt sorry for Henry. He did love his sons and wanted very much for them to work for him and be on good terms, with himself and one another. He saw that together they could be all powerful and rule a great part of Europe. But he would not relinquish one piece of land – one castle – to any of them, except in name. He had the final word on the managing and holding of these possessions.

On the other hand, his fits were shameful and childish, he treated Eleanor horribly and he had a really scandalous relationship with a very young girl, a princess of France and his son Richard’s betrothed. He was a good ruler; a very smart statesman and never loath to look after his dominions. These were his strengths, but the previous attributes mentioned make it very hard to like him as a person. Near the end, when he is so very desperate for the love of his family, one does wish he had it easier. But, as Eleanor continually tells him: the fault is his own. He was selfish and thought of his own desires, not allowing Eleanor her freedom or their sons leave to govern their small territories.

This novel ends with Henry’s death, Eleanor’s freedom and John waiting in the wings. You get a very sickly feeling from John in this novel and I am sure we will read more of him in The Heart of the Lion and most assuredly in The Prince of Darkness. I look forward to continuing on with the Plantagenet saga!

The Queen’s Husband

The third of the four-book Queen Victoria series (The Captive of Kensignton Palace, The Queen and Lord M, The Queen’s Husband, and The Widow of Windsor) The Queen’s Husband is a detailed account of Prince Albert’s childhood, youth in Coburg and marriage to the Queen of England.

I chose to read this particular book because I wanted a feel of Albert’s character and this Plaidy delivers in great detail. Affected by the early loss of his beloved mother, and without another to quite fill the void, Albert turned out apathetic and awkward toward the opposite sex. Even so he was very handsome and courteous, which won the young and fiercely independent Victoria over upon their first meeting.

Though not the sweeping love story I had imagined, both the characters of Albert and Victoria are explored in depth, bringing out that psychological analysis Plaidy is famous for. The people called Albert “The German” and resented when he tried to interfere with the government. Both the Tory and Whig leaders, however, saw his calm demeanor and sound advice as a good influence on the Queen.

This is a superb historical account of the political situation in Europe during the mid-1800’s, with France once again turning against the monarchy and many countries making radical changes. Through many family and state upheavals we witness Victoria slowly come under the rule of her husband. The Victorian Age was born with its strict morals and focus on the family, as well as less and less power to the crown.

This novel reads easily as a stand alone.

My favorite quote:
“Should one be provoked simply because an opinion adverse to one’s own is expressed? However much one disagrees one should not for instance…throw a cup of tea.” –Albert’s reaction to Victoria’s “ill-bred” behavior

The Queen’s Devotion
originally titled William’s Wife

This is the story of Mary II of England and her consort William of Orange. Mary isn’t the most interesting monarch; in fact she has no spirit or desire to rule. She is conflicted her entire married life (from age 15) with whether to give allegiance to her Catholic father or her Protestant husband. Her decisions haunt her throughout her rule, as she cannot appease them both.

Perhaps it is why there aren’t a lot of novels on Mary, but she just is not a very admirable protagonist. She is kind and good, but has no willfulness to take charge of her life and lead a more desirable existence.

While I am always impressed with Jean Plaidy’s meticulous research, political detail and understanding of character and personality, this is not a gripping page-turner. It is, however, an excellent account of the life of Mary II and her role as niece to a king, daughter of a king and queen in her own right, as well as wife to a man she made king of England.

Queen Jezebel

Spanning the later years of Catherine de’ Medici, this third in Plaidy’s trilogy covers the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, its repercussions and the reign of the two remaining Valois kings: mad King Charles IX and the ineffectual Henry III. Written from the viewpoint of several different characters, this novel offers a panoramic view of France during religious revolt, warring between the many court factions, and the waning of the infamous Queen Mother’s power.

The beautiful, fiery Princess Margot, who is in love with the Duke of Guise, is instead married to the Huguenot King of Navarre. Ostensibly this was a step toward making peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots, though, as Navarre was next in line to the throne, it was the Queen Mother’s way of ensuring her position in the event her of weakly sons’ early demise. Though Margot and her new husband clash religiously and romantically, they decide it is in their best interests to ally themselves politically.

Through Charles IX’s unstable reign, and Henry III’s disastrous one, Catherine finds her grip on power lessening and the threats to her sons rising. The Duke of Guise, called the King of Paris by the people, forms the Catholic League, making his attempt on the throne and beginning the War of the Three Henrys—Henry of Valois, Henry of Guise, and Henry of Navarre. Catherine de’ Medici, seemingly a weak, old woman in the background, is in fact intriguing for her own best interests.

Plaidy, as usual, deftly interweaves facts with superb storytelling, linking the smallest details with major events of the era. The dialog between Margot and Navarre is laugh-out-loud funny, while Catherine de’ Medici is still chillingly evil. Though the ending of a trilogy, this novel reads well enough as a stand-alone.

The Princess of Celle

This story begins with a family of brothers, of whom one will inherit the family titles and fortune: Hanover, Celle and Osnabruck. When it falls on the one brother least eager for the responsibilities, Duke George William, he passes it on to a younger brother with a few concessions — the main one that he continues his bachelor life and never marries, as there can be no rivals to the brother who takes on the family affairs. As life would have it, during George William’s travels he discovers the one woman he would settle down with, and she won’t have him any other way than through a respectable ceremony. A civil agreement is drawn up and George William signs extra documents stating that any children he has will not rival his brother’s, Ernest Augustus, for the lands and titles.

Meanwhile, George William settles into a happy family life. He and his wife, Eleonore, soon discover they made a grave mistake by allowing their lands and riches to go to the younger brother upon the Duke’s death. They have but one child, a girl, and she stands to lose almost everything due to the agreement. Her mother plans a great marriage for her to another German principality, but is thwarted by Ernest Augustus when he suggests a marriage to his eldest son, the bad mannered and ungainly soldier, George Lewis (the future King George I of England). The beautiful girl, Sophia Dorothea, must leave her loving home to marry into the rival family she has been taught to hate all of her young life.

The marriage turns out quite miserable, though produces two adored children. Sophia Dorothea’s father-in-law has a reigning mistress, Clara von Platen, who loathes the princess and concocts many schemes to dishonor or shame her. After years of neglect, the princess finally falls for a Swedish wandering solider, Count Konigsmarck, who has also caught the eye of Clara. Through him Clara plans the ultimate downfall of Sophia Dorothea.

Once the story settles down with the life of Sophia Dorothea it becomes very interesting. Though he is not a saint, Ernest Augustus seems to be a mostly fair and honest man, and ends up his daughter-in-law’s champion in many cases, though his choice of mistress causes most of the problems.

I enjoyed this book, but it is not one of my favorite Plaidy novels — there was plenty of political intrigue, but of minor states. Overall, it is worth reading as it gives a good background of England’s George I and how he came to the throne.

The Queen of Diamonds

The affair of the diamond necklace rocked the monarchy of France and precipitated the French Revolution. The insanely gaudy and expensive diamond necklace was originally intended for Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, but his death came before the completion of the necklace. At almost 2,000,000 livres, the cost was more than anyone could afford — apart from royalty. The jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge had hoped the new Queen, Marie Antoinette, would buy it and save them from bankruptcy, but she refused stating that the money was better used to equip the military.

Cagliostro, a charlatan working for a secret society, finds himself traveling to Paris on a mission. On the way he meets the Cardinal de Rohan who, out of favor at court, dreams of being a political power behind the throne as well as a favorite of the Queen, for whom he harbors tender feelings. In a series of events that seem to come together almost as if there was divine intervention, a couple joins the party of conspirators, and each participant has his or her own intentions of advancement.

Jeanne de la Mott-Valois is descended from an illegitimate son of Henri Deux, and this she flaunts to any who will listen. As a result she earns a small pension from the crown, but she craves much more. She is a very clever con artist who dominates her soldier husband and schemes to turn their existence from poor plebeians to high society. She becomes the Cardinal’s mistress with extortion in mind, and soon a seed is planted in her mind by Cagliostro: Why shouldn’t she become friends with the Queen, or appear as though she has? Together, with the jewelers who are near ruin because of the diamond necklace, they could convince the Queen to buy the necklace.

With tempers in France running high against the monarchy, the King and Queen cannot afford a fresh assault on their reputations, but this is exactly what happens when it is known that there was a plot involving the Queen. Through no fault of her own, Marie Antoinette loosened the stone that toppled the monarchy of France.

With each character with his or her personal agenda in mind, this is truly a historical mystery and the first I’ve read of Jean Plaidy written in this fashion. Even so it is no less historically accurate and even more verbose than usual.

The Prince and the Quakeress
Fourth Book in the Georgian Saga

This is the story of the young George III, when he was not yet considered significant—only the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, Frederick, and grandson of King George II. If you’re not familiar with England’s King Georges’, you may find parts of the story hard to follow, as it alludes to characters from the previous books in the Georgian series, Queen in Waiting and Caroline the Queen.

Old King George II is in his winter years, bad tempered and constantly lamenting his deceased wife, Queen Caroline, whom he reveres more in death than he did in life. At the forefront is Frederick, Prince of Wales, his wife Augusta, and their “good friend” Lord Bute, a Scottish peer who sees his way up with this particular friendship.

Young George is malleable, honest and earnestly wishes to do well by his people. Lord Bute takes him under his wing, and begins to implant his designs in the young Prince, which are not considerably harmful to England, but are against the foreign policy and empire expansion ideas of the leading man, William Pitt. As the story plays out politically, these events are touched on, while George’s love life is more closely focused on.

George’s loves include an extended affair with a beautiful Quaker girl, a flirtation with a silly society belle (and descendant of Charles II through his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille), and a proposed marriage with the German Princess his mother chose for him. As these three relationships form and shift, George’s own personality changes gradually, and by the end of the book he seems a great protagonist and ready to become an ideal King of England.

I found the mystery of the Quaker girl, as explained in the author’s note, to be one of the most interesting facets of the story, and a satisfying explanation as to the later depiction of George in the next in the series, The Third George.

“The story of George III and Hannah Lightfoot is admittedly one of the mysteries of history. No one can be absolutely certain of what took place. There are even some who declare that Hannah Lightfoot never existed. There is, in my opinion, too much evidence from various directions for this to be likely. I believe that Hannah Lightfoot not only lived but was the mistress of George III, as Prince of Wales. There is even a report that Queen Charlotte at one time believed that the King had made a previous marriage and insisted that a second marriage ceremony should take place between her and the King, and that this was done ‘under the colour of an evening’s entertainment’. There is also the Reynolds portrait at Knole. I have based my findings on the available evidence and the character of the King; and I think my version has a good chance of being the true one as any other. J.P.”

With Plaidy’s signature style of including back stories on the supporting characters, this is one of her more intriguing novels. The Quaker mystery has a romantic suspense feel–very much like the author’s Victoria Holt titles. I greatly enjoyed this look at one of my favorite eras!

The Plantagenet Prelude

The Plantagenet Prelude was published 11 years before her autobiographical novel on Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Courts of Love, and focuses on the men in Eleanor’s life rather than Eleanor herself. I wasn’t expecting this proud, selfish woman that Plaidy portrays, as she was so much more likable in The Courts of Love. We get a better understanding of Louis, king of France and Eleanor’s first husband, and a much more intimate view of Henry, Duke of Normandy and later king of England.

First the book follows Eleanor from a 14 year-old bride, crusader, and several years of marriage to Louis that only produces 2 daughters. She then meets Henry and is determined to obtain a divorce (which she had been planning for years anyway) and marry the Duke, 12 years her junior.

Meanwhile, there is another relationship expanded upon – that of Henry and his Chancellor, Thomas Beckett. I really enjoyed the story of how his parents met. I believe that was my favorite part in this novel. I don’t know why I was expecting not to like Thomas (perhaps I had him mixed up with Bernard of France), but it has to be something I’ve read of him in the past, some other characterization. He was a very good and likable man in this book, and became a saint and martyr. He reminded me a lot of Thomas More, as he had like ideals and convictions.

A few years and many kids later, Henry and Eleanor find themselves king and queen of England, holding vast lands in France – but there is no longer a romantic bond between them. Henry has his Fair Rosamund and Eleanor begins to see where the true power lies… with her children.

The next book in this saga is Revolt of the Eaglets, where Henry comes up against his sons. It should prove interesting and I cannot wait to get through the entire Plantagenet saga.

Perdita’s Prince
Georgian Saga #6

This installment of Plaidy’s Georgian Saga comes directly after The Third George and begins with the Prince of Wales’ coming-of-age. At seventeen he is still kept under lock and key, the king controlling his life down to the food he is allowed. When given an inch of freedom, young George runs head-first into debauchery, finding–to the King’s horror–friends in the enemy camp, Charles James Fox, Uncle Cumberland, and anyone of the Whig political party. He sets up an actress as his mistress and lives, purposely, a completely opposite lifestyle from the King.

Perdita is Mary Robinson’s part in Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale, in which the King had decided to make a rare appearance with his heir. Young George became bewitched and began his pursuit of the beautiful actress. At this point in the story, George’s personality is fleshed out well, but I was not as taken with Perdita–she is unwise, vain, melodramatic and generally not very likable. There was no expectation that she would hold the Prince’s interest for long and that part of the story becomes a downward spiral as the Prince matures and moves on. Politically, this novel covers many historical characters and describes the enmity between the King’s Tories and the Prince’s Whigs.

I found the transparent characterization of Mary Robinson unfortunate (though it worked well for Plaidy’s purpose). She published plays, novels and poetry, but there is barely a mention of her talents (for a truer literary portrait of her life, I suggest reading All for Love by Amanda Elyot). The Prince, however, is well primed for the next in the saga, Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill, in which he falls for Maria Fitzherbert–a Catholic widow.

In finishing this book, I have read 7 of the 11 novels in the Georgian Saga, and I have to admit that this has been my least favorite. I think I was expecting a bit more having read other accounts of Mary Robinson, though I am still impressed with the scope of characters and events placed in the story. Elizabeth Armistead, Elizabeth Sheridan and Anne Horton (Duchess of Cumberland) are excellent background characters and there is mention of other famous personalities of the age, such as the Duchess of Devonshire. Plaidy’s usual balance of witty dialog and intrigue keep the story moving while delving into history that drives the characters’ personalities–all except Perdita, whom I feel should have had a little more detail on accomplishments and less emphasis on the side that earned her the nickname ‘Propriety Prue’.

The Murder in the Tower

Set in the court of James I of England, this is the story of Frances, Countess of Essex, and the path she took to rid herself of her husband so that she could marry the king’s favorite, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset.

Written in classic Plaidy style, many would not enjoy this novel because it’s lack of flowery prose. As usual, however, there is plenty of political intrigue and the characters dispositions and motives are perfectly portrayed.

The book description tries to make it more mystical than it is; the witchcraft is entirely explained by a normal sequence of events, though the characters see what they wish to see in the circumstances. If you’ve read The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory you will recognize the same type of witchcraft, which I found interesting because I thought the author had made that up. It’s not meant to seem real in Plaidy’s novel as it is in Gregory’s.

This is the first novel I’ve read of James I and I always feel that reading a Plaidy novel first is a good idea because they are so accurate — you get more fact than fiction. I liked it well enough, though I can see where other readers of historical fiction would find it dry and boring.

The Merry Monarch’s Wife
previously titled The Pleasures of Love

‘But when I consider the truth of her heart Such an innocent passion, so kind, without art I fear I have wronged her, and hope she may be So full of true love to be jealous of me O, then ’tis I think no joys are above The pleasures of Love.’
Charles II

Convent bred Catherine of Braganza was not prepared for the shock of Charles II’s licentious court when she set sail to England to become his queen. Her romantic ideal was accurate, but for the fact that she wasn’t the only woman loved by King Charles. He loved and respected her, but he could not give up his other loves and did not hide the fact or make excuses. One of the reasons I admire him so much is for his honesty, wit and wisdom. Though she did not produce an heir, which would have greatly lessened their religious and political troubles, Charles stuck by her through plots and schemes, treason and murder. Though Charles II is my favorite British monarch, I wasn’t too excited to read about his wife because it is well known that she was not a happy woman — but I was proved wrong. She came to terms with his behavior early in the story and he became a very likable companion . They were able to share the nation’s troubles, which were plenty with plague, the Great Fire and the Popish Plot.

Even if you’ve read Jean Plaidy’s The Loves of Charles II : A Health Unto His Majesty, The Merry Monarch’s Wife is an interesting read. It goes further into the Catholic situation with the Duke of York and Titus Oates.

Meg Roper

This young adult novel penned in the early 60’s is based on the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More, one of King Henry VIII’s ministers who fell out of favor during the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. It is a simplified version of her full length novel titled St. Thomas’s Eve (republished as The King’s Confidante) but is not, as some listings file it, the same book.

Chronicling the political career of Sir Thomas More, this story covers the controversy with religion, including Martin Luther and Henry VIII’s title of Defender of the Faith. It follows More’s family from their happy home at the Barge to their new home in Chelsea. When More becomes the most important man in the country, his family nonetheless stays the same, and as he prepares his self-sabotage due to his beliefs, he finds that the only thing he will miss in the world is his loving family.

Mistress More, Thomas’s wife, is the heart of this story. Her personality and verbal quirks keep humor in an otherwise sad story, for all Tudor enthusiasts know what happens to the deeply religious and scholarly Thomas More. For anyone in doubt has only to look at the cover of the book, with a young girl carrying something round in her arms and being pursued by a rough looking man, to know something dark is coming.

Another character who captured my interest is Mercy Giggs. I have read a novel about her, Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett, which uses the mysterious John Clement, More’s defamation of Richard III and the painter Han Holbein (who painted the More family twice) to weave a very interesting story based on fact. Reading Plaidy’s version of the same characters is intriguing in that they aren’t much different, and are somewhat of a reminder of how much I have enjoyed reading the early Tudor era through the eyes of the More family.

However, one example of a novel that creates a dislike of Thomas More for readers is Hilary Mantel’s original, Wolf Hall, and continuation, Bring Up the Bodies. The author needed an antagonist for her main character, Thomas Cromwell, and More was that, but she was rather harsh with his personality. I believe Plaidy’s version to be more balanced with this particular character, but I did very much enjoy Mantel’s books–I just don’t wish anyone to forego reading St. Thomas’s Eve or Meg Roper due to fictionalized prejudices.

Now that I have read all three of Plaidy’s young adult novels, I can give an opinion on her writing for the genre. While I don’t believe she would captivate today’s teen readers, I believe she has simplified the stories enough to pique interest in Tudor history while not delving into too many details. Any and all mentions of relationships are left out. In this particular novel, although all five of More’s daughters (step and adopted included) are married in their teens, there is no “romance” in the pages. There is humor, kindness, serious discussion on political and religious matters, and just a peek into court life. I really enjoyed reading this hard-to-find novel, but I can understand why it has not been re-packaged and re-printed for today’s young adult audience. If you’re a Plaidy fan, you’ll love it!

Madame Serpent

The first volume of Jean Plaidy’s Catherine de Medici trilogy, this story begins with her unfortunate childhood as an orphan and pawn of her kinsman, Pope Clement VII, and ends as she becomes Queen Mother to Francois II of France. The tumultuous years of her marriage—childless for a decade, unloved by her husband for its entirety—are chronicled in detail, giving an intimate view of the emotional turmoil that created this enigmatic and much reviled Queen.

Catherine, schooled from an early age to be outwardly emotionless and cold, became a calculating, speculative woman. Her only flaw, as she saw it, was her fiercely passionate love for her husband. She struggled to rein in her emotions, but her unrelenting hate for her rival, Diane de Poitiers, consumed the greater part of her life while her husband lived. Near the end of this segment, she comes into her own as she banishes the hated mistress and prepares to take over as regent of France.

In her usual style, Plaidy depicts a host of historical figures, weaving their stories together while giving each a credible personality and interesting background. With hints of the coming religious struggles, much political maneuvering is touched on, with the King’s favored advisor pitted against Diane de Poitiers and her protégés, the de Guises. Throughout her early years and marriage, however, Madame Serpent had not yet earned the sobriquet for which she is famously known. Plaidy fans will enjoy this introduction to Catherine de Medici, though readers looking for a murderous villainess may be disappointed.

Madame du Barry

This is the story of Jeanne Becu, most famously known as Madame du Barry, mistress to Louis XV of France in the last years of his reign and the most beautiful woman in France at the time. Plaidy’s du Barry is kind, good-hearted and forgiving of even her enemies, whom she tries relentlessly to befriend. She has no enmity toward anyone and wishes for all to be as happy as she, who has the king’s heart. She is not greedy, but is wrongly labeled as such by court intriguers when she accepts luxurious gifts from Louis to make him happy.

Madame du Barry’s main adversary is the dauphine, Marie Anotinette, who eventually receives the great diamond necklace the king had planned to buy for Jeanne, which causes a great scandal later when Marie Antoinette is queen (this is the main theme of The Queen of Diamonds by Jean Plaidy). Madame du Barry took up causes for the good of the people, which was remembered during the French Revolution and could have saved her from the guillotine had certain events not transpired.

I greatly enjoyed this reimagining of du Barry’s life and found Plaidy’s depiction of her character to be much like another royal mistress–Jane Shore in The Goldsmith’s Wife, England’s King Edward IV’s love. Both protagonists are very likable and easy to identify with, and they share the distinction of being one of the author’s earliest works.

Louis the Well-Beloved
First in the French Revolution trilogy, followed by
The Road to Compiegne and Flaunting Extravagant Queen

Louis XV, the Well-Beloved, became the King of France at the age of five, upon the death of his great-grandfather, The Sun King, Louis XIV. Raised by a set of serious-minded tutors, Louis started as a solemn child with much promise, but developed a fierce revulsion to uneasy situations, and so allowed his ministers to rule while he enjoyed pleasurable pursuits. This the people forgave him in his youth, but as the years passed, and his mistresses became more demanding, the songs and pamphlets began and a dissension, the precursor to the French Revolution, started to brew in Paris.

Louis was a charming bridegroom and faithful throughout most of the Queen’s childbearing years, but when she turned him away in exhaustion, courtiers, such as the Duc de Richelieu, took the chance to arrange his amours. The first succession of mistresses were sisters, though each different in personality. His most celebrated paramour, Madame de Pompadour, makes her entrance and continues in the next book. The mood of the people is violently set against certain aspects of the Old Regime, but is not yet at its zenith.

“There should be a road from Versailles to Compiegne which skirts Paris. There shall be such a road.” The story continues with The Road to Compiegne.

There are several back stories related, such as Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender to England’s throne) and his romance with Louis’ second daughter, Anne Henriette. Louis was like George III of England in that he preferred his daughters unmarried, only allowing the eldest of eight to marry. The odd Etiquette of Versailles is described as a character in itself, along with eccentricities of court life. I’ve often wondered why the author didn’t write a novel in the voice of Madame de Pompadour, as she did with Madame du Barry, but as she plays a significant role in this trilogy, perhaps the story was thoroughly covered. Madame du Barry’s story surpasses Louis XV’s and ends during the bloodiest days of the French Revolution.

Book Description for THE ROAD TO COMPIEGNE:

“Wars, riots, religious dissension, the enmity of Parlement, the intrigues of the Dauphin, and the hunger of his people left Louis XV unmoved.

No longer the Well-Beloved, he ignored the dangers facing France, seeking refuge from any unpleasantness in extravagance, folly and undisguised sensuality.

After the death of Madame de Pompadour, a succession of lovely girls brought Louis temporary forgetfulness, until the voluptuous du Barry made the King once again feel young and in love…”

The Lady in the Tower

This is the book that started my obsession with Jean Plaidy–the first of her novels I read and my absolute favorite characterization of Anne Boleyn. Eight years have passed, and reading it again I stand by my initial delight in finding an admirable protagonist in Anne–after having been introduced to her by Philippa Gregory, with her not-so-flattering portrayal of Anne as a great intriguer with temperamental dominance.

In The Lady in the Tower, Anne is imprisoned in the Tower of London, recounting her life in its entirety in an effort to distract herself from her present state. She details her early life at Hever, the years spent in the court of France, and her relations with James Butler, Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt. All of this makes up the first half of the story and leads up to the Henry VIII’s entrance into Anne’s life.

Losing her mother at a young age, Anne was precocious and wise beyond her years–well-prepared to join the King’s sister, who had become the Queen of France. Born into an ambitious family, court life suited her–though she loathed the position her sister had taken as François’ mistress (and later Henry VIII’s). She was aware of the gossip and ribaldry focused on Mary’s promiscuity and she was shamed and horrified at the indignity of it, and very determined not to follow in her footsteps. This, and a natural inclination to chastity, set her resolve that would one day hold off the King of England for seven years before their marriage.

She gained a love of learning and was greatly influenced by the French King’s sister, Marguerite d’Angoulême. During Anne’s stay in the France, Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses and the budding Protestant Reformation interested the young philosophically minded courtiers, Anne included. This influence would shape Anne’s future, as it set the foundation to the upcoming changes in Henry VIII’s religious policies, instituting the break from Rome and beginning the Church of England.

Before joining the English court, her father, who was rising high in the King’s favor (thanks to his elder daughter), came home to ready for a visit from King Henry. Anne, pondering her dismal future as the wife of James Bulter, an Irish peer, is not impressed by the King and decides to play a trick on him when he happens upon her in the garden unannounced. She pretends to believe he is a gentleman of the court and proceeds to ridicule the court, comparing it to that of France. Thus both angered and fascinated, the King makes himself known and Anne deftly extricates herself by feigning her purpose to have been amusement, and not pretension.

Plaidy stages Anne to meet James Bulter at court, where he is much taken with her, but she is indifferent to him–mostly because she has no desire to live in Ireland. When it is announced that there is to be no betrothal, she is relieved and believes there must have been a change in policy which negated the alliance. Her chance meeting with Henry Percy, the heir to the Earl of Northumberland, was different in that she was drawn to him and both were enamored of the other. Their forced split and her subsequent dismissal from court was a low point in Anne’s young life and caused the coldness she felt toward men, especially the powerful Cardinal Wosley and the King (once she learned he was the cause).

As the first half of the book ends, Thomas Wyatt, a neighbor of Hever and childhood playmate of George and the Boleyn sisters, makes his feelings known to Anne. Though already married, he wished Anne to dally, but is much mistaken in his presumption that she will fall for his handsomeness, wit and flowery writing. Anne Boleyn will be no man’s mistress–and thus the chase begins for King Henry VIII…

Anne finally gave in to the fact that Henry would not stop pursuing her, and if she could not have the life she wanted with Henry Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, she could at least be the highest lady in the land. Though she did not love the King, she couldn’t help feeling elated by his attentions, and the continuing attentions of the bright young men at court. Here the book goes into detail about “The King’s Secret Matter” and the steps he was taking to divorce Katharine. There were many political obstacles between Henry and his heart’s desire, such as the ever changing alliances with either France or Spain, as suited the needs of policy.

Wosley’s downfall precipitated Anne’s in that, for the first time, she lost a little of Henry’s regard when she gloated over the man’s demise. Though still infatuated with Anne, Cranmer and Cromwell were turning him onto the idea that the break with Rome was about power and wealth as much as his matrimonial affairs. His ever obliging conscience saw the need for reform only because it bolstered his own cause (and lined his pockets).

Anne let her guard down after Katharine was sent away and she was named Marquess of Pembroke. Politically, this was Henry’s way of making Anne “fit” to be presented at the upcoming meeting with the French king, as she wasn’t the queen. It served little, however, when the Queen of France (who was from Spain) refused to accompany the court–and thus only the men of the two countries were allowed their entertainments and political strategics. Anne, however, came away from this event with something in her favor–she was pregnant.

Henry finally thumbed his nose at the Pope and had his ministers declare his marriage to Katharine invalid. He and Anne had a small, quiet ceremony in January of 1533 and began planning for her coronation in May. This was a time of triumph for Anne, though it was to be short-lived. Before their daughter, the future Elizabeth I, was born, Henry’s eye was already roaming. There was an unnamed lady of the court who had caught the attention of the King, and Anne’s gossip hungry sister-in-law kept her informed of the affair. Anne, not known for keeping her temper, railed at the king and was quickly put in her place with the words, “You will close your eyes as your betters did before you.” This was the point where Anne found she had gambled much for Henry’s “love” and found it was not altogether as exciting as she’d once thought. She began to know the tyrant, and loathed him, but she was not ready to give up the fight for her place. She would swallow her pride and focus on bringing herself security in the form of a male heir.

It was not to be–she suffered several miscarriages and the old pattern Henry had experienced with Katharine began to emerge. With each, Anne lost a little more of Henry’s regard, and because he was tired of her he began to look for a way out of the marriage. Anne finally realized her efforts were futile, but still she played the meek wife in hopes of bonding their marriage and conceiving another child.

Meanwhile Henry met with Cromwell to devise a way to be rid of Anne. It is thought at first that he would divorce her as he did Katharine, but when Mark Smeaton and the men of the court were arrested, Anne saw that he desired a more permanent solution: treason and death. Until the end Anne was cool and level-headed, sending a letter that must have taunted him for the rest of his life:

“Commend me to His Majesty and tell him that he hath been ever constant in his career of advancing me; from private gentlewoman he made me a marquess; from marquess to a queen; and now he hath no higher honor of degree, he gives my innocency the crown of martyrdom.”

This characterization of Anne Boleyn is the most detailed and historically accurate fictional account this reader has encountered. It is the book I always recommend on the subject and one of my favorite novels of all time. Henry VIII’s complex personality is displayed magnificently, explaining his struggle of desire versus conscience. Anne is portrayed not as the calculated schemer and/or black-eyed witch of some embroidered fiction, but as a woman who was thrust into a tyrant’s world and made the best choices she could with what was presented and her own personality allowed.

The King’s Confidante

St. Thomas’s Eve, republished as The King’s Confidante, is a story of the life of Sir Thomas More – scholar, lawyer, councilor to the King and ultimately Chancellor, after the fall of Wosley. But most importantly to More, he was a loving husband and father, as well as father-figure to many.

The story begins with More’s difficult decision to pursue a family life instead of becoming a monk — something he will continue to question throughout his life. Though he was a family man at heart, he was also deeply religious, bordering on fanatical worship of the Catholic faith. His relative open-mindedness in the humanist respect when writing Utopia did not extend to his own deep-rooted faith. As the years passed he seemed to lean more and more to the tyrannical when it came to religion. He personally answered Martin Luther and persecuted heretics.

Even so, More is such a likeable character in this novel. He is kind, thoughtful and generous. He treats everyone with respect and the utmost fairness. He is a perfect minister on the King’s council… until Henry elevates him under the impression that he will do as told. Henry VIII had much respect for Sir Thomas More, and at first was amused by his honesty and integrity, but soon learned that More would stand in the way of his divorce from Katherine of Aragon.

This novel is the story of a happy family that continually grows as adopted children, step-children, spouses and grandchildren, most of whom live in the household, flourish under More’s love and devotion for learning. Many scholars, artists and the like find solace in the More home as well, which adds even more culture to the atmosphere.

I don’t feel that the reprint title, The King’s Confidante, was a good choice. He wasn’t seen as inside the King’s intimate circle. Henry was amused by him and somewhat valued his honesty, but I would not put him in the category of ‘confidante’. I think publishers are really overusing the terms king and queen these days to sell books, and this was the only thing they could come up with. I much prefer St. Thomas’s Eve, which has a meaning pertaining to the story.

Indiscretions of the Queen

I began this book slightly biased against Caroline of Brunswick, as I’ve read of her in other books and articles. Leave it to Jean Plaidy to turn one’s opinions around completely, and simply by telling the facts in an amusing and straightforward manner. I had a similar experience with her novel Madame du Barry.

Caroline’s life started in Brunswick, Germany where her father was Duke and mother was King George III of England’s sister. She and her elder sister were not brought up properly, mostly due to her mother’s negligence owing to her own sadness: a home where her husband’s mistress reigned supreme and several of the royal children had disabilities. Caroline grew to be wild, completely extroverted and indiscreet. She did, however, have a very kind heart and was not purposely hurtful toward others.

Once she became betrothed to the Price of Wales, she began to look forward to a new, exciting life in England. It was not to be; the Prince disliked her on sight and showed it in the most humiliating ways possible. As soon as Caroline carried the heir to the throne, he separated from her and tried his best to make her life miserable.

George IV was a despicable character in this book! He was completely selfish, taking and discarding mistresses (and wives) at his whim and thinking of nothing but fashion, etiquette and where he can find money to live his extravagant lifestyle. Marriage with a lady who was not Catholic was a necessity for both his popularity and his pocket, as well as the getting of an heir to the throne. Though he had 12 siblings, none of his brothers had produced legitimate children and his sisters mostly remained unmarried, and so he felt he must do his duty to further his dynasty. Unfortunately for Caroline, George chose his bride blindly.

Even though life had dealt her a bad hand, she made the most of her situation, entertaining friends and endearing herself to the English people through her charity and genuine affection for all children. The old King, George III, was her friend and many political figures flocked to her, as she was the future queen and much more popular than her husband. If only the Prince would have let her alone she would have been content with life.

Caroline’s story is uproariously funny at times and quietly sad at others. Her character is one who can inspire both exasperation and adoration – a strange combination. She was truly an admirable Queen of England.

The Goldsmith’s Wife

Jane Shore, notorious mistress of King Edward IV, is a refreshingly honest person. She is a beauty and knows her charms, but she is also very moral, but not overly religious. She always wants to do what she feels is right and stands by her convictions even at her own peril.

Jane unwillingly enters a marriage with one of her merchant father’s connections, a goldsmith named William Shore. She wanted to marry for love, but found being a young, wealthy and beautiful woman attracted too much attention from men who wanted other than honorable marriage. Running from a particular stalker, she thought she would be safe with a ring on her finger.

Marriage to Will was nothing like her romantic dreams and she found herself susceptible to the charms of other men. She soon came to the notice of the King and against her better judgment moved to court to play the role of favorite mistress. Never asking for anything for herself, she used her influence for the good of others and became a fast favorite of the people. She was even on friendly terms with the Queen, who was grateful King Edward had such a selfless mistress who didn’t get involved in politics or empty the royal coffers.

Near the end the story turns from Jane’s unfortunate fall from grace to the story of the Princes in the tower. I’ve read so many takes on this particular part of history and didn’t think I would be surprised, but Plaidy actually had a little spin on the conspiracy that I haven’t read before. It also seems very plausible.

I enjoyed Jane’s ending (as an old woman), even though it is different from what I’ve read before. Even Wikipedia has her ending her days with Thomas Lynom and the birth of a daughter. A book I read earlier this year, Figures in Silk, also had her marry Lynom and have a child. I do wonder why Jean Plaidy decided to write the story a bit differently, but I am not unhappy with the ending she created. It seemed to compliment the personality that she gave to Jane.

I really enjoyed this book very much and now count it as one of my favorite Plaidy novels (of the 30+ I have read).

I thought I would include the Author’s Note that Plaidy wrote for this book, as I agree wholeheartedly with her opinion.

“It is unfortunate that Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, with its misstatements and distortions and exaggerated character-drawing of the central figure, should be generally accepted as history. But such is the case, so that if Richard is written about from any other angle an explanation seems advisable.

Handicapped as he was by living under Tudor rule, Shakespeare naturally dared not contradict the historians of the day, whose concern it was to vilify Richard in order to applaud the Tudor usurpation, and in so doing lay the blame for the foulest crimes of the period upon Richard.

Since the Tudors guiltily destroyed any state papers which might confound their falsehoods, it is not easy to discover the truth of what happened during Richard’s brief reign. The evidence obtainable has been sifted and analyzed, and I am sure that the fair-minded will agree that the picture of Richard as presented in The Goldsmith’s Wife is a balanced one.

As for Jane’s discovery of Anne Neville, that is entirely fictional. How Richard discovered his future wife is a mystery; but, taking into consideration Jane’s adventurous and warm-hearted nature, together with the fact that, owing to her upbringing in Cheapside, it is more likely that she, rather than any other at court, would have been in touch with the humbler citizens of London, my theory of Anne’s rescue seems plausible.”

Goddess of the Green Room

Dorothy Jordan, actress extraordinaire and royal mistress, was unlike most woman in her position: she was honest, loyal and completely selfless. She always used her pay to take care of her loved ones, and was devoted to one man at a time, even if he didn’t deserve her.

The daughter of an affluent, Irish actress, Dorothy was born for the stage. When her father left and her mother was too ill to work, she made the money the family needed to survive. So much they depend on her that she had to do things that were against her better judgment (and her values) to keep the bills paid. One of such was becoming the mistress of a selfish and vindictive theater manager.

She finally had enough of that scene and moved to England to try her luck, and became an instant hit. A few years acting in the provincial theaters and she received an offer from London: Richard Sheridan and Drury Lane! She became the most popular comedy actress and continued to be adored by the public throughout her acting career.

Perhaps the most notorious scandal Mrs. Jordan was involved in is her role as the Duke of Clarence’s mistress. They lived together for 20 years and had 10 children before he left her to pursue various young heiresses, as he was deep in debt and perhaps going through a mid-life crisis as well.

Dorothy is a very likable character, but she gives too much and it’s heartbreaking to see all of the bad things that happened to her. This is a great story and covers much on the actors and actresses of the time, as well as, the politics – especially between Pitt and Fox. Even so, I didn’t enjoy reading about Dorothy’s problems and I wish she had had something to hold on to at the end.

The Prince Regent is tolerable in this novel, which is a complete change from a Plaidy novel I read earlier this year, Indiscretions of the Queen (Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales). It is strange that she could write a character with so many facets that he is likable in one scenario and detestable in another – and it still makes sense. Jean Plaidy was such a clever writer and her early studies in psychology really show in her novels.

A Favorite of the Queen
Also printed as Gay Lord Robert and Lord Robert

The story begins with Robert Dudley’s father at the execution of his father, Edmund Dudley, who had been used as an example to the people that the new King Henry VIII would please his subjects. The elder Dudley was Henry VII’s cruel tax collector and as such deserved to die a traitor’s death. John Dudley grew up to regain both his family fortunes and titles, though it was hard-won through battle and diplomacy. He formed the right connections at court, married his children off well and set them on the path to prosperity. Unfortunately for the Dudleys, their reins on the government ended when they supported Lady Jane Grey instead of Mary Tudor on Edward VI’s death.

Elizabeth and Robert met in childhood through the royal children’s classroom. He found her haughty, yet fascinating and she found him too outspoken for someone she deemed beneath her. They next meet at the Tower when each is imprisoned by Queen Mary. Elizabeth is free to walk the grounds and soon finds a way to communicate with Robert, which soothed them both during those perilous months.

As promised, Robert was the first to inform Elizabeth of her sister’s death and she instantly made him Master of the Horse. From here the story is less detailed and moves swiftly through Elizabeth’s reign with Robert at her side. One of the most impressive parts of this novel is the descriptions of Elizabeth’s mindset. For example:

Pages 241-242

“To England the Queen was a symbol. She gathered handsome and chivalrous men about her; they must be gallant and adventurous. She wished to be to them a fair ideal, the mistress they all wished to serve because they were in love with her perfections; yet she was the mother, and their welfare was the clearest concern of her life. She was Woman, warm and human, yet because she was an anointed Queen, she was invulnerable and unassailable. She wanted her men to be bold, to perform feats of courage and adventure for her sake; these she rewarded with her smiles and favors. She was a spiritual mistress; they must be faithful to her; they must perpetually seek to please her, their thoughts of her, must be the words and thoughts of lovers. They must all be in love with her; to them she must be the perfect woman. But they must never forget that she was mistress of them all. And while to her handsome and gallant courtiers, to her statesmen and soldiers, she was the queenly mistress and beloved woman, they must constantly remember that to her people she was Mother—the all-embracing Mother-and her thoughts and her energies were directed toward the good of her people. She wished England to be a happy home for her people—a prosperous home—and as, to her belief no home could be happy and prosperous unless it were peaceful, she abhorred war.”

The book description of the reprint puts emphasis on the death of Robert’s first wife, Amy Dudley, which is understandable even though that particular event was not the basis of the story. Plaidy wrote an Author’s Note to explain her thoughts on the mysterious death and why she came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, a murder arranged by her husband. However, Amy’s death continues to haunt Robert throughout his life and in this sense Amy’s story is one of the main focuses.

This is not an amazing read for the Tudor expert, or really even the casual historical fiction fan with knowledge of the Elizabethan times. I cannot claim one event from the book was new to me, but then I have also read Queen of This Realm and My Enemy the Queen, which are both detailed reads on Elizabeth, Leicester and Lettice by Jean Plaidy. It was a good refresher, especially with the Queen’s martial issues, foreign relations and much philosophizing on her thoughts and behavior. Overall, I count it as an enjoyable read, but not one of my favorite Plaidy novels.

AUTHOR’S NOTE (as printed in the book)

Jean Plaidy says:

In writing of what is undoubtedly one of history’s most puzzling relationships, it is perhaps advisable to add a few remarks in order to justify the conclusions to which I have come. This is particularly the case with regard to the mysterious death of Amy Robsart.

All that happened on that Sunday morning at Cumnor Place will never be known. Was Amy’s death due to accident, suicide, or murder? After studying available records my verdict cannot be anything but murder.

Consider the facts: The Queen was being pressed by her ministers to marry. She could not bear to forgo the attentions of Robert Dudley, and Robert could not give up the hope of sharing the throne. Thus Robert’s wife Amy stood in the way of the two ruthless personalities. The Queen, in politics the soul of caution, had always been reckless in love. Scandal was circulating throughout the country concerning the relationship of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley. People remembered Thomas Seymour. Before Amy died there was a strong rumor that her death was being planned; and when it was said that Amy was suffering from a fatal malady, many believed that to be a false rumor set in motion to explain the death which was to follow. So persistent were the rumors, that a physician refused to attend Amy, fearing to be accused of administering poison should she die. This was the state of affairs when her minister, Cecil, returning from Edinburgh, found the Queen strained and nervous, and, to his astonishment, heard from her lips that Amy would soon be dead. Cecil, appalled, hurried from the Queen, and was so distraught that, coming face to face with the Spanish ambassador, he could not keep his suspicions to himself. “The Queen and Lord Robert Dudley are scheming to put Lord Robert’s wife to death!” is what he said–according to the Spanish ambassador. And a few hours later Amy was found dead.

Why should the Spanish ambassador have written those revealing dispatched if the contents were untrue? Spain was no enemy of Robert’s at that time, and Robert had won Philip’s approval at St. Quentin.

An accident to Amy resulting in her death at such a time so convenient to Elizabeth and Robert is surely too incredible a coincidence to be accepted.

As for the suggestion of suicide, if Amy had wished to kill herself would she have chosen a method which, she must have known, might not result in death, but merely add acute pain and misery to her remaining years? Would any woman destroy herself in such a painful way in order to avoid being murdered?

Everything points to murder, apart from Amy’s strange conduct on that Sunday morning in sending all her servants to the Fair. Why did she–in perpetual fear of murderers–clear the house of all the servants on that day which was to prove so tragic to her?

I have looked to her maid Pinto for the explanation, because from her first came the suggestion of suicide. It seemed that this suggestion came simply and unwittingly from Amy’s maid; but was Pinto such a simpleton? What if the suggestion were not rung from her, but deliberately given? Might she not have known the true reason why the house was deserted on that Sunday morning? Let us consider what a woman would do when the whole country was hinting that she was about to be murdered. How would a devoted maid behave? As for my interpretation of Pinto’s feelings for Robert, it must be remembered that, during his two and a half years’ exile, he had lived in Norfolk and would have come into continual contact with Pinto; and if we can discover little of Pinto’s character, we know much of Robert’s.

It is the novelist’s task to present a convincing story and, when the characters actually lived, to adhere to facts obtained by research, only diverging from them with good reason, e.g., when they are unknown, and then only making careful and responsible deductions as an aid to the completion of the story. Therefore I offer my views of what happened at Cumnor Place in the summer of 1560.

Evergreen Gallant

There are three major themes to this novel: Catholics versus Huguenots, the succession of the French throne and Henri IV’s amorous ways.

One of the reasons I really liked this book is that it aptly sums up a period in France’s history that was previously unknown to me. I’ve read up to Henri II and then skipped all the way to Louis XIV, so it was refreshing to read a new setting and characters. And Plaidy does wonderfully explaining all of the political intrigue as well as the characters and their relationships. This book covers two of Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici’s sons as Kings of France, Henri de Guise (a rival for the throne) and Henri Quatre.

The religious theme is the usual — Catholics against the reformed religion — though includes the horrific St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Paris is Catholic, Navarre is Huguenot and so Henri must make a choice when his time comes to be King of France. He is well known for saying ‘Paris is worth a mass’ and winning the adoration of the people. He was a good king, helping commerce and making sure all of his subjects ‘have a chicken in the pot every Sunday’. He did not wear expensive clothes or jewels, nor did he have the manners of a court gallant.

Henri’s biggest fault was his amorous ways. From a very early age he liked the women and each one he declared his true love. He made the mistake of promising marriage to many of them and later he would regret this, as some of his mistresses worked relentlessly to have their children legitimized. Honestly it was difficult to keep up with all of his ladies in the book. After the first 5 or 6 it’s hard to remember who was who, though the last two were perhaps the most important to the storyline.

bastardkingThe Bastard King

This is the earliest century Jean Plaidy ever published: 11th century France & England and, as an era I am currently researching, I felt the need to write a detailed synopsis of the book, to help myself better remember the events that took place. This is not exactly a review, and I would give a spoiler warning, but the book is written in such a way that it is mostly facts and will only be surprising to those unfamiliar with the time period. The interesting part of the writing is, of course, the personalities and motives she puts to her characters.

The Bastard King covers the life of William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, as he was the bastard son of Robert, Duke of Normandy circa 1027-1035. The story begins in 1026, when Robert spies a beautiful young woman doing laundry in a stream near his castle. He must have her and her only concession is that she be brought on a horse in plain daylight as his official mistress. This is Arlette, daughter of a tanner, and she gives birth to William and a daughter. Though Robert was married to highborn lady, he did not live with her and produced no legitimate children. Feeling the need to expiate his sins, as many did during this time, he decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before he left, he went through the rituals of bestowing the Dukedom on his son, bastard though he may be, and had the vassal lords swear to uphold their promise to obey him. He then made his farewells to Arlette and deposited his son with the King of France, to further his education and to serve as his protector in his father’s absence.

Many times, those who made the arduous trip to Jerusalem never returned, and this is what happened to Robert of Normandy. Per Robert’s prearrangement Arlette married a lord, of whom she grew fond and had more children. William, a boy of 7, stayed with the King of France for a while longer, but returned to his lands when disquiet among his vassals demanded it. During his adolescence there were attempts on his life and many who thought that if a bastard son could inherit, well, there were many such in the land and they all had equal claim. Thus William the Bastard spent his life, from a very young age, fighting for his rights.

William had come to hate the word ‘bastard’. Once, during a siege, the occupants of the castle threw hides over the side and beat them with stick. This, they implied, was to ridicule William for his maternal grandfather, the tanner. He heard their chant of ‘bastard’ and this incensed him. When the castle finally surrendered, he had the men horribly disfigured, cutting off their hands and feet. Normally a fair ruler, this act of horror would be noted by future conspirers, though there were several to come.

As a young boy, William had met and befriended the two sons of Emma and King Ethelred of England, Edward and Alfred, who were in exile in Normandy, as Emma’s second husband, the Danish Canute, had won the throne of England. It was her wish (and that of Canute) that her son from her second husband, Harthicanute, would be the King of England. As events progressed in England, a certain Earl who had come from humble beginnings began to rise: Earl Godwin. This earl married into royalty and affianced as many of his children as possible likewise; he clearly had his eyes on the throne of England, and as he was a Saxon, born and breed, the people liked him better than the Danes or the Normans who held the throne. This ‘kingmaker’ was much like the 15th century Warwick.

On the inside cover of the book (at least if you have the Fawett Crest paperback) you can read an excerpt which details the meeting of William the Bastard and his future bride, Matilda of Flanders. Matilda, smarting from being spurned by a handsome Saxon ambassador, decided the next man to ask for her hand would likewise be spurned, and this happened to be William. She called him a bastard and said that she, as a granddaughter of the King of France, was too high for the Duke of Normandy, owing to his illegitimacy. William then did the most uncouth thing: he rode to Flanders, found Matilda on her way to mass, pulled her from her horse by her hair and beat her. “I received your reply,” he said, “This is mine.” He then rode away, later to feel ashamed of his behavior and complete attraction to the beauty he had abused.

Matlida, amazingly, decided this proud, determined man was the one for her, and the two did have similar ambitions. Though the King of France, disliking William for his vast strength in combat, set the Pope against the marriage, as he felt it would make William much stronger. However, the excommunicated couple happily wed and started a family. William sent a mediator to Rome to work for his cause, as an excommunicated Duke found his underlings begin to revolt with just cause.

An interesting fact about Matilda: until 1954, she was thought to have only been 4’ 2” tall through various historical reports. Her grave was exhumed (in 1954) and her skeleton found to be about 5’. Her stature wasn’t mentioned by Plaidy until her first son was born with extremely short legs (compared to his very tall father). She uses this as one of the reasons Richard, their second son and the one who most favored his father, was William’s favorite, while Robert is Matilda’s. This preference will come to play later in the book, as the happy couple begin to side with one child over the other.

William found he had a claim to England, as his friend, the once-exiled Edward, was now restored to the throne as Edward the Confessor, thanks to the mighty Earl Godwin. As Edward took a vow of celibacy, no heirs were to be born and he chose William to follow him (of course William had royal blood through his father and a stronger claim through his wife Matilda). Godwin, however, had other plans. He had several sons and one was married to Matilda’s sister. Through this link William was kept informed of the Godwin clan, including the most likely to usurp, Harold. As it happens, when old Godwin died (an interestingly supernatural death) and Harold, meaning to visit the Count of Flanders to raise support for his claim, washed up on the banks of Normandy (as Plaidy puts it, “a valuable piece of flotsam”). The two rivals for the English throne had finally met.

Harold Godwin had landed in Normandy, though he was aiming for Flanders to negotiate the return of his brother and cousin (who had been taken prisoner in the place of Earl Godwin) and to gauge the atmosphere concerning the upcoming accession of the English crown. Edward the Confessor was ailing, and whether intentional or not, he had let more than one man think he had chosen him as his successor. As the Count of Flanders, Baldwin, was both powerful and wealthy, he made a good ally. Harold’s brother, Tostig, was married to the Count’s eldest daughter, while William of Normandy was married to the younger, Matilda.

But Harold was in William’s hands, and though treated with due respect, was nevertheless a prisoner. Matilda decided it would be best to betroth him to their eldest daughter, a girl of 10 and thirty years his junior. Unable to protest, Harold accepted outwardly, but knew in his heart that his long-time mistress and children were his true family and he would not take this child as his bride if he could get back to England. William had other demands: Harold must send his unmarried sister to Normandy to marry as William pleased and he must swear to help William to the throne of England when King Edward died. If he would swear these things, Harold would be allowed to return to England. This Harold agreed to do and the oath took place in Bayeux.

In front of a large company, Harold placed his hand on a chest draped with cloth of gold and once he made his promises the cloth as removed and the chest opened to reveal the relics of saints. Harold was none too pleased at this bit of deceit, and though he loathed breaking promises made over the relics, he did so under duress, and so believed he would be forgiven. William and Matilda did not believe he would break his promises easily and so they allowed him to return to England.

Soon after his return, King Edward died and the people accepted Harold with alacrity. He was officially crowned and when William heard of this he seethed with anger. He would set forth to England, but needed time to prepare, and while this was being done, he sent Harold a letter allowing that perhaps Harold took the crown because the people asked it of him, though he must move aside (of course) and he asked him to keep to his other promises, of marriage to William’s daughter and to send his sister to Normandy.

The said sister had died, and so Harold jauntily offered to send her body to William, and he added that he had already wed, and so he could not take William’s daughter, nor would he forfeit his crown to William. No, Harold had not married his mistress, but the sister of a couple of troublesome Earls in the north (Northumbria and Mercia) to stop an invasion from that part of the country, which was more willing to take a Viking (Hardrada of Norway) rather than a Saxon.

Of course William was frothing at the mouth at this point. His ships readied, he was only waiting for a fair wind to take them across the channel. Tostig, who had been in Flanders with his wife’s family, decided to stake his claim as well and the best way to do this was to back the Norseman, Hardrada.

Hardrada, attacking the north, found it was ready to fall into his hands. At nearly 7’ tall he was like a god at the head of his army. However, he was defeated by Harold when an arrow went through his neck. With their mighty leader down, the Danish army withdrew and Harold hastened to the south to meet William of Normandy. Because his men were tired and exhausted, William had the upper hand and won the battle, killing not only Harold, but all of his brothers. Both Harold’s mother and mistress came before William and begged for his body and a proper burial, but William sent them away. He wanted no martyred saints to mar his claim to the English throne.

William finally had his prize: England, but not security or peace. The people of England accepted him, but did not like him. He had harsh laws, especially those of hunting in the king’s forests. Soon he sent for Matilda and she was crowned Queen of England. The royal family was looked on fondly once the children were visible to the people. There were uprisings, but William dealt with them quickly enough. His major problem became his oldest son, who wanted his due: the Dukedom of Normandy. This part of the story reminded me so much of Henry II and his sons, as they too fought their father for his lands while he still lived.

Matilda had captured all the events from the Norman Conquest in an exquisite tapestry (now known as the Bayeux Tapestry). Even the comet in the sky (Haley’s Comet), which struck fear into the hearts of many, is depicted on it. Historically, Matilda has been ruled out as the maker of the tapestry, but it fit nicely in the story and gave her a purpose for the times William was away. Even so, she still harbored hate for the Saxon who spurned her and after she became queen, she found a way to get revenge. William had given her permission to build a castle in England on the land of her choice, and so she took Brihtric’s home and had him imprisoned and then killed. William found out the details of this little debacle and took his own revenge on Matilda. He had loved her and been completely faithful, and that she thought of this Saxon all the years of their marriage upset him mightily. So he did as kings will, and took a mistress.

The mistress ended up murdered and, of course, Matilda had arranged it. She and William had a lover’s quarrel and then got over it, as if the murders were of no matter. They then had fights over their sons. Robert, the eldest, was keeping unsavory company just to enrage his father. He then became friendly with the French king. William traveled often to Normandy to take back his castles and strongholds, but Matilda was secretly sending their son funds to keep his army going. This was the final rift between William and Matilda.

During one of these skirmishes with Robert and his vassals, William was injured and fell from his horse. Strangely enough Robert saved his life and they made a truce. Because of this, Matilda died happy, but it did not last. William was later headed to war against the French king and Robert did not show. William died with a prophecy on his lips: though his son Rufus would follow him as King of England, his youngest son, Henry would be greatest of all.