Book Review: The King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien

 Anne O’Brien- The King’s Concubine

 Format- Paperback

 Source- Review copy courtesy of DMCPR media

 Publisher- MIRA

 Publication date- May 2012

 Synopsis- “A child born in the plague year of 1348, abandoned and raised within the oppressive walls of a convent, Alice Perrers refused to take the veil, convinced that a greater destiny awaited her. Ambitious and quick-witted, she rose above her obscure beginnings to become the infamous mistress of Edward III. But always, essentially, she was alone…. Early in Alice’s life, a chance meeting with royalty changes everything: Kindly Queen Philippa, deeply in love with her husband but gravely ill, chooses Alice as a lady-in-waiting. Under the queen’s watchful eye, Alice dares to speak her mind. She demands to be taken seriously. She even flirts with the dynamic, much older king. But she is torn when her vibrant spirit captures his interest…and leads her to a betrayal she never intended. In Edward’s private chambers, Alice discovers the pleasures and paradoxes of her position. She is the queen’s confidante and the king’s lover, yet she can rely only on herself. It is a divided role she was destined to play, and she vows to play it until the bitter end. Even as she is swept up in Edward’s lavish and magnificent court, amassing wealth and influence for herself, becoming an enemy of his power-hungry son John of Gaunt and a sparring partner to resourceful diplomat William de Windsor, she anticipates the day when the political winds will turn against her. For when her detractors voice their hatred and accusations of treason swirl around her, threatening to destroy everything she has achieved, who will stand by Alice then?”

 Review- The King’s Concubine is the story of Alice Perrers the infamous mistress of King Edward III in the 1360’s. I didn’t know anything about this woman in history when I started to read this story, but I found her to be such a fascinating character.

Abandoned as an infant at a convent, Alice was destined to become a nun but she wasn’t too convinced of this. At age 15 she was sent off as a servant to Janyn Perrers and wedded to him in a sham of a marriage but at age 16 years was deemed a widow, homeless and penniless- except for the piece of paper that said she owned some land with thanks to a broker/ agent who took her under their wing. This piece of land was the first placed in her path of planning a life of financial security and stability.

When she returned to the convent she captured the eye of Queen Phillippa who requested she relocate to the Royal Court and Alice eagerly agrees, presumably to become a servant. However, that was not the role the Queen had in mind for this candid young woman. The Queen was ailing and although deeply in love with her husband, the King, she wanted his physical needs to be satisfied by someone she trusted.  Her plan was successful when Edward takes an interest in Alice and she then becomes his mistress at just 17 years of age. For 13 years, long past the time of the queen’s death, Alice held the role of mistress of the King despite her brutal reputation by the court people.

Alice was such a fascinating character, an orphan with no real sense of what it is to be loved unconditionally and the only person she could ever rely on was herself.  She is painted as a young woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind which is advantageous for her in capturing the attention of the King and Queen despite her plain looks. Alice gives her youth to Edward and bears four of his children and despite her determination to remain a woman of status and power in the court she faces many, many challenges in remaining there including forfeiting any chances of making friends.

Late in relationship with Edward when his health is waning and they are no longer intimate, Alice fears her position in court is vulnerable, for without Edward she would surely be kicked out- especially if Princess Joan has her way. Alice manages to acquire an extensive collection of manors during her time as mistress with the hope of securing financial stability for her children once the King dies. The abrupt and Charming William de Windsor has a business proposition for her that she cannot deny, to marry him and have further security when the King dies by having a husband who can make a joint-claim on all her properties and protect her from the court.

But their relationship seems to deepen beyond the realm of business and Alice fights her true feelings for Windsor despite her undying loyalty to the king. However, her provisions for stability when she steps down from role of mistress may actually cause what she most feared, to be thrown out of court anyway.

I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen next in The Kings Concubine and I really admired Alice for her resilience, resourcefulness and her drive to survive which blatantly comes across as greed and power hungry, but I think she had a deep sense of wanting to succeed and overcome the adversity she was born into. There were times when I just wanted to shake her and make her appreciate everything she had achieved and all of her wealth when all she wanted was more. But there were also times when I thought you go girl when she put the snooty princesses in their place. There’s no doubt Alice was a strong, powerful woman but what I enjoyed the most was the last part of the book when she finally succumbed to her true feelings for Windsor and experienced what it was like to have a relationship based on equity and honesty, not playing the role of mistress which had taken over most of her life. It hasn’t got a happily ever after ending, but it is satisfactory no doubt. I really recommend this novel to historical fiction fans who would like to delve into the life of a strong, dogmatic woman who is both frustrating and likeable in her own way.

4.5/5 rating

Purchase book @

Fishpond/ Amazon/ Book Depository UK


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