Aussie Book Review: Mistress to the Crown by Isolde Martyn

Mistress to the Crown Mistress to the Crown by Isolde Martyn

Paperback (uncorrected proof copy)

Review copy provided by publisher

Harlequin Mira, February 2013

 Synopsis- The day Lord Hastings came into her husband’s store, Elizabeth saw the opportunity she had waited twelve years for — a way to separate herself once and for all from her dull, impotent husband, William Shore. The handsome stranger presented not only the chance to partake in the dance of desire, but legal counsel to annul her 12-year marriage.

She did not, however, foresee her introduction to the King of England, nor her future at his side…and in his bed. From this unlikely alliance, Elizabeth is granted severance from Shore, and finds herself flourishing in the radiance of the King’s admiration. But she soon finds that her new position comes at a terrible price — her family has shunned her, the people of London have labelled her a harlot and the Queen’s family want her to burn in Hell.

So long as King Edward and Lord Hastings stay close, Elizabeth is safe. However, her beloved Ned falls ill and Lord Hastings falls out of favour.

Can Elizabeth’s wiles keep her out of trouble? Or will they lead her to further trouble…and the hangman’s noose?

 Review- *Disclaimer: a lengthy review with spoilers!*

A historical fiction novel, Mistress to the Crown tells the story of Elizabeth Shore married to a mercer who becomes the famous mistress of the King of England. I was really looking forward to reading this story, written by Australian author Isolde Martyn. However, I’m a reader who really values a connection to the characters in a story and unfortunately I never really warmed to Elizabeth Shore.

In the opening chapter, I did empathise with Elizabeth’s desperation to have her marriage annulled. At just fourteen she has already been married to Shore for two years and as she is on the cusp of puberty her wifely duties in the bedroom will soon be sought by Shore. However, the story then jumps to twelve years in the future where they continue to be married- though Shore is impotent- and Elizabeth has just launched her first business venture in silk woven products. She still wants a divorce.  But this time I didn’t really feel the desperation behind this desire. She hints that she is curious about a sexual relationship born from desire rather than duty but she also has strong views about the independence of a woman and hopes to no longer be dependent on a man.

So when Lord Hastings strolls into her life, she catches a glimpse of what life could be like. She experiences desire and lust for the first time. He also provides a connection to the legal resources required to divorce her husband but doesn’t seem to want anything in return. But Elizabeth basically offers herself to him and requests he ‘teach’ her the ways of the bedroom. They have a brief sexual fling and before long, her fiery personality and beauty has captured the interest of Hastings close friend, King Edward (a.k.a “Ned”). Though I could understand the temptation of succumbing to the sexual relationship with Hastings I couldn’t comprehend why she would agree to become the King’s mistress when she so strongly sought independence from men (and didn’t really value status and wealth). I feel she did have a choice and she decided to take that path- even though she later claims she didn’t.

The first person viewpoint didn’t do her any favours when she announced to her husband she was to be  mistress to the king and expected him to respond with grace. I certainly don’t condone her marriage to him at such an early age, but I did experience her as condescending and brutal at this point in the story.

Elizabeth detaches herself from a twelve year marriage to a man she never loved to a long-term affair with the King whom I also never believed she loved. Of course she says she did, but I never really felt it. I don’t know why she liked him, he seemed quite arrogant and childlike at times.

At just past the midway point, I felt the story lacked direction. I wasn’t quite sure where it was going. I thought it would become a love story about Elizabeth and the King.

But then he dies.

My response was…huh? Where is the final third of the story to go from here? I didn’t even really care that the King had died, because I just couldn’t connect with Elizabeth emotionally. I think in part this is because she told the reader what was happening rather than showed how she felt. The only relationship I did believe was the friendship between Elizabeth and Hastings. I believed that these two loved each other as their connection was better developed. Once the King died I thought perhaps she would discover her true feelings for Hastings.

But then he died too.

This is when I felt Elizabeth was really challenged, she was robbed, lost her home and became dependent on her family as though she was a child. Villains in the mist were determined to take her down. She was shunned by her community and at times her family and yet she persevered. She attempted to rebuild her life, gain an ounce of independence. Her life had come full circle. To me, Elizabeth became a real person then and I did warm to her, just a little. Accused of treason, Elizabeth faces gaol and even death and the reality of her demise hits her squarely. Whilst imprisoned, she forms a relationship with a solicitor connected to the royal family who cares for her deeply. In the last fifty pages of the book, this friendship develops into a romance and once again I felt the plot was losing focus. And when it becomes clear that the only way she can truly be freed from the allegations placed against her is to marry this man she agrees. Usually I’m all for a happily-ever-after in the romance department but in this story it just made me angry. The motivation at the beginning of the book for Elizabeth to be independent and create a life for herself based on her own choices, seemed to get lost along the way. I didn’t see Elizabeth actually act upon her strong values right up until the very end. Inevitably, the story ends with Elizabeth being dependent on another man!

I know this story is based on the historical retelling of Elizabeth Shore, mistress to the King of England and perhaps the decisions the character made do reflect on what the historical figure made in life. But as a fictional read, Elizabeth was a frustrating character and at times so too was the plot. Mistress to the Crown is a story full of contradictions and it didn’t really work for me. Personally, I do struggle with first person viewpoints and I think this story would have been far more engaging if it were in third person. The premise was enticing and certainly promising but the execution didn’t really meet my expectations.

For readers of historical fiction who don’t mind first person viewpoints and are indifferent to a singular or multiple romance sub-plot then this might work for you. At the very least, the story of Elizabeth Shore who rises from an arranged marriage to the mistress of the King is certainly impressive. Historically speaking I did find this aspect of the story quite fascinating. There are plenty of four or five star reviews popping up for this story though so I encourage you to check these out before making up your mind on this one.

Overall Rating


“It was okay”

Mistress to the Crown can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2013 challenge:



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