Published 2011 by New American Library (a Division of Penguin Group), ISBN 978-0-451-23282-3, 368 pages
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, called Gera, is the daughter of the Earl of Kildare, a wealthy and powerful family in Ireland who have kept the peace in Ireland for the Tudor throne for 90 years. The Fitzgeralds are proud of their Geraldine heritage from Italy and Normandy. The Earl is known as the “uncrowned king of Ireland” and Gera is taught she is an Irish Princess. Karen Harper’s historical fiction novel commences in June, 1533 at the family seat of Maynooth.
Gera enjoys a privileged life as a child with her siblings. However, the entitlement she receives from birthright is about to unravel. King Henry VIII has summoned her father to the English court to account for decisions made as Earl of Kildare. The Fitzgeralds put on brave face and are certain Henry will understand and endorse the Earl’s actions.
While the Earl is at the English court, his oldest son from his first marriage, Thomas, will be Deputy of Ireland in his stead. His foster son, Christopher, is constable of his castle, Maynooth. Months pass and the Earl does not return.
Thomas gathers a growing band of men. Gera’s mother, sisters and youngest brother depart for England to plead with Henry for the Earl’s release from the Tower, leaving behind Gera and her older brother, Gerald. Within a few months, Gera’s mother sends a letter that her father has died in the Tower of London and she is endeavoring to have Gera and Gerald smuggled to her in England.
Thomas rebels against the English occupation of Ireland and Maynooth is soon besieged by English soldiers. Christopher smuggles Gerald out of Maynooth to depart for France or Italy to prevent the English from capturing the now Earl of Kildare. Gera is left behind with a loyal family retainer.
Gerald’s escape successful, Christopher surrenders Maynooth to the English. His reward is death by hanging and one-quarter of the garrison is beheaded. The women of the castle have been hiding in the cellars. That night, Gera and her servant, sneak out of a tunnel and seek refuge with one of her five paternal uncles. Gera carries the precious Red Book of Kildare to prevent the English from seizing the most valuable item they desire.
Eventually, Gera, along with her five uncles, are invited to a meeting with the new Deputy of Ireland, who is, ironically, her mother’s brother. Her brother, Thomas, is still in hiding. Her Irish uncles, believing a truce is in the works, meet with the new Deputy. The treaty is a ruse. Her uncles and Gera are shipped off to England the next morning; Gera to join her mother and her uncles to sojourn in the Tower of London. Eventually, Thomas surrenders in the hopes of a pardon but, instead, is soon incarcerated with his uncles.
Gera’s uncles and brother are convicted of treason and sentenced to a treasoner’s death, a gruesome hanging, disembowelment and dismemberment. The Fitzgerald family is attainted, losing their home and all rights to the title of Earl of Kildare. Gera is devastated and vows she will one day kill the king who decimated her family and return to her beloved Ireland.
Thus begins Gera’s journey towards fulfilment of her revenge. She plots and schemes, all the while at the mercy of the King’s whims. She is brought to Court and must learn how to circumvent undesirable affiliations and cultivate advantageous alliances.
The Irish Princess is the the tale of a bold, determined woman who never waivers from her ultimate goal. She marries to further her objectives, yet loves another. Her every action is made with intent of ridding Ireland of Henry VIII, restoring her brother, Gerald, as Earl of Kildare and returning to the land of her birth with the Red Book of Kildare.
“I, Gera Fitzgerald, was going to kill the king. He was dying, but I was going to kill him anyway…..Let him die in peace, some would say, but I would never have peace that way….I knelt upon the mattress, dragging my skirts and the shawl. I crawled closer, my fingers gripping the handle so hard that my entire frame shook as I began to lift it.”
This is the first novel by Karen Harper that I’ve read. Her indepth and descriptive prose brings to life a well-developed character in Gera. The reader is able to mourn, rejoice and empathize with Gera. I will definitely be seeking out other titles by Karen Harper.
I truly enjoyed this novel and recommend it.
Rating: 4 Stars **** (Excellent)
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