In Emma Campion’s historical fiction novel, The King’s Mistress, Campion paints a more sympathetic portrait of Alice Perrers than the typically vilified version accepted in historical accounts.
In H. Eugene Lehman’s “Lives of England’s Reigning and Consort Queens”, published 2011, pages 153 and 154, under the heading “Alice Perrers: Adventuress and Concubine”, he describes Alice as Edward III’s “most notorious mistress…Queen’s Philippa’s chief lady-in-waiting”.
Lehman attributes Alice’s four children as illegitimate off-spring of Edward. Other statements Lehman makes regarding Alice include “Alice took on royal airs, and used powers over members of Parliament to enrich her purse….After Queen Philippa’s death, Edward gave Alice (or Alice stole) many of Philippa’s jewels and wore them openly at Court…. Negative comments against her include the tale that, as the King lay dying from a stroke at Sheen Place, she stripped the jewelled rings from his fingers before slithering away….She died in 1400, but lives on as England’s most egregiously calculating ambitious scheming and greedy woman of disrepute.”
Considering the date of publication of Lehman’s work, yes, indeed, the reputation of Alice Perrers has changed little down the centuries. There are no extant portraits or sketches of Alice Perrers, although the scene below is that of Alice Perrers supposedly stealing Edward’s rings as he lays dying.
Emma Campion had her work cut out for her when she decided to write The King’s Mistress depicting her as a woman who had little control over her fate and a victim of circumstances in many instances.
The Alice Perrers of The King’s Mistress is born to a merchant family, with a father and siblings who love her but a mother who is unexplicitedly cold. Her father teaches her his mercantile business and, other than her mother’s dislike of her, grows up happy. She is taught obedience and marries Janyn Perrers as instructed by her father.
Her marriage to Janyn becomes a love match and they have a daughter together, but Alice feels her husband is hiding secrets, secrets somehow connected to the Dowager Queen Isabella, mother of Edward III. As Alice realizes how much influence Isabella has on Janyn and the Perrers family she feels uneasy, especially as she is not permitted to reveal the relationship between Isabella and the Perrers.
Upon Isabella’s death, Alice is summoned to Edward III and Queen Philippa’s court to act as lady-in-waiting. Shortly thereafter, Janyn and his mother disappear without a trace. Alice’s father-in-law refuses to divulge their whereabouts and bans Alice from his presence.
Alice returns to court and remains there by royal command and to protect her child. Emma Campion, as she notes in her Author’s Notes, “….shaped a life for Alice. I think she might be pleased with it.” in The King’s Mistress. Campion, though her novel, attempts to shed a different light on Alice to refute assertions such as those made by Lehman.
Campion’s version of the life of Alice Perrers is well-written with fully developed characters readers can empathize with or dislike for their actions. The King’s Mistress is a worthwhile read for an alternate version of who and what Alice Perrers may have been.
Rating: **** 4 stars (Excellent)