Published 2011, Avon (a division of HarperCollinsPublishers), ISBN-13:978-1-84756-259-3, 381 pages
First of all, to clarify any confusion. This review is for Gillian Bagwell’s The King’s Mistress, which is the title I read and refer to. This is the UK title. The US title for this novel is The September Queen, for which the link to Amazon is provided below. Two titles, same novel. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment.
Gillian Bagwell’s historical fiction novel The King’s Mistress opens in 1651, with 25 year-old Jane Lane pondering her future. Deemed a spinster, her family is encouraging to consider a suitor. Jane is looking for passion, someone she can truly love and be loved in return, and the proposed suitor evokes no so such emotions although he is a honorable man.
The daughter of a nobleman, Jane chaves under the rule of Cromwell, his Commonwealth and society rules in general. Charles I, executed 2 years previous, left a legacy of secret royalists.
Freedom is restricted and, when Jane’s closest friend asks her to visit for the birth of her first child, a travel pass is obtained for Jane, a manservant and her cousin. Little does Jane know who will be her manservant.
During this time, rumors abound the son of Charles I has returned via Scotland and been proclaimed Charles II of England. Cromwell issues proclamations of death and forfeiture of lands to any who assist Charles II. Despite these threats, Jane’s brothers, Richard and John, and, Henry, her cousin ride to aid Charles.
A terrible battle is fought at Worcester on September 3, 1651, with Charles II and his soldiers routed by the Commonwealth army. All those fought on Charles’ behalf and, in particular, Charles himself, are relentlessly hunted by Cromwell’s forces. Charles, the big prize, faces the same fate as his father if he is captured.
John and Henry return home without having engaged in battle. It was over before they arrived. The fate of Richard is unknown. It is then Jane learns of Charles’ desperation to depart England for safety in France. Charles is a mere 6 miles away. John proposes Charles ride disguised as a manservant with Jane to her friend’s home, accompanied by her cousin, Henry.
Jane knows the risk is great, but she is willing to do anything to save Charles. He is royalty and she morally duty bound to aid his escape. Not to mention, the excitement of participating in such a venture has great appeal.
Jane, Charles and Henry spend the next month evading Cromwell’s soldiers while attempting to bring Charles to a safe port to sail for France. The journey is fraught with complications and dangers. One of the dangers is Charles. Jane falls in love with the exiled monarch and becomes his mistress.
They spend stolen moments and nights together. Charles professes love and gratitude to Jane, while Jane commits her heart to Charles. Eventually safe passage is found and Charles and Jane part without hope of seeing each other again.
Fate, however, intervenes. Jane and Henry’s involvement with Charles’ escape is discovered and both are sought by the Protector. Other supporters have died on the scaffold. There is no doubt what capture means for either of them.
Jane and her brother, John, who leaves his wife and 8 children behind, hike hundreds of miles on foot through inhospitable expanses of England, enduring extreme physical trials and emotional strain as they journey towards exile in France.
Jane pins her hopes and dreams on reuniting with Charles. Her reunion and the next years in exile are other than she envisioned.
The King’s Mistress is based on a true story. Jane Lane did help Charles escape England after his disastrous invasion attempt. When I read the first few pages of this novel, I thought, “Oh, dear, this is purely a romance historical and not in my genre.” I quickly revised that impression within 30 pages.
Bagwell’s The King’s Mistress is on par with select authors I consider exceptional in their genre. The King’s Mistress is an intricate rendition of Jane and Charles’ story. Multi-layered characters, a protagonist who exhibits bravery, loves with abandon, hopes eternally, suffers disillusionment and loss, captures your admiration, a novel where scenes move the plot forward and, finally, just a downright great read.
***Note: For those who may be uncomfortable, there is graphic sexual content.***