Eleanor de Clare leads a charmed life in Susan Higginbotham’s intricate tale of love and betrayal during the reign of Edward II. Both friend and confidante to her uncle the king, Eleanor becomes lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Isabella of France.
Not conventionally beautiful as is the queen, Eleanor is intelligent and charming, delightful once she is engaged. Her connections to royalty and assured inheritance of the de Clare estates notwithstanding, Hugh le Despenser greatly benefits from his arranged marriage to Eleanor. She proves to be a loyal wife, deeply in love with her charismatic husband, an ambitious and volatile man.
An unpredictable knight who spent his wild youth in piracy on the high seas, Hugh schemes to accumulate property, the business of which Eleanor happily leaves to her husband, settling into her child-bearing years. The only cloud on the immediate horizon is Edward II’s relationship with his dearest friend, Piers Gaveston, assumed by the court to be improperly intimate.
Supported by Isabella, an angry Privy Council eagerly plots Gaveston’s exile. Edward realizes that he must acquiesce for the sake of the kingdom, broken-hearted when his lover is summarily executed by the powerful earls. Edward’s marriage to Isabella suffers irreparably from the death of the king’s lover.
Though not of royal blood, both Hugh le Despenser and his father have served their king faithfully, but le Despenser’s overweening ambition bring him into direct conflict with the king. Called to answer for his injudicious actions, Edward’s declares his passionate love and Hugh becoming a willing lover without much coercion.
Ever mindful of the advantages of his position, Hugh earns Isabella’s enmity as history repeats itself. Not much at court, Eleanor remains oblivious to Hugh’s affair with the king. Eventually, as with Gaveston, the relationship earns the wrath of the enraged nobles; Hugh and the king flee, only to be brought low once more.
In France to pay homage to the king, Isabella embarks upon a plan that will usurp Edward II’s throne with the support of the English citizens and anoint her son Edward III. The queen will act as regent with the aid of her paramour, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.
The distraught Edward II is forced to resign, held captive and stealthily murdered later; Hugh le Despenser is assigned the ignominy of a traitor’s death. With Eleanor as proxy for Hugh, Isabella exacts further revenge, imprisoning Eleanor in the Tower and making her lands forfeit, even those of the de Clare birthright.
Despite Edward’s shortcomings, he is a sympathetic character in this fascinating retelling of history, as is the charismatic Hugh le Despenser. Although she pays tragically for her loyalty, Eleanor survives and marries again, enjoying an extraordinary position in 14th-century England, niece of a king, wife of a traitor, in love with both.