Friday, September 20, 2013

A Fourteenth Century Soap Opera


Unwittingly, I downloaded a novel similar to “Katherine” which takes place during the same time period and with many of the same characters. The difference is that it was written from the a very different perspective; that of The King‘s Concubine, written by Anne O‘Brien.

King Edward III of England was married to Phillipa who bore him numerous children, only a few of whom survived to adulthood. His first son, who would have been Edward IV had he lived longer, produced a son Richard who would become king at the age of 13 when Edward III died. [I sometimes wish that royals had chosen from a wider range of names, but it is what it is. Ya gotta pay attention to the roman numerals on these guys.]

Anyway, Phillipa and Edward had an arranged marriage but were lucky enough to actually fall in love with each other and it lasted the rest of their lives -- with one, considerable distraction.

During a hunting expedition, Phillipa was thrown from her horse, dislocating her shoulder. It was not realigned properly so it caused her agonizing pain for the rest of her days. She also suffered from something called dropsy which also caused pain and severe swelling. She remained mostly stoic about it, but there would be no more romping between the sheets with Edward.

Knowing what a manly man Edward was, Phillipa decided that if she couldn’t satisfy his conjugal needs someone else would have to. After careful consideration, she hand-picked Ann Perrers for the purpose.

Ann P. had been abandoned as a newborn at a convent and was raised and pretty much enslaved by nuns until Phillipa came to visit one day. Phillipa’s retreat at the convent was intended to help her better cope with her pain through prayer and meditation.

Now Ann was not a pretty girl. Indeed, she was constantly reminded of how ugly she was. Mirrors were not to be had in convents, so she was unable until much later to confirm that, yes indeed, she was ugly. However, she had developed a crafty mind and learned to read, write and do figures -- something rare for females in those days.

Before Phillipa entered the picture, the nuns, in all their wisdom [and greed] made a financial arrangement with a wealthy merchant who would wed Ann and take her off their hands. She was 16 at the time. The marriage was never consummated and Ann’s husband died not long after they wed, so back to the convent she went.

When Phillipa saw this obviously unhappy teenager, living in misery with nuns who didn’t like her, she saw a good candidate with whom manly man Edward could relieve his manly needs.

Edward didn’t take to the idea immediately. But Phillipa eventually convinced him that it was what she wanted, so he gave in. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock when Edward discovered that Ann was still a virgin. She had been married afterall! No prob. He conquered that impediment and they went on to years of unwedded bliss.

Since Edward was still married, Ann became an adulteress and whore and was not at all popular with members of the King‘s court.

Ann was strong-willed and her quick mind fascinated Edward. In short order, he became besotted with her. This hurt Phillipa, but she reminded herself that it had, after all, been her idea. Silks, furs, jewels and more soon eased Ann’s guilt and she really got into being the King’s whore.

Her influence over Edward soon riled his family and court members who wanted a piece of the action. As Edward aged, he became more and more dependent on Ann.

War was a constant feature during that time in history. Someone was always trying to conquer and abscond with someone else’s turf. Even then, Ireland was a hotbed of discontent. France and England constantly fought over and took territory from each other and then fought to get it back again. In attempts to gain or regain territory, marriages between royals were arranged, often leading to disastrous results.

Ann had been banished by her detractors who considered her a dangerous [and expensive] influence over the King. Meanwhile, Edward became more and more demented. When Phillipa died, Edward gave up on living. That’s when things got really sticky. Politically astute/devious members of his family and court realized that Ann was probably the only person who could get through to Edward, so they dragged her back to London.

In Edward’s fragile state of mind, he was angry with Ann for having abandoned him. For whatever reason [probably political] she didn’t tell him that his family and friends had sent her away. They soon kissed and made up, but Edward could no longer “tumble” Ann, so she started looking around for someone else to play with.

Along comes William Windsor, an influential member of the royal court and literally a Knight in shining armor, handsome beyond reason. He, too was politically ambitious and recognized the same attributes in Ann. He could have had his pick of any one of hundreds of court beauties but chose Ann because she held the king‘s reigns. [Pun intended]

Knowing this and the fact that she was not at all pretty, Ann initially didn’t trust the handsome dude. William eventually convinced Ann that, if they put their heads together, they could benefit from their close proximity to the King. Ann had accumulated a good bit of real estate over the years but, being a single woman, her ownership was tenuous. Once a woman married all of her possessions, including her body, automatically became her husband‘s. Ann knew that her enemies wanted to strip her of all her “ill-gotten-gains”, so she agreed to marry William only after he promised that her properties would remain under her control.

When Edward eventually kicked the bucket, a tangled web of intrigue, slander, kidnapping, and murder followed and weird Richard III became king, causing all sorts of mayhem. [He was the last English King to die in combat and his remains were discovered under a parking lot last year.]

Meanwhile, Ann and William escaped to live out their lives in comfortable wealth -- at least that’s what the novel implies.

I must admit that I love reading this medieval stories because many of my mother’s ancestors were active in those days -- the Campbells, Lancastrian Roses and more. Life was hard during those times, but so interesting!
 

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