Sunday, March 25, 2007

'The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II' by Susan Higginbotham

Title: The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II
Author: Susan Higginbotham
Price: $25.95, paperback; $6.00, ebook
Genre: Historical
ISBN: 978-0-595-35959-2, paperback; 978-0-595-80409-2, ebook
Publisher: iUniverse Press
Point of Sale:

Three people… the King of England… his favorite niece… and a nobleman in love with both, endure a monarchy riddled with deceit, greed and adultery. For England, in the fourteenth century, that is commonplace as history records the exploits of King Edward II, and even Hugh le Despenser, with reverence and some semblance of accuracy. However, women during the early part of the century are often times ignored, contributing little historical relevance, except for the Queen, of course. In this instance, Eleanor le Despenser, formally a Clare, comes to the forefront of this period’s importance.

Ms. Higginbotham thoroughly documents the loyal, at times misplaced, deeds of Eleanor le Despenser, a noble woman and favored niece of Edward II. Married at the age of thirteen to Hugh le Despenser, Eleanor brings a royally connected dowry that promises to rejuvenate his family’s misfortunes. Their marriage seems joyous as Hugh enjoys his wife’s company and bed, helping Eleanor to bear nine children during their long marriage.

Serenity exists only in their home as the monarchy suffers rumors about the Prince and his childhood friend, Piers Galveston unseemly close relationship. Eleanor witnesses the repeated exile of her uncle’s lover and now, her sister Margaret’s husband, Piers, even his brutal death under the charge of treason. After the death of King Edward I, the newly appointed King Edward II marries France’s Princess Isabella, twelve years old at the time. Eleanor becomes her lady-in-waiting during this time, winning the Queen’s favor and confidence. She relinquishes that friendship, and her position, after seeing the Queen’s ruthless conduct regarding her two sister-in-laws’ adulterous behavior, causing them to be arrested and their lovers beheaded.

Eleanor’s husband Hugh grows restless, resisting the royal court life. He desires personal wealth and power that causes rumors to spread that he pirates, reason for his long absences from home and rapid increase of fortune. During the battle with the Scots, Eleanor’s only brother dies leaving her and her sisters a vast family fortune. Hugh gains control of this wealth, exalting power through coerced business dealings, including the pointless execution of a man imprisoned for treason, all without the King’s knowledge or permission. His recklessness compounds when seeking forgiveness from the King. Hugh becomes not only his lover but a close confident and advisor; mirroring Piers Galveston’s fate. Eight years after their relationship began, Hugh confesses to Eleanor about his intimacy with the King, although she never fully comprehends the magnitude of hate England’s people holds for her husband. Still to the end, Eleanor’s loyalty and love towards her uncle, King Edward II and her husband, Hugh le Despenser never waivers.

“The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II” delivers a skillfully ingenious, though historically accurate tale surrounding Eleanor le Despenser’s life during King Edward II’s reign. Ms. Higginbotham’s many characters come alive as this intriguing period piece unfolds cataloging their adventures, loves lost and gained, while suffering the emotional pains of deceit and the physical tortures of treason. Eleanor appears a clever and courageous woman, standing up to the Queen who has manipulated the King to exile Hugh. Although naïve at times when her ambitious husband is secretive about his long absences from home, and then his clandestine management of her vast estates. Hugh is a devoted and affectionate man, always present during the births of their many children, even showing deep remorse when one child dies shortly after being born. His ambition and need for personal recognition leads toward self-destruction, jeopardizing his wife and children’s safety and well-being.

The story’s main focus, Eleanor endures many hardships after Queen Isabella takes over leadership of England. Concealed in the Tower for protection by her husband, she becomes a prisoner there after his fall from power. Then her daughters are taken away, forced to become nuns. Her young sons remain at her side, while her oldest son, Hugh is held prisoner by the newly appointed King Edward III; at the command of his mother Queen Isabella.

Ms. Higginbotham also masterfully conveys the trials and tribulations of being a monarch, and the level of tolerance and ambiguity being in the service of one. King Edward II’s downfall appears in the guise of his newly organized “The Ordainers”, who now regulates the monarchy’s business and personal affairs. Every man appointed within this royal order brings their own aspirations for personal power and greed. This absorbing novel has been awarded the Editor and Reader’s Choice through its publisher iUniverse, rightfully so. The Traitor’s Wife, though a work of fiction, is also noted in Wikipedia.

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by: In August of 2006, Pamela broke into book review writing with Erotic Escapades, but writes for The Erotic Bookworm, The Muse Book Reviews, Romance At Heart, and now POD People. Her own web site, Chewing the Bone exhibits book reviews in multilple genres, including children and young adult fiction. With all that she has going on Pamela finds time to dabble in flash-fic writing. Although, she doesn't aspire in becoming a published novelist, because it would take valuable time away from her first love... reading.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks for the review, Pamela!

Alianore said...

Great review!