Friday, 17 July 2020

The Silken Rose by Carol McGrath

In 1236, young Ailenor of Provence arrives in England to be married to a man she hasn't met - the king, Henry III. Despite being only thirteen years old, she has to quickly learn how to manage her relationship with Henry, and negotiate the undercurrents of court life. As she starts to find her feet in this foreign land, she finds herself  treading a narrow path though the political mire; torn between friendship with Henry's sister, Nell, and Henry's displeasure with Nell's husband, Simon de Montfort; and seeking to, understandably, surround herself with the familiar faces of her uncles, she's accused of putting family ties before suitability for the job.

Great for lovers of historical fiction, The Silken Rose is an interesting look at the workings and machinations of the English court at a somewhat forgotten time in history.
Where Carol McGrath excels is in adding personality to the scant descriptions of history books, and in capturing of the minutiae of daily life at Court. Descriptions of feasts, and the embroideries worked by Queen Ailenor and her ladies fill, maybe not every page, but quite close. In this novel, the life of Queen Ailenor is intertwined with that of her favourite embroideress, Rosalind, the craftswoman behind the many hangings that adorn Ailenor's castles. Through her eyes we see another side of Medieval London - the prominent merchants and guildsmen of the city who bankrolled many of the king's projects.

The Silken Rose is the first of a new trilogy from Carol McGrath, which will follow the lives of three medieval queens who were regarded by their contemporaries as 'she-wolves' - mainly because they upset the nobility. Ailenor was accused of favouring her family, particularly her uncles, with titles and benefits; her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castille, subject of the second book, of greed; and Isabella of France (Eleanor's daughter-in-law) of being 'not one of us'. The author believes all of them deserve a better appreciation.

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