From the bedchamber to the battlefield, through treachery and fidelity, one woman is imprisoned by the secrets of the crown.
It is an age where passion reigns and treachery runs as thick as blood. Young Eleanor has two men in her life: her uncle King Edward II, and her husband Hugh le Despenser, a mere knight but the newfound favorite of the king. She has no desire to meddle in royal affairs--she wishes for a serene, simple life with her family. But as political unrest sweeps the land, Eleanor, sharply intelligent yet blindly naive, becomes the only woman each man can trust.
Fiercely devoted to both her husband and her king, Eleanor holds the secret that could destroy all of England--and discovers the choices no woman should have to make.
At its heart, The Traitor's Wife is a unique love story that every reader will connect with.
Gold Medalist, historical / military fiction, 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards
Includes bonus reading group guide
A noblewoman pays the price for her loyalty to an unpopular king and her unfaithful husband.
Married off to Hugh le Despenser, a knight of lower stature, Eleanor de Clare nonetheless considers herself lucky: Not only is she the eldest daughter of an earl and pet niece of King Edward II, but she is genuinely in love with her husband. Her luck turns, however, when Hugh proves to be ruthlessly ambitious and begins an eight-year affair with Edward that yields him enormous power, as well as the resentment of various lords and barons who never respected the weak king. Hugh also makes an enemy of Edward's wife, Queen Isabella, who raises an army to oust the king so that her son can assume take over the throne. When her campaign succeeds, Hugh is tried as a traitor while Eleanor and her children are imprisoned, indignities heaped upon them by the vengeful Isabella and her power-hungry lover, Roger Mortimer. Though Higginbotham effectively introduces sympathetic characters, she eventually reduces Isabella and Roger to overly spiteful caricatures. Worse, Eleanor's reaction to her husband's infidelity is remarkably subdued, given her complete devotion to Hugh--it's particularly jarring in a story that otherwise conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly.
At times melodramatic and uneven, but ultimately, entertaining historical fiction.
Susan Higginbotham, iUniverse, 2005, $25.95, pb, 477pp, 0595359590
Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of Edward II of England, is the spirited, loving wife of Edward's intimate and ambitious advisor, Hugh le Despenser. The English nobles and Edward's wife, Queen Isabella, chafe at the closeness of Hugh and the King, and the le Despenser family earns many enemies through Hugh's hunger for wealth and land. Eleanor's love for Hugh and her family places her in the center of a political storm, where Queen battles King, nobles usurp the crown, and traitors pay the ultimate price.
Susan Higginbotham's work is equally ambitious, relating this lively tale while deftly untangling the skein of the de Clare and le Despenser families throughout the fourteenth century. The dialogue is excellent, the characters are well formed and vibrant, and despite the tendency of the families to name heirs after their fathers and mothers, leading to a confusing roll call, Higginbotham dexterously keeps the reader focused. Higginbotham's talents lie not only in her capacity for detailed genealogical research of the period, but also in her skill in bringing these historical figures to life with passion, a wonderful sense of humor, honor, and love, leaving the reader to wonder at the fortitude of Eleanor and others surviving and thriving in such volatile times. Catherine Perkins
Fourteenth Century England
Eleanor is the favorite niece of King Edward II of England, so it is natural for her to be chosen as a lady-in-waiting to Edward's new queen, Isabella of France. Eleanor is blissfully in love with her husband, Hugh le Despenser the Younger. She is the sister-in-law of Edward's homosexual lover, Piers Gaveston. It is a happy, friendly court until Isabella arrives.
King Edward loves his friends, loves to do things for them, loves to make them happy. He would prefer to ignore the rest of the world. He does not have the abilities it takes to make either a good ruler or a good husband. He isn't actively hostile toward the English nobility, just goes his own way. The actively hostile one is Piers Gaveston. Edward would do anything for Piers, including letting him run roughshod over England's peerage.
Not surprisingly, Piers makes too many enemies and comes to a bad end. Edward hasn't learned his lesson. He chooses another lover - Eleanor's husband. Queen Isabella and the country have had enough.
What follows is a well known part of history. What isn't well known is the story of Eleanor. Author Susan Higginbotham has made every effort to stick to the snippets about Eleanor in the contemporary records. Historically, she is little more than an appendage: sister to the last Clare Earl of Gloucester, niece to the King, wife to Hugh le Despenser. Higginbotham has stirred to life a girl who is na�ve and passionate, impulsive and loyal, with an amazing knack for getting herself into troubles we hope she can get out of.
There are reading difficulties in THE TRAITOR'S WIFE. There were so few first names in use among the English nobility, that for quite a while we wish the author had weeded out some of the less necessary characters. It made me smile to read Higginbotham's rule for herself: no more than two people with the same name are allowed in the same conversation. Also, throughout the first portion, I had the urge to prune the extra phrases and clip the lengthy sentences. In spite of style issues, and the deadly events described, I read this 468-page book in twenty-four hours.
Susan Higginbotham is treading new ground in THE TRAITOR'S WIFE. It isn't just her choice of the nearly unknown Eleanor as her viewpoint character. She also seems to have decided that Edward II's enduring unpopularity was caused by his homosexuality and it is time to update our view of him. If that is so, it would be a debatable theory. Edward allowed both his lovers to indulge their piratical greed at the expense of his subjects. But that viewpoint does provide us with a humane new portrait. Throughout the book Higginbotham successfully redirects our attention to Edward's limitless capacity for love. THE TRAITOR'S WIFE is an endearing, involving story, made so by the unconventional characters of Eleanor and Edward.
In 'The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II' author Susan
Higginbotham follows the life of Eleanor de Clare from the time she marries
Hugh le Despenser in 1306 to her death in 1337. The years in between are full of
challenges, which the title character rises to admirably. She is portrayed as a
loyal, passionate woman who loves her husband, her children and her king. She
will do whatever she can to protect them. Even when her efforts fail and she is
faced with tremendous loss, she meets adversity with courage and faith.
There are many characters in 'The Traitor's Wife,' most of them based on historical
figures who were often named after royalty or relatives and therefore had many
given names in common. This sometimes leads to confusion, but since
Higginbotham had the foresight to include a character list and a disclaimer at
the front of the book, it is easily cleared up.
It is evident that a tremendous amount of research went into the writing of this novel, making the characters and events richer and deeper than if they came solely from the author's
imagination. While reading this book, I found myself constantly reminded of the
fact that these people were real. Higginbotham brings them back to life with
all their foibles and shortcomings as well as their noble qualities. She makes
history come alive and reacquaints us with a time with which we may or may not
I must admit I did not know much about Edward II or the people who
made up his court in the 14th century, but my introduction to it through
Higginbotham's novel has sparked my interest to find out more. This is one of
the reasons why I enjoy the genre of historical fiction - I am able to be
entertained while reading about characters and events that are based on fact. On
this criterion, 'The Traitor's Wife' did not disappoint, although the prose
became somewhat dry at times and I had the feeling of being overwhelmed by the
facts rather than carried along by the emotion behind the events.
The book is a fairly long one - almost 500 pages of small print- and although I am not usually
daunted by lengthy tomes, I need the emotional connection to the characters to
keep me turning the pages to the end. Besides the title character, I can
honestly say I did not have this with any of the others; however my empathy for
Eleanor and the situations she found herself in kept me reading to the
conclusion. Ultimately, 'The Traitor's Wife' is a tale of intrigue, betrayal,
loyalty and passion. It is worth the dry parts to get to the juicy tidbits about
a woman who lived and loved 700 years ago.
Set in 14th-century England, Higginbotham's originally self-published debut follows the life of young noblewoman Eleanor le Dispenser. As favored niece to King Edward II and lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella, Eleanor enjoys a privileged and leisurely existence in the English royal court. Additionally, her marriage to Hugh le Dispenser the Younger is a happy and fruitful one, and life seems, well, perfect. When startling truths come to light regarding her uncle, her husband, and her queen, Eleanor is forced to pay a terrible price in the name of family loyalty. Although Higginbotham's prose runs dry at times and her cast of characters is daunting, her talent for genealogical research is undeniable. Readers will find the tumultuous power struggles surrounding medieval marriage, remarriage, childbirth, and inheritance to be particularly intriguing. Overall, a worthy debut, but fans of English historical fiction may prefer Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Illuminator or Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth). For larger public libraries.--Makiia Lucier, Moscow, ID
Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . I really enjoyed this well written, historical novel!
Posted June 12, 2011 by Kathy McAllister , Gilroy, CaliforniaI love historical novels and knew little of this period in history. This book is well written and well researched; I will definitely be reading more from this author! Seldom does a free download lead me to a new author on my list of favorites. Thank you.
2 . A surprising good read
Posted January 14, 2011 by BarbsInSD , San Diego, CAI got this book when it was listed under the bargains. I didn't have high hopes for it but then I found I had a hard time putting it down. The author gives you just enough detail to make it interesting without going and boring you.
I'd suggest this book to my friends.
March 31, 2009
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Excerpt from The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham
Excerpt from Part I: May 26, 1306 to November 24, 1326
Prince Edward and Piers Gaveston had slept together and too late, neither of which was at all unusual. Edward was the first to awake.
"No." His beautiful friend yawned and rolled to his side.
"You must. We have a wedding to attend. And what if my father finds you here?"
Piers considered. "Apoplexy?"
"At the least." But his friend made no move to leave the bed, and Edward did not press the matter.
"So it is your niece who is getting married. It occurs to me that I have hardly seen the girl."
"Eleanor is but thirteen. She has spent some time lately in my stepmother's household, and then she stayed at Amesbury priory with my sister Mary for a time too. She has just lately returned for her marriage."
"I cannot for the life of me understand why girls go to convents before they are married. One thinks that the company of elderly virgins would be dampening to marital ardor. Now if they went to brothels at least it would be educational and practical."
Edward swatted his friend with a pillow. He said a bit wistfully, "When Eleanor was younger, I used to row her and her brother in my boat. Her sisters felt it was too unladylike, so they would never go along. But she loved it. She and Gilbert used to stick their noses in the air and pretend I was their boatman and shout orders at me." He stroked his friend's hair. "I am sorry my father gave her to Hugh le Despenser. I would have liked her to be your wife."
"I want no wife."
"Nor do I. But I must have one, and you really must yourself, you know. When I am king, you shall have titles and lands and that means you must get heirs. And Eleanor would have been a fine wife for you. Sweet and shy, but with a sly wit once you get to know her."
"And now I won't have the opportunity. I shall throw myself in the Thames forthwith."
"There's her sister Margaret. A good-natured girl, not as much so as Eleanor, but a definite possibility. Elizabeth is by far the prettiest but has too much of the grande dame about her even at her young age. Yes, I would pick Margaret."
"Before I have recovered from the loss of Eleanor? For shame! Is my rival Hugh pleased with the match?"
"He ought to be, getting a Clare for a wife; I would have thought my father would have insisted on an earl for Eleanor. But who knows what young Hugh thinks of anything? He keeps his own counsel. It is disconcerting in a youth of his age." He bestowed a tender kiss on Piers. "I prefer the more open temperament."
"And so do I." Piers returned the kiss, with compound interest, and for some time afterward no talking was done.
Eleanor de Clare, some chambers away from her uncle and his friend in Westminster Palace, had been passing the morning less pleasantly, though more decorously. Though in her naivet? she was quite content with the drape of her wedding dress, the styling of her hair, and the placement of her jewels, her mother, aunts, sisters, and attendant ladies were not, and each was discontent in a different way. As her hair was debated over and rearranged for the seventh time, she snapped, "Enough, Mama! I know Hugh is not being plagued in this manner. He must take me as I am."
Gladys, a widow who had long served Eleanor's mother as a damsel and who had agreed to go into Eleanor's household, grinned. "Aye, my lady, and he won't much care what you are wearing. It will be what is underneath that will count." She patted Eleanor's rump with approval. "And he will be pleased." Elizabeth gasped. Margaret tittered. Eleanor, however, giggled. "Do you truly think so, Gladys?"
"Of course. You're well developed for your age, and men love that. And you will be a good breeder of children, too, mark me. You will have a fine brood."
"You can tell me, Gladys. What will it be like? Tonight?"
Eleanor's mother, Joan, the Countess of Gloucester, had been sniffling sentimentally at the prospect of her first daughter's marriage. Now she raised an eyebrow. "Your little sisters, Eleanor--"
"They shall be married soon, too, won't they? They might as well know."
"We might as well," Margaret agreed.
"Each man will go about his business in his own way, my lady. But I'll wager that he will be gentle about the matter."
"Will I be expected to--help at all?" At thirteen Eleanor was not quite as naive as she pretended, having heard enough courtiers and servant girls whispering to piece together what happened on a wedding night, but it had occurred to her that no one was fussing over her hair now.
Gladys had been left entirely on her own by the gaggle of women, who were plainly finding this entertaining. When Gladys paused before answering, Mary, Eleanor's aunt the nun, piped up, "Well, answer, my dear, because I certainly can't."
"I've no doubt that once you get interested in him, my lady, you shall want to help."
Eleanor nodded and considered this in silence.
Margaret, sitting on a window seat, sighed. "I wish I was getting married," she explained.
"I'm sure you will be soon."
"And better." Elizabeth sniffed.
"Elizabeth! What mean you?" Her mother glared.
"I only repeat what I overheard you say the other day." Elizabeth was only ten, but she had the dignity of a woman twice that age. "Nelly is an earl's daughter, and Hugh is only a mere knight. He has no land to speak of. And he's not even truly handsome, like my uncle's friend Piers Gaveston."
"As though we need more of that!" Joan went over and patted her oldest daughter on the shoulder. "I did think you could have done better," she said gently, "but it was your grandfather's match, and he has always thought highly of Hugh's father, who has served him well for years. There is no reason why his fortunes should not grow in years to come." She frowned at a tangle in Eleanor's waist-length red hair--it was difficult at times to determine what was tangle and what was curl--and began to brush it out.
Eleanor glared at her youngest sister.
"Tell me," she said, submitting ungraciously to having some color put on her naturally pale cheeks, "who is this Piers to my uncle? I have never seen my uncle out of his company since we came to Westminster. And why does his being around him vex my grandfather the king so?"
Gladys became deeply interested in a discarded bracelet lying on a table. The other women stared absorbedly at Eleanor's robes. Only her little sisters looked at Eleanor, and their faces were as curious as hers.
"We must get to the chapel," Joan said. "Come, ladies."