Alice Perrers is probably one of the most reviled women in medieval history. Whilst she was no angel, the (albeit deserved) reputation for grasping doesn't tell the whole story. She certainly tried to get what she could for herself and her own, but she did provide comfort and support to an aging king who saw his hopes for the future dying as his once formidable son wasted away.
However, I don't think that this is the book to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation. `The People's Queen' seems an unlikely title: Alice was never a popular heroine, and I didn't get any real sense from the book as to why the author picked this name for her. As other reviewers have suggested, the book is at times stuck between historical novel and commentary on the period - it ends up not being entirely plausible as either. The period of history is fascinating: events then shaped the events in the kingdom for the next couple of centuries (and beyond), but the book just doesn't capture that essence of change.
Overall, it's not a bad introduction to an overlooked character, and gives some useful background to the period, but just doesn't engage.
on 12 January 2013
Alice Perrers, the `Queen' of this title is mistress to the ageing English King Edward III. In this novel, she is portrayed as being one of the people - a peasant - who has risen to great heights and made many enemies along the way. After a prologue set during the Black Death, the novel proper opens, with Alice at the height of her powers - fully atop the Wheel of Fortune. Where to from here?
Alice is beginning to realise that she needs to secure her future: Edward III has been an indulgent protector and benefactor but he cannot live much longer. And there are signs that both Parliament and the City of London have enough power to insist on a greater role in running England in future. The war with France has been costly and increasingly more difficult to fund. The King's heir is dying, and his successor is a boy.
As Alice amasses property for her future, she keeps a keen eye on the power struggle between Edward III's sons: the dying Edward the Black Prince (his heir) and his brother John of Gaunt. She is also a patron of Geoffrey Chaucer, then Comptroller of export tax on wool, sheepskins and leather in the Port of London, and shares aspects of a past with Wat Tyler (who will later be leader of the Peasants' Revolt).
`Alice Perrers is not invited to the King's funeral.'
Without the King to protect her, Alice's life takes some interesting turns. She moves from the Court to a safe manor house, to a place of safety or so she hopes. But Fortune's wheel has not yet finished turning: Alice, her family and friends have yet to endure the Peasants' Revolt.
`The day and the night that follow are the time of the Beast.'
`The People's Queen' covers seven years of Alice's life: from 1374 to 1381 (the year of the Peasants' Revolt) and is mainly told in present tense. It took me a while to become caught up in the story, but once I was I couldn't put it down. Present tense, with dashes of authorial narration kept this story moving. I am intrigued by Alice Perrers and am in the process of reading three novels about her. Each is very different and while I'm not yet sure which Alice I prefer best, I found this depiction engrossing. I especially enjoyed the depiction of Geoffrey Chaucer.
I had never heard of Alice Perrers before reading this novel. In fact, I wondered whether Bennett had just made her up because she did not sound like the typical Medieval woman.
Alice is the King's mistress, but his health is declining and she needs to find someone new to protect her and the position that she has risen to after his death. Not only that, she is one of the richest people in the country and has her fingers in every pie. She has a lot to lose and the novel follows her as she rides Fortune's wheel. I really enjoyed her story. Sometimes it was a little predictable, but not in too bad a way - it was like knowing that something would happen, but willing Alice to change course.
Another character that features heavily in the novel is Geoffrey Chaucer, who, thanks to Alice's patronage, is given an important administrative job in the City of London. I had never really considered that Chaucer would have been anything other than a writer and so for someone to imagine his everyday work, around which he wrote his poems, was quite interesting.
My only complaint is that the novel was a tiny bit too long. It is over 500 pages long and at times it seemed like the plot was just moving a bit too slowly.
Other than that, a great historical novel that focuses on an interesting and unusual character. Well worth a read!
Begins during the latter part of the reign of Edward the third and continues during the reign of Richard the second. It describes the chaos of a country suffering what is called mortalities (outbreaks of plague) and the expensive wars of France, through to the peasants Revolution. In the midst of this is Alice Perrers who claws and schemes her way up from a very humble beginning to become the most powerful woman in the country and mistress of the King then loses most of it againThe book is not an easy read, it is packed with rich the rich detail of life in England, the struggles between the court factions and the complicated financial machinations of a bankrupt King who continues to wish for war. It is at times cruel, tragic and bitter at times but is also lightened by periods of dry humour. Extensive research is obvious as one reads. Fact and fiction are well merged into a very credible description of a period that I know little about. It is I think rare to find books written about the late 14th early 15th century but I will certainly investigate it more thoroughly now. I was pleased to be introduced to it and would recommend it to not only serious history readers but to anyone who enjoys historical fiction
I'm assuming that The People's Queen of the title is Alice Perrers, one time mistress of Edward III and the main narrative character of the novel, but even having finished the book I can't really see how this title fits; Alice isn't a woman who goes out of her way to make friends with people, but is certainly a woman with plenty of enemies! She's thoroughly disliked by nobels and commoners alike.
Usually with a major character you expect that the author will present them in such a way that you end up with some sympathy for them or hoping things are going to go their way. I didn't really get this with the way Alice is portrayed in this book; I'm not sure if Bennett wanted us to like her or not? Yes, it was a tough time to live, particularly if you were a woman who had to look out for herself, but Alice comes across as greedy, unscrupulous and immoral. In fact the entire 'cast' of the novel are a pretty unsympathetic bunch, with the noteable exception of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Overall, while not a bad book it's not a great one either. It's over 500 pages long and really it could have been cut down a fair bit - I did some speed reading over quite a few passages where it got a little tedious. The narrative is also in the present tense which I found a little odd and I'm afraid I still remain unconvinced by.
'The People's Queen' tells the story of Alice Perrers, who rose from humble beginnings to become the mistress of the King, Edward III. Alice was a lady who had an eye for the main chance, storing up wealth, property, and, unfortunately, enemies. In 14th Century England, life was very hard especially for the peasants, and there were many rumblings against Alice from the start, both from the nobility and the general population. Not that Alice cared. She went on her merry way, ammassing gifts from the King, beautiful and costly robes and furnishings, whilst the population of England sufferred under the weight of the Plague (the Mortality), and the taxation and tyranny of the gentry. England was at war with France, and the war had to be paid for somehow, so the general population were taxed even more, as the infamous Poll Tax was introduced. Edward III was now an old man, somewhat in his dotage, and Alice was now more of a comfort and carer to him, than the willing and available Mistress she had been in the past. His eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, adored by the people, was dying, and his younger son, John Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt) was detested by the populace. Alice, who could never resist intrigue, teamed up with John (or so she thought), entertaining thoughts of how, after the death of the King and the Prince, she would still have power at court through the Duke John, who would, quite obviously, take the throne from his brother's son, a mere child. John of Gaunt maintained that such a thought never crossed his mind, that he did not want to be King of England, as he had no right, and would swear fealty to the young Prince. Working in the city is a young poet, named Geoffrey Chaucer, whose path crosses with Alice's, with far-reaching results. As we continue with the story, there are so many famous names and events - The Peasants Rebellion, Wat Tyler, the Plague, Katharine Swynford to name a few - so many times when Alice could have gone to ground and altered the course of her life, and so many times when she should really have just shut up, that it's very frustrating that we can't tell her this!! It's a case of 'the higher you climb, the further you fall' in Alice's case, and it's about acceptance, and knowing when to stop pushing your luck. This book is an exceptional, highly enjoyable, very well-written and page-turning story. I would have given it 10 stars if I could, and would most whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction from a particular figures viewpoint. I will definitely seek out more of Vanora Bennett's work now. A triumph!!
on 8 September 2012
I love historical novels and especialy love reading Philippa Gregory as she captivates her audience.When you read her books, you can transport yourself back in time and her books are a pleasure to read. However, I thought I would give another author a chance and was greatly disappointed!The main character Alice is intriguing and an excellent choice to write a story about . Yes, I did learn about the times in which the story is set but it failed to capture my imagination or interest. In fact months after reading the book, I had already forgotten what had happened.I lent it to my mum and she was unable to finish it. It is a difficult book to get through and is almost like you are reading a documentary in an extended version. I can't imagine reading anything by this author again and will stick will talented writers such as Gregory in the future.
on 24 August 2011
The story is intriguing. A fascinating period of history, little explored by historical fiction writers. Bennett has wonderful flowing prose-style (although I wasn't too sure about the use of the present tense). The story of Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III, is cleverly entwined with the lives of colourful characters of her day - John of Gaunt, Chaucer, Wat Tyler etc. Bennett never forgets she is telling a story, not a history book, and we don't feel encumbered with historical facts.
I'm afraid I never really engaged with Alice as a character however, either to like or loath her.
On the whole therefore I would say this book is worth a read but is not a classic.