The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers (62 page)

BOOK: The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers
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The deaths of her daughters Mary and Margaret from the plague in 1361, and later Lionel, her son, sank her into a depression that made her suffering so much worse.

Q. John of Gaunt comes across as wily and ambitious, and one of Edward’s more capable sons after the death of his heir. What happened to John after the end of
The King’s Concubine—and will you be writing about him in a future book?

A. John of Gaunt was considered to be perhaps the most able of Edward’s sons: A charismatic man but without significant military talent, he was overshadowed by his father and older brother, the Black Prince. He was accused of having an eye to the Crown for himself, but, in fact, he remained loyal to his young nephew Richard II throughout that troubled reign, being greatly saddened when Richard exiled his son Henry (later to be Henry IV) for ten years and later for life. It was Henry who returned to England and overthrew Richard, but that was after Gaunt’s death. He died in 1399.

Gaunt will appear in a later novel as the powerful lover of Katherine Swynford, whose children were to carry royal Plantagenet blood into the Beaufort family and thus to the Tudors. The story of Gaunt and Katherine is the quintessential love story.

Q. Can you tell us more about what happened to Alice’s four children? Did she have any others?

A. We are fairly certain that John was Edward’s son. There is some debate over Jane, Joanne, and Nicholas, but no certainty. Even their birth
dates are unknown. I considered it more likely that they were all Edward’s children rather than Windsor’s, given their ages, and since Windsor never claimed them as his and left no property to them. We know a little of their history:

John de Southeray was born in 1364. He was knighted in April 1377 and died sometime after 1383. He married Matilda Percy, a daughter of the powerful Percy family in the north.

Nicholas Lytlington died in 1386. He was Abbot of Westminster Abbey and made a name for himself collecting books and manuscripts.

Joan—or Joanna—married Robert Skerne.

Jane married Richard Northland.

Q. How much of Alice’s relationship with William de Windsor do you base on fact? What happens to them after the events of your novel?

A. The facts of the relationship between Alice and Windsor are few. We know that they were married, probably in 1373, but that Windsor returned to Ireland. We know they bought property together. The marriage was probably kept secret from Edward, who claimed that he knew nothing of it. When Alice came under attack and was threatened with banishment and loss of her property, Windsor came to her rescue, and it was he who negotiated the lifting of the sentence. It was an unusual marriage: They spent little time together, but Windsor had enough concern for Alice to stand by her when no one else would.

In 1381, after the end of novel, Windsor was recalled from Cherbourg and lived with Alice at Upminster, and was created a baron and so sat in the House of Lords from 1381 to 1384. He died at Greyrigg in Westmoreland in September 1394, leaving his land, interestingly, to his three sisters, not to Alice.

Much litigation followed, of course, with Alice determined to get what she considered to be hers, but without success. She lived on, alone, at Upminster and died there in the summer of 1400, leaving her lands and houses to her two daughters. She was buried in the church in Upminster.

Q. At one point Alice owns or leases fifty-six manor houses and a number of town properties! Wasn’t this extraordinary even for a time when wealth was concentrated among the aristocracy?

A. It was an exceptional achievement, and for a woman of no wealth or background, it was almost unknown. Alice became the wealthiest common-born woman in the land. If a man had acquired so much wealth, he would have been entitled to the rank of earl. This, of course, is the reason for the extent of the hostility toward her. Today Alice would be considered to be a remarkable businesswoman; then she was damned as a rapacious and grasping female. The accusations were, of course, made by men.

Q. You live in Hereford, in the land between England and Wales. Can you tell us more about this region, which is not a common tourist destination?

A. Herefordshire, part of the Welsh Marches, has always been an area “on the fringe” and still is today. Once, it was a wild, lawless place, and it remains very isolated. It is served by no major road or rail routes. Towns are small, villages even smaller, and there is no significant industry. It is true to say that many people in Britain are not quite sure whereabouts Herefordshire actually is.

For those who do know, it is a very beautiful area, quite wild and uninhabited in places, a land of small fields and massive oak trees, small houses tucked away down quiet lanes, and Hereford cattle, all dominated by the high ridge of the Black Mountains, which mark the border with Wales. The villages have great charm—often called the “black and white” villages because many of the houses are from the original medieval method of building in wood and plaster. Apples are grown for cider and hops for beer. Buzzards fly overhead.

It is also an area of “history,” with visual remnants of the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. It was once land owned by the great families of Mortimer and Plantagenet. Today there are ruined castles and battlefields and manor houses that keep the past alive.

I love it. It inspires me. I can think of no better place to live.

Q. Have you traveled much in the United States? What do you think of it? Are there any pieces of our history that you find particularly interesting?

A. In 2011, I traveled for two weeks in the southeast of the USA. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly Charleston and Savannah and, of course, New Orleans. I realized how limited my knowledge of U.S. history is, and was particularly drawn to the events of the Civil War, partly through the enthusiasm of our very well-informed guide. I had read
Gone with the Wind
, but otherwise my knowledge was very patchy. I am determined to do something about that!


1. What do you think of Alice? What appeals to you about her, and what doesn’t?

2. Aside from Alice, who is your favorite character in the book and why?

3. Do you understand Alice’s need for financial security, which she seeks out by owning or controlling property? Do you see her as greedy or needy, or both? And do you know anyone like her in this way?

4. People call Alice ugly, and she considers herself unattractive. Is it possible that her beauty was simply unconventional for the time? Talk about how our notions of what is beautiful change through history, and from one culture to another.

5. Alice and William de Windsor have an unconventional relationship for the mid–thirteen hundreds. What makes their union so unusual? Does it appeal to you? Do you find their romance satisfying?

6. What do you think of Philippa for indirectly arranging for Alice to become her husband’s mistress? If you had a long-term illness or
disability that made lovemaking with your husband painful or impossible, would you want him to take another lover?

7. Discuss the mothers in the book—Alice, Philippa, Joan of Kent, etc. Who do you think is the best mother, and why? Compare child-rearing practices back then and now.

8. Alice lives through a period of plague. Can you imagine how you would react to an incurable disease that strikes as indiscriminately and as swiftly? Would you give up or fight tooth and nail to survive?

9. If Alice were born in the United States today, illegitimate and abandoned, what do you think might happen to her?

10. How does Alice compare to other famous women from British history whom you might have read about?

BOOK: The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers
12.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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