Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham

The Traitor's Wife is the story of Eleanor de Clare and her love for and marriage to Hugh le Despenser, known as Hugh the Younger in the early 1300's in England.  The couple were both royalty and highly placed politically.  Eleanor was the granddaughter of Edward the I and the niece of the current king, Edward the II.  Hugh's father, Hugh the Elder was a trusted advisor of the King.

The book follows the couple over their entire lives together, through their marriage, their nine children, and their political ups and down in a tumultuous period in English history.  The reader will be surprised at the constant political maneuvering that led to treachery and betrayals, to a family being feted one day and scorned or imprisoned the next.  The country was in upheaval as the nobles tried to rein in the power of their kings and force them to rule in a manner they approved of. 

As the years passed, Hugh and Eleanor became ever more entangled in court affairs.  Hugh became the King's Chamberlain, basically the King's right-hand man.  He was the conduit between others and the King, and Hugh used this position to enrich himself and become ever more powerful.  Over the years, Edward and his queen, Isabella from France, became estranged.  Isabella eventually joined forces with her lover, Roger Mortimer, and they enlisted enough support from the nobles to force Edward to abdicate in favor of his son. 

This was disastrous for Hugh and Eleanor.  Hugh was arrested and given a traitor's death, while Eleanor and her oldest son were imprisoned off and on for many years.  Eleanor was left with nine children and the Queen's enmity.

This is a richly written, painstakingly researched account of one of England's leading families.  The Princess of Wale, Lady Diana, was a descendant of Hugh and Eleanor.  Although the reader will learn much about 13th century England and the military and political forces sweeping the country, The Traitor's Wife is above all a love story between Hugh and Eleanor.  This book is highly recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Susan Higginbotham is an attorney by education, and currently in addition to writing, works for a legal publisher.  She lives in Apex, North Carolina.  The Traitor's Wife was her first book, published in 2005 and republished in 2008 by Sourcebooks.  It received ForeWord Magazine's 2005 Silver Award for historical fiction and the 2008 Independent Publisher's Award for Historical/Military Fiction.

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