Agnes Sorel: Mistress of Beauty by Princess Michael of Kent

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Princess Michael of Kent can write very well, but I’ve found that her novels aren’t as good as her non-fiction books; and this particular novel, the second in the “Anjou” trilogy, was weaker than the previous one. Some of it was interesting, but it was written in a rather simplistic style – a bit reminiscent of Jean Plaidy, but Jean Plaidy did it a lot better! – and in the present tense, and I sometimes felt as if I was reading a Peter and Jane book :-).   Also, I was rather bemused when she referred to John of Gaunt as a former King of England! You’d think that a member of the Royal Family, even one by marriage, would manage not to make a mistake like that!

Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII of France, was the first of the “official” royal mistresses at the French court … and also a direct ancestress of Princess Michael, who, as an understandable result, seems to be rather biased towards her, and kept talking about her beauty and elegance and so on. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be elegant about wandering around in a dress with your bust hanging out of it (there’s an interesting picture on Wikipedia!), though! Maybe it was the overly simplistic style of writing or maybe it’s just that not enough is known of Agnes Sorel’s life to make a good story, but I didn’t feel that I got to know the character all that well. I think it probably was the style of writing, because a fair amount does seem to be known about her life, and about her death by alleged poisoning, and a good author of historical fiction will flesh out the facts and explain what they’ve done in an afterword.

On a more positive note, it was interesting to see various other characters at times of their lives which aren’t the best-known times of their lives, if that makes sense. I’m being Terribly English here and looking at French history from an English viewpoint, but I would generally think of Charles VII as the Dauphin in the time of Joan of Arc, of his son, the future Louis XI, as the Universal Spider making the Treaty of Picquigny with Edward IV, and, of course, of Margaret of Anjou (a lady who rather unfairly gets a very bad press in England) as the leader of the Lancastrian cause whilst Henry VI was out of it due to his severe mental health problems. So it made a change to “see” them all at the French court in the 1440s.

I’ve read the first two books in this trilogy, so I shall at some point read the third, which has recently been published, but it’s a shame that Princess Michael’s excellent style of writing non-fiction hasn’t come across into her novels.  Could do better!

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