Secrets at Court (Royal Weddings) by Blythe Gifford
1361. A tale of princes, love and discarded husbands. Secrets skulk in high places, surrounding annulled marriages and ecclesiastical decisions. The story of Joan of Kent, and her irregular marriages is witnessed through the eyes of her constant companion Anne, the lame daughter of Joan's former companion.
Anne is the focus through which the fascinating woman who would become Prince Edward's wife is revealed. There is a deep mystery surrounding Joan of Kent, all tied up with ecclesiastical courts and this wilful woman intent on shaping her own destiny. Anne comes to know the force of that intent. Gifford's Afterward is interesting in locating the historical questions that surround Joan, The Fair Maid of Kent and Edward, The Black Prince.
In reality, Joan and Edward's marriage is the larger than life background, the raison d'être for the interaction between Anne of Stamford and Sir Nicholas Lovayne and their story.
Anne holds the secrets of Joan's former marriages, their disturbing timelines. For that knowledge alone Anne will eventually be a source of danger to the legitimacy of any children Joan and Edward might have. Fortunately Anne is not only intensely loyal, she's grateful to have a place where she is protected from the life that others with her affliction experience.
(The observations about the crippled and afflicted, their fate in these times, the attention to the difficulties of riding for Anne, even her experiences amongst the pilgrims, focus our attention on Anne's struggles and fears and the import of the secrets she holds for her very survival. When Anne contemplates the lame begging in the streets and compares her lot to theirs, the realization that the veneer of protection between them and what her life could hold is frighteningly thin.)
The tension between Anne and Nicholas is palpable. Anne of course is continually having to hide her mistresses secrets from the discerning eye of Nicholas.
Who is Nicholas? He's the Prince's man, a mercenary who's fought his way to this position. A man who wants no ties but cannot help but sense the strength of this lame maid. He sees her, who she is, when no-one else does. He is attracted to her. He is also the man charged with seeking the annulment of Joan's former marriage from the Pope and the approval of her marriage to Prince Edward from the English ecclesiastical court, the Curia. A man charged with uncovering secrets.
A dangerous dance ensues between these two. A dance of secrets withheld and secrets sought, of painful revelations and ultimately of love.
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