Title: Mistress of Beauty: Agnes Sorel
Author: HRH Princess Michael of Kent
Review: This is HRH Princess Michael of Kent’s fifth book and the second in the “Anjou” trilogy. Set in the second half of the 15th century, this novel tells the story of Agnès Sorel, mistress of Charles VII of France. The king’s mother-in-law persuades her young lady-in-waiting that it is her duty to become the king’s lover, despite her piety. As the novel unfolds, she grows to love him, and their relationship gives him the happiness and self-confidence to rule and to fight back against the English. Her status as royal mistress gives her great influence with the king and he showers her with gifts, titles and wealth. Unsurprisingly, this attracts resentment and her enemies start to plot around her.
It is a beautifully composed and moving account of King Charles VII of France’s mistress Agnès Sorel. Twenty-year-old Agnès is a captivatingly beautiful demoiselle to the king’s wife, Queen Marie d’Anjou, and quickly captures his attention, as well as his heart. This book is wonderfully evocative of 15th Century court life and intrigue. The novel paints a sympathetic portrait of the Dame de Beauté as well as giving the backdrop of Europe at the time and the eternal wars, between both France and England, and, between cousins for the Kingdom of Naples.
HRH Princess Michael of Kent has deeply immersed herself in the period, and the novel is full of historical detail: her descriptions of Paris for example are evocative and full of life, and the royal court is described in all its finery. The descriptions of tournaments and processions are full of sumptuous detail. Agnès herself is portrayed as a beautiful innocent, loving and loved, and totally unsuited to the politics of a royal court. To a modern reader this naivety may appear as unrealistic and at times can appear rather cloying. Sadly, the other characters are somewhat one-dimensional and forgettable. As a result, the novel is at best patchy – at times dazzling, at others flawed.But overall the novel was gripping, so much so I now want to reach for the predecessor book, The Queen of Four Kingdoms to learn more about Queen Yolande who is all but beatified by Princess Michael, and also await with bated breath the final book of the trilogy to establish how and whether King Charles VII recovers from his lover’s death. While I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of the work, undoubtedly Princess Michael has immense skill in weaving a compelling story.
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