Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising
“I deftly slipped free as soon as I could with a pretty, breathless show of resistance, enough to make him smile as he let me return to the ball. Seduction was better played in several acts, and we both knew it. But that single kiss had excited me mightily. I’d tasted the power of royalty in it, and of a man who was accustomed to having whatever he wanted. Yet I’d power, too, because what he wanted was me, exactly as I was and without any regard for my fortune. Was there any more heady realization than that?”
Thus, the big question of Catherine Sedley’s life begins to rage inside her. How can a woman be in love and still keep a hold of what’s hers? Raised to be willful and sharp-tongued by a father who participated in endless royal frivolity, a marriage contract for Catherine would mean a huge loss of wealth and freedom. So, despite the wishes of her father and the questionable morality of mistresshood, she decides to forsake that silly marriage idea in favor of becoming a professional bedfellow…a lowly station indeed in most situations. However, her situation is different.
Born in 1657 to an 18-year-old fledgling playwright, Catherine Sedley was never a pretty girl. Too thin, too small-chested, too pale, she learned quickly to distinguish herself from the sea of bedecked beauties with her clever humor and outspoken manner. Her mother had lost her mind and her father, being highly favored by King Charles II, was involved in a constant cycle of partying, recovering, and preparing to party again. Left to her own devices and without much direction from schooling, it was only a matter of time before Catherine joined in the royal debauchery. She learned the ropes, met the important figures, and began to impress the highest ranks of people with her unguarded intellect. So it was that she attracted the gaze of the king’s brother, the Duke of York, and eventually became his most favored coital co-hort.
Huzzah! What an exalted position! It was better than being some rich guy’s wife, and way better than living a life of spinsterhood. Each day was a veritable fountain of finery for Catherine, and she lived a life removed from the bonds of royal matrimony…no pressure to produce an heir, no need to be presented as a paradigm of good principles, no reason to uphold the honor and integrity that the bonds of marriage were supposed to represent. She lived like this for several years, standing by her man as he ascends to become King of England himself. He put her up in her own place, gave her a large allowance by which to support herself and their daughter, and continued to care for her even as his own circumstances were in question. It wasn’t so bad.
This is the story of Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester as told by Susan Holloway Scott in The Countess and the King. It’s a wonderful book, impeccably researched and extremely well written. The vocabulary is delicious, the imagery beautifully detailed, and the characters are full of depth and intrigue, all of which combine to successfully breathe life into this dusty ‘ol narrative that, if it hadn’t been so skillfully crafted, could’ve been as sleepy as a little kid in the back of a car. Ms. Scott weaves a fantastic example of historical fiction and romance, intertwined with life in 17th-century England and its constant trouble with religion. Should the kingdom be Catholic? How about Anglican? What about our allies…what religion are they? Round and round it goes, bouncing back and forth between the two royal brothers, King Charles and the Duke of York, who each have a foot in a different pool. This battle of spirituality is explored exhaustively, so much that I found the last half of the book to drag a bit. But in the larger sense, The Countess and the King was an enjoyable romp through the palaces of English royalty, a naughty little glimpse behind the bedroom doors of those who made history, and most definitely an educational look at the plight of women. I think you’ll like it.
4 out of 5 Stars
The Countess and the King: A Novel of the Countess of Dorchester and King James II, by Susan Holloway Scott
Penguin Group (2010)
Trade paperback (400) pages
© 2007 – 2010 Shelley Dewees, Austenprose