Review: The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien

PUBLISHED: 12:15 28 May 2015 | UPDATED: 14:52 28 May 2015

The King’s Sister Book Cover

The King’s Sister Book Cover


Annette Shaw reviews The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien

Anne O’BrienAnne O’Brien

In a tiny country church, in Burford, Shropshire, Anne O’Brien discovered the heroine of her current best seller. “I knew it as soon as I saw her effigy, clad regally in red with a purple cloak trimmed with ermine.” She was Elizabeth of Lancaster.

“My passion, as a writer of historical novels,” says Anne, “is to look at the world at that time from a woman’s point of view. Much is well documented in terms of actual events but we know little of how these great women lived, what they thought and how they reacted. By all accounts the late 1300’s were a traumatic period in history.” The strength of The King’s Sister is exactly that. With a bedrock of fact, Anne explores the more intimate qualities of great lives weaving in so much, from the music and games to the food and clothes.

It’s 1380 and Elizabeth of Lancaster is dressed in her finery. Tension mounts as the partner her father has chosen for her arrives at Kenilworth Castle. He is John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke. She strains excitedly to see him amongst the men and women of the wedding party. Then shock. He is eight years old and central to an alliance against Castile. Dame Kathryn Swynford spells it out to a distraught Elizabeth. “Your father needs powerful allies. This boy may be a child in your eyes but he is heir to the whole Pembroke inheritance, with royal blood from Edward the First ...It is an excellent match. Do you understand?” To add insult, the young earl shows more interest in a pet parrot than in his intended. Further competition comes from puppies in the stable as Elizabeth points out in no uncertain terms. “He has given me a list of things he would like as a wedding gift. They are all furred and feathered.”

For Elizabeth, a 17 year old girl dreaming of becoming a woman, all thoughts of canoodling fade into the far future until she meets Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter. He offers to remedy her situation, so to speak. As the desire between them reaches the intensity of an electrical storm, John of Gaunt, aka Dad, intervenes. “It is my opinion, that you have entertained the court sufficiently with your conduct in the company of John Holland.” And so the scene is set. Elizabeth can’t and does not give up Exeter who is half brother to King Richard. As sister of the future King Henry 1V, family loyalties are tested - to destruction. We follow Elizabeth as sister, wife and ultimately a traitor. We also read of other women of the time such as Exeter’s mother Joan, the fair maid of Kent, a force to be reckoned with in court politics.

Anne, a lady of Yorkshire heritage, currently lives in Herefordshire. John Holland built the Great Hall at Dartington and it is here that Anne will speak at the Telegraph Ways With Words Festival on 8th July 2015.

For more information: Tel: 01803 847147

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