Ames’ review of The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott.
Katherine Sedley lived by her own rules and loved who she pleased- until she became the infamous mistress of King James II…
London, 1675: Born to wealth and privilege, Katherine is introduced to the decadent court of King Charles II, and quickly becomes a favorite from the palace to the bawdy playhouses. She gleefully snubs respectable marriage to become the Duke of York’s mistress.
But Katherine’s life of carefree pleasure ends when Charles II dies, and her lover becomes King James II. Suddenly she is cast into a tangle of political intrigue, religious dissent, and ever-shifting alliances, where a wrong step can mean treason, exile, or death at the executioner’s block. As the risks rise, Katherine is forced to make the most perilous of choices: to remain loyal to the king, or to England.
I am all about women bucking convention and Katherine Sedley definitely fits the bill!
Katherine was raised unconventionally by her father. He was a favourite of King Charles II, well known for his wit. He also had some rapscallion friends and rubbed shoulders with the King’s mistress. When Katherine was 10, he started to bring her along when he’d mingle at court. Katherine’s mother was mad, believe she was the queen, and was quietly moved to a convent during that time.
So Katherine’s education was more witty repartee than ladylike behaviour. She definitely preferred the company of men to other women (unless they were bold ladies like herself). Her wit and bold personality also make her stand out, because as we’re told, Katherine was no great beauty.
Because of her upbringing, Katherine has seen very clearly how mistresses are treated compared to wives. Wives are shuttled off to the country to beget heirs. Katherine does not want this for herself. Although she never explicitly thought that she wanted to be a mistress, she for sure didn’t want to be a wife! Her father also told her while she was growing up to marry for love, and he always kept true to that. He never forced her to marry although he did ask her to think about it a few times. He was disappointed when she caught the eye of the Duke of York, King Charles’ younger brother. It was not the future he had set out for her. But Katherine was a woman of means and this was the path she chose, and it was not an easy one.
I loved Katherine’s independence. She was extremely smart and she had a close relationship with her father and he always looked out for her. He gave her great advice for dealing with the court. Although I believe he came to regret how he brought her up, he loved her and supported her, even when they took opposing stances over certain things.
One of the biggest conflicts in this book, and indeed the time period, was religion. King Charles and the majority of England were Protestant. They looked upon Roman Catholics (referred to as Jesuits) with suspicion and fear. James, the Duke of York, was Catholic. His enemies in the court used this to their advantage to lesson his favour among the people. When he married an Italian princess, they feared him even more. The last thing they wanted was a Catholic on the throne (any children from James’ marriage would inherit the throne as Charles’ own wife only gave him daughters). Many were pleased when he took Katherine as his mistress, as she was a good Protestant woman who could whisper sweet Protestant nothings in his ear. LOL
I really enjoyed The Countess and the King. The history was interesting and Katherine was an extremely interesting character for her time period. Any fans of historical fiction would definitely enjoy this book. 4.25 out of 5.
This book is available from NAL Trade. You can buy it here or here in e-format.
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