The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II
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The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II

3.7 119
by Susan Higginbotham

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From the bedchamber to the battlefield, through treachery and fidelity, one woman is imprisoned by the secrets of the crown.

It is an age where passion reigns and treachery runs as thick as blood. Young Eleanor has two men in her life: her uncle King Edward II, and her husband Hugh le Despenser, a mere knight but the newfound favorite of the


From the bedchamber to the battlefield, through treachery and fidelity, one woman is imprisoned by the secrets of the crown.

It is an age where passion reigns and treachery runs as thick as blood. Young Eleanor has two men in her life: her uncle King Edward II, and her husband Hugh le Despenser, a mere knight but the newfound favorite of the king. She has no desire to meddle in royal affairs-she wishes for a serene, simple life with her family. But as political unrest sweeps the land, Eleanor, sharply intelligent yet blindly naïve, becomes the only woman each man can trust.

Fiercely devoted to both her husband and her king, Eleanor holds the secret that could destroy all of England-and discovers the choices no woman should have to make.

At its heart, The Traitor's Wife is a unique love story that every reader will connect with.

Gold Medalist, historical / military fiction, 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards • Includes bonus reading group guide


"Conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly... entertaining historical fiction." — Kirkus Discoveries

"Higginbotham's talents lie not only in her capacity for detailed genealogical research of the period, but also in her skill in bringing these historical figures to life with passion, a wonderful sense of humor, honor, and love." — Historical Novels Review Online

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Discoveries
In fourteenth-century England, young Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of King Edward II, is delighted with her marriage to Hugh le Despenser and her appointment to Queen Isabella's household as a lady-in-waiting. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Eleanor's beloved uncle is not the king the nobles of the land-or his queen-expected.

Hugh's unbridled ambition and his intimate relationship with Edward arouse widespread resentment, even as Eleanor remains fiercely loyal to her husband and to her king. But loyalty has its price...

Moving from royal palaces to prison cells, from the battlefield to the bedroom, between hope and despair, treachery and fidelity, hatred and abiding love, The Traitor's Wife is a tale of an extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times.

A noblewoman pays the price for her loyalty to an unpopular king and her unfaithful husband...conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly...ultimately, entertaining historical fiction.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Part I: May 26, 1306 to November 24, 1326

May 1306

Prince Edward and Piers Gaveston had slept together and too late, neither of which was at all unusual. Edward was the first to awake.
"Up, Perrot."
"No." His beautiful friend yawned and rolled to his side.
"You must. We have a wedding to attend. And what if my father finds you here?"
Piers considered. "Apoplexy?"

"At the least." But his friend made no move to leave the bed, and Edward did not press the matter.

"So it is your niece who is getting married. It occurs to me that I have hardly seen the girl."

"Eleanor is but thirteen. She has spent some time lately in my stepmother's household, and then she stayed at Amesbury priory with my sister Mary for a time too. She has just lately returned for her marriage."

"I cannot for the life of me understand why girls go to convents before they are married. One thinks that the company of elderly virgins would be dampening to marital ardor. Now if they went to brothels at least it would be educational and practical."

Edward swatted his friend with a pillow. He said a bit wistfully, "When Eleanor was younger, I used to row her and her brother in my boat. Her sisters felt it was too unladylike, so they would never go along. But she loved it. She and Gilbert used to stick their noses in the air and pretend I was their boatman and shout orders at me." He stroked his friend's hair. "I am sorry my father gave her to Hugh le Despenser. I would have liked her to be your wife."

"I want no wife."
"Nor do I. But I must have one, and you really must yourself, you know. When I am king, you shall have titles and lands and that means you must get heirs. And Eleanor would have been a fine wife for you. Sweet and shy, but with a sly wit once you get to know her."
"And now I won't have the opportunity. I shall throw myself in the Thames forthwith."
"There's her sister Margaret. A good-natured girl, not as much so as Eleanor, but a definite possibility. Elizabeth is by far the prettiest but has too much of the grande dame about her even at her young age. Yes, I would pick Margaret."
"Before I have recovered from the loss of Eleanor? For shame! Is my rival Hugh pleased with the match?"
"He ought to be, getting a Clare for a wife; I would have thought my father would have insisted on an earl for Eleanor. But who knows what young Hugh thinks of anything? He keeps his own counsel. It is disconcerting in a youth of his age." He bestowed a tender kiss on Piers. "I prefer the more open temperament."
"And so do I." Piers returned the kiss, with compound interest, and for some time afterward no talking was done.

Eleanor de Clare, some chambers away from her uncle and his friend in Westminster Palace, had been passing the morning less pleasantly, though more decorously. Though in her naiveté she was quite content with the drape of her wedding dress, the styling of her hair, and the placement of her jewels, her mother, aunts, sisters, and attendant ladies were not, and each was discontent in a different way. As her hair was debated over and rearranged for the seventh time, she snapped, "Enough, Mama! I know Hugh is not being plagued in this manner. He must take me as I am."

Gladys, a widow who had long served Eleanor's mother as a damsel and who had agreed to go into Eleanor's household, grinned. "Aye, my lady, and he won't much care what you are wearing. It will be what is underneath that will count." She patted Eleanor's rump with approval. "And he will be pleased." Elizabeth gasped. Margaret tittered. Eleanor, however, giggled. "Do you truly think so, Gladys?"

"Of course. You're well developed for your age, and men love that. And you will be a good breeder of children, too, mark me. You will have a fine brood."

"You can tell me, Gladys. What will it be like? Tonight?"
Eleanor's mother, Joan, the Countess of Gloucester, had been sniffling sentimentally at the prospect of her first daughter's marriage. Now she raised an eyebrow. "Your little sisters, Eleanor—"

"They shall be married soon, too, won't they? They might as well know."
"We might as well," Margaret agreed.
"Each man will go about his business in his own way, my lady. But I'll wager that he will be gentle about the matter."
"Will I be expected to—help at all?" At thirteen Eleanor was not quite as naive as she pretended, having heard enough courtiers and servant girls whispering to piece together what happened on a wedding night, but it had occurred to her that no one was fussing over her hair now.

Gladys had been left entirely on her own by the gaggle of women, who were plainly finding this entertaining. When Gladys paused before answering, Mary, Eleanor's aunt the nun, piped up, "Well, answer, my dear, because I certainly can't."
"I've no doubt that once you get interested in him, my lady, you shall want to help."

Eleanor nodded and considered this in silence.
Margaret, sitting on a window seat, sighed. "I wish I was getting married," she explained.
"I'm sure you will be soon."
"And better." Elizabeth sniffed.
"Elizabeth! What mean you?" Her mother glared.
"I only repeat what I overheard you say the other day." Elizabeth was only ten, but she had the dignity of a woman twice that age. "Nelly is an earl's daughter, and Hugh is only a mere knight. He has no land to speak of. And he's not even truly handsome, like my uncle's friend Piers Gaveston."

"As though we need more of that!" Joan went over and patted her oldest daughter on the shoulder. "I did think you could have done better," she said gently, "but it was your grandfather's match, and he has always thought highly of Hugh's father, who has served him well for years. There is no reason why his fortunes should not grow in years to come." She frowned at a tangle in Eleanor's waist-length red hair—it was difficult at times to determine what was tangle and what was curl—and began to brush it out.

Eleanor glared at her youngest sister.
"Tell me," she said, submitting ungraciously to having some color put on her naturally pale cheeks, "who is this Piers to my uncle? I have never seen my uncle out of his company since we came to Westminster. And why does his being around him vex my grandfather the king so?"

Gladys became deeply interested in a discarded bracelet lying on a table. The other women stared absorbedly at Eleanor's robes. Only her little sisters looked at Eleanor, and their faces were as curious as hers.

"We must get to the chapel," Joan said. "Come, ladies."

Meet the Author

Susan Higginbotham's meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life through heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog and is a contributor to the blog "Yesterday Revisited." She has worked as an editor and an attorney, and lives in Apex, North Carolina with her family.

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Traitor's Wife 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 120 reviews.
EVKendall More than 1 year ago
This book is the prequel to Hugh and Bess, which I unfortunately read first not knowing about this book. Although, if I had read The Traitor's Wife first I may have never gotten to the much more entertaining Hugh and Bess. This book was dauntingly long, more than 500 pages, and I found myself skimming through the painfully detailed battle scenes. Some think this book was overtly sexual but I did not find it so. Yes, there were steamy scenes but nothing that made me blush by any means. This is a story about Eleanor de Clare and Hugh le Despenser during the reign of Edward II. It is richly detailed with accurate descriptions of political and military accounts, sprinkled with bits of actual story about the le Despenser family. I finished it only because I had enjoyed Hugh and Bess so much.
Moll_Slanders More than 1 year ago
Wow, there was a lot more sex (of all kinds!) in this book than I expected, although it was not graphic. The plot and historical details were OK, but frankly I sometimes got bored with hearing tons of info about battles, castles, etc and skimmed it. The main character was a bit of a "Mary Sue" but was usually tolerable, although occasionally I wanted to reach in the book and smack her. I got this as a free Nookbook and would not pay $10 for it. Still, it was not too bad.
Heather Bash More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to love this book but for me it was just ok. The characters seemed underdeveloped and at times it read like a history book. Also there were many characters and many with the same name so that got very confusing at times. It was very interesting to learn about this period of British history, but it just didn't come alive for me in this book.
Meghan_A More than 1 year ago
The dialogue is unbelievable, the characters undeveloped. A waste of time and money.
Glamrbabe More than 1 year ago
I loved the Traitor's Wife! Susan Higginbotham did a beautiful job of telling the story of Eleanor leDespenser's life, loves, and struggles. She lived such an adventure filled with rich happiness, terrible sorrow, joy in her children, and always, grace under difficult circumstances. Her character seemed very "real", she made mistakes and suffered the consequences, but her spirit was never broken. Her story was so interesting to me, I hated to put the book down. I'm a historical fiction buff, and I hated to put this book down! Excellent read!
Grace2133 More than 1 year ago
The Traitor's Wife is an extremely interesting and well-written novel about the marriage of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh le Despenser during the reign of King Edward II. This is one of the historical periods where my knowledge is sketchy at best. I knew that Hugh le Despenser was a historical "bad guy", that Kind Edward II was a weak king, and that the time period was turbulent but this is where my knowledge ends. The events and happenings of the time period were a mystery to me before reading Higginbotham's novel. This book read like a historical soap opera with one crazy event happening right after the other. And I have to tell you, I absolutely loved it. From the very beginning of the novel, you can tell Higginbotham has painstakingly researched every fact and event in the novel. I really love it when you can tell that the author of a historical novel has researched the time period and subject matter they are writing about. I also thought that this benefitted the portrayal of the characters. The characters have depth and personality and induced some fairly strong emotional reactions to their behavior. I wanted to shake Eleanor for being so loyal to Hugh; I wanted to throttle Hugh, Edward and Isabella for being such prats. The Traitor's Wife is also bolstered by wonderful writing and beautiful descriptions. I did find, however, that I had trouble following the story because of the many events in the novel. I was able to follow much better when I read in sections. It is definitely a book that requires an investment of time and energy but it is definitely worthwhile. It will spark an interest in learning about these people and this time period. I would recommend The Traitor's Wife to anyone interested in reading a dramatic historical fiction about English history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great historical fiction about the wife of one of Edward IIs infamous "favorites". She was also a cousin of Edward II so she was in a perfect position to tell this story.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1306 England, thirteen years old Eleanor de Clare leaves the Priory to marry Hugh le Despenser while her favorite uncle, the heir to the throne Prince Edward, sleeps late with his lover Piers Gaveston. She is happy living the aristocratic good life and being Hugh's spouse. One year after her marriage, her uncle becomes King Edward II and Eleanor eventually a Lady in Waiting to his wife Queen Isabella from France. Over the next few years, Eleanor hears unsettling rumors as to why her husband is the royal favorite. No longer the naive teen worshiping her uncle and husband; has she scrutinized what she knows about the two men especially examining how ambitious her husband is. She concludes the rumors are basically true as she deems her spouse would sleep around with anyone to further his goals and fears the outrage amongst the aristocracy in England and France re Hugh's methods to gain favors and the affront to the Queen, who has her own personal affront to the king. Though she would prefer to expose her husband and uncle to the naked truth and is unsure of the long term consequences of her inaction; Eleanor tries to protect her extended family. This is an intriguing medieval historical epic starring a courageous real fourteenth century person, many other genuine people (like her husband) and what seems like a support cast from a Cecil DeMille movie; a four-page character reference guide helps. The story line brings to life the Edward II reign so that the audience obtains a taste of the era. Although the zillion players feel like they could fill up Wembley Stadium, fans of fourteenth century sagas will enjoy this engaging biographical fiction mostly told thorough the eyes of Eleanor. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 4 hours ago
I liked the part where all the noblewomen were at one of the castles together to wait for word about the battle in Scotland.
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Then look under ur pillow
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I really loved this story it really made me feel like i was in this book and it made me somehow feel like i was in that time period ; - ) p.s for the person who was disgusted by this book well lets just say im disgusted by you : - o face it you dumb bigot the world is changing ! so stop being a cry baby and deal with it ! Beside that this book was really super good and i simply loved writing style of it . I expect more books from this talented aurthor .
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sw73 More than 1 year ago
while at first it was hard to keep track of who's who, I quickly caught on. I really enjoyed learning some history with all the plotting and punishment and romance thrown in, although it did drag a bit in places I enjoyed it overall.
jas1 More than 1 year ago
Great historical read. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
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