The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife

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

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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 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

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Set in 14th-century England, Higginbotham's originally self-published debut follows the life of young noblewoman Eleanor le Dispenser. As favored niece to King Edward II and lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella, Eleanor enjoys a privileged and leisurely existence in the English royal court. Additionally, her marriage to Hugh le Dispenser the Younger is a happy and fruitful one, and life seems, well, perfect. When startling truths come to light regarding her uncle, her husband, and her queen, Eleanor is forced to pay a terrible price in the name of family loyalty. Although Higginbotham's prose runs dry at times and her cast of characters is daunting, her talent for genealogical research is undeniable. Readers will find the tumultuous power struggles surrounding medieval marriage, remarriage, childbirth, and inheritance to be particularly intriguing. Overall, a worthy debut, but fans of English historical fiction may prefer Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Illuminator or Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth). For larger public libraries.
—Makiia Lucier

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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."

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