The damask rose by Carol McGrath

Eleanor of Castile is under house arrest together with her father-in-law king Henry III during the Baron’s War. She’s forced to live in poverty and her young daughter Katherine dies of a serious cold. She blames ‘Red’ Gilbert De Clare who switched sides and took her into his custody. Her husband prince Edward is locked up somewhere else but manages to escape. At the battle of Evesham, Simon The Monfort is killed and Gilbert once again declares his loyalties to Henry III. After the war, Eleanor decides to never be dependent on others again and starts to earn lands in her own name. She goes on a crusade to Acre as a princess, but she will return as queen of England.

The damask rose is the second part in McGrath’s she wolves trilogy about three medieval queens of England who weren’t popular with the people and the nobles. I did enjoy ‘The silken rose‘ about Alienor of Provence, so I couldn’t wait to learn more about the next queen called Eleanor. She was the wife and queen of Edward I. It was a love match but with a Baron’s War, a crusade and a lot of their children dying young, the couple did endure much together.

Eleanor wasn’t the loving mother, which makes her a bit of a cold character sometimes, but I could understand why she was afraid to get too close to her children. She lost so many of them and just wasn’t the maternal type. However, I did like Eleanor’s character in this book. She was an engaged queen and trusted her guts to like or dislike the people around her. She starts building up an inheritance of lands, which might have made her unpopular. But I don’t think we can really call her a she-wolf.

The novel isn’t only told from Eleanor’s perspective. We also meet Olwen, a lady herbalist who treats the royal family. She travels with them to Acre to discover new plants and herbals and when she returns she starts to plant new herbal gardens at every royal domain. It was fascinating to read about Eleanor’s intentions to improve the royal residences and their gardens.

Olwen is a fictitious character but I liked her. She offers another insight into the royal court and the politics of the time. Her relationship with both Guillaume and Eugene felt real. Also, Alienor of Provence is still present in this novel. I liked to see how the relationship between the two Eleanor’s progressed. I also got to see another side of Edward I who is often depicted as a ruthless king. McGrath succeeds in building a believable and engaging historical story.

Now I’m definitely looking forward to the third book about Isabella of France, a queen I know much more about than the two Eleanors.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything about Eleanor of Castile before? Who’s your favourite queen?

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