by Anna Belfrage
In Volume 4 of “The King’s Greatest Enemy” we see our protagonist, poor Adam de Guirande, pulled apart as both the king and the regent Roger Mortimer stretched his loyalty beyond the point any honest man should be subjected to. This is the first time I ever felt sympathy for Mortimer—probably because I’ve always taken the side of King Edward, unfairly treated by the grasping, greedy earl. But really, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Mortimer’s position was credible and well stated in this novel. He was doing too good of a job holding England together (at least from his point of view), but even he saw that he had painted himself into a corner, so to speak. He had made too many enemies along the way, and the proverbial wolves were howling at his door. Too bad one of his enemies was the young king, who may not have appreciated all he had done to preserve the crown:
“You forced my hand on this, Mortimer, and now my uncle will die.”
“He threatened your crown.”
“My crown or your power?”
Mortimer’s eyes glittered dangerously. “I can assure you there is little difference. Without me to administer your realm, there’d be precious little gold for new armour and new horses. I work while you play at war, my liege.”
“Play?” the king said through his teeth.
“What else to call your jousting?” Mortimer leaned closer. “Make no mistake, without me, you would not be at liberty to live the life you so enjoy, prancing about in all your fancy garments, all your new weaponry, while your lady mother and I keep the realm safe.”
Alas for him, all Edward could see was his mother’s shameful liaison and the curtailment of his own powers. Adam, on the other hand, saw both sides very clearly. He feared for his old benefactor, while at the same time he was forced to swallow one humiliation after another as the king brushed him aside, preferring the company of his young favorites. Edward didn’t seem to appreciate him, and the king unfairly put him into situations that tested his loyalty, just for the sake of testing him. If it weren’t for his loving Kit, Adam may not have survived the ordeal.
This is no black-and-white story; the psychological drama on many levels kept the pages turning. In the end, we come out of this thinking that maybe Edward III was not a perfect, shining example of chivalry, nor was Roger Mortimer the dastardly villain he is often depicted as. In my opinion, shades of gray make the best storytelling experience.