Sent into a convent at the age of six, Mary daughter of Edward I, decides to make the best of a bad situation. It soon becomes obvious she is never going to make a good nun! Never forgetting that she is a princess by birth, the feisty gambler travels around England, living the high life at daddy’s expense, and acquiring numerous other bad “habits” … including being linked romantically to the Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne.
When her Father the King becomes ill and dies, the crown goes to Mary’s brother Edward II and the travelling nun attends his disastrous Coronation, rubbing shoulders with the hated Piers Gaveston. For the first time, she is uneasy about the future. Leaving her wayward life behind, she retires to spending a quiet life in Amesbury Priory where she decides to have a chronicle written on the life of her family – a book that exists today.
Daughters of kings often got short shrift, and apparently the daughters of Edward I were no exception. Most of them were saddled with unwelcome husbands, and they just had to make the best of it. Who was going to argue with a father like that? Our protagonist Mary was the unluckiest of all (or maybe not). At the tender age of six she was given to the Church, and went into the convent like the obedient daughter she was, although she no calling. But watching the unhappy lives of her sisters, she realized she had been spared much grief:
“Oh Mary, I am so wretched,” Joanie said. “I never thought Father would behave so!”
My eyebrows rose. “Didn’t you? You should know him better than that, Joan.”
She wiped her red eyes with a kerchief. “I did as I was bid when I was a girl and married Gilbert. I was a dutiful wife till the day he died. In my widowhood, I thought Father would finally let me follow my heart.”
“He wanted you for another alliance, I believe. Amadeus.”
Her chin tilted up fiercely. “He had no right to assume. I was a widow, and as thus, not compelled to remarry. So it said in the Great Charter of our great grandfather, King John.”
Due to her rank, it was a bit more complicated than Joanie made out, but book-learning was never her delight. Marriage she might possibly refuse as a widow, but wedding without the King’s permission was something else again.
Because of her own rank, Mary was often permitted to leave the convent and visit her family, as well as make pilgrimages to other priories. The king would summon her to formal events. She surrounded herself with a little entourage, traveled in a chariot, and even occasionally dressed in finery befitting a princess (when away from the priory). So it seems she didn’t live the life of a traditional nun. Throughout, we get to witness the domestic events of Edward I’s reign, as well as the disastrous start of Edward II’s rule. The story moved along smoothly and was interesting reading.
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