Review: The Painted Lady by Maeve Haran
‘This is my tale and I will leave you to tell whether it be high romance or tragedy.’
Sixteen-year-old Frances Stuart arrives at the Restoration court to find her innocence and beauty are highly-prized commodities, envied by the women and desired by the men. Before long, King Charles II falls passionately in love with her and will stop at nothing to make her his mistress.
But Frances is no conventional court beauty. She is determined to make her own choices in life, and to be with the man she loves. Can she overcome the dangerous pitfalls of the King’s obsession, the Queen’s jealousy, and the traps set for her by the King’s notorious mistresses, and make the life she wants for herself?
Set against the drama of the Great Plague and the Fire of London, The Painted Lady brings to life the vibrant and decadent court of Charles II and in Frances Stuart discovers a passionate young woman prepared to fight for her own destiny.
This book came into my hands thanks to my big sister’s recent trip to London (lucky thing!), she knows and shares my love for historical fiction and thought this was right up our alley. And really, it was.
The Painted Lady takes us to Restoration period England – from the time Charles II of England restores royalist England after the death of Oliver Cromwell and through to the highs (and lows) of his reign.
Frances, daughter of a royalist family is living in France in the poverty of the exiled English court when she first meets the two Charles’ who will be central to her life and the story. The first, Charles II of England and the Second, Charles Stuart Duke of Richmond who, funnily enough was the king’s cousin. They both make an impression…but one becomes the man she falls in love with.
When she returns to London to become a lady in waiting to Charles’ new queen, Frances finds the court to be a place of scheming hypocrisy, where much of the daily court business is focused on the king’s love life.
Yet when Frances’ innocent beauty draws the attention of the king himself she becomes a success almost overnight… and that means she acquires some major enemies.
The problem is, she’s kind of in love with the other Charles Stuart, and to make it even more complicated, he’s kind of engaged to be married. To Charles II she becomes something of an obsession and with kings, that is never a good thing.
Maeve Haran does a wonderful job in recreating the intrigue filled world of the Restoration court and the historical events and figures of the era. From Peter Lely to Samel Pepys and of course Barbara Castelmaine – the notorious mistress and Frances’ nemesis, we get a three dimensional look at 17th century England and court life.
This is also the tale behind the mystery of ‘La Belle Stuart’ (Frances) who was considered so beautiful that she was chosen to be immortalized in coinage as the face of Britannia.
My only problem? Romance takes a very firm back seat in The Painted Lady. We get quite a lot of Frances trying to avoid the king’s advances, we get quite a lot of an anguished king and the way those around him try to make the cards fall in their favor, what we don’t really get is enough of Frances and the “other” Charles Stuart. One of the best things about historical fiction is that while history has already been written, some things can still be played around with.
Ms. Haran is more focused on the known facts and while it makes for quite an enjoyable read, at one point I was right there with the rest of the court thinking: Just give in already! Because there really wasn’t that much happening on the romance front with her forbidden beau until the last few chapters of the book.
Still, Ms. Haran really does bring history to life and leaves you wondering – did La Belle Stuart ever give in to Charles II? Did she get her happy ending? Well, according to The Painted Lady… Ha! As if I would tell ;)*
P.S. – I forbid you to Google it!