REVIEW: Rumors at Court by Blythe Gifford
Wed by royal command!
Widow Valerie of Florham wants nothing more than to forget her abusive marriage and live peacefully at the mercy of no man. She’d never have dreamed of a liaison with handsome Sir Gil Wolford, but then comes a royal decree—they must wed!
Gil craves military conquest in Castile, far from his haunted past. Marriage to Lady Valerie is the last thing he should want, yet both have truths to hide from the rumormongers at court. They have no choice…and, once wed, the marriage bed changes everything!
Dear Ms. Gifford,
I don’t request many medieval historicals anymore. Perhaps I read one too many Norman bastard/Saxon heroine story back in the day. This blurb intrigued me though with its mention of Castile. Hmmm, something different.
Long time readers of historicals and romance probably have heard of John of Gaunt – son of Edward III. His first marriage became a love match and fans of Anya Seton will know what happened in his third marriage but we’re concerned with wife #2, Constanza of Castile. It is during her entry into London that widowed Lady Valerie of Florham and Sir Gil Wolford first meet. It’s not a meet cute.
Gil is feeling guilty because Valerie’s husband died fighting under Gil’s command. Thinking her no doubt prostrate with grief, Gil tries to hand over what he believes to be a love token her husband had near his heart at his death only for Valerie to deny all knowledge of it. Ooops, now Gil’s guilt is compounded by that bane of English existence, public embarrassment, which causes him to back peddle and try not to think of Valerie at all. Plus Gil’s got his Lord’s conquest of Castile to plan: ships to rent, men to gather, battles to anticipate.
Gil might feel he’s far too busy to think of matrimony but Prince John doesn’t. With a new marriage and a potential heir on the way, Prince John decides that Gil needs to secure his own line and who better than the handy widow Lady Valerie. Having her own reasons to want to delay being put under the – possibly another cruel – thumb of a second husband, Valerie is as dismayed as Gil at the prospect of matrimony but what a royal prince wants, a royal prince gets.
Meanwhile, Gil is puzzled by Valerie. One minute she’s forthright and speaks her mind and the next she ducks her head and prates that as his wife, his wishes will be her desire. Despite having served as a page on his way to knighthood, Gil claims to know little to nothing about women or how to woo them. Not that he wants to take the time since there’s a kingdom to be won for his lord which will allow Gil a new start away from the gossip and snubs caused by his tainted family history. Something he also hasn’t told Valerie once he realizes she knows nothing of his past.
Valerie had wriggled her way into a position at court with the Spanish Queen as a way to avoid matrimony for a little longer but she soon sees this won’t save her. Knowing Gil is dead set on Castile, Valerie tries to learn some Castilian and teach Constanza the ways of England. Although a Queen, Valerie can see that her royal mistress is as ignored and kept in the dark as she is. The lot of women everywhere, so Valerie thinks until she sits up and takes notice of her fellow English widow Katherine and how easy that woman is in the presence of John of Gaunt. But Valerie believes such a love doesn’t come with marriage which is merely a business arrangement in which people often have little say.
Gil might not be a suave wooer of women but even he can realize when a woman isn’t thrilled to be touched. Already aware that Valerie’s dead husband was an adulterer, Gil adds physical and mental abuse to the picture as well as a man who had no interest in his wife’s physical pleasure. Valerie tries, she really does, to submit to what she thinks her new husband wants. After a dismal wedding night, there are obviously Things to Be Worked Out Here. As well, Gil has steadfastly resisted the idea of them making a home at his family holding. Will they be able to find marital common ground and will Gil ever be able to put his family’s past dark deeds behind him?
This one might feature knights – some in shining armor – but it focuses mainly on the personal lives of Gil and Valerie rather than battles. As per the title, the English court and the rumors swirling there are front and center. The changing situation in John of Gaunt’s efforts to secure a throne for himself via his marriage to a Spanish princess and the political arena of Plantagenet England’s holdings in France are key and explained enough to add to the story without turning it into a history lesson with pop quizzes.
As I mentioned, women are left in the dark no matter if you’re a princess or a commoner. Even our hero is ashamed to admit to himself that he doesn’t always take Valerie into consideration while making his plans. Prince John is dumbfounded to think that women might need to be consulted about anything – even his foreign bride through whom he’s making his claim for Spain.
One thing I was pleased to read were the references to religion and it’s importance in daily life. This was still the age when Catholicism held power so to ignore it completely makes no sense to me. But it’s not an inspirational book so there’s no preaching.
The main issues though are the marriage of our MC’s and Gil’s family past. Valerie needs time to overcome what she believes to be the norm in the marital bed and to trust that Gil is a different man than her first husband. Thankfully she is given this time and – this could sound weird – Gil isn’t totally sure how to handle this nor is he turned into a man with modern sensibilities. Their muddling through until they find their way makes sense. It is Valerie’s love of the land, first her own and later Gil’s, that helps him come to terms with his past and finally accept that he’s proven his worth enough to silence his own criticism as well as that of others. Again it makes sense.
I believe this is actually the last book in a trilogy but it stands well on its own. How the characters are woven into the actual historical events is well done and something different for those looking for a character centered story that avoids fighting. Some of the storyline got a little repetitious but overall I enjoyed it. B-