Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
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The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham tells the story of a woman who rose almost to be Queen of England before she fell spectacularly and thoroughly. Historical facts are not treated as spoilers.
As lady-in-waiting to Jacqueline of Hainault, Eleanor came under the radar of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester and uncle of Henry VI. First as his mistress and later as his wife, Eleanor demonstrates that she lacks the political skills to survive in the power struggle that was gearing up for all out civil war. Maybe that would not have caused her downfall if her husband had been a little more politically adept, as one would expect of a prince of the realm, but Humphrey seems scarcely better.
Written in a diary format, Eleanor tells her own life story, jumping back and forth between her time of imprisonment (when she is writing) and her past with Humphrey. Riches manages to make her a character the reader can sympathize with, despite the fact that she is an adulteress who stole the husband of her employer.
Eleanor's personality comes across much the way Katherine Grey often does. She is not a cruel or unkind person, just a flighty and selfish one. Often thinking only of herself, or possibly of Humphrey, she makes astoundingly bad decisions, naively believing that one with the title of Duchess of Gloucester could ever have a secret.
The author chooses to make Humphrey's illegitimate children, Arthur and Antigone, children of Eleanor's. While this may have in fact been the case, it is not necessarily a forgone conclusion since they were never legitimized. I found this a minor point that was well treated in the novel, since Eleanor could very well have been their mother.
Overall, the novel was very well researched and fact based, which is a significant point in my opinion. The detailed scenes, taking place at various castles throughout England, Wales, France, and Hainault are all expertly done. I admire the author's ability to tell the story of this unpopular and somewhat obscure historical figure.
I thank Tony Riches for providing a copy of this novel for review purposes. Opinions expressed are my own. For an overview of the life of Eleanor Cobham, I recommend this brief bio by Susan Higginbotham.