Lady Margaret’s Escape
by Victoria Sportelli
Publication Date: September 24, 2020
Paperback & eBook; 376 pages
Series: Henry’s Spare Queen, Book One
Genre: Historical Fiction
A Desperate Midwife Bargains with a King
After suffering the loss of her first pregnancy, a son and heir to the English throne, Queen Matilda is once again with child. Overjoyed but cautious of another loss, King Henry seeks a skilled midwife to assist his wife throughout her pregnancy and labor. His search leads him to Margaret.
Margaret, once a woman of rank and leisure, has been betrayed by her father and made a common slave. The king’s dire need for a midwife provides her with an enticing opportunity to escape a life of servitude and return to her previous station, but first she must prove her worth and make a bargain with the devil.
King Henry is reluctant to haggle with the midwife, but when Margaret reveals her suspicions of foul play being the cause of the queenís previous loss, his mind is made up. Not only will Margaret attend the queen, her fate with be tied to the queen’s – and that of their unborn babe. Deliver a healthy heir and King Henry will reward Margaret with the return of her rank, social status and wealth. Fail, and her life will be forfeit.
The two women are sent to a secret forest retreat to wait out Queen Matilda’s confinement away from the conspiracies and dangers of court life. Meanwhile, Henry’s brother Robert invades England to seize Henry’s crown and Margaret begins to fear she has allied herself with the wrong ruler.
Will Margaret earn her freedom–or a severed head?
Pick up Lady Margaret’s Escape today and experience the perils of living in medieval England.
Note: This novel includes the death of an infant which may be a trigger for some readers.
About the Author
Ms. Sportelli, who loves to share her knowledge of English history, has concluded that Henry I was an under-rated king who struggled to keep his throne amid conflicts between Normans and Saxons. She writes of the era in novels featuring Lady Margaret, King Henry and Queen Matilda.
A life-long Anglophile, Ms. Sportelli loves British manners, folklore, customs, history, and humor; she watches every British film, television, show and documentary she can find.
Ms Sportelli has both children and grandchildren. She has taken seven trips to eight western European countries and loves England and Italy the most.
A man jolted Margaret awake. He put one hand over her mouth and another on the back of her neck. He pinned her down further with a knee in the small of her back. A hard-edged whisper demanded, “Woman, what do you know of the king’s business?”
She barely managed to shake her head. From the smell of the man, she knew he was not William. The stranger released her mouth. “Upon my life, I speak to the king—and only to him.”
The man pulled her to a sitting position and pinned her to the wall with stiff arms. His face was but inches from hers.
“Your Royal Highness,” Margery whispered in awe as she saw Henry, King of England, in dim firelight and dark shadows of kitchen gear.
Through the interior arch that led to the sleeping cubby, he saw two lumps under blankets shift. Margery saw the lumps and spotted a sentinel’s back at the kitchen door.
“Back to bed. Cover your heads,” Margaret hissed. She waited until Cook and Caitlin obeyed. Speaking in a hush, Margaret informed her sovereign lord, “We are now as alone as we can be, Your Royal Highness.”
“What do you think you know?” Henry answered in the same hush.
“Your queen is again with child. You seek aid for her.”
Suddenly furious,Henry shook the girl’s shoulders so hard her head snapped against the wall.
“In the hall. I heard you. You asked about Lord Charles’s Lady Rosamonde. When you learned she was dead, your eyes shifted away from Lord Charles; your shoulders drooped the tiniest bit. You lost interest in the rest of the evening. You thought what you had come for was no longer here.” Margaret, trembling at her own temerity, rushed out her next words. “BUT help is here. All knew the Lady Rosamonde for her skills as a healer. Men wanted her because only she stitched up wounds rather than burn them or amputate. You are whole; you do not need her for that. Norman ladies asked her to help them have healthy babes. Babes lived when she delivered them. You have just lost a babe. The queen—you dare not lose this one too.”
Theking yanked her shoulders forward and pushed Margaret so hard her head and back slammed against the wall. Trying to refocus her eyes, Margaret blinked hard several times. The king knocked her against the wall again; this time not so hard. Chastened, Margaret looked down.
“And. . .” Henry asked in a hard voice.
“I. . .was her assistant. I accompanied her many times. I know her ways and her medicines. Since her death, I have delivered the babes on this estate. Except for a shriveled one that had been dead in the womb for weeks, every babe I have delivered since Lady Rosamonde’s death is still alive.”
“I know you not,” King Henry rasped out his challenge.
“Lord Charles does not allow me to leave his lands,” was all she would admit. “Do you want me to aid you? If so, I have questions, Your Royal Highness.”
Henry released Margaret and shifted them both so they sat face to face on the sacks. They remained silent for a long moment. Margaret took a deep breath and prayed for her own safety.He can order my death for guessing wrong—or even for guessing aright.
“Please tell me of your babe,” Margaret began.
After the Henry answered, she asked him if any had reported the babe’s appearance to him. The king was brief; he had seen his dead son himself. The babe was only four months old, almost alive, and perfect except for dark nails. The depth of the grief Henry had stifled in the telling moved Margaret, but she was afraid to show it.
“I’m so sorry, Your Royal Highness, but I must ask more. When this happened, did Her Royal Highness, the queen, have a black line under her nails where her skin ends? Did such a line develop before the babe’s death?”
Even in the gloomMargaret saw a shock of recognition on her sovereign’s face.
“Why, yes! I saw it when I held her hands. Several of her ladies commented on it as well.”
First from Saxon gossip and now from the king’s account, Margaret was cert of what had killed his first-born. As she debated whether to speak further, he took the choice from her.
“You know something. I command you to tell me.”
“Sh-h-h! Your Royal Highness!” Margaret hissed. “I am afraid, my king. I am very afraid.”
Henry took up the girl’s hands and gripped them hard. “I am the King of England. I will protect you. Tell me.”
But no one will protect me from you if I am wrong. I will be beheaded right here.
Margaret risked her life when she said,“My King, I fear someone may have poisoned your queen.”
What a fabulous work of historical fiction! As Lady Margaret succeeds in making her first escape, she leaves the father who had treated her as a slave, forcing her to work as his chatelaine since the death of her mother. But the stakes are high, as she has pledged to offer her neck on the chopping block if she fails to successfully deliver Queen Matilda’s child, and King Henry has promised three boons should she succeed. And those she convinced to leave with her may suffer the consequences as well.
Ruled by the changing moods and whims of the pregnant and insecure queen, Margaret’s status is constantly in question. Margaret herself vacillates between being in command and being in need of comfort, subject not only to the vagaries of royalty, but the emotional roller coaster of being a fourteen year old with her very life, and the fate of others, depending on her success.
Filled with mundane details as well as those of class and culture, Norman and Saxon relations, and the politics, beliefs and superstitions of the time, this is a history lesson rolled up in a story that keeps the reader glued to the pages. As Lady Margaret fights to survive and regain her status, she must show a maturity beyond her years. While sometimes more childish and occasionally petulant, it is her strength and determination that always shine through.
With an ending that leaves the reader satisfied, Lady Margaret’s Escape is an outstanding work of Young Adult Historical Fiction. And it definitely does it’s job as the first in a series, leaving the reader ready for more, and wondering how the story will continue – and just who is it that gave Lady Margaret that kiss when she had drunk too much wine when dreading turning into a veritable old maid at the age of fifteen?
Highly recommended for those who love a strong female protagonist and enjoy well written and well researched Historical Fiction, with a note that this story includes death (including that of an infant) and is set in a time when girls and women were powerless to refuse men of higher status.
This review refers to a digital copy I voluntarily received and read. A positive review was not required and these are only my own, honest opinions.
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Lady Margaret’s Escape