Book review: Cavalier Queen by Fiona Mountain

King Charles I, his wife Queen Henrietta Maria and a handsome English courtier called Harry Jermyn ... could there have been three people in a famous royal marriage?

He was the king beheaded by his own people, she was a feisty French princess sold into marriage and Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, was one of the powers behind the throne.

They were party to some of the most momentous and cataclysmic events in British history and played leading roles in a real-life drama of intrigue, conflict, betrayal and tragedy.

Little wonder then that their extraordinary story inspired Cavalier Queen, a dazzling and sumptuous novel by Fiona Mountain whose own love affair with the 17th century took her deep into England’s bitter Civil War and the life of the king and queen who were at its heart.

With a big helping of imagination, bags of flair and some artistic licence, Mountain brings us political turmoil and royal manoeuvring as seen through the eyes of Henrietta Maria, daughter of a king, wife of a king, mother of two monarchs and grandmother of another three.

Billed here as the Princess Diana of her day, she is portrayed as beautiful, determined, loves clothes and jewels, has a gift for design and seems destined to reign as one of England’s most glamorous queens.

But she is also a Catholic sworn by her priest and her Bourbon mother to return Protestant England to the ‘true faith’ and finds herself virtually exiled in a country where she is despised by many and constantly under suspicion.

It is a harsh reality for the girl raised amongst the glittering, gilded palaces of Paris where she was dressed in silk and cloths of silver, had her own small throne and was serenaded by orchestras.

Her first introduction to the English court is visiting English ambassador and marriage broker Sir Henry (Harry) Jermyn, a tall, elegant, golden young man who looks every inch her image of a ‘prince’ and with whom she feels a powerful sense of connection.

After a bizarre proxy wedding at Notre Dame Cathedral, which her husband King Charles I does not even attend, the 15-year-old girl is whisked off to England to finally meet the man himself.

Shocked by the small, bandy-legged, stammering and sorrowful man who is now her husband, it’s hardly love at first sight for the teenage Henrietta Maria but, against the odds, their marriage becomes a success and where there was reluctance and resentment, real affection grows.

But her heart is still torn by her love for the charismatic Jermyn, her loyal secretary and faithful admirer, who has the power to shake the royal marriage to its foundations.

And there are enemies at Charles’s restless, fractious court and throughout the country who would see both Henrietta and Charles toppled from their thrones...

Cavalier Queen, with its magical mix of the personal and the historical, puts romance into a royal marriage, passion into a proud princess and fresh drama into the demise of a doomed and tragic king.

A thrilling and romantic story from a talented new author in the world of historical fiction.

(Arrow, paperback, £6.99)