After reading Charles Spencer’s biography Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier a year or two ago, I mentioned that I wanted to read more books, either fiction or non-fiction, about Rupert of the Rhine, surely one of the most interesting and colourful characters of the English Civil War and Restoration period. The suggestion I was particularly drawn to was The Stranger Prince by Margaret Irwin, but with another of Irwin’s books already unread on my shelf (The Galliard) I wanted to read that one first before buying another one. Meanwhile I came across The Winter Prince by Cheryl Sawyer and decided to give it a try.
The Winter Prince is the first in a trilogy which continues with Farewell, Cavaliers and The King’s Shadow. It opens in 1642 with conflict building between King Charles I and his Parliament. When Mary Villiers is informed by her husband, the Duke of Lennox and Richmond, that the King is planning to arrest five members of Parliament in the House of Commons, she thinks she is doing the right thing by warning the five men of his intentions. Mary is a royalist – the Duke is one of the King’s closest advisers – but she believes it will send out the wrong signal if the men are arrested.
Around this time, the King’s nephew, Prince Rupert, arrives on England’s shores having recently been released from imprisonment in Germany. Charles needs all the loyal support he can get and, when civil war does inevitably break out, Rupert (accompanied by his beloved white poodle, Boy) is given the task of leading the Royalist cavalry. Mary Villiers was only fourteen the last time Rupert had come to Charles’s court and they don’t have very fond memories of each other. Meeting again now, as adults, they are instantly drawn to each other and a friendship quickly forms which could develop into something more – except that Mary is already married and Rupert is her husband’s friend.
The Winter Prince is written partly from Mary’s perspective and partly from Rupert’s. There is no actual evidence to prove that they were involved in a romantic relationship, but there are rumours to suggest that it may have happened and Cheryl Sawyer expands on this to create a romance for Rupert and Mary that runs throughout the novel. Because Rupert is away with the army so much of the time and because Mary doesn’t want to hurt her husband (whom she likes but doesn’t love), our hero and heroine don’t often have the opportunity to be together which makes the occasions when they do meet more significant. For me, though, there was something slightly lacking in the romantic aspect of the story. Although Cheryl Sawyer’s writing is very good in other ways, I thought the characters felt a little bit lifeless and because I couldn’t fall in love myself with her version of Rupert I couldn’t entirely believe in Mary’s feelings for him and his for her.
As far as I could tell, the book had been well researched, although as I am definitely not an expert on Prince Rupert or Mary Villiers (or this period in general) it’s hard for me to judge the historical accuracy. I did notice that on the first page the king is referred to as Charles the First whereas at the time he would have been simply King Charles as at that point there had not been a second, but I didn’t pick up on anything else like this. I just don’t have the knowledge to be able to comment, though. Anyway, it is not a light or fluffy novel – in fact, I felt as though I was being overloaded with information at times.
The romance is only one element of the novel; a large part of the book is also devoted to the Civil War itself and there are pages and pages of detailed descriptions of each battle, the tactics and strategies used and the role played by Rupert and his cavalry. I struggled to stay interested through these long military accounts, but this was probably my fault rather than the fault of the author as it’s not very often that I do enjoy reading battle scenes!
My feelings about this book were mixed, then, but it was good to have an opportunity to learn a little bit more about Rupert. I probably won’t read the other books in this trilogy, but I do still want to read Margaret Irwin’s The Stranger Prince.
This book counts towards this year’s What’s in a Name? Challenge: A title containing a season.