Book review: The King’s Mistress by Gillian Bagwell

Is it just a romantic flight of fancy to imagine that a young woman might risk everything to help the young Charles II escape the ruthless forces of Oliver Cromwell?

Gillian Bagwell knows a good story when she sees it and the real-life, hair-raising adventures of Jane Lane, daughter of a Royalist landowner from Walsall, provide the gripping focus of her seductive new novel.

The King’s Mistress brings to vivid life the English Civil War, with its raw feuding, suspense and constant perils, the king who evoked either fierce loyalty or mortal hatred ... and the woman who saved his life.

Bagwell turns Jane’s incredible story into a romantic thriller, an unforgettable meeting of two brave young people who were thrown together by fate and discovered that danger can make passions run high.

In 1651, Charles I had been dead for two years, beheaded by his own people. His 21-year-old son Charles, Prince of Wales, has ventured into England with a small army but was routed at the Battle of Worcester.

The king was on the run and anyone caught helping him to flee to France faced execution for treason. Cavalry patrols were dispatched to hunt him down, Catholics could not travel more than five miles from their home without a pass and there was a £1,000 reward for Charles’s capture.

Into this maelstrom stepped our heroine, 25-year-old Jane, who embarked on a perilous 100-mile horseback journey to Bristol with Charles posing as her servant in a bid to outwit the Parliamentarians. It was a mission that fed contemporary rumours that Jane had become the king’s mistresses.

Our story opens as Jane contemplates her privileged but unexciting life inside the walls of her family home, Bentley Park in Staffordshire. Her parents are keen to see her settled but Jane, a witty, gregarious and intelligent young woman, dreams of a marriage that goes beyond the advantageous match her father wants.

She is being courted by the honest, pleasant and honourable Sir Clement Fisher, a man she likes and respects but for whom she has no stirrings of passion.

Her quiet world is shattered when Royalists, fighting to restore the crown to Charles, arrive at their door, imploring Jane and her family for help.

They have been hiding the king, but Cromwell’s forces are close behind them, baying for Charles’ blood – and the blood of anyone who tries to help him. Putting herself in mortal danger, Jane must help the king escape to safety by disguising him as her manservant.

With the shadow of the gallows dogging their every step, Jane finds herself falling in love with the gallant young Charles. But will Jane surrender to a passion that could change her life – and the course of history – forever?

The King’s Mistress is that spellbinding combination of history, adventure, suspense and a fast-beating pulse of pure eroticism. Jane – pragmatic, patient, constant and brave – proves to be the perfect foil for Charles, one of England’s most fascinating and libidinous kings. Their story is a real romantic treat...

(Avon, paperback, £7.99)