The First Princess of Wales

Written by Karen Harper
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Originally published in 1984 as Sweet Passion’s Pain and revised in this version, Karen Harper (now known for her Elizabeth I mystery series) tells the riveting story of the fiery-tempered Joan of Kent.

The young daughter of a disgraced earl, Joan is sent to Edward III’s court. Hoping to redeem her family’s name and unaware of the treacheries and politicking going on around her, Joan is befriended by the King’s daughter, Isabella, but only after she goes head to head with Edward, the Prince of Wales, the day she arrives at Court. The sparks fly between Edward and Joan from the first.

When Joan learns from her dying mother that Edward III betrayed her father, Joan sets out to wreak vengeance against the Plantagenet family. Joan’s strategy is to manipulate Edward, but that strategy backfires when she realizes she is in love with him. When Joan is maneuvered into marriage by the Queen, she does her best to make her marriage work and convince herself that she does not love Edward. Ultimately, history tells us, these two lovers reunite and have their own family, including a son who was to become Richard II.

Harper keeps our interest piqued throughout this lengthy retelling of the Joan-Edward story. Joan is high-spirited and feisty, but she has clearly met her match in Edward. The intrigues and treacheries of Edward III’s court are played off against the chivalric games of which Isabella and her ladies are enamored. In an interesting author’s note, Harper relates that many assumed the conclusion of the fairy tale Joan-Edward story to have been mirrored in the Diana-Charles marriage – Harper tells us, though, that, in her mind it is more like the modern Camilla-Charles relationship.

A fun read for a chilly winter day or on the beach.