The Silken Rose (The Rose Trilogy)

Written by Carol McGrath
Review by Tracey Warr

Thirteen-year-old Ailenor of Provence travels to England to become the wife of King Henry III. The King showers her with gifts and is captivated by his new wife. As she waits to grow old enough to consummate her marriage and bear an heir, life appears to be like a love story full of rose bowers to Ailenor, who has been reared in the troubadour courts. She takes Rosalind, a talented embroideress, under her wing. The king’s widowed sister Nell has taken a vow of chastity, but Ailenor soon discerns that she is in love with Simon de Montfort. However, as Ailenor grows up, life becomes more sharp-edged, and the queen has to become a skilled political navigator and manipulator of court intrigue and jealousies. She supports and cajoles her husband through years of fraught discord with his brother-in-law, Simon, and through war with France.

The story of Ailenor’s reign is told through the voices of three female protagonists: the queen herself, Rosalind and, occasionally, Nell. McGrath’s thorough research has enabled her to create a rich context for the story. The novel is especially vivid in its conjuring of medieval food and textiles. The sequence of events is chronologically narrated, and history parades through the pages but, at times, it is a little lacking in drama and denouement. The novel does not always succeed in transforming the chronicle of this fascinating history into narrative with convincing characters who are interacting with psychological and emotional depth. The Silken Rose is the first in a trilogy of novels based on three medieval queens of England who were all considered to be “she-wolves”, and McGrath undertakes the admirable task of recouping the roles of medieval women in power.