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The Damask Rose

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1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron's Rebellion and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family - and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again. As she rises to become queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen - a 1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron's Rebellion and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family - and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again. As she rises to become queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen - a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter - by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies....


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1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron's Rebellion and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family - and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again. As she rises to become queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen - a 1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron's Rebellion and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family - and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again. As she rises to become queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen - a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter - by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies....

30 review for The Damask Rose

  1. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    This is the second book in Carol McGrath’s She-Wolves trilogy, telling the story of three medieval queens of England who have all been given the label ‘she-wolf’ at various times. I enjoyed the first novel, The Silken Rose, about Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, so I was looking forward to this one, which moves on to Eleanor of Castile, the first wife of Edward I. I’ve read other books set during Edward I’s reign, so presumably I’ve come across Eleanor of Castile before, but I mustn’t have This is the second book in Carol McGrath’s She-Wolves trilogy, telling the story of three medieval queens of England who have all been given the label ‘she-wolf’ at various times. I enjoyed the first novel, The Silken Rose, about Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, so I was looking forward to this one, which moves on to Eleanor of Castile, the first wife of Edward I. I’ve read other books set during Edward I’s reign, so presumably I’ve come across Eleanor of Castile before, but I mustn’t have been paying attention as I couldn’t have told you much about her before reading The Damask Rose (except that she was commemorated by the Eleanor Crosses which were erected in several English towns in her memory). It’s always good when you can learn something new from historical fiction and in this case, almost the entire story was new to me. The novel begins in 1264 when Henry III is still alive and on the throne of England, but only just – he and his son, Prince Edward, have been captured by the forces of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes. Edward’s wife, Lady Eleanor, is at Windsor Castle awaiting news of her husband when Gilbert de Clare, one of de Montfort’s supporters, arrives to try to force her to relinquish the castle. This traumatic incident instils in Eleanor a lifelong hatred of de Clare as well as a determination that she will never put herself in such a vulnerable position again. Once the threat of Simon de Montfort has been removed at the Battle of Evesham, Edward and Eleanor travel to the Holy Land on crusade. It is during this journey that they learn of the death of Henry III and return to England to take their place as king and queen. I enjoyed learning more about Eleanor, but although I don’t think she deserved to be described as a ‘she-wolf’ (the term seems to have mainly referred to her unpopular methods of acquiring land and properties, which were seen as greedy and ruthless), she’s not a character I liked or managed to warm to either. It seems that the real Eleanor was also accused of being ‘unmaternal’, which McGrath suggests could be due to the fact that she lost so many children she was afraid to get too close to the ones who survived, but it still irritated me that Eleanor complained constantly about her childrens’ relationships with other adults while at the same time saying she was far too busy to spend time with them herself. Part of the novel is written from the perspective of Olwen, a herbalist whom Eleanor introduces into the royal household to provide advice on plants and healing. Olwen is a fictional character but her story complements Eleanor’s very well; in fact, I think I preferred her sections of the book as I found her much easier to like and I enjoyed the different point of view she brings to the novel. I cared about Olwen and wanted her to be happy, whereas I felt that some parts of Eleanor’s story, particularly towards the end, became too factual, too concerned with just describing things that had happened rather than providing any real emotional depth. The third book in the series is going to be about Isabella of France; I am much more familiar with Isabella than with the previous two queens and I think she will be a fascinating subject to bring the trilogy to an end!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth St.John

    The Damask Rose is a richly detailed work of biographical historical fiction founded on Ms McGrath’s professional historian’s knowledge and written with a born storyteller’s eye for nuance and detail. This is an immersive, complex read, with a lot of characters and at times I found myself wishing I had more background knowledge of the era. That being said, I enjoyed pausing in places to explore outside the realms of the pages, and dive deeper into areas of history that interested me. Ms McGrath The Damask Rose is a richly detailed work of biographical historical fiction founded on Ms McGrath’s professional historian’s knowledge and written with a born storyteller’s eye for nuance and detail. This is an immersive, complex read, with a lot of characters and at times I found myself wishing I had more background knowledge of the era. That being said, I enjoyed pausing in places to explore outside the realms of the pages, and dive deeper into areas of history that interested me. Ms McGrath introduces Eleanor of Castile as a fascinating character, portrayed with depth and feeling; a great exploration of an extraordinary medieval queen and the challenges she encountered and overcame. There were a couple of times that I found the telling of events and relationships pulled me out of the fictional context, but I enjoy biographies, and so relished the detail. At other times I was completely immersed in the brilliant descriptions of food, clothing, travel and court manners; Ms McGrath achieves the almost impossible balance of giving us every confidence in her research and knowledge while still weaving a fictional world of beauty and emotion that feels as real as the present day. Highly recommend to lovers of biographical historical fiction.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jaffareadstoo

    n 1254, as a thirteen year old, Eleanor of Castile married the future Edward I and had to adjust to living in country far from her native Spain. Throughout her life time, Eleanor had a fearsome reputation and some would say that her later sobriquet of 'she-wolf' was well deserved, however, there was far more to this enigmatic queen than just her perceived delight in acquiring land and properties. In The Damask Rose we pick up the story in 1264 when Eleanor, already a mother, is held hostage durin n 1254, as a thirteen year old, Eleanor of Castile married the future Edward I and had to adjust to living in country far from her native Spain. Throughout her life time, Eleanor had a fearsome reputation and some would say that her later sobriquet of 'she-wolf' was well deserved, however, there was far more to this enigmatic queen than just her perceived delight in acquiring land and properties. In The Damask Rose we pick up the story in 1264 when Eleanor, already a mother, is held hostage during the Baron’s Rebellion, and is forcibly removed from her sanctuary at Windsor Castle by the rebellious Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Eleanor is not an easy prisoner, and works tirelessly to support both her husband, Prince Edward, and father-in-law, King Henry III, this makes an enemy of de Clare which will last throughout Eleanor’s lifetime. This rich tapestry of a novel is as intricately woven as any medieval fabric, and gives a fascinating insight into the, rather complicated, life of this Queen Consort of England. The story moves swiftly through Eleanor’s life, bringing the medieval world to life in glorious splendour and allowing an imagined glimpse into what life was like at a royal court in the thirteenth century. That Eleanor had her share of troubles is well described, particularly in light of her frequent pregnancies, and the tremendous losses she suffered as some of her children didn’t survive infancy. However, with tenacity and determination, Eleanor thrives in a male dominated world and it is particularly interesting to see her accompanying Edward as he goes on his legendary crusade to Acre, where he learns, in 1272, of his father, Henry III’s death, and the start of his own Kingship. Introducing a fictional character into the story, namely that of Olwen, the herbalist, adds an interesting dimension to the story. Olwen becomes Eleanor’s confidante, and from this relationship we are able to put the historical detail of the story into a more domestic context. I enjoyed following Olwen’s story, she’s an interesting addition, as is the description of the herbs and plants which Olwen lovingly tends in the Queen’s many gardens. The Damask Rose is a beautifully written, and intricately researched, novel by an author who knows how to bring history alive in the imagination. There is much to take in, so the book is not one to be read quickly, but rather to be enjoyed slowly in order to absorb the many facets of this enigmatic Queen’s complex life, who seems to have been a real tour de force in medieval England.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anna Legat

    We meet Eleanor of Castille, wife of Prince Edward – the future king of England, as she is taken hostage by Gilbert de Clare, lord of Gloucester. It is the perilous time of the Second Barons’ War against King Henry III. The leader of the pack, Simon de Montfort, controls most of the country and holds the king and his supporters checkmated. Separated from her beloved husband, Eleanor is forced into penury and swears revenge. This is a dynamic and tense introduction to the heroine of Carol McGrath We meet Eleanor of Castille, wife of Prince Edward – the future king of England, as she is taken hostage by Gilbert de Clare, lord of Gloucester. It is the perilous time of the Second Barons’ War against King Henry III. The leader of the pack, Simon de Montfort, controls most of the country and holds the king and his supporters checkmated. Separated from her beloved husband, Eleanor is forced into penury and swears revenge. This is a dynamic and tense introduction to the heroine of Carol McGrath’s biopic novel, The Damask Rose. The story of her life unfolds in dramatic episodes that defined her and Edward’s rule: the defeat of the barons, his coronation, a crusade and retaking of Acre, an attempted assassination and a whole array of political and diplomatic machinations on the domestic and international front. The main players of the era, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, enter the scene. The settings extend beyond the shores of Britain and into France and Italy. European socio-economic dynamics form the backdrop to Eleanor’s story. McGrath is sympathetic towards Eleanor, but that doesn’t prevent her from being honest about who she was: a smart and tough businesswoman who accumulated an extensive property portfolio and handled it with cunning expertise. She was also a mother who wasn’t motherly, but then again the mortality rate of newborn and young children didn’t allow much room to form emotional attachments, at least not until her children were older. There is another heroine of this story, Olwen. She is a humble herbalist and Eleanor’s companion, confidante and on occasion even her spy. Her loyalty to her mistress is unsurpassed, but she also has her own story which flows in parallel to Eleanor’s but somewhat more idly and with greater intimacy. After all, Olwen doesn’t hold the weight of a whole kingdom on her shoulders. The Damask Rose is written in beautifully stylised prose. I found myself fully immersed in the language and in Eleanor’s tumultuous life punctuated with many dramatic climaxes. The period detail and descriptions are totally absorbing. McGrath created a sense of immediacy with her heroine and took me on a journey of discovery that will stay with me for a while yet.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Damask Rose is the second book in Carol McGrath’s The Rose Trilogy – although it can be read as a standalone – and brings to life the story of a notable woman from history, Eleanor of Castile. I have studied this time period at University but have never read historical fiction covering the events, so it was refreshing to have the story told from a female perspective. It is full of betrayal, ambition, war, love and romance, and provides insight into the involvement of females in the major events Damask Rose is the second book in Carol McGrath’s The Rose Trilogy – although it can be read as a standalone – and brings to life the story of a notable woman from history, Eleanor of Castile. I have studied this time period at University but have never read historical fiction covering the events, so it was refreshing to have the story told from a female perspective. It is full of betrayal, ambition, war, love and romance, and provides insight into the involvement of females in the major events of the period – passing message, holding castles and recruiting on behalf of their husbands. The author has a wonderful way of bringing in detail and the descriptions of the herbs, gardens and clothing allow you to really imagine that you are there and part of the events. Unfortunately, the story does seem to move a little quickly through key events, glossing over rebellions, plots and the death of children with not much emotion or feeling from the characters. Some of the writing can be repetitive in places – repeated emphasis that Eleanor is not maternal and an overuse of she-wolf in respect of Eleanor’s actions and personality. There are also randomly name-dropped characters from the time period who then play no part in the events of the story, almost like they are part of a storyline which was removed. I did enjoy Olwen’s perspective, however, and she provided a gentler, more ordinary voice to contrast the Queen. Overall, I thought Damask Rose was a very interesting read; however, not as much of a page-turner as my usual go-to Philippa Gregory stories. I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Colette McCormick

    After being held hostage during the Baron's Rebellion in 1266, Eleanor of Castile the child bride of the future King Edward of England vows to seek revenge on those that have wronged her family. Never again will she allow herself to be vulnerable and she will go one to be a woman ahead of her time in terms of her business acumen. Olwen is a herbalist. a low born woman that Eleanor befriends thanks to their shared love of gardens and knowing that it is dangerous to be without friends in a strange After being held hostage during the Baron's Rebellion in 1266, Eleanor of Castile the child bride of the future King Edward of England vows to seek revenge on those that have wronged her family. Never again will she allow herself to be vulnerable and she will go one to be a woman ahead of her time in terms of her business acumen. Olwen is a herbalist. a low born woman that Eleanor befriends thanks to their shared love of gardens and knowing that it is dangerous to be without friends in a strange land Eleanor keeps Olwen close at hand. The lives of these two women are entwined from then on and while the book mainly concentrates on Eleanor, Olwen is always there in the background. The writing is just beautiful. It grabs you on the first page and doesn't let go until the last. I loved this book and would highly recommend. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I have enjoyed very much Eleanor of Castile's life from 1266 on told in this novel. She was a tough, no-nonsense woman driven by the love for her husband. However, she also strove to acquire independence through her will to acquire as many properties as possible under her own name. Her life was not easy, she was married at 12 years old and lost her first child at 13. Unfortunately, this tragedy will be followed by many more children's deaths. She appears as a cold mother with attachment difficul I have enjoyed very much Eleanor of Castile's life from 1266 on told in this novel. She was a tough, no-nonsense woman driven by the love for her husband. However, she also strove to acquire independence through her will to acquire as many properties as possible under her own name. Her life was not easy, she was married at 12 years old and lost her first child at 13. Unfortunately, this tragedy will be followed by many more children's deaths. She appears as a cold mother with attachment difficulties. Well, who may judge her? In those days, children death rates were so high, she protected herself as she only could see fit. Her love for plants, flowers, gardens adds a very interesting and personal touch to the novel. Eleanor was always on the road, abroad as well. The author has depicted beautiful landscapes and gardens along Eleanor's numerous journeys. The reader also dives into all political, national upheavals which proved extremely interesting. Great read on many levels!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarkthatuk

    I’m going to revisit this, as I don’t think I gave it the right amount of attention, nor was in the mood for historical fiction. I really enjoyed this author’s first book, so hence the retrying - it’s me, not you (the book)! Gifted in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  10. 5 out of 5

    david wright

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Gail Harrison-Kerr

  12. 4 out of 5

    tania lunn

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pauline Goodyear

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joan DiCero

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ellie Cosker

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paola

  17. 5 out of 5

    sheila greenhalgh

  18. 5 out of 5

    Janet Megard

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark Wendruff

  20. 5 out of 5

    J COOK

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia R. Norton

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alan Ellington

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Scholfield

  24. 5 out of 5

    rose

  25. 4 out of 5

    maureen rawsthorne

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maclary

  28. 4 out of 5

    Desmond McNeilly

  29. 5 out of 5

    Liz Thielens

  30. 5 out of 5

    Violet Yates

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