Mistress Maeb Langtofte falls in love the moment she sees Stephen de Mortaigne. A golden boy of 19 or 20 who immediately flirts with Maeb until his father, the Earl of Pengraic chances upon them, ordering Stephen to the barge and their meeting with the king. Pengraic lingers but only to inform Maeb that her lack of dowry and influence will not net Stephen. That any mishap will result in her being tossed out the door. Old Pengraic does not want her in his household.
Then a plague breaks out while the household is still at Rosseley Manor. The king has arrived with his men to discuss strategy with the earl and develops a fascination for Mistress Maeb. And Maeb is only half shocked, thanks to Mistress Evelyn’s information, when Lord Saint-Valery offers for her hand—for the king only takes his mistresses from the married ladies. Fortunately for Maeb, the plague takes precedence and Pengraic orders the household to his castle in the Marchers with Stephen in charge. And it seems that Stephen is just as fascinated by Maeb as she with him until plague arrives at Pengraic and changes everyone’s future. Especially Maeb’s.
Mistress Maeb Langtofte was orphaned when her father, Sir Godfrey Langtofte, dies shortly after returning from the Holy Land. Not considering how she would live or marry, her father gifts the Templars with everything he owns save for a bit of embroidery. Her only hope for a life outside a nunnery is her mother’s cousin, the Countess of Pengraic, Adelie.
Stephen de Mortaigne is the eldest of the Earl of Pengraic’s sons.
Raife de Mortaigne, Earl of Pengraic, is a gruff, scary man who has nothing but contempt for Maeb from the moment he meets her. Maeb is surprised to learn he is only in his mid-30s as he seemed so much older when first she met him. He is also one of the greatest nobles in the land and a Marcher Lord with a tremendous castle protecting the border between England and Wales.
Adelie de Mortaigne, Countess of Pengraic, prefers being pregnant to not as it allows her to avoid the marriage bed. This could explain why she has so many children: Stephen; 14-year-old Alice; 11-year-old Emmette; the prankish twins, Ancel and Robert who would be going to the Earl of Summersete’s court in a few weeks; 4-year-old Rosamunde; year-old John besides the two who have died previously. A deeply religious woman, she is also practical and kind-hearted. Mistress Yvette is her “most treasured confidante”.
Evelyn Kendal is one of the countess’ handmaidens and becomes a great friend to Maeb. Until she betrays her so vilely. Father Owain is the priest at Pengraic Castle who also befriends Maeb. It seems the good father also has a toe in the Old Ones as well.
Edmond, King of England, who has a reputation for the ladies and a cautious approach to the earl. Ranulph Saint-Valery is the king’s poet, willing to do aught for his lord, including wedding Mistress Maeb that the king might take her as his mistress.
A fascinating and incredibly sad story with a lovely ending in a medieval age in England. Yes, it is another look at how the gentry lived, traveled, and played politics and, yet, there is such a realness to this historical-fantasy. Partly because the fantastical aspects are not the highlights but more like the bits that allow for a tremendous romance to be told in a hopeful daydream.
Place names were oddly spelled compared to their names today. It was rather fun matching then to now.
I had the most difficult time putting this book down…thank god it was Sunday so I didn’t have to!
The cover makes absolutely no sense. Again, a cover artist who hasn’t a clue about the story. The title, The Devil’s Diadem, takes a very long time to appear within the story but eventually we do learn in a twisty sort of way that the diadem is the entire point.