Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust,
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust. –The Duchess of Malfi
Love, politics, truth and lies: E.C. Fremantle’s newly released book ‘The Poison Bed’ is ravelled around the secretive nature of the 1615 Jacobean court. Frances, from the old and prestigious Howard family, has been raised to survive the politics of power. Robert, her husband, has the influence and trust of the king. So as the story unfurls the backlash of stepping too close the flame of King James, the stakes of the couple’s lives get higher. They are accused of murder and someone will pay the price.
At first sceptical of a fictional historical book, my doubts were soon ridiculed as Fremantle takes you by the hand and introduces you through life under James I and VI like you have never seen it before. Following the recent troupe of opening the female narrative of Early Modern history, Fremantle gives us the spectacular character of Frances. She is strong, the victim of her great-uncle’s survival training. Echoing Philippa Gregory’s eye-opening ‘The White Queen’ series, it is refreshing to see women’s history reaching the fiction shelves. Moreover, Robert’s homosexual character and lucrative relationship with James reaffirms LGBTQ+ history. Fremantle delicately hits a lot of literary considerations, without disrupting the carefully laid out historical aspect of her book.
As an English and History BA student, this is something I can really sink my teeth into. With each page I turned, I found myself become more and more glued, the stakes getting higher, and the extent of the threat Frances and Robert are under becoming more increased. It was pleasing that Fremantle nurtures historically accurate, or at least plausible, narrative and provides a satisfying scope of aristocratic life in 1615: unlike the modern twists that somewhat tainted Reign.
With desire, fear, and threat running throughout the increasing tense plot, I feel that we have a lot to learn from this book, Brexit considered. How close dare you stand to flame of power without getting burned?