HUGH AND BESS by Susan Higginbotham continues the story of the le Despencer family begun in her first novel TRAITOR’S WIFE, by talking about the heir of Hugh le Despencer the Younger (also called Hugh le Despencer), and his young wife Bess de Montacute. As the back-cover copy says, who would want to marry this Hugh le Despencer? For he is the son and grandson of traitors. Yet fourteen-year-old Bess de Montacute is told she must marry this fellow.
She is not pleased.
What follows is a love story in which Bess’s resistance is finally broken down by her husband’s tender and loving care. Despite the fact that there is too much narrative summary for my taste, and too many tells, Susan manages to make this story funny, as we see this rather spoiled teenager gradually melting under Hugh’s gentle charm.
After that, we learn the secret that Joan of Kent – Bess’s best friend – has been keeping to herself, which is a painful one for the Montacute family. (Joan of Kent is best-known now as the mother of Richard II. It was lovely to see her portrayed in this novel as a fresh young teenager).
The novel ends with the advent of the Black Death and the devastation it causes. Although it is not a long novel, it is a charming one, and Susan has created a compelling character in the little-known Bess Montacute. Four stars.