The Duchess and The Doll is the retelling of an actual event that occurred during the reign of Henry VI, where the Duchess of Gloucester was accused of witchcraft and heresy.
Eleanor Cobham of Sterborough was the daughter of a minor noble who became the second wife of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, a Plantagenet prince. Although the Duke was very popular amongst the commoners, she was not. It wasn’t only her relatively low-birth that they took dislike to, but also the manner in which she became the Duchess.
And so, because of this, the Duke soon also fell out of favour with the people, and his opponents quickly capitalised on the situation. They were just as happy to see him fall from grace because of his wife’s faults as his own.
The story takes us through the trials, both secular and religious, and introduces us to those who are named alongside her, before concluding with how it ended for those involved. As a compelling case for witchcraft and heresy is made against the Duchess, the ultimate question is whether or not the intention behind it was treason.
I found this story surprisingly moving, to see how the wife viewed how the accusations levelled against her affected her husband. It was all the more fascinating because it was based on something that actually happened. The historical detail of the surrounding events added colour, context and interest to the tale.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that commanded my attention from start to finish.
This short story was found in The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives, ed. Mike Ashley.
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