Paterson, Katherine (1992). The King’s Equal. New York. Harpercollins.
“But you will not wear my crown until the day you marry a woman who is your equal in beauty and intelligence and wealth” qualifies a beloved old king, as he bestows a final blessing on his son (p.7). Prince Raphael is as arrogant and selfish a prince as there could ever be. Everyone in the kingdom fears the day he becomes ruler. Eager for the crown, Raphael threatens the councilors to find him a wife that matches his father’s requirements by the end of one year, or be thrown into the dungeon. Several princesses are found that can fulfill one of the criteria, but none all three.
But “in a far corner of the realm” there is a compassionate, humble, and lovely young woman working hard to keep herself and her goats alive, all the while maintaining a positive disposition. Her goodness extends even to a wolf, who turns out to be no ordinary animal. She shares the last of her bread with him- and finds each new day, enough grain miraculously has appeared in her jar to feed them all once again. The wolf encourages Rosamund to present herself as the wealthy, intelligent, and beautiful bride the prince has been looking for, knowing the king wasn’t the only parent to have bestowed a blessing.
“On the night that you were born, your mother lay dying. With her last words, she gave you a blessing. She said that you were to be a king’s equal.” (Paterson, p.34)
For the good of the kingdom, Rosamund resolves to try. An hour before midnight on the last day of the year, she asks the wisest of the councilors to take her to the prince.
“I must warn you,” he said, “the prince is a very hard man. If he does not accept you as his equal, I cannot promise that any of us will escape with our lives.” (Paterson, p.38)
The prince is astonished at her beauty and intelligence, but it is her “wealth” that is noteworthy, for it turns out Rosamund is richer than he:
“Then,” said Rosamund quietly, “perhaps you are poorer than I, for there is nothing I desire that I do not already possess.” (Paterson, p.44)
But can she be Raphael’s wife? Not yet.
“By your own words, my lord, you have declared me more than equal to you.” (p.45)
I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, but be assured that like all good fairytales, it does so happily.
Katherine Paterson spent her earliest years in China, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, and later married a minister. Miraculous provision of daily bread, a woman willing to risk her own life for her kingdom, and the values of humility, kindness, and goodness, all reflect her absorption of years of truth by hearing and teaching God’s word. Among her sixteen books for children she has won two Newbery Medals, two National Book Awards, the Hans Christian Anderson Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. In addition, she is one of the handful of woman writers I am aware of who, while putting her family first, still wrote beautiful, worthwhile books for children. Speaking about her own writing career in Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children she shares the following:
“It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own or fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.” (Gates of Excellence, p.3)
And I’m so glad they did, and that this mom-writer didn’t give up! Enjoy The King’s Equal as a family read-aloud. And then explore Katherine Paterson’s other wonderful titles.