TO DEFY A KING is the story of William Marshall’s eldest daughter Mahelt, and her husband Hugh Bigod, the heir to the Earl of Norfolk. Not much is known about Mahelt, but the chronicles report that she was William Marshall’s best-loved daughter. In Elizabeth Chadwick’s hands, ten-year-old Mahelt is a spitfire, oh so frustrated that she isn’t a boy and can’t fight like a man. As her two older brothers can.
But the year is 1204, and ten-year-old girls don’t have much longer to luxuriate in their childhoods, however frustrating. We do not turn many pages before we learn that Mahelt’s father has promised her to Hugh Bigod, the twenty-something heir of the Earl of Norfolk. The couple finally marry in January 1207, when Mahelt is thirteen. But Hugh’s family has promised the marriage won’t be consummated until Mahelt’s fifteenth birthday. And so Hugh’s mother, gentle Countess Ida has the unenviable task of chaperoning this high-spirited young lady and putting a gentle brake on the burgeoning relationship between the two young people.
I love reading Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels because I think her characters are so human. Anyone who knows how horrible teenaged girls can be will enjoy this tale of Mahelt’s gradual maturation and will celebrate the happiness she finds with her new family. Each character is well drawn, from Mahelt’s calm husband Hugh, to his gentle mother Ida, to his icily stern father Roger. Ms. Chadwick has that rare combination of being able to do superb research and then turn it into a compelling story. I rarely feel that she lets the reader down, either with too much information in the form of info-dumps or lazy writing in the form of too many tells. Five stars.