THE SCARLET LION takes up from where THE GREATEST KNIGHT leaves off. Now married to wealthy heiress Isabelle of Leinster, and seasoned by his many accomplishments at court, we see William at the height of his powers, rushing in to save a siege that is going badly wrong, and earning the wry gratitude of King Richard the Lionheart. (Wry because the King was poised to rush in to save the day himself).
Everything is going well until Richard dies suddenly of a festering arrow wound. (If this sounds familiar, it is because some scientists are doing DNA tests as we speak on the dust from Richard’s body to try and determine exactly what he died of.) Richard’s heir is uncertain. There is his brother John, now in his early thirties. And then there is 10-year-old nephew Arthur of Brittany. By devious means, John secures the throne. Arthur is captured and imprisoned…and never seen alive.
John is NOT the greatest knight, or indeed any kind of knight. Chivalry is something that he cynically avoids. A brilliant, highly-intelligent man, John uses his dazzling intelligence in malevolent ways, earning himself the dislike of many of those who serve him. And so, things are dark and very dangerous for those magnates who have to deal with them. Because John never gives anyone an easy out.
This is a gripping novel that is as much about the troubling character of King John as it is about the Marshals and their relatives by marriage the Bigods. Five stars.
LADY OF THE ENGLISH is the story of the struggle between the Empress Maud (1102-1167) and her cousin Stephen of Blois (1092-1154) for the throne of England. As usual, this novel is a well-written account of the period, with lots of details about costumes, food, fights and politics to bring it alive.
But what gives this novel additional interest is the subplot concerning Adeliza of Louvain (1103-1151) Maud’s young stepmother, who was her father’s second wife. Author Ms. Chadwick makes these two women act as a foil for one another, Maud being fierce and warlike, while Adeliza is soft and domestic. Yet these two women were friends and somehow contrived to maintain their friendship through the nineteen years of civil war (1135-1154) that erupted with the death of Maud’s father. The ending was wonderful, poignant and sad. Normally, I would give 5 stars, but I took one star off for a dialogue style that is sometimes choppy, and a prose style that is not as lovely as it might be. 4 stars.
What a wonderful book Elizabeth Chadwick’s THE TIME OF SINGING is. The heartbreaking story of an orphaned girl forced into a being the King’s concubine, she is also forced into making a heartrending choice when she is finally married off.
As wonderful as this novel is for the way in which it brings England of the 1100s to life with its details about the clothes, food and weapons, strong plot-line and beguiling characters, nevertheless there were a couple of choices the author made that didn’t quite work for me.
First of all, the title. THE TIME OF SINGING seems an off-key choice for a truly heart-breaking story. A better title would have been something like A WRENCHING CHOICE or THE PRICE OF BEAUTY or THE TIME OF SORROW.
Secondly, the whole story flows towards and away from the choice that Ida (the heroine) is forced to make. This choice is really the top of the story arc, even though it actually occurs in the middle of the novel rather than towards the end. So I was disappointed that Ms. Chadwick did not make more of it. What actually happens is that a messenger from the King appears to Ida and tells her what her choice is. But we do not have that scene in the novel. Instead, we see its aftermath. True, Ida is sobbing. True, she has collapsed onto the floor. But how much more powerful it would have been to see that sanctimonious bishop come into the room and tell her—. (Which I’m not going to tell you so as not to spoil the story.) Four stars.
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.
I love Eleanor of Aquitaine (1120-1204). Who could not? She was such a vivid personality, a beautiful woman and someone who was not shy about breaking with convention. When I was writing THWARTED QUEEN about Cecylee Neville, Duchess of York (1415-1495), I decided to give Cecylee a heroine. Cecylee was a remarkable person in her own right who seems to have kept her husband Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460) wrapped firmly around her little finger. So what better heroine to give her than the spirited and beautiful Eleanor?
I was just reading a piece by Elizabeth Chadwick posted on her blog LIVING THE HISTORY, and it seems that there was gossip that Eleanor had an affair with her future father-in-law Geoffrey of Anjou. Or that is what some ill-intentioned gossips said. Pointing out that the press often gets things wrong, and that she herself was described as having written a movie, when she’d actually adapted it, Ms. Chadwick states that in her opinion, it was probably a flirtation, which may have been used as a decoy to set her husband, the King of France off on the wrong scent. You see, the person that Eleanor was really interested in was Geoffrey’s son Henry, who was thirteen years her junior. The much more famous Henry became not only Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, he also became Henry II of England. King Louis of France would have done anything to prevent their marriage.
Had he known of it.
Image is a photo I took of Eleanor resting peacefully next to her second husband Henry II, at Fontevraud L’Abbaye in France. An admirer has given her a pink rose.
Today, I am just going to talk about one blog, LIVING THE HISTORY. The reason for this is because this website is so rich, I got completely carried away and spent an hour or so exploring, before I realized that I’d lost an afternoon, and still had this blog post to write!
LIVING THE HISTORY is Elizabeth Chadwick’s blog about all things medieval. As many of you know, Elizabeth Chadwick is the award-winning novelist of such books as LADY OF THE ENGLISH, about Queen Adeliza, the second wife of Henry I, and her stepdaughter, the Empress Maud, TO DEFY A KING, about the wife of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who defies King John the Bad to save her family, and FOR THE KING’S FAVOR, about a royal mistress and the young lord she chooses to marry.
I don’t know how many novels Elizabeth Chadwick has written, but she is a wonderful writer. Her research is meticulous, and her novels are well-written page-turners that take you into corners of medieval history that are not well-known. As you can imagine, this blog is fascinating, as she talks about fascinating facts, objects and characters that she has unearthed over the years.