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.
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.