Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

I knew the story well before I picked the book up.

In 1069 Henry I died without a legitimate male heir. He named his daughter, Matilda, as his heir, but when he died his nephew, Stephen, took the throne.

Had Henry named a new heir on his deathbed? Was Stephen a usurper? Could a woman rule?

The rival claimants to the throne would wage war for years …

I first read the story in Sharon Penman’s ‘Christ and his Saints Slept’, but reading it again appealed, and I was very curious to see how Elizabeth Chadwick wrote and how she would present the story.

She presents it well.

Complex history is made clear, but not over-simplified, by telling the story through a well-chosen cast of characters.

This is a very human take on the story, and it worked so well because as well as being well-chosen the characters were very well drawn.

They were of their time, but I could still understand and believe in them. Real, fallible human beings.

I could see both sides of the argument.

The story moved between two royal ladies: Adeliza, the dowager queen, and Matilda, the claimant to the throne. Step-mother and step-daughter.

They  are very different women. Adeliza’s calling is to be a consort, a wife and mother, whereas Matilda’s calling is to reign, and to reclaim the throne that she believes is rightfully hers in an age when many considered women unfit to rule.

The choice of perspective was very well done, and the two Ladies of the English contrasted wonderfully as the story moved between them.

Matilda fought for the throne. And Adeliza was married again, to  a nobleman loyal to Stephen. His anointed king.

There were so many wonderful scenes: Matilda fighting for control with her husband, the young and ambitious Geoffrey of Anjou; Matilda escaping a besieged castle in the depths of winter; Matilda struck by the man her son has become.

Matilda brings drama and intrigue, while Adeliza brings heart and soul. Though it’s not quite that simple …

Even though I knew how the story would play out, it held me from the first page to the last.

Because the storytelling, the characters, and a wonderful evocation of time and place came together perfectly.

Lady of the English is not the definitive fictional retelling of this history, but it is a fine historical entertainment.

And sometimes that’s just what I want to read.

Library Loot

Marg is coordinating Library Loot this week.

I’m still trying to keep my library pile under control,so just three books came home this week:

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

“Based on fact, this is the story of William Marshal, the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, unsurpassed in the tourneys, adeptly manoeuvring through the colourful, dangerous world of Angevin politics to become one of the most powerful magnates of the realm and eventually regent of England. From minor beginnings and a narrow escape from death in childhood, William Marshal steadily rises through the ranks to become tutor in arms to the son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. A champion on the tourney field, William must face the danger and petty jealousy targeting a royal favourite. Dogged by scandal, banished from court, his services are nevertheless sought throughout Europe and when William’s honour is vindicated, he returns to court and wins greater acclaim and power than before. A crusader and the only knight ever to unhorse the legendary Richard Coeur de Lion, William’s courage and steadfastness are rewarded by the hand in marriage of Anglo-Irish heiress Isobel de Clare, 19 years old, the grandaughter of kings and his equal in every way.”

Danielle wrote very warmly about this one and I love the period, so when a shiny new copy appeared I just had to pick it up.

Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Salley Vickers

“Many years ago Mr Golightly wrote a work of dramatic fiction which grew to be an international best-seller. But his reputation is on the decline and he finds himself out of touch with the modern world. He decides to take a holiday and comes to the ancient village of Great Calne, hoping to use the opportunity to bring his great work up to date. But he soon finds that events take over his plans and that the themes he has written on are being strangely replicated in the lives of the villagers he is staying among. He meets Ellen Thomas, a reclusive artist, young Johnny Spence, an absconding school boy, and the tough-minded Paula who works at the local pub. As he comes to know his neighbours better, Mr Golightly begins to examine his attitude to love, and to ponder the terrible catastrophe of his son’s death. And as the drama unfolds we begin to learn the true and extraordinary identity of Mr Golightly and the nature of the secret sorrow which haunts him links him to his new friends.”

I’ve always meant to read Salley Vickers but she’s never quite made it to the top of my list of priorities. This caught my eye when I was looking for something else. The book I was looking for wasn’t there, so I picked this one up, really liked the look of it and brought it home.

Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni

“This is the tale of three women – one witch, one mermaid and one missing – and how Ruby was caught up in between. When Isa Fly appears in the doorway of Captin Len’s Fried Fish Shop, thirteen-year-old Ruby is entranced. Isa comes from the coast where the air is fresh; unlike Ruby’s home in Cradle Cross, its factory furnaces pumping and filthy slits of canal water sending up a stink. Isa is on the hunt for a missing person, and Ruby is eager to help, convinced she will be repaid with an adventure at sea. But some of the townsfolk are instantly suspicious of the outsider with her shock of white hair and glinting mirrored skirts. They have their own lost relatives to mourn, and don’t take kindly to Isa’s ability to leave their Ruby spellbound. Undaunted, Ruby introduces Isa to Truda Blick, the bluestocking graduate who has just inherited the town’s button factory, where carcasses are rendered down and bones turned into buttons. Blickses is on the verge of collapse, and Truda has her work cut out. Ruby is desperate to help Truda and Isa but her alliance with the women is pushing the town to the brink of riot. All the trouble began, it seems, when Isa Fly arrived in Cradle Cross…Only Ruby knows enough to save them all. But first she must save herself.

I knew as soon as I saw this that it was going to be my sort of book, and so in went the order. And this week it arrived!

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?