Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick
Lady of the English is set during a time period that I love to read about, the epic English Civil War between Stephen and Matilda during the twelfth century. Henry I was the last remaining son of William the Conqueror. Although he had numerous illegitimate offspring, he had only two legitimate children, William and Matilda. After William’s death as part of the fatal White Ship disaster, Henry sends for his recently widowed daughter, Empress Matilda. Matilda is still a young woman, but has not children from her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich. Her father, King Henry, has his lords and barons swear their fealty to Matilda while also trying to have another child with his new queen Adeliza.
King Henry also searches for the perfect second husband for Matilda that will provide him with grandsons to carry on his dynasty as well as being a strategic alliance. He settles on Geoffrey the future Count of Anjou that is all of fourteen, about ten years younger than Matilda. Matilda is understandably less than pleased. Matilda and Geoffrey have a marriage that is filled with contention, but also with great desire.
After King Henry’s death, his nephew Stephen seizes the thrown. Matilda and Geoffrey must put aside their differences to work together to take back England and Normandy for their young son, Henry.
I really enjoyed this novel. Chadwick writes wonderful characters with great historical detail. One feels like you’ve stepped through a time portal and are experiencing the twelfth century. I really loved the friendship between Matilda and her stepmother Adeliza. They were actually about the same age and struck up a great friendship that grew difficult as Adeliza’s second husband was a staunch supporter of Stephen. I didn’t even realize Henry I had a second queen and I was very interested in reading about her. I loved the ending and had tears in my eyes . . .but I can’t say more without spoiling the book!
Matilda was a great heroine. She was a strong female in a time when that was definitely not allowed. She didn’t back down, but sometimes her strength was also her greatest enemy. My favorite scene in Lady of the English is a daring escape made my Matilda. I loved it – and would love to see this made into a movie!
I loved the romance in Lady of the English. Matilda and Geoffrey definitely seem like an odd couple with their age difference, but Chadwick is able to make their relationship work. But even more so, Brian FitzCount is a man in love with Matilda. Brian and Matilda share a chaste love through the years that I enjoyed reading about.
My favorite romance in the novel though was between Adeliza and her second husband Will. It was a beautiful story also with its up and downs. It was a touching and wonderful. I would love to read more about them and their family.
Overall, Elizabeth Chadwick sets the bar for spectacular historical fiction. Lady of the English is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
This is my twentieth read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011. I’ve met my goal, but I’m sure that won’t stop me from continuing to read more great historical fiction through the rest of 2011!
Have you read any other novels about the war between Stephen and Matilda? I also enjoyed Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet and The Fatal Crown by Ellen Jones. The Fatal Crown is definitely a lot more fictional than historical, but if you like romance you will love it. I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth the book as well as the mini-series. Pillars of the Earth is more about how the events of Stephen and Matilda’s war affected the “common” people in England, which I enjoyed reading about. I didn’t really the one-dimensional villains though. Lady of the English is definitely the best of any of the books I’ve read about that time period
Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!