Lady of the English
I can never wait to get my hands on one of Elizabeth Chadwick's books, I know I am in for a treat!
Lady of the English is about two women. First of all the Empress Matilda (as she is called in this telling) and Adaliza of Louvain the second wife of Henry I. The story begins when the newly widowed Empress Matilda is called home to England by her father, after the disastrous death of Matilda's only legitimate brother. Henry has married a teenage Adaliza in hopes of siring a male heir but has been unsuccessful which is quite astounding as he is known to have had and claimed about 20 illegitimate children. At least one conceived while he was married to Adaliza.
Matilda was soon married to Geoffrey of Anjou, who was 14 nearly 15 when he married Matilda a mature woman of around 26. You can't write a story about Matilda with out writing about the Anarchy of King Stephens reign. But the political aspects, and the battles take second place to the story of these two very different women, who find they have more in common than you initially think. This is a book about the more intimate aspects of these women's lives, difficult marriages, duty, unrequited love. When Henry becomes resigned to the fact that there will be no heir except Matilda's son Henry he forces his barons to swear to uphold Matilda's right to rule. This is extraordinary because no woman has ever ruled England in her own right. Nearly all the barons were of Norman descent and French Salic law barred women from succession to the throne. I guess I have read enough about Matilda that I really didn't learn anything new about her.
I found myself more interested in Adaliza story however, mainly because her story was one that I was only slightly familiar with. Chadwick's depiction rings true showing Adaliza's pain in not being able to fulfill the duty she believed was her destiny, that being to give Henry I a male heir. Her frustration and despair is palatable, as Matilda who is vastly unhappy in her marriage begins having her children, Adaliza become resigned to the will of God. Adaliza second marriage to William d'Aubigny 1st Earl of Arundel a stanch supported of King Stephens tests Adaliza considerable diplomatic skills. She walks a fine line between her beloved husband's loyalty to Stephen and the love and loyalty that she holds for Matilda and then to Henry for she believes that the only way to peace is to see Henry on the throne of England.
Chadwick has written enough about this time period as to be proficient in the facts, customs, and culture. What makes her unique is the other aspects of her research. Her participation in the Regia Anglorum has given her insights to the tactile world that these people lived in, the foods they ate the clothing they wore. Along with her use of the Akashic Record, she is able to convey this period so adeptly that you are easily lost in the world she brings to life. E.C. in my opinion is what every writer of historical fiction should be. She doesn't defame the dead, she doesn't skue the facts. If she takes liberties she points them out honestly in her authors notes and gives her reasons for doing so. A solid 5 star read from one of the best!