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Although that's pretty much standard for me with this author's books. To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt, the eldest and most beloved daughter of my favorite hunk in history, William Marshal. Preparing an extended trip to get their lands in Ireland under control, Mahelt's parents are anxious to see her married before he leaves and to that end she is betrothed to Hugh Bigod, the son of Roger Bigod the powerful Earl of Norfolk. While still too young for the marriage bed, Mahelt and Hugh are married and she joins the Bigods at Framlingham Castle, although the very-independent-minded Mahelt and set-in-his-ways Roger don't always see eye to eye.

When Mahelt reaches her fifteenth birthday she and Hugh are able to consummate their marriage and begin building a family together, but their happiness is ultimately threatened by the escalating tensions between King John and his barons. Hugh also has a lot of tension of his own to deal with from his half-brother William Longespée, who is quite full of himself and his relationship to the King (he is John's half-brother through his mother Ida see more about that in The Time of Singing);

"...although for Longespée attendance on John was a validation of his royal blood and an opportunity to pose in fine clothes."

The conflicts finally lead to open revolt against the King and Mahelt finds herself torn between loyalty to the Bigods who want to oust John and her father who swore fealty to John and is honor bound to keep it. And what of her beloved brothers who have been held hostage for years by John to ensure her father's loyalty?

"Do not talk to me of God. I have been supping with the Devil...I thought I had a long enough spoon, but I was wrong."

Can Hugh keep his wife and children safe from John's clutches? Can Framlingham Castle withstand the King's army? Sorry, but that's all I'm going to tell you - read it for yourself. While the first half of the book might not be fast paced enough for some readers, I really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down. I loved watching the budding relationship between Hugh and Mahelt grow into a strong, loving marriage, as well as Hugh's somewhat stormy relationship with his half-brother William Longespée. As for Hugh? I'm in love again....

One of Chadwick's greatest strengths is the way she effortlessly brings the medieval period and mindset to life - from the food, clothing, sights, sounds etc. and this latest one is no disappointment. A big thumbs up on the author's notes at the end as well, I for one appreciate knowing what was real, what was surmised for the sake of the story as well as how ongoing research has affected what she's written in her previous books on the Marshal and Bigod families. 5/5 stars and a must for Chadwick fans.
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on 21 May 2010
To Defy A King tells the story of Mahelt Marshal, favourite daughter of the powerful William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. At fourteen Mahelt is married to Hugh, eldest son of Roger and Ida Bigod. Hugh's half-brother is William of Salisbury (known as William Longespee), and his half-brother is King John. The book is all about divided loyalties: Hugh and Longespee have an uneasy relationship and Mahelt finds herself caught between the family she was born into and the one she married into. As the country descends into civil war, Hugh and Mahelt find themselves on the opposite side to Longespee and to Mahelt's beloved father.

I wasn't sure at first how much I would like Mahelt, who is very headstrong, a little spoiled and begins the book with a lot of growing up to do. But while she does have the occasional Fallon Carrington moment, once she married Hugh I found myself totally on her side. A paradox of historical fiction is that while readers usually prefer feisty heroines, in the past assertiveness was not appreciated in women and strong-willed females usually suffered for their lack of pliability. While Mahelt develops into a very appealing heroine, she pays the price for her rebelliousness more than once.

The theme of rebellion comes to the fore in the years leading up to Magna Carta, as the king's relationship with his barons steadily deteriorates. While this novel is written from the point of view of the barons driven to breaking point by King John's abuse of his power, Elizabeth Chadwick brings balance to the narrative by allowing us to glimpse John's point of view. My favourite character was Longespee, who is caught between his identification with his royal heritage, his loyalty to John and the connection he feels to his Bigod relatives. Longespee can't manage to break free from his rivalry with Hugh, and this leads him into some misbehaviour, so I was glad that he eventually gets the opportunity to redeem himself.

According to the author interview at the back of the book, this novel went through six drafts: as a result, the text is as smooth and rich as hot chocolate, and just as delicious. Enjoy!
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Mahelt Marshal is the eldest daughter of William Marshal, one of the most respected and influential knights in England. During King John's turbulent reign, William Marshal is suspected of treachery and with two sons being held hostage he seeks to make an advantageous marriage for his daughter. A marriage to Hugh Bigod, the son of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk is arranged, and Mahelt moves to Framlingham to live with her new family.

This is Mahelt's story during the period from January 1204 to September 1217. It is the story of a proud Marshal daughter growing into a young woman and realising that a Bigod wife is sometimes required to have different allegiances than a Marshal daughter. In the meantime, the reign of King John is creating political and religious upheaval, and both the Marshals and the Bigods are in danger. Mahelt and Hugh's marriage is also under threat as allegiances and loyalties are challenged.

I enjoyed this novel. Ms Chadwick brings medieval England to life by deftly recreating the physical world and the mindsets of the period. This makes it easier for the 21st century reader to appreciate why the 13th characters behave the way they do.

While this novel can be read as a standalone, I'd recommend reading Ms Chadwick's other novels about the Marshal (The Greatest Knight; The Scarlet Lion; A Place Beyond Courage) and Bigod (The Time of Singing) families first.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 27 August 2010
To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt Marshal, eldest daughter of the famous William Marshal--who appears as the main character in two of Chadwick's previous novels, and a minor character in a handful of others. As the oldest daughter of one of the most famous men in England, Mahelt married Hugh Bigod. The novel covers a period of about ten years, from Mahelt's marriage to Hugh up through the Magna Carta.

I do love Elizabeth Chadwick's novels; her writing really takes her reader back in time. But for some reason, I just didn't love this one quite as much. Maybe because there's so much less known about Mahelt than about her father, her character seems a lot sketchier here. Still, I thought Chadwick did a wonderful job of trying to ring her and Hugh to life. Hahelt matures as a character, but it's too abrupt; at one point she's running off to meet her brother in secret, the next she's a responsible young chatelaine. Maybe having children made her more mature and responsible, but it happened too suddenly for me.

Another frequent theme that pops up in the novel is loyalty; the Bigods and Marshals were on different sides of the King John conflict. Who should Mahelt side with: the family she was born into or the side that her adoptive family is on? Like a previous reviewer, I thought that Chadwick should have focused more on the internal struggle that Mahelt faces--and there's a lot of opportunity to deal with the topic in this novel.

Still, as I've said before, Chadwick really knows how to get her reader into the mindset of her medieval characters. Her research is always detailed, and her descriptions of the time and place in which her novels are set are always absorbing. I think there's a lot more promise for this book--but if you're new to Elizabeth Chadwick's novels, I'd start with her books on Mahelt's father, instead--The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. To Defy a King assumes that the reader knows about William Marshal, so his involvement in this story is more peripheral. The ending of the novel is a bit open-ended, which makes me think that a sequel may one day be in the works.
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on 22 April 2013
Book 4 (5) in the William Marshal series

This is an excellently crafted historical fiction that span the years 1204-1218 and tells the story of Mahelt, the eldest daughter of William Marshall.

The novel begins with Mahelt's betrothal to Hugh Bigod the Earl of Norfolk's son, this union is expected to help cement the Marshal family's influence and position and Mahelt accepts her role well aware of its importance. Their bond blossoms through the years at a time when King John's relationship with his noblemen slowly worsen and the country descends into war and political turmoil. The Marshal and the Bigod find themselves on the opposite sides of the conflict. When her father is suspected by the king, her brothers become hostages and Mahelt's life changes forever. To defy a king is to put themselves and their family in serious danger....

This is a wonderful and compelling story of a vibrant woman that lived in a tyrant's world and is torn between her duty to her family and one due to her marriage. Ms. Chadwick has created another spirited and enjoyable character in Mahelt and a fascinating web of intrigues as we continue into the William Marshal saga. Roger and Ida Bigod played a good part in the background and a new generation of sons and daughters and a large cast of diverse characters joined in. The author excels in creating vivid and a well balanced blend of both action and emotional scenes and believable relationships between her characters. Ms. Chadwick knows how to keep the recurring characters fresh by giving them a different spin in life with each installment. She is an amazing writer who lets her readers travel back in time and paints them a living picture influenced by a dialogue and a narrative peppered with medieval words and natural cadence.

This story is so captivating it is very hard to put down.
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on 17 August 2010
I enjoyed 'To Defy A King' I had not yet read any novels by Elizabeth Chadwick, but this was a good first impression. I enjoyed her narrative and her ability to bridge the gap created by the centuries between our day and our heroine's day. The author's note also showed how deep her research ran into the period, the family and the heroine herself. I will definitely recommend this novel and read others by the same author.
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on 10 January 2013
As with Alison Weirs books I really enjoy those from Elizabeth Chadwick. This one splendidly complements her two (Greatest Knight & Scarlet Lion) about William Marshall, Marhelt's father. Very interested to learn that, in the last years of her life that Marhelt held the role of Earl Marshal of England, also that the Stuart Kings of Scotland are descended through her line.
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VINE VOICEon 5 January 2013
This is effectively the fourth in the quartet of novels the author has written about the dominant Marshal family in Angevin England. The leading figure here is William Marshal's eldest daughter, Mahelt (who was later in life the only surviving Marshal of her generation and was appointed hereditary Marshal of England after the deaths without heirs of all five of her brothers - surely a unique role in the period for a non-royal female). The thrust of the novel is the clash between love and duty towards family on the one hand; and loyalty and honour towards one's seigneur or King on the other, during the troubled times of King John after the loss of Normandy (when Christ and His Saints, if not actually sleeping, were certainly dozing in a rather relaxed state). The story is as colourful a page turner as all Ms Chadwick's novels are, though I was somewhat less keen on this than the William Marshal novels, and I found Mahelt's relentlessly headstrong nature and constant stubborn refusal to compromise on any issue of any nature a bit irritating at times. Hugh and Roger Bigod came across very well, especially the former, while William Marshal very much took a back seat here and was hardly in it, despite being the mainstay of support for King John. John is certainly depicted here as without a single redeeming feature (except perhaps a love of books); and indeed his ability to alienate so many barons to the point where they fought for the French dauphin Louis as their preferred alternative monarch could have radically altered the course of English history, had not John died unexpectedly at the age of 49 in 1216 and prompted most of those barons to reassess their position and declare loyalty to the boy king Henry III and William Marshal as his guardian. In sum, despite minor reservations, this was as engaging a read as ever. 4/5
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on 21 January 2012
I have read the majority of E Chadwicks books, and this for me was by far and away the best. She seems to have really grown in to her writing style, and I for one hope she continues for a long time.

Intelligent well thought out and well written what more could you want?
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on 3 April 2012
I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Chadwick, and this book did not disappoint me. Chadwick has the skill of writing another world, and when you read her books you a taken back to a different time. Her books are always extremely well researched. I really enjoyed her other books about the Marshall family, and this was not different. Chadwick creates vivid and interesting characters who draw you in, so you feel real empathy for them. Again in this book Chadwick creates a vivid setting, and strong and very likable characters. Once I picked this book up, I could not put it down. Unfortunately I have read all of her books and am eagerly anticipating the next one! Keep up the great work.
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