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Lady Of The English
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on 28 May 2017
I read this book when it was first published in hardback and have read it a number of times since. Unfortunately, my eyesight finds it difficult to see the print clearly, so I had to invest in a Kindle copy. It is a wonderfully written book. Obvious copious amounts of research has been carried out by Miss. Chadwick as she does with all her books. This book show Matilda in a more sympathetic light and although she was a difficult, arrogant person, I believe she was likeable too. She fought for many years for her crown, she had to be seen as good as a man or she would never be accepted. She never was. It must have broken her heart to realise that she would never be queen, that so many people that she had loved had died for her, but she knew her son, the future Henry II, would be a king to be proud of. He was, until, like his grandfather and mother, he found delegating impossible. Thereby creating bad feeling with his strong willed wife and their Eaglets, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John, but that is another story. A beautifully written book. I couldn't put it down, even though I had read it several times before.
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on 16 May 2014
Elizabeth Chadwick is a first class writer of historical fiction and this novel takes as its theme the period of the Anarchy: an awful time in English history when rival claimants to the throne of England ravaged the country in their attempts to gain supremacy.

In the early 12th century huge dynastic problems arose when the young heir to Henry the First was lost in the sinking of the White Ship: the absence of other legitimate sons meant that Henry had to declare his daughter, Matilda, as heiress despite the antipathy of all parties to a female ruler.

A second marriage which should have produced a male heir to take the pressure off Matilda, proved barren. Matilda's cousin Stephen drew many supporters as much because of his gender as his (poor) leadership skills and he was declared king.

Around these basic facts swirls a wonderful tale of Matilda, by her early 20s the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor. Her reluctant second marriage to the teenaged Geoffrey of Anjou gives her a power base from which to produce heirs for England, and also to launch her attempt to take the English crown, which was her birthright. Although courageous and capable, Matilda is not a people person and her haughty pride and sense of entitlement win her few friends; indeed her attempt at a coronation in Westminster sees her run out of town by irate Londoners who will have none of her.

The contrasting female character is the gentle Adeliza, Henry the First's childless widow, who cares for Matilda as a family member, but also as a friend and is one of the few people who can penetrate the Empress's rigid outer shell. Adeliza's own second marriage is happy and highly fruitful, but places her and Matilda on opposing sides as her new husband is a staunch supporter of King Stephen.

All the characters on both sides of the contested throne are brilliantly drawn, with inner lives and outward, sometimes, conflicting loyalties. Adeliza marries the love of her life, but Matilda is only ever married for political advantage and must always deny the feelings she has for her most loyal supporter, Brian Fitzcount. The timeless themes of love, longing and loss are beautifully expressed.

Matilda's lasting legacy, of course, was through her eldest son: Henry the Second, King of England and lord of the vast Angevin Empire.

This is super historical fiction and this author never disappoints in bringing this long dead world to life through her incredibly deep and thorough research.
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on 14 April 2014
When it comes to medieval romances of the more intelligent sort Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the best authors around, and all credit to her for taking on the Empress Matilda and the long war she fought with her cousin Stephen for the English throne.
She's not exactly the most accessible or likeable of monarchs, and sorting out these dusty and tangled 12th century events and turning them into an entertaining novel is far from easy. Especially as she must have known that's she's competing with Sharon Penman's monumental When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy 1).
Being such a fan of the Penman version, it's hard for me to write a fair review of this book. They both cover virtually the same ground and it's impossible not to compare the two, especially as Ms Chadwick doesn't do anything innovative with her version (it's a traditional take on the story and she doesn't introduce any fictional characters to give it a new slant, for example). For me, the more in-depth Penman version wins out every time.
But she does give us some interesting and credible portrayals of all the usual suspects - particularly Adeliza of Louvain - and the set pieces, like Matilda's escapes from London and Oxford, are very well done. If your preference isn't for a saga, then this more economical (and maybe less sentimental?) version might suit you better.
It's very readable, just scraping four stars for me, but be warned: if you're a Penman fan, you might end up feeling a bit short-changed by this book. (And possibly a little insulted by that cover: words fail me).
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VINE VOICEon 1 April 2014
There have been few books written about Matilda, daughter of Henry I, who should have been England’s first queen regnant, an honour that had to wait for Mary Tudor more than four hundred years later. This is not a work of art but it’s a good read.

There’s a lot of good detail among the minor characters, such as the picture of the marriage of Brian Fitzcount, illegitimate son of a Duke, lord of Wallingford and one of Matilda’s most loyal supporters. Married off to an older woman who brought him land and money, the two of them have no common ground, especially given their failure to have children. They don‘t hate or even dislike each other: there’s just a mutual lack of comprehension, a deep sadness which is beautifully conveyed.

Chadwick uses Matilda as her principal viewpoint character -- unsurprisingly, as this is her story. Stephen is not even a secondary viewpoint character, leaving the reader to infer that the author is a supporter of the dispossessed queen. Matilda is arrogant and proud where Stephen is weak and incompetent; neither cousin can easily prevail in their battle and many good men die on both their behalves.

I’m puzzled as to why Chadwick ends her book before the Treaty of Wallingford guaranteed Henry of Anjou his throne and the great and bloody Plantagenet dynasty that he spawned. She says in her notes that it was outside the scope of her novel, but who was to decide its scope other than her?
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on 2 November 2013
I am always a bit nervous about historical novels, wondering how much is invented and so I tend to stick with dry biographies. However, the writer does explain her sources and why she told the story the way she did. I was fairly unfamiliar with this period so found it most enlightening. Also; having lived for much of the time in the places mentioned and walked past ruins of places lived in and visited by the people in the story, who lived so very long ago, this had a particular interest for me. I think I shall be reading lots more books by Elizabeth Chadwick and I am grateful to her for introducing me to a period of history that I was unfamiliar with in such a fashion that I am keen to spend more time learning about it.
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VINE VOICEon 26 April 2014
This is another 12th century novel by this author, about the Empress Matilda and her battle with Stephen for the throne of England after the death of her father King Henry I. It is partly set in Arundel in Sussex, a lovely town that I have just visited, and at that time the estate of William d'Albini, who married Henry I's second and much younger wife, Adeliza of Louvain. It's the usual colourful novel of Norman and Angevin doings, though not one of her very best. What distinguishes this novel from many others covering this civil war is that it is told very much from Matilda's point of view. Stephen here is portrayed without nuances as simply a weak and ineffectual king with few or no redeeming features, neither as a king nor as a man, and his wife Matilda (here Maheut to avoid confusion) of Boulogne as a domineering shrew (a contrast with, for example, their portrayal in Sharon Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept). Interesting, though the most sympathetic characters were William and Adeliza.
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on 6 September 2014
Matilda is an interesting figure, with not much known about her. I was taught about her escape in the snow when I was a child, and have read about her battle for the throne in non fiction books. I never understood why she was called Empress Matilda, but I do now. Having said that, this book is not always a gripping read despite its battle scenes. Bogged down in what is probably very we'll researched domestic details, we get a picture of people with a very 21st century preoccupation with baths, toilets and keeping themselves and their clothes clean. Fascinating insight into medieval contraception as well. In parts reminiscent of Game of Thrones fantasy books, and this period seems similar, even though the author of those books is supposed to have based hem more on the Wars of the Roses. Good to se a novel which looks at the childhood of the charismatic Plantaganet king Henry II.
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on 21 April 2016
Excellent book, very competently planned and written, so that it keeps one turning pages with huge interest. The characters are plausible and convincing, and the events of the time riveting. Everything is made clear in subtle and interesting ways, so a great deal is learned just in the pleasure of reading. Dialogue is expertly handled, there is no irritating waffle trying to give the spirit of the times - it comes through effortlessly in the characters themselves. This is very good writing.
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on 24 July 2013
I bought this as I am a Philippa Gregory fan and many of the reviews suggested a fan of one would be a fan of the other. I certainly am now. I loved this book, it held my interest in just the same way as Philippa Gregory does and it was great to read about a completely different time period. This story is set around the time of Henry I and full of all the usual intrigues and manipulations of court life. I think Matilda, Henry's daughter, was meant to be a bit of a toughie and she certainly comes across in that way. There are some excellent characters drawn out through the story, I particularly like the story of Adiliza (Matilda's stepmother) and her marriage to Will after Henry's death, The contrast between the two leading women is really interesting. I certainly recommend this book, and the author, if like me, you haven't tried her before.
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on 29 April 2014
Empress Matilda is a person I knew very little about before I read this book. I found the story intriguing and unforgettable. I couldn't wait to pick my book up every night to learn more. It is one of those books that you are torn between wanting to read the next chapter but also not wanting to come to the end of the story. I felt bereft when the story ended and was left wanting to learn more about what happened to the characters. This is the first book by the author I have read but it certainly won't be the last !
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