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Another cracking tale from a mistress of the art.,
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This review is from: Lady Of The English (Paperback)
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.