Review: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

544 pages Hardcover, Little Brown/Sphere UK 6/2/2011
Sourcebooks US Release 9/1/2011
ISBN 13: 9781847442376
Review copy provided by the UK publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Five Glittery Stars

Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry’s widowed queen and Matilda’s stepmother, is now married to William D’Albini, a warrior of the opposition. Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man’s word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen? And for Matilda pride comes before a fall …What price for a crown? What does it cost to be ‘Lady of the English’?

As mentioned before as a preface to Elizabeth Chadwick’s article she provided us with here, I had first tapped into my historical fiction passion with the novel When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Henry I’s son and heir to England, William, dies in the White Ship disaster, leaving his daughter Matilda as sole heir to the throne after her father’s death. The path to that throne is littered with obstacles for the woman, as the new King Stephen usurps the throne of England from the Empress. Elizabeth Chadwick focuses her newest novel on two women: Matilda, Henry I’s daughter, and Adeliza, Henry’s beautiful wife, as turmoil ignites throughout the lands of Normandy and England.

The novel opens up to when Matilda’s first husband Emperor Heinrich has died and left her as a young widower. Matilda returns to her father’s keeping after living in Germany and enjoying her status as Empress. Matilda and Adeliza form a bond out of loyalty to King Henry, which proves useful to Matilda when she most needs it. Although King Henry has many illegitimate children, he cannot get a male heir from Adeliza, much to their chagrin. Thus, Matilda becomes a pawn in her father’s realm, as nobles are forced to pay homage to the Empress, although they renege on this fealty once her father dies after eating lampreys. Was he intentionally poisoned? Did the Blois faction have something to do with Henry’s convenient death? Despite the three separate times those nobles swore fealty to Matilda as heir to the throne, her cousin Stephen of Blois immediately takes England for his own while Matilda is faraway in Anjou with her children. Her new young husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, fights for their children’s right to the throne of England, as loyalty is put to the test between family members and old alliances.

True to her form, Elizabeth Chadwick recreates the era with ease as we watch through the eyes of Matilda and Adeliza the struggle for the right to the throne. Given the coincidental timing that was always in favor for King Stephen, Matilda was always just a stone’s throw from the throne’s grasp, as she slowly began to groom her son and her own growing faction to prepare for the day her son would rightfully gain the throne. Adeliza’s story of being a Queen and then almost a nun was also compelling, as she performed her role as peacemaker admirably and gracefully alongside Matilda’s own efforts to safeguard her son’s rights. Adeliza’s story is not one that I’ve read before, and I found her part of the book a sweet counterpart to the story of the struggling Matilda. The few characters that Chadwick expands upon are Brian Fitzcount and William D’Albini, while others like Geoffrey of Anjou, King Stephen, and Robert of Gloucester only support the greater stories of Matilda and Adeliza.

Elizabeth Chadwick creates a fervor each time a new book of hers is even rumored to be released. This is due to her years of research, intelligent writing style and descriptive prose, along with her excellent ability to engage her readers within the first page of her novels. Chadwick knows how to spin the weaves of history’s cloth, embroidered with captivating details, that seem to mirror the very image of the era. The historical fiction genre has quite a few of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II novels, but Chadwick does her readers a service by giving us the before picture. She weaves us through the reign of Stephen, otherwise known as the Anarchy, using several key characters and mentioning some lesser known ones, as the age old debate of Church vs. State come into play. The era was rife with dissemblers and floundering loyalties, as greedy nobles reached for titles beyond their grasp.

Empress Matilda always held to her son’s goal as the King of England first and foremost, and learning the story of how she helped achieve that is a refreshing change of pace for historical fiction fans. Chadwick marvelously pinpointed the character of the young Henry II as an eager and ambitious boy who held fast to his destiny in England. Always a magnificent storyteller, Lady of the English does not disappoint. Up next for the author is indeed a trilogy on Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I am eagerly awaiting how Chadwick tells Eleanor’s story.

Related links from Elizabeth Chadwick’s website:
The Enigmatic Brian FitzCount
Adeliza of Louvain. Lady of The English. The Forgotten Queen
An extract from the novel can be found here.
See my other Elizabeth Chadwick posts here.
Check out Book to order your copy of Lady of the English, and as of the date of this review you’ll find some of Chadwick’s previous titles on sale. I am slowly acquiring her back list, and I just ordered The Falcons of Montabard and The Winter Mantle.



Filed under 12th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, Elizabeth Chadwick, King Stephen, Matilda, Medieval Era

8 responses to “Review: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

  1. Marie- superb review- exquisitely written! In your previous post about this book and Chadwick I was already very tempted to get this…Now, even more so. this is just one of those sides of that history that have not yet been told. By writing about the lives of these two women, Chadwick seems to have opened a new angle to the history. I've got to get this. Thanks!

  2. Excellent review Marie! I'm glad you enjoyed this book as much as I did.Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

  3. I've heard nothing but great things about Chadwick — I am slowly buying up her books as I can — I know I'm going to be addicted once I start!

  4. Thanks for the comments! I'll have to find something to read that portrays more of King Stephen's side, as I had never believed in his right to the throne.And yes, I am slowly gathering the backlist of Chadwick as well. Using the bookdepository for some of them, and then Amazon helps out a little. Soon there will be a Chadwick shelf instead of a half a shelf! 😉

  5. I just finished reading this book this morning and thought it was another excellent book from Elizabeth Chadwick. I liked the way she used the two women to show the struggle between the two sides, particularly through Will and his sense of honour.

  6. Wonderfully detailed review Marie. how Chadwick manages to do her impeccable research and write a novel is beyond me. She is a superwoman 🙂

  7. Ever since Pillars of the Earth, I have been interested in this era and just received the Percy family trilogy written by Carol Wensby Scott (all now out of print) and now this book from the women's view points sounds just as compelling. Oh my…so many books and so darn little time 😉 BTW…just got all my books from the BEA giveaway and I blogged about it today. THANKS SO much Marie and have a wonderful week. Fondly, Roberta

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