Category Archives: Medieval Era

The Plantagenet Series by Juliet Dymoke

The Synopses of The Plantagenet Series by Juliet Dymoke

©BurtonBookReview
I was very lucky to be put in touch with someone selling some of their out of print historicals, and this lot of Juliet Dymoke titles is exactly what made me want to buy the whole box of books, even though there were some duplicates within. I had these Juliet Dymoke books on my wish list forever but I was only able to find the USA version of Lady of the Garter once in my local used bookstore. The ones shown above are the UK editions, from ‘New England Library’ (London based) which are now happily part of my personal library. Some of the novels may be found via Amazon, I linked their titles above directly to their Amazon pages in case you want to buy them for yourself.
I hadn’t been able to find much information online about them regarding their plot points etc., so I wanted to share the descriptions from back covers with you, keeping in mind I kept those words which are UK spellings:
A Pride of Kings
The first king whom William Marshal met had nearly hanged him. That was Stephen of Blois. Years later William Marshal, the landless, penniless younger son who earned his living with his sword on the tourney fields of Europe, and rose to the highest office in the land under the crown, served five kings of the great Plantagenet line. One died in his arms, one accused him without cause, one raised him to high honours, another turned against him.
Throughout it all, William Marshal never swerved in his loyalty to the quarrelsome, unpredictable, charming and autocratic brood of Henry II, founder of the Plantagenet dynasty.
A Pride of Kings is the first of a series of novels which tell the story of the Plantagenet monarchs through the eyes of the men and women who served them, loved them or betrayed them.
The Royal Griffin
The love story of Princess Eleanor, proud daughter of the Plantagenet dynasty, and Simon de Montfort who though not a commoner was no more than the younger son of a Norman baron, is one of the great romances of the thirteenth century.
His own qualities as much as his kinship to the royal house raised Simon to a position of importance in England, but his friendship with the vain weathercock king soon changed to bitter enmity. Simon became the champion of all those, from barons to peasants, who wanted a curb put on the king’s power. Inevitably, he grew too powerful himself, and came to blows with both Henry III and his son the Lord Edward.
Throughout a lifetime of conflict and divided loyalties, Eleanor never lost sight of her royal heritage as the king’s sister, but until the final disaster she remained Simon’s devoted wife.
The Royal Griffin continues the fascinating story of the Plantagenet family, which began in A Pride of Kings.
The Lion of Mortimer
All the ability, strength and charm of the Plantagenets reached their peak in the person of Edward I, and Simon de Montacute was proud that his own son William should in his turn serve the old King’s heir.
Though the second Edward was weak and frivolous, and his passion for Piers Gaveston roused his barons against him, he retained and repaid William’s loyalty, and William shared the King’s growing hatred for Roger Mortimer as that grasping baron rose to power and too great an influence over Edward’s slighted Queen. It was left to young Will de Montecute, friend and close companion of Prince Edward, to play a part in  Mortimer’s downfall and the resurgence of the royal Plantagenet line.
Following A Pride of Kings and The Royal Griffin, The Lion of Mortimer continues the turbulent story of the Plantagenet dynasty, their faithful friends and their bitter enemies.
Lady of The Garter
Overshadowed by her brilliant husband and then by her wayward and ill-fated son, the Princess Joan might have been remembered only as the Black Prince’s wife, Richard II’s widowed mother.
But Joan’s life had its fill of drama and romance. Despite a secret betrothal in girlhood, she was married to another man. The King took her as his mistress; the common folk loved her for her kindliness and beauty.
For of all the Plantagenet women, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, was perhaps the most beautiful. Her passionate love story was lived against the background of such great events as the victories of Crecy and Poitiers, at the brilliant court of Edward III and among his sons and daughters who had their full share of Plantagenet pride and ambition.
Lady of the Garter is the fourth is this series of novels retelling the magnificent story of the Plantagenets.
{The US edition is the same, except for “at the brilliant court of Edward III, and among his proud and ambitious sons and daughters…. a series of historical novels which tell the story of the Plantagenet monarchs through the eyes of the men and women who served them, loved them, or betrayed them, and in so doing, helped shape the events of English history.}
The Lord of Greenwich
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, wrested the throne from his cousin Richard II and sowed the seeds of conflict between York and Lancaster. Now Henry V must keep what his father had won.
So Henry turned to his brothers for support and Humfrey of Gloucester gave in unstintingly, though he later tried to wield power during the minority of his nephew, Henry VI. And there was another side to Humfrey’s character. A genuine scholar, he loved books in an age when learning was for cloisterman, not courtiers.
But Humfrey inherited not only the Plantagenet charm and energy, but also their talent for stirring up trouble. He quarrelled bitterly with the staider members of the family over his marriages and love affairs, for Humfrey’s wild passions could always attract women,
Soldier, scholar and lover, Duke Humfrey embodied the best and the worst qualities of the Plantagenet dynasty, whose earlier story is told in {the names of the aforementioned books}.
The Sun in Splendour
The throne of England, seized by Henry IV, is disputed by the heirs of York and Lancaster. Edward IV, brilliant and handsome in the Plantagenet mould, rules a land split by rival factions, and his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has alienated many of his supporters.
Experiencing the excitement of court life, anxious months in hiding while the Lancastrian party control England, Edward’s final victory and her own personal griefs, Bess Bourchier {Elizabeth Tilney} shares tragedy and triumph with her friend the Queen, and with the King whom she idolizes. Later as she tries to make the best of a loveless second marriage, Bess sees the inevitable decline of Plantagenet greatness which will revive only briefly under Richard III, last of the dynasty.
The Sun in Splendour is the sixth and final novel in a series which traces the fortunes of the Plantagenet monarch through nearly four hundred years.

So far, this is my Juliet Dymoke collection. I have since ordered two more of her novels, and will probably buy the rest as I find them.

Juliet Dymoke is a pen name for Juliet Dymoke de Schanschieff (1919-2001). Her work should appeal to readers of Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. There is a list of other novels by the author located here.

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Filed under #histnov, 13th Century, 14th Century, 15th Century, Historical Romance, Juliet Dymoke, Medieval Era, Plantagenets, William Marshal

Lords of The White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick

by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere UK Edition published in 2006

Lords of The White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick
Historical Medieval Fiction
Originally published in Great Britain, 2000, by Little, Brown and Company
Paperback 678 pages
This copy from personal collection, ordered from Book Depository
Burton Book Review Rating:4 medieval stars
Read an excerpt
Previous Elizabeth Chadwick Reviews at Burton Book Review

Synopsis:
A violent quarrel with the future King John destroys the young Fulke FitzWarin’s greatest ambition: to become Lord of the White Castle. Instead of accepting his fate, Fulke rebels. But the danger pursuing Fulke reaches new heights as he begins a passionate love affair with Maude Walter – the wealthy widow chosen by John himself.

Negotiating a maze of deceit, treachery and shifting alliances, Fulke’s route to success is fraught. And when the turmoil of the Magna Carta rebellion combines with a shocking tragedy, everything Fulke has fought for is thrown into the path of destruction.

I had just completed reading Chadwick’s Shadows and Strongholds when in the Author’s note Chadwick mentioned that a previous release of hers will continue the story of the FitzWarin family. I was so ecstatic, since I owned Lords of The White Castle for a year or so and was happy to keep on going with this medieval story of love and war. This novel picks up with Fulke FitzWarin, who is a few years younger than Prince John. If you’ve read Chadwick’s William Marshal novels, you’ll recognize this Prince John as the evil and malevolent King John in the Marshal novels. As a prince, he is no better. Prince John and Fulke are not friends from the onset, but Fulke still has to serve Prince John. He is still young squire at fifteen, and it was very intriguing to watch Fulke reach adulthood and see what he would do to win the FitzWarin castle back from my last read in Shadows and Strongholds so that he could finally become the lord of that White Castle.

Fulke le Brun is the main character from Shadows, and this novel jumps ahead to his son, Fulke in 1184 as he is a reluctant courtier in the court of Prince John. Fulke has five brothers, and they are similar to the Robin Hood/Three Musketeers legends as the band of brothers find themselves branded as outlaws once Fulke realizes that King John will never give back the land of FitzWarin’s grandfather. It is this ultimate quest for Whittington that the story relies upon, but there are also layers and layers of story lines with many strong characters, which is where Elizabeth Chadwick is such a masterful storyteller. Fulke and John become bitter enemies, and their lives are punctuated like moves on a chess board, where such a game is the symbolism of the beginning of the paramount battle for superiority. Both men are stubborn and strong, and both men have those who are willing to support them in their quest to out maneuver the other.

I will admit that after devouring Shadows and Strongholds, I wanted to dive right into that same page turning atmosphere with Lords of The White Castle. But it ended up being a bit slow going for the first few hundred pages as it set the story up for the next generation (maybe it was a mistake for me to continue the story right away). It took awhile for Fulke to grow into manhood and for the love of his life to become available to him, and it wasn’t until that happened that I felt we were finally getting somewhere. Still, with Chadwick’s skill we are transported to the medieval era and we can feel as close to the main characters as we could possibly be. Fulke’s wife Maude is a lady to be reckoned with, and I admired her tenacity and her intellect. The two as a couple were portrayed as blazing hot when together, which added an enjoyable romance element to the historical fiction. As the years went on, their love still held them together, in spite of the major issues that King John forced upon them which hindered Fulke’s upmost need for the castle of Whittington. That was always his main concern, his raison d’être, even if it meant  harming his family politically. Sometimes he seemed like a blockhead because of the stubbornness.

The ending was sort of weird for me.. I normally feel a sense of euphoria over such a magnificent story of Chadwick’s, but this time I was just glad I was done. It is a chunkster, and in hindsight I figure I should have let a bit of space in between reading the two FitzWarin stories so close together. This novel has many glowing reviews, as expected from a Chadwick novel these days and I would definitely recommend the story to those readers who enjoy romance, with a hefty dose of the vindictive King John. Just space out your King John reads! Don’t forget, I absolutely LOVED Shadows and Strongholds, and you can read my review here.

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Filed under #histnov, 2013 Review, Elizabeth Chadwick, King John, Medieval Era

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick

Cover from my UK Time Warner edition


Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick
My personal copy is published by Time Warner UK, 2005
Also published November 29th 2005 by St. Martin’s Press (first published July 2004)
Paperback 568 pages
Not sent by publisher, author etc; Personal collection!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Previous Elizabeth Chadwick Reviews at Burton Book Review

A medieval tale of pride and strife, of coming-of-age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power.

England, 1148—ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. A quiet child, he is tormented by his brothers and loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother. In an attempt to encourage Brunin’s development, his father sends him to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Brunin will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back.

Hawise, the youngest daughter of Lord Joscelin, soon forms a strong friendship with Brunin. Family loyalties mean that her father, with the young Brunin as his squire, must aid Prince Henry of Anjou in his battle with King Stephen for the English crown. Meanwhile, Ludlow itself comes under threat from Joscelin’s rival, Gilbert de Lacy. As the war for the crown rages, and de Lacy becomes more assertive in his claims for Ludlow, Brunin and Hawise are drawn into each other’s arms.

Now Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all that he has learned. As the pressure on Ludlow intensifies and a new Welsh threat emerges against his own family’s lands, Brunin must confront the future head on, or fail on all counts….

What a book to start the New Year with, and this is the first book I’ve read towards the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge! Medieval treachery, love, and war coming from the pen of Chadwick is always a treat for me. I adore Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing as she blends romance and history with much detail of the medieval period. This particular story focuses on a young couple who first met when the young boy became a ward of the girl’s father. Brunin FitzWarin was a friend to Hawise, and kindred spirits. They enjoyed each other’s company growing up, but once they were finally betrothed their world changed. Hawise’s family home of Ludlow Castle comes under threat from de Lacy cousins who would like to battle for its possession, and Brunin finds himself face to face with that threat at the same time his own ancestral home becomes threatened.

There are many side characters as typical of a Chadwick novel which helps to give an epic style story, and as Chadwick readers already know, the stories are always full of historical details that are inter-weaved throughout a dramatic story. The FitzWarin family may be a step above the de Dinan’s as far as status and lineage goes, but marrying Hawise de Dinan to Brunin will bring the FitzWarins the prize of Ludlow Castle. But that’s only if the de Lacy’s will let Ludlow go, and it doesn’t seem like Gilbert de Lacy and his loyal squires are willing to do that. There are disputes from several families as to the rightful owners of the castles of the story which brings battles and grudges to the families involved. Add the fact that England is in the middle of yet another political war between King Stephen’s factions and Matilda’s son Henry, we’ve got ourselves a fantastic telling of a complex period of England’s history.

Shadows and Strongholds provides a riveting, captivating wondrous tale of medieval chivalry and rivalry among powerful families such as the de Lacys and Mortimers. One of the most interesting things romance lovers will adore is the fact that one of female leads from this novel, Marion de la Bruyere, is to this day purported to be a ghost amongst the ruins of Ludlow Castle. Her story is vividly imagined in the novel and such a sad one. And in the Author’s Note I was so happy to learn that Chadwick’s earlier 2000 publication of Lords of the White Castle is actually the latter story of the FitzWarin story, so guess what I’m reading next?!

I have read and enjoyed five other novels from Elizabeth Chadwick, and this one does not disappoint in the least. Chadwick is a master of the medieval period and I love how she is not afraid to add a thicker layer of  romance than most. She and Sharon Kay Penman are each my favorite medieval period historical fiction authors, and other fans of Elizabeth Chadwick will be pleased to know that she is reissuing Shadows and Strongholds with Sourcebooks Landmark in March 2013. Be prepared to see it on many favorite lists at the end of 2013, including mine.

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Filed under 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Elizabeth Chadwick, Medieval Era

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt



by Mary Sharratt
An inspiring story of a very strong woman

 Illuminations by Mary Sharratt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 9, 2012
Hardcover 288 pages
Review copy provided via Saima Agency, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: four stars

Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some three decades later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage.

Like Anita Diamant’s portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.

Anchorite: a person who lives in seclusion, esp a religious recluse; hermit.

Author Mary Sharratt brings us a story of  Saint Hildegard beginning when she was given to the church at an early age as a tithe, accompanying a wealthy young woman. I cannot imagine the sacrifice of being an anchorite, and being walled in with little sustenance for a young girl around nine years old. Somehow housed within this prison of sorts, Hildegard finds her own peace with the lot of her life and embraces any sort of past time that comes her way, from books to herbs to embroidery. Her beautiful companion, Jutta, is portrayed as perhaps a bit mad as she is eager to be cloistered away from the evil hands of her brother. Hildegard is portrayed as being made of stronger stuff than Jutta, and ably survives being shut within walls for what seems to be eternity, as Jutta is happy to be viewed as pious and full of grace as she starves herself.

Meanwhile, ever since Hildegard can remember, Hildegard is the one who is seemingly touched by God as she sees prophetic visions that are difficult for anyone to understand. She is immediately rebuked as being mad and learns to hides her visions as many view these visions to come from the devil. It is not until later that she is able to use them to help guide others, although she always had many detractors. Once she is out of the stifling grip of Jutta, whom everyone loved more than she, Hildegard was able to exert herself over those in the monastery who oversaw her care. She began to speak out against the severe treatment of girls brought to the anchorage and to discourage very young girls from being forced into the anchorage at such an early age.

Although the book seems to be a short one, there was a lot packed into it. The novel brings to light all of the struggles that Hildegard faced beginning from her enclosure all the way into her last days as an abbess, and it speaks to the enormous sacrifice that nuns and those of religious vocation make. It also hints at the debauchery that hides behind the walls once Bernard of Clairvaux dies and how the times changed as money instead of God becomes the driving force behind the monasteries and abbeys.

I really enjoyed this story and the telling of Hildegard’s difficult life; it is not sugar coated with her piety but shows Hildegard as a true woman with real desires and needs. Her intellect seems to have known no bounds, as she is remembered for her music, poetry and scientific writings. The people of her life were also intriguing characters, especially the beautiful Jutta and Richardis, and Volmar, the one monk who was never failing in his support of Hildegard. What an honor to have read this dramatic story of a woman who is well deserving of her recent recognition as a Doctor of the Church which comes much too late.

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Filed under 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Mary Sharrat, Medieval Era

It’s Mailbox Monday! What are you reading?

What are you Reading?
This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we keep track of what we are currently reading and plan to read.

Mailbox Monday is a meme originally from Marcia’s Mailbox and is being hosted in September at  Book N Around.

Hey bloggy folks! It’s been a little while since I have had a chance to breathe and sit down and compose a thoughtful post, so bear with me as I squeeze it all in here! Instead of doing a Sunday Salon and a Monday Bookish post I am smushing it all in here. Things have been topsy turvy in real life and I am ready to settle into some sort of symbiotic existence, but God has other plans for me I suppose. Egads. And yes, I am posting this post a tad early because there is a Guest Post and Giveaway upcoming tomorrow for Karleen Koen’s Before Versailles, which was a fabulous novel now being released in paperback.

In public service announcement land.. I wanted to mention that those bloggers on blogspot platform that use Captcha, I cannot get it to work on my IE browser. I enter the letters over and over and over and it doesn’t work. PLEASE consider removing captcha! I understand your need to keep spam out, but I’ve had captcha removed on my blogspot blog for a very long time and I receive minimal comments that I would go and delete. It is a much better trade off: NOT annoy my followers (especially those with an astigmatism like myself) and I go and delete the spam comments that I may receive once a month or so. And the other thing is, there is something weird going on with the captcha that is making it not work properly and you are losing comments (from me!) Here is how to remove it!

In book world, I still have that review noose about my neck, and I am still not getting far into that TBR pile as I had hoped. Wasn’t summer just the pits?! So much hope.. so much lost..


by Philippa Gregory
The Cousin’s War #4

In my Mailbox, I received The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory! I am looking forward to more Wars of the Roses fiction, and Gregory loves to stir it up. Folks love to bash her, but I just like to read her because of her entertaining and quick reads on a subject that I absolutely love. AND whenever I get around to reading and reviewing it, there will be a giveaway for you followers also! Stay tuned!
Sourcebooks reissues
I also received some great Georgette Heyer’s this week to add to my ever growing collection (& TBR Pile!!).. I have at least 35 of her titles now, and many of the vintage and the new ones, and I only need about eight more of the fiction titles that would be available from the vintage presses or Sourcebooks. There were some of her early works that Heyer herself suppressed.. or “buried” that she wasn’t fond of, so those we won’t be able to find anyway.
Added this week to my Heyer collection are the Sourcebooks reissues of: 
The Unknown Ajax

Penhallow
Charity Girl
I only got halfway through the Wolf Hall read along as once prepping for the kids’ school started I lost my focus on books and fell behind in my review schedule. The kids are both enjoying school so that’s a plus. Kindergarten doesn’t seem as fun as daycare was, but I think once he gets used to the routine he’ll be good. But, as far as Wolf Hall goes.. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it. It was getting kind of tedious for me, and this is one you really have to be in the mood for. And since it’s not a for-review read, it has to go to the back burner.
By Elizabeth Chadwick
Recently, I posted a review and giveaway (Congrats to our winner Audra!!) for A Place Beyond Courage and if you love medieval historical fiction or want to start reading it I would definitely recommend Elizabeth Chadwick’s work. She is a star in the genre. 
By Stephanie Grace Whitson
I then reviewed A Shadow on the Quilt by Stephanie Grace Whitson, which is an inspirational historical romance featuring a strong heroine dealing with the conflicts created from the death of a husband who betrayed her. There were several plot points to this one, and I enjoyed the journey. This was my second from the author in her Quilt Chronicles series, and won’t be my last! You can read these as stand alones, as they feature different characters, so jump in any time!
by Regina Jennings
Next up was another historical romance, a review for Sixy Acres and a Bride by Regina Jennings. I had read this months ago, but had to hold my review until it posted in the Historical Novel Society August mailing. This was a very entertaining novel with an intriguing main premise and setting. I loved the cover of this one, and the main protogonists were awesome. If you know the Bible story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz you will see strong similarities with a Texan spin!

by Jody Hedlund
Giveaway coming 9/20!
I just finished reading Jody Hedlund’s Unending Devotion, and if you enjoy drama, love and murderous villains, this is the story for you!! My review will post next week, and be sure to be on the lookout for a guest post from the author which will also host a giveaway for a signed copy of the book! You really need to put this one on your wishlist, this was a fast paced read for me which I truly devoured!
by Sarah Sundin

And FINALLY… what I am reading now is With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin, my second from this author. Another inspirational romance, this one is set during World War II and features the alternating point of view from a man and a woman writing each other anonymous letters during the midst of the war. It tackles subjects of shyness, fear, and the effects of losing a parent. So far, so good!

That’s it for this Monday’s post, whew!! What are you reading? Which of these titles caught your eye? Happy reading!

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Filed under #histnov, #IMWAYR, 2012 Releases, Christian Fiction, Historical Romance, Mailbox Monday, Medieval Era, Philippa Gregory

Review: A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark

A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark
Minotaur Books, January 31, 2012
320p hb $25.99
ISBN 0312595743
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally written for Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:Three stars

Description:

All the danger and intrigue of 14th-century England spring to life in this “compelling” (Publishers Weekly) series about the brave, incorruptible Abbess of Meaux.

Abbess Hildegard may consider herself  “just a nun with no useful skills or connections,” yet her loyalty and intelligence have brought her to the attention of King Richard II himself—not the safest place to be, when the king has enemies on all sides. As Hildegard wrestles with her role as a spy in the parliament that is hastily gathering at Westminster, Cassandra Clark shows us the human side of history, giving readers new reason to follow Publishers Weekly’s rallying cry: “Medievalists rejoice!”

This fourth installment featuring Abbess Hildegard is a historical mystery set against the tumultuous times during the reign of Richard II in the 14th century. The Abbess of Meaux series focuses on Hildegard and some of her loyal friends as they try to uncover various treasonous and murderous plots. The mistrust between the barons and the King are emphasized as Hildegard investigates the mysterious deaths that occur around Archbishop Neville’s retinue. The Archbishop trusts Hildegard with secrets and relics as she progresses through England looking over her shoulder for her husband who was once declared dead.

While there certainly could be interesting history to Hildegard’s character, newcomers to the series are left wondering who exactly she is. While one would believe the term “abbess” as referring to a devout person, the actions of Hildegard do not represent the trait although her thoughts portray her doubts of faith. The dramatic times of unrest in which Henry Bolingbroke made a name for himself were downplayed enough to make the entire story appear dull and lackluster, as the connections of the commoners and the nobles very slowly unraveled. The tone of the book suggests well researched material, but the lack of empathy for the characters makes it a tedious read and the generalization of the politics and characters did not live up to the story’s full potential. The novel is best suited for those readers who have introduced themselves to Hildegard with one of the previous works by Cassandra Clark, with a prerequisite of knowledge of the political machinations among the factions surrounding Richard II’s courtiers.

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Filed under 14th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Medieval Era, Richard II

Review: The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel (Cousins’ War #3) by Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster October 18, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN 978-1416563709
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her house-hold for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou’s close friend and a Lancaster supporter – until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Of all the little-known but important women of the period, her dramatic story is the most neglected. With her links to Melusina, and to the founder of the house of Luxembourg, together with her reputation for making magic, she is the most haunting of heroines.

Philippa Gregory’s third novel in the Cousins’ War series focuses on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who later becomes mother to the Queen of England. Her story is a fascinating one, and it is made quite entertaining Gregory-style. In Gregory’s previous novel The White Queen (2009), we are introduced to the legacy of Melusina when Elizabeth Woodville captures the eye of Edward IV and the stigma of witchcraft that the Woodville women are surrounded with. With this installment on Jacquetta, we are immediately brought into this magical element of Jacquetta’s upbringing and the legend of Melusina. Those readers who dislike this fantasy theme should not bother reading the book, as it is a large fragment of the story.

The White Queen centered around Elizabeth Woodville, who was Jacquetta’s eldest and beautiful daughter. The Lady of the Rivers moves back in time a bit, to Jacquetta and her story of survival, love and loyalty. (Could have been a publisher’s decision because two years ago Gregory was going to do the third book on Elizabeth of York: The White Princess). A young Jacquetta is forced to leave France as she is married off to England’s Duke of Bedford, who is on a mission to find the mystical answers to all things unknown, along with that pot of gold. Poor Bedford seems like a creepy little man, sadly for him. Meanwhile, Jacquetta finds a friend and protector in Richard Woodville who acted as Bedford’s right hand man. Once Bedford dies, Jacquetta throws caution to the wind, and usurps all authority in declaring her love for Richard.

Her story develops around the turmoil of England as they struggle to hold on to the lands in France that the late Henry V worked so hard for, but the young and weak Henry VI is ill advised and caught between the rising factions of the Cousins’ War. Jacquetta embraces her new country of England, and serves the Lancastrian King and Queen as she hopes against hope that her new husband Richard Woodville won’t be killed in battle. The love that grew between Jacquetta and Richard is lovingly portrayed and one can easily imagine, through Gregory’s eyes, how the unlikely pair found a lasting love that brought forth quite a brood of Woodvilles. There were repeated mentions of the blue eyes of Richard, but he was always in the background of the other novels I had read so it was nice to see him form into a handsome blue-eyed person with a knack for quickly making babies. He was quite the star in this novel, with his loyal and gallant characteristics, not to mention sex appeal.

Jacquetta and Richard live out their life in fear of witch hunts as they do the royal bidding. Margaret of Anjou is insufferably unqueenly in this portrayal and her husband Henry is either a pious robot or a recluse. The city of London is a mob of dejected souls and Richard Duke of York is mentioned as the most-wished-for-wanna-be-king.. and other loose characterizations are formed and maintained throughout the story. The phrase ‘Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset’ is drilled into my head as he is mentioned umpteen times and who is not so subtly hinted as being in love with the Queen. History is a bit of a glazed backdrop as Gregory focuses the crux of the novel on Jacquetta and her experiences as Gregory imagines them as Jacquetta stands by the Queen’s side while her Richard goes off to fight for them. Historical buffs for the Wars of the Roses may be a bit bored and put off by the lack of dramatic emphasis in areas where we would expect them as the mystical elements play the stronger part in this telling.

Of course, as with all Philippa Gregory novels, there seems to be a major uproar when the fiction outweighs the history, and this is no different. I could not get a handle on what exact title Richard Woodville had (squire/knight/chamberlain/baron/commander whatever he was at any given time), and then since we truly know very little about Jacquetta herself except for royal occasions where she was present, Gregory fills in the rest with lots of gorgeous babies. I can’t remember my phone number sometimes so I wouldn’t dare attempt to find any historical accuracies, but I am sure that those readers who pursue inaccuracies within Gregory’s fiction as a sort of sport will be able to point them out to you. This reader doesn’t care, I love the genre of historical fiction because of the entertaining accounts of historical figures, and Philippa Gregory usually captures that need for me with flair (most of the time).

I have no idea what type of schedule the author keeps, but I think that her recent popularity may have zapped some of the story-telling skills that she once demonstrated in earlier novels. Gregory is one of the more well-known authors of  historical fiction with a following of many critics and has a lot to live up to. I would personally wish for something a bit more in-depth and rounded out characters, while others wish for a bit more accuracy in the details. Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford, mother to a Queen.. Gregory has the potential to turn her life into quite a story with creativity and that midas touch that once made Gregory so popular…

However.. the last half of the book did not quite match the expectations that were solicited in the first half as I wished for a lot more substance and a lot less of the repetitive silliness that she emphasized when utilizing various rumors of the time. I really wanted this to be a fabulous read that entertained and absorbed me, but this time Gregory comes up short. I think that newcomers to the Wars of the Roses era would enjoy this novel, much like once upon a time I was a rookie in regards to the Tudor era and Philippa Gregory wrote some intriguing introductions to the Tudors with The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.  Also recently released which I recommend as a brief summary on the main protagonists of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series is The Women of the Cousin’s War (my review), which is a collaborative effort with authors David Baldwin and Michael Jones.

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Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta Woodville, Medieval Era, Philippa Gregory, Wars of the Roses

RELEASE DAY! Guest Post: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

In honor of Elizabeth Chadwick’s release day today I wanted to present this article written by Elizabeth Chadwick which was previously posted in June.

Lady of the English paperback has been released by Sourcebooks and you can also look for the beautiful hardcover from the June UK release by Sphere at the BookDepository or Amazon.uk. I really enjoyed this newest medieval novel from Elizabeth Chadwick (my review can be found here).

UK release, Sphere, 6/2011
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’?

One of the most favored historical fiction authors of our day, here is Elizabeth Chadwick, as I asked her to set the scene of her new novel for those who might not be familiar with The White Ship disaster and the ensuing struggle between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. I myself had read When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman which begins with the White Ship Disaster. That book got me started on this fabulous journey of the medieval era, and it is with eager anticipation that I get my reading pleasure back to that historic time period.

US release, Sourcebooks 9/1/11

LADY OF THE ENGLISH

Setting the Scene

On November 25th 1120, King Henry I of England was at Barfleur in Normandy preparing to return to England. He was in settled middle age, but still looking to the future. His eldest son William was in his late teens and being groomed to eventually succeed his father as Duke of Normandy and King of England. Henry’s daughter Matilda, also in her late teens was Empress of Germany. Henry’s wife, Matilda, had died two years ago, but Henry was now looking to remarry and had already set matters in motion and was contracting to wed Adeliza of Louvain, a young woman of similar age to his daughter. Adeliza was accounted beautiful and pious, and Henry was keen to marry, and hopefully beget more legitimate heirs beyond the two born of his first wife. Henry had something of a reputation for liking the ladies and fathered at least a score of bastards on various women.

But that cold winter’s night in Normandy, everything was to change. Henry set sail first in daylight with a lot of older, sober court members, but left the youngsters including his son and several of his illegitimate offspring, to their carousing and pleasure. It was the last Henry ever saw of them. The White Ship foundered when it hit a rock in Barfleur harbour, and sank without survivors save one – a butcher who clung to a spar and was washed ashore.

Henry’s whole game plan had to change because now the only legitimate heir to the throne was his daughter Matilda in Germany. He went ahead with his marriage plans, but it became obvious that no child was going to be forthcoming from Adeliza. Young and beautiful though she was, she did not quicken. Henry began to cast around for a successor and his gaze fixed upon his nephew Stephen, son of his sister Adela. Stephen had an older brother Theobald, who would become count of Blois, and a younger brother Henry who was destined for the priesthood. Stephen in the middle seems to have attracted King Henry’s interest and approval. He had grown up at the court with tragic young Prince, and had only been saved from drowning himself because he was suffering from a stomach upset and preferred not to embark on the fated White Ship.

Henry married Stephen to Matilda of Boulogne, who was kin on her mother’s side to the old Royal Saxon house of England, thus giving Stephen a firm claim to the Crown. There was another claimant to the throne too, a young man called William le Clito. He too was Henry’s nephew, but an enemy because he was the son of Henry’s older brother, Robert. Henry had defeated Robert in battle way back in 1106, and had had him cast into prison ever since – where he was subsequently to die. When le Clito was old enough, he took up his father’s gauntlet and laid claim to England and Normandy. However Henry’s grip was strong and sure, and although le Clito fought hard, he was hampered by a lack of resources and his threat to Henry was to end in 1128 when he died from a poisoned battle wound.

In 1125 the Emperor of Germany died untimely, leaving Henry’s daughter Matilda a widow. Suddenly there was a new player in the game. Henry summoned Matilda home and had the barons swear to her as their future sovereign. This did not sit well with many of his lords and clergy, but Henry was so strong a King, and ruled with such charisma and iron that no one dared oppose him. However, he did not cast off Stephen entirely. As I have him say in LADY OF THE ENGLISH:

‘A prudent man keeps more than one horse in the stable, but there is always one he prefers to ride.’

And that is exactly how I believe Henry felt. He could play one off against the other. If one displeased him or if policy changed that he could turn to the other. I also think that he was hoping to live forever, or at least until his grandson’s were grown up. Externally he might have prepared to meet his own mortality, but internally he had no intention of giving up his fistfuls of power.

When he did eventually die – (did he jump or was he pushed?) The Blois faction were well placed to seize the Crown, and I think their swift action was premeditated. Stephen was at Wissant which was a short sea journey from England, and his brother Henry was at Winchester and in control of the Royal Treasury. You tell me whether there was a conspiracy or not!

Matilda on the other hand was in Anjou with her husband and sons, and newly pregnant again. No one came galloping to offer her the crown. Instead it was all stitched up by the Blois faction and the reluctance of barons to accept a woman on the throne, when they could have a man.

Nevertheless, they had sworn their allegiance to Matilda, and Matilda had not only her own right to fight for, but that of her small son, Henry – and fight she did, to the great cost of the lands involved, the people, and herself.

Adeliza helped her in that fight. Indeed Adeliza was immensely important to Matilda. After Henry died she married William D’Albini, a young baron who was a staunch supporter of Stephen. But despite her loyalty to her husband, Adeliza was determined to do what she felt was right by old obligations and ties. When Matilda came to England to fight her corner, it was Adeliza who gave her a safe landfall.

LADY OF THE ENGLISH begins the story in 1125 when Matilda is setting out from Germany to return home, and Adeliza is despairing that she will never bear Henry an heir. Both women were titled ‘Lady of the English’ in their lives, and and that’s why I chose it for the novel. It was always given to the Queen of England in that period, and although Matilda never gained the Crown, she was acknowledged with that tribute.

THANKS SO MUCH TO MS. CHADWICK!!
Also, please visit some of my other Elizabeth Chadwick posts, which includes reviews of previous titles. Additionally, you may visit with Elizabeth Chadwick on her blog and website. Also, very helpfully Elizabeth Chadwick has kindly supplied us with a Suggested Reading Order for her novels which can be found here.

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Filed under 2011 Releases, Elizabeth Chadwick, Medieval Era

Review: Queen Defiant: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Anne O’Brien

Queen Defiant: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Anne O’Brien
(Devil’s Consort is the UK title)
448 pages, paperback
Penguin NAL Trade: April 14, 2011
Personal copy won through Maria Grazia’s giveaway at her Fly High blog, thank you!!
Burton Book Review Rating:

Orphaned at a young age, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, seeks a strong husband to keep her hold on the vast lands that have made her the most powerful heiress in Europe. But her arranged marriage to Louis VII, King of France, is made disastrous by Louis’s weakness of will and fanatical devotion to the Church. Eleanor defies her husband by risking her life on an adventurous Crusade, and even challenges the Pope himself. And in young, brilliant, mercurial Henry d’Anjou, she finds her soul mate-the one man who is audacious enough to claim her for his own and make her Queen of England.

Eleanor of Aquitaine has been written about many times, and even more so in the past few years as her popularity grows as a strong and willful woman. Anne O’Brien gives us an intriguing look at the upheaval that Eleanor caused her French husband with a few fictional spins based on the rumors of Eleanor’s time. For those that do know the history of Eleanor, she was wed to the prince of France at a young age, and soon after became Queen of France. For years Eleanor chafed against the pious confines of her husband and his advisers, and was given little acknowledgement for her intelligence. Eleanor was bred to rule over Aquitaine, and with this hasty marriage with the French she consequently missed her home tremendously. Fast forward through a disastrous crusade and embarrassing attempts to give France a male heir, Eleanor finds a way out of France but needs young Henry Plantagenet’s help.

The French king Louis is still portrayed as the overly pious, devoted to God and less of his country and his wife. Abbot Suger, and Bernard of Clairvaux come into play as they continually thwart Eleanor’s schemes for her independence. And the reason Eleanor is so widely popular is apparent with her strong characterization here; she is not weak, whimpering and simpering, she is always aware that to persevere she must plod on. And for years she did. She outlived most of her closest family members and pretty much went through everything under the sun by the time of her death. The arrival of the young and virile Henry Plantagenet on the scene gave the book a welcomed flair, as Eleanor had finally met her match with Henry.

Anne O’Brien sticks to the main plot of Eleanor’s life in France, but also blends in her fictional dramatic license to skew certain dates and events, but I was still not put off. There was something to be said about the voice which the author gave Eleanor that made me want to keep reading this story, even though I knew what happened to Eleanor and her hopes in the end. The fact that the author did not unequivocally stick to the facts or time lines made it that much more fun, and since I noticed the “factual errors” I think this is actually what held some of the story’s appeal for me as well. Which is quite an odd revelation for me, really. I normally would rail against the extreme dramatic license, but this time I really enjoyed it, and I was entertained (and a touch scandalized!). Exactly what I am sure the author set out to do. And those folks who have not read an Eleanor every other month probably wouldn’t notice most of the differences in the events. I was also intrigued by the genealogy charts in the beginning referencing the lines of consanguinity, as well as the map showing the scope of the lands between Eleanor, Louis and Henry. And that cover was fabulous as well, the texture of the book was just right.. and the pages inside kept me rooting for Eleanor to the very end. The very end actually ended with the coronation of Henry II and Eleanor, so I’ve got to wonder what’s next on Anne O’Brien’s plate? Another novel focused on Henry’s and Eleanor’s devilish brood? Where do I sign up?

Queen Defiant is roughly my seventh Eleanor themed read in the past 15 months. I have read others before those as well. Since they were all novels, I think it’s time I read the biographical Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir just so I can brush up on the facts and timeline for Eleanor and call myself well-versed. But, for a woman who lived eight hundred years ago as a lady of two kingdoms and mother to three kings, you’ve got to applaud the everlasting appeal that she maintains with the historically inclined reading audience.

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Filed under 12th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Medieval Era

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 Depository.uk 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.

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