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review 2014-10-01 22:12
The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Winter Crown - Elizabeth Chadwick

 

The Winter Crown, the second installment in Elizabeth Chadwick's trilogy on Eleanor of Aquitaine (Alienor in this novel), is a fascinating blend of fiction and factually accurate historical events full of vigor and intrigue. The tale of Henry II of England and his queen, Alienor begins at Westminster Abbey 1154, coursing through Alienor's laborious childbearing years, the shaping of a legendary dynasty, Henry's political schemes and the volatile relationship with a stammering and peacockish Thomas Becket, to finally pause at Alienor's incarceration in 1174. Chadwick brings vivacious realness to the character of Alienor as an influential woman who was in one moment, loved and respected, then as easily betrayed in the next.

 

Through Chadwick's competent writing historical characters are given colorful dimension and life.  Her picture of Alienor reveals she was no fool, but astute and level-headed in her actions, especially when it came to dealing with Henry's knack for underhandedness. With the collaboration of the duplicitous Thomas Becket - then Chancellor but dangerously aspiring to a greatness grander than his sovereign - Henry's effort to present to Louis of France an outrageous gift in the form of a live zoo collection: did not escape Alienor's sharp witted observations. "She still thought all this show was about Thomas Becket's desire for lavish gestures and Henry's determination to outshine and overwhelm Louis with a flamboyant display of all the resources he possessed and Louis did not. It was no more than one dog pissing higher up the wall than a rival."

 

It is generally accepted that Henry had many mistresses and that Alienor knew as much, having to turn a blind eye to such activities by the most powerful man in her midst especially as she was so often heavy with his child, but one could not fault her reactions when she learned she was not the only mare to breed Henry's offspring, or that his favorite Rosamund de Clifford, was barely in her teen years when she became his lover. How would any wife feel? How would a queen as prominent as Alienor react? Henry's cold exclamation "because of me you are not a barren queen, but the matriarch of a dynasty" clearly shows his lack of guilt.

 

We see Alienor in her many roles as: a caring and engaging mother who experiences both the joy of birthing her brood and the abject sorrow of their untimely deaths; a queen who fulfills her most significant role of providing heirs to the realm, to go from having the power of the regency of England in her hands and to end up as a prisoner in the towers of Sarum.

 

Chadwick gives us a clear, authentic view of the treatment of women of the period who were looked upon as possessions of the realm, inhumanly used as political pawns to seal alliances, to secure lands, to stroke a king's ego and warm his bed. The reality of having "another daughter to watch her grow up and beat her wings against a closed window" both elevated and saddened Alienor, understanding that it is the lot of the woman, by merely her gender, to be imprisoned like a caged bird, regardless of her background or position.

 

Chadwick's scenes of everyday life in the court of Henry and Alienor were ever realistic, never boring. I am always excited with anything involving 'William Marshal', and was greatly impressed by his introduction as William, son of John FitzGilbert - a young lad who in Alienor's approving eyes, was 'mischievous and lively, but did not overstep the bounds' - teaching young Harry how to ride and, later, to successfully compete on the Tourney battlefield.

 

One of the most memorable depictions of Henry and Eleanor in my estimation is presented in the 1968 Hepburn and O'Toole film 'The Lion in Winter'. The dramatic story told of the conflicts between the king-father , queen-mother, heirs-sons is passionate, desperate, treasonous and historically accepted. In The Winter Crown, Chadwick makes valid summations regarding the treacherous rift between father and sons, giving a different spin on Alienor's supposed involvement.

 

Elizabeth Chadwick's portrayal of Alienor is a woman of indomitable spirit, not easily subdued even by a king as powerful as her husband. With intelligence, quick wit, and courage, she gave as good as she got, proving to be Henry's greatest match and therefore, a formidable obstacle to his selfish desire for total control. By July 1174, Alienor found herself captive within the tower walls of Sarum, banished there by Henry for her perceived rebellious efforts against him.

 

                        Her greatest challenge was about to begin.

                       The Autumn Throne is next. I'm eagerly waiting!


The Summer Queen: 4*
The Winter Crown: 5*
Highly recommended for historical fictionistas

 

 

 

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review 2014-03-24 08:00
A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman
A King's Ransom - Sharon Kay Penman

Your Pride Will Be Your Undoing, Lionheart 

A King's Ransom is the sweeping, adventurous sequel to Lionheart , a masterfully spun novel of the last seven years of Richard I's life: 1192-1199, focusing on the period of his capture, imprisonment, and ransoming by Heinrich Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor. It is a homeric epic that retells the life of this legendary hero in "IMAX" detail. The author takes great care to keep historical veracity while weaving well thought-out strategies and motives, clearing a few myths and misconceptions along the way of transporting us on a grand medieval journey.

Sharon Kay Penman is well-known for her detailed, insightful characterizations, and in A King's Ransom, that skill is shown at its peak. Historical figures became flesh and blood, living, breathing 3- dimensional people: I felt the searing pain of burnt flesh, the fear and mania of being in solitary imprisonment; I smelled the musty, moldy dankness of the chilled dungeon; the putrefying odor of the suppurating wound; felt the heartbreak of a neglected wife; tasted the sweetness of love's second chance. 

Her characters' personalities are well-conceived and fitting - I saw Richard I as a restless and impulsive adventurer, quick to flare up with that "notorious Angevin temper," more suited to aggressive military life than to contemplating law, governing a kingdom; or to committed marital life. 

It couldn't be all swords and crossbows in Ms. Penman's novels, so it was a pleasure to see the women of court take active duty: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joanna, Berengaria. Their roles and perspectives brought deeply heartfelt, emotional dimensions to that dangerous, often tragic medieval life.

History is never so entertaining as in a fictionalized version, and Ms.Penman pulled it off in imaginative scenes - sieges, battles, betrayals, political drama - the dangerous 12th century game of Monopoly . The amazing sea adventure, Richard's capture and especially his incarceration will stay in my mind for a long time. 

I particularly got a thrill by old King Henry's cameo appearance as Richard lay feverish in his dungeon: "There is something else you need to remember whenever this new reality of yours becomes more than you think you can bear. You cannot gain revenge from the grave. Trust me on this; I know." 

Ms. Penman brings spirit and passion to the life of the Coeur de Lion, whose legend will carry on in A King's Ransom -the last of the Angevin Trilogy, much like what Homer did for Odysseus... and you know how successful that was.

            photo image_zps1a03ac72.jpg

 

******
From wikipedia.org:
Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199). He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion, or mainly Richard the Lionheart, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.

 

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