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Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Miss Moppet
Posts: 1726
Joined: April 2009
Location: North London

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Post by Miss Moppet » Thu October 20th, 2011, 12:14 am

Elizabeth Chadwick’s latest release tells the story of two women who at one point in their lives held the title of Lady of the English: Adeliza, queen of Henry I, and her stepdaughter, Matilda, Henry’s heir.

Adeliza and Matilda are very different women. Adeliza plays the role of a consort to perfection, with one exception – she fails to provide an heir. This means that Matilda has to take on an impossible role – that of reigning queen at a time when women were considered unfit to rule. While Matilda struggles to wrest control of England from her usurping cousin Stephen, Adeliza, a widowed queen, has to find a way to rebuild her life.

As a contrast to the two queens, there is a wonderful gallery of royal men: the ruthless and calculating Henry I; Geoffrey of Anjou, Matilda’s brilliant but volatile consort, and their son, the future Henry II, intelligent, restless and warlike, a golden prince who becomes the focus of Matilda’s fight for the crown.

The book is rich in the texture of medieval life, pervaded with twelfth century imagery. Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing is vividly descriptive. You will feel the chill of the snow, smell the venision stew, see castle walls rise out of the mist and hear the chanting of monks and the clash of swords.

The conflict between characters caught between their religious beliefs and the bloody civil war they have to wage is conveyed with understanding and conviction. These are people of their time. Matilda correctly predicts that her son will be one of England’s greatest kings, and that his line will endure long into the future, but she can’t see ahead to a time when women would be able both to reign and to rule.

My only complaint is that I would have loved the book to be twice as long, but that might have diminished the focus on Matilda and Adeliza which gives it its strength. As with Sharon Kay Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept, which covers the same period, my favourite scene was Matilda’s amazing escape from a besieged and snowbound Oxford castle. Matilda might not have been able to command an army in the field, but she would have coped fine with a wilderness survival course!

Lady of the English is recommended for anyone who wants to open a window to the horrors and glories of England’s royal past.

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