Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

Postby Misfit » Tue August 26th, 2008, 4:14 pm

This is a prequel of sorts to The Greatest Knight, and is the story of John FitzGilbert, the father of William Marshal. The story takes place amidst the backdrop of England's civil war between Henry's daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen who usurped her crown, as John tries to juggle his perilous position between the two rivals for the crown.

John's first marriage to Aline (the best he could make at the time in his position) does not fare well as she is weak of mind as well as spirit, and when he chooses to side with Matilda he makes a more advantageous marriage with Sybilla, who bears John several children including William. The characterization of John started from a cat that always lands on his feet to a loving husband and father, facing the most difficult decision of his life. The author did a marvelous job of bringing John, Aline and Sybilla to life, and most especially young William. I was totally entranced at the way William was portrayed, from his exuberant first word to his innocent knowledge of the danger he was in whilst being held hostage by King Stephen.

While this is not a page turning, sit on the edge of your seat, action filled novel, I was thoroughly entertained throughout. As always with Chadwick's books, the way she brings the medieval period to life in such a graceful and effortless way, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothes and battles is just awesome. As quoted on some of her book jackets, the next best thing to time travel. 5/5 stars.

User avatar
diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Wed August 27th, 2008, 11:00 am

Here's my thoughts on this book!


The 1130s mark the twilight years of the long, peaceful reign of King Henry, son of William of Normandy. Yet it seems his legacy will not uphold that peace. For who will succeed him? His daughter Matilda, ex-Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, his nephew Stephen, or even his infant grandson Henry? It's an uneasy time for those vying for position at court. An unease that turns into fear when Henry dies without naming his heir.

For John FitzGilbert, the king's Marshal, the normal jostling for position and favour takes on a new urgency. Along with many other nobles, he swears allegiance to Stephen but he has enemies at court and soon his position becomes untenable and he must either join the Empress Matilda's faction or lose all. He cannot even take succour from his marriage. His wife, the pliant, pious Aline, is no match for a man renowned for his looks, energy and fearlessness and she struggles to cope in the storms unleashed upon them by civil war, especially when John is badly wounded in a fight with opposing forces.

John recovers and realises that to protect his lands and his heirs, his only option is to divorce Aline and take a new wife - Sybilla, sister of his enemy, Patrick of Salisbury. It's a strategic move, but is swiftly becomes something more, for Sybilla is quick, intelligent and possesses all the joy and vibrancy lacking in his first wife.

However, both Sybilla and John are about to be tested to the limit. As the fight for England's crown continues, John's castle at Newbury becomes pivotal, and in order to buy the time that is needed he is forced to make a terrible sacrifice...




Before I read this book, I knew three things about John Marshal. The first was that he was father of William Marshal, a man I had read about, and swooned over, in two earlier Elizabeth Chadwick novels (The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion). The second was that he suffered a terrible injury at Cherwell when he was caught in a burning abbey, and a piece of lead melted onto his face causing permanent disfigurement and the loss of sight in his left eye. The third thing that I knew was that when William was four years, John was forced to give him to King Stephen as a hostage, and John famously said to Stephen that he didn't care if he killed William as he had the anvils and hammer to create more children (roughly paraphrasing of course).

To be honest, because of the third of those things listed above, I was a little surprised to hear that Elizabeth Chadwick had written a book where the main character was John Marshal, because I couldn't really imagine how she would go about making John easy to relate to, when it appeared as though he was quite unfeeling and callous as a man. I am very pleased to say that she succeeded!

This book is predominately set during the very troubled times in the mid 1100s when the war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda caused great upheaval and destruction across England. When Matilda's father, King Henry, died without naming an heir, there were many lords who bridled at the thought of being ruled over by a woman and therefore sided with the dead King's nephew, Stephen. Still others believed that it was King Henry's wish for his daughter to follow in his footsteps, and thus began a twenty year period of war when the countryside was ravaged.

This same period is covered extensively in Sharon Kay Penman's book, When Christ and His Saints Slept, and having that background certainly aided in my enjoyment of this book. Where Penman's focused heavily on what was happening personally with Stephen and Matilda, many of those same events are on the peripherals of the narrative of this book, except where the events directly touched on John Marshal's life.

John was the loyal Marshal of King Henry - the man responsible for making sure that there was order in court, for the procurement of supplies, horses, etc amongst other things - a man with his finger on the pulse of court life. When Henry died, he also filled that role for Stephen as well. However, there were many at court who were not overly fond of John, and his neighbours were also coveting his lands and were determined to take them, whatever the cost.

In order to preserve his life, and his possessions, John has to take the extraordinary step of swapping sides, and becomes part of Matilda's retinue. What follows are a series of skirmishes, battles and sieges, culminating with the siege at Newbury where John so famously denied his feelings for his son.

Lest you think that this is a book just of battles, Chadwick also gives us glimpses into John's two marriages. The first is to Aline, a somewhat timid and pious woman, who wants nothing more than to have John by her side, and to do her duty. She is a woman who is very obviously not up to the job of being wife to the Royal Marshal, with all the entertaining, and responsibilities that go along with that post. I did feel for Aline as she struggled within her marriage and home, but also for John as he realises that this marriage is one that cannot continue for both of their sakes.

Then, we see his marriage to Sybilla, a partnership that started out as a way to stop an escalating enmity with her brother, Patrick of Salisbury, one of John's neighbours. Where Aline was timid, Sybilla is bold and intelligent, with an ability to charm the people around her from the dairy maids, to those from the highest stations in the land.

Chadwick's portrayal of John Marshal is by no means of a saint who has been portrayed unfairly through the ages. There is no doubting his courage, his competence in his role, let alone his ambition and determination. He is a totally three dimensional character - warts and all.

Similarly, the authors skill in conveying the details of life and times of the twelfth century, from the dresses, food, smells and tastes is exceptional.

One thing to be aware of is that the author has to cram twenty years worth of events into just over 500 pages, so it is crucial to keep an eye on the dates at the beginning of each chapter to keep some kind of perspective in terms of time elapsed.

This is the third Elizabeth Chadwick book that I have read and really enjoyed. Now I just need to start working my way through the rest of her back list!

It is a great shame that this author's books are so difficult to get hold of in the US. It is well worth going to the effort of locating them. I highly recommend Book Depository. It is a UK based online bookstore but as you get free postage to many countries around the world it is a very economical way to buy books!

User avatar
amyb
Reader
Location: Atlanta, GA
Contact:

Postby amyb » Sun March 1st, 2009, 7:16 pm

Here's my review:

A Place Beyond Courage is a novel of John FitzGilbert (John Marshal). In the year 1130 John is a royal marshal to King Henry I - young he may be, but through his courage and cunning he earned his stripes and respect and men knew not to mess with him. As royal marshal, John was the gate-keeper to the king - if you wanted to see the king, you needed to get past John first. He was also in charge of the court's living arrangements, the horses, the dogs and hawks - there was nothing John didn't have his hand in, including the approval and upkeep of the court whores. This last part did have it's perks, as John says...

"Where would the court be for information, madam, without the digging of prostitutes and priests?"

When John gets to the point in his life where his thoughts turn to marriage and the begetting of an heir, he thoughts are to the practical, not romantic. He marries the daughter of an acquaintance, Aline - a nervous girl, afraid of her own shadow. These two could not have been more imperfectly matched. Despite all the time John was away on court business and all the time Aline spent praying on her knees, they did manage to produce two sons, thus securing the FitzGilbert name.

So, things are going well for John...an heir with one to spare at home, the owner of many estates, a pretty, young wife - so what if she passes out at the sight of blood or gives all his money to the church - she's loyal and fertile, what else could you ask for? Then King Henry has to go and screw things up by dying without naming a successor, throwing the court into chaos and beginning the fight over the throne of England between the king's daughter, Mathilda, and the king's nephew, Stephen.

As sides are chosen and loyalties are made, John has to tread carefully, as he has haters on either side that would like to see him knocked down the ladder a bit. He realizes that the only chance of securing his lands would be to align himself with his enemy, Patrick of Salisbury, who was his neighbor. And what better way than to marry Salisbury's sister, Sybilla. The little matter of getting rid of Aline is quickly dealt with and John is just as swiftly married to Sybilla. Even though you know Sybilla is a much better match for John, you can't help but feel for the cast off Aline, who was quite unsure as to what it was she had done wrong to be so treated, then had her children taken away from her and packed off like an unwanted guest. But, neither could you not like John's new wife, Sybilla, who was quite the opposite of his first. John had finally met his match in this fiery, strong woman and in doing so, fell deeply in love.

The dynamic relationship of John and Sybilla was a pleasure to read, Chadwick excels at capturing love and describing it well. John saying that "if he lost Sybilla, he would be like a boat with a hole torn in it's keep and the sea bleeding in to sink it". They had many children together, including the famous William Marshal of Chadwick's novels The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion (he was the kid in the famous "hammer and anvil" speech made by his father). It was interesting to see this event through the eyes of John, a side I'd never been privy to and one which absolves him of being the heartless bastard he came across as. I also had wondered about what William's mother was going through when William was a hostage and now I know...hoping that her husband's intuition that Stephen would be too soft to really follow through with the threat would prove true, but bracing for the worst. Those were some heart wrenching scenes!

Yet again, another of Chadwick's novels has been given another five star rating from yours truly. No one can do medieval like Chadwick; she brings the people and the places alive and it's pure enjoyment to read her novels. I liked John a lot more than I thought I would and am so pleased that Chadwick chose to write about him, he most definitely earned his place in the history books. Very much recommended.

User avatar
Volgadon
Compulsive Reader
Location: Israel
Contact:

Postby Volgadon » Sun March 1st, 2009, 7:42 pm

This sounds like a very interesting story. Definitely TBR.

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Postby EC2 » Sun March 1st, 2009, 7:59 pm

Thanks Amy - Glad you enjoyed the novel! John, even more than William sucked me in; perhaps because I feel so strongly there is a balance to redress and a reputation to be restored. John is something of a forgotten hero - flawed, but a hero nevertheless. That 'anvils and hammers' speech has been so misinterpreted and misunderstood by us in the 21st century. What John did was harsh, but his son was never under-valued, and it was from his father that William Marshal learned to stand hard - whatever the cost.
I've been meaning to PM you - will do so in a moment.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

User avatar
Volgadon
Compulsive Reader
Location: Israel
Contact:

Postby Volgadon » Sun March 1st, 2009, 9:06 pm

Growing up in the Middle-East I guess that whole incident isn't that foreign to me.

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Heavenfield by L J Ross & Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Postby Madeleine » Thu February 18th, 2010, 7:53 pm

Came across this outside a pub in Bath the other day, even though it's way after the famous siege, I thought it was interesting to see Wherwell mentioned.

Image
Last edited by Madeleine on Thu February 18th, 2010, 8:04 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Currently reading "Heavenfield" by L J Ross & "Lost for Words" by Stephanie Butland

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: Heavenfield by L J Ross & Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Postby Madeleine » Thu February 18th, 2010, 8:11 pm

Image

And now I have worked out how to add the attachment properly!
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
Currently reading "Heavenfield" by L J Ross & "Lost for Words" by Stephanie Butland

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Postby EC2 » Thu February 18th, 2010, 8:47 pm

Thanks Madeleine!
It was a major nunnery back in the day. I saw an excellent little vignette about its founding and I've just re-discovered it on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cmW2kjlB-Q&feature=related
Looks as if it's been acted by 6th formers, but they do a brilliant job with a low budget.
Last edited by EC2 on Thu February 18th, 2010, 8:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Les proz e les vassals

Souvent entre piez de chevals

Kar ja li coard n’I chasront



'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'


Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal



www.elizabethchadwick.com

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu February 18th, 2010, 10:30 pm

Thanks for that clip, EC- they have done a great job of it :) That Elfrida was a nasty piece of work, wasn't she?

The Wherwell Village website has a well-written history section, and the first couple of chapters are about the Abbey
http://www.wherwell.net/wherwell-history-i.htm


Return to “By Author's Last Name A-F”