TITLE: Lady of the English
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Chadwick
INFO: Paperback, Fiction, 497 pages
PUBLISHED: Sourcebooks, 2011
SOURCE: Received from Publisher for Review
FROM GOODREADS: 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'?
MY TAKE: Elizabeth Chadwick is a name that is synonymous with fantastic historical fiction. Her latest masterpiece Lady of the English, is yet another justification for this well-earned reputation.
Daughter of Henry I and mother to Henry II, Empress Matilda's story is told in alternating viewpoints with that of her widowed stepmother Queen Adeliza and several male characters. This technique allows the author to show us a much more human side of the abrasive Matilda than what has previously been told. Her loving relationship with the pious peacemaker near her own age is an effective background for the tale of the strong woman who really should have become Queen of England. Instead, she paved the way for one of its more colorful Kings to finally take the reins after many years of strife and open war.
I really enjoyed learning about the Empress, as she liked to be called. I can't imagine how hard it would have been for her to be the beloved Empress of Germany, married to a man who loved and respected her and then to lose it all in a second. She came home to a place she hadn't seen since she was 8, now at the ripe old age of 23, to be used as a political pawn by her father King Henry I. To solidify his rule and further his machinations, she was married off to the Duke of Anjou who just happened to be an obnoxious boy of 14! Getting a glimpse into this early life explains a lot about Matilda's behaviour and character in later years. Her single-minded drive to claim the crown after her father's death, first for herself and then on behalf of her young son Henry, was amazing as well as disturbing.
Ms. Chadwick's style of writing pulls the reader in immediately and doesn't let you go. I was so engrossed in this story that I stayed up almost all night reading. My emotions ran the full range while I was immersed in this book. I became very invested in many of the players. The fact that Matilda and Brian were in love and couldn't act upon it was very sad. Their devotion to honor and faith were amazing. I felt sympathy and outrage at the way Matilda was treated by her father and her husband; sadness at many of the atrocities that were committed against innocents and women; but I actually did find quite a bit of humor in young Henry's antics.
One of my favorites was when he was 14 and gathered a band of misfits to unsuccessfully try to take a couple of the border castles from the English king. Neither of his parents were aware of his misguided plans. The fun really got started when he didn't have the funds to pay his outlaws or to get back home. He decided to just waltz into the King's camp and ask his cousin Stephen for the money. Stephen was highly amused by Henry's daring and after hosting him for many days sent him home to his father with many gifts and the requested money. Since Stephen is the very king that Henry and his parents are trying to wrest the English crown from, this little escapade was that much more exciting and funny.
I also have to admit that I became very attached to Adeliza. She was very diplomatic and made the perfect political wife to King Henry. She became very protective of her stepdaughter Matilda and was a loyal friend to her for decades. Her charity and goodness were well-known and she provided a calming and reasonable voice for Matilda. There is a point when she is saying goodbye to her second husband Will and doesn't know when or if she will see him again that had me bawling my eyes out. Theirs was a love match and my heart was breaking for her and him. He was also a character that I enjoyed. The author shared his thoughts with us many times regarding his struggle between his loyalty to the current King (Stephen) and his love of Adeliza, friend and champion to Empress Matilda. He has a few instances when he battles his own sense of honor in order to protect his wife and her stepdaughter.
This book is already residing on my keeper shelf and I highly recommend it. Plan on being drawn into 12th century England and staying there a while with some magnetic characters that you won't want to leave.
~~~~~ Disclaimer: All opinions expressed on this blog are 100% my own. I do not receive monetary compensation for my reviews but do utilize affiliate links. I may receive books in order to facilitate a review, but this does not guarantee a good review - only a completely honest one. Each review post denotes how I obtained the book.