The Morland Dynasty: The Chevalier by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1984
Warner Books, 2000
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: 1689 – The Restoration enabled the Morland family to restore their own fortune, but now the Jacobite rebellion brings another threat to their security.
Annunciata Morland, fiercely loyal to the Stuart cause, follows her beloved king, James II, into exile. She leaves her gentle grandson, Matt, to oversee Morland Place in her absence. Without her wise presence, Matt finds himself in an arranged marriage to India Neville and at the mercy of a woman as heartless as she is beautiful. After a lonely and sheltered life he lurches between the exquisite pain of love and the torment of deep despair.
When James III-the Chevalier–returns to claim the Stuart throne, the Morlands are reunited in one country. Death and defeat threaten them, but their loves and loyalty prove stronger than kingly ambition. (jacket copy)
Sometimes I just get exhausted trying to summarize a plot that follows the vagaries of history. Don’t judge me.
Number seven of the Morland Dynasty opens just before the Glorious Revolution (which sucked), and traces the various Morlands through the Jacobite uprising of 1715 (aka, the ’15–to the cool kids). With the current popularity of the Tudors–and to a lesser degree, the Plantagenets–the Stuarts, the Hanoverians, and the Jacobites get short shrift from historical fiction. I’m not sure why, though, as the intricacies of Jacobite intrigue are innately romantic and thrilling. I wonder whether perhaps intolerance of Jacobitism may have something to do with the Catholic connexion (there is still some anti-Papist sentiment both here and in the UK), or whether the complexities of loyalty to a King’s person versus to a country are too touchy a subject currently. (Note the drastic fall in US Civil War romantic fiction for the second half of the twentieth century, following the Civil Rights Movement.)
I’ll admit that I’m certainly a Jacobite at heart. I do love an underdog, and the rabid intolerance for Catholicism has always mystified me (of course, despite my agnostic rearing, there is a great deal of Catholicism in my recent family history. My mother, aunts, and older sister attended Catholic schools, and my great-aunt is a nun. Shoots, I wanted to be a nun when I was little. But that probably has something to do with my overly dramatic personality, and a lot to do with watching The Trouble with Angels waaaaaay too many times.) But I’m also moved by what I perceive as a terrible injustice to the Stuarts: the betrayal not only by their countrymen, but by James II’s own daughters, Mary and Anne. So dreadful!
As for the novel, it was a decent entry in the series. Again we find a Usurper on the throne, and a court in exile, complete with a handsome prince. There are plots at home and abroad, and a thrilling instance of escape from the Tower (based on an actual event, and also used to great effect by Karleen Koen in Now Face to Face). There are too many Morland cousins at the start–I had to keep referring to older family trees to figure out just who these people were–but it settles down pretty quickly into Matt and India’s story. In India, we find a female character who is not just unsympathetic, but eminently loathsome. Ohhh, she is bad! There must have been something seriously wrong with her to behave as she did (and that’s certainly not anti-feminist; she behaved with no care for anyone but herself). The denouement of that plotline is rather thrilling.
Overseas there are several Morlands scattering about. Annunciata brings up her last daughter at James’ court at Saint Germain, eventually leaving her there in the Queen’s care, where Aliena grows up with James III and his sister Marie Louise. Karellie and Maurice travel to Italy, where the latter stays for some time. Midbook, there’s a lull as Harrod-Eagles (henceforth to be known as CHE because I grow weary of typing that) begins setting the stage for both the next conflict and the next generation.
The Chevalier (and The Maiden, too) discusses changes in politics, particularly the rise of bureaucracy and ministers, and the evolution of the king into a figurehead. The generation gap between Annunciata and her stepson Matt illustrates the differences between their perceptions of kingship. CHE nicely integrates these musings into the narrative without distracting from the plot. The titular Chevalier isn’t just James III, but also Karellie, the martial Morland, and even in a way Annunciata, who represents loyalty and leadership. (In The Long Shadow, Martin muses on a similar subject, about the changes from men going out and fighting for themselves and their lords, to reliance on professional soldiers.)
Even for readers who are familiar with the history, CHE deftly creates suspense about the fates of individual Morlands. The novel’s climax is the ’15, when Morlands are all over the place, including in the Pretender’s armies as he attempts an invasion of England from Scotland. It gets rough, and I was distraught to see some perfectly nice characters suffer terribly. Though CHE’s history is idealized in these novels, she does not hesitate to illustrate the horrors of history using her characters. I do like that about her.
Cover: The usual.
They discussed other things as well as the business of the estate. On politics his views were very different from hers, and she came to understand that it was useless to expect a man of his generation, brought up as he had been under the rule of successive usurpers, to feel the same way about the occupation of the throne. She had grown up in a world where everyone felt they knew the King personally; she had gone at the age of fifteen to Court, and had lived in close and familiar contact with King Charles and King James, identifying with their lives and interest; the personalities that were mere names, cyphers to Matt, were flesh and blood people to her.
Besides, he had never been away from Morland Place, and with the exception of his long, blind passion for India, it was the only thing he had ever cared deeply about. His inheritance, his land–that had never let him down. It endured. What was good and right for Morland Place had first sway with him. How could distant kings and princes compete with that? Annunciata felt sadly that there were many all over the country who believed the same. Had their livelihood been directly threatened, they might have grown passionate about the issues, but as it was they were content for the folk far away in London to worry about the succession while they got on with the shearing and the hay-harvest.