Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
originally published 1985
Ballantine, 16th printing, 1993
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Synopsis & Review: Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.
The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.
A word to the wise: If the cover of a historical novel features the word “tempestuous,” then there will be romance. That’s just how it works. Read the rest of this entry »
Morland Dynasty: The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1980
Genre: historical fiction, family saga
Synopsis & Review: Yorkshire, 1434. Rising sheep-farmer Edward Morland arranges a beneficial marriage for his son Robert, to one Eleanor Courtenay of Dorset. She has no dowry, but comes from good family and is under the protection of Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. The arrangement is advantageous for everyone: The Morlands gain the patronage of Somerset and step up in the world, Somerset gains the service of wealthy clients, and the penniless Eleanor finally has a chance at marriage and children. Only Eleanor would prefer to not lower her consequence (thus raising theirs) by marriage to a sheep farmer. But as a penniless orphan, she has no say in the matter; while she makes the best of her situation, she continues to punish her husband Robert for not being gentleman enough for her tastes. Despite their initially ill-favored relations, Eleanor and Richard make an excellent team, and she gradually assumes leadership in the family, astutely shepherding the Morlands ever higher, from wealthy sheep farmers to merchants, to gentry. But in her heart Eleanor has cherished the memory of Richard, Duke of York, and when England is torn apart under mad Henry IV and his rapacious wife, the Morlands must choose a side.
I heard about this series a few years ago, and meant to look them up. For some reason, I was under the impression that it was a much older series, like from the fist half of the twentieth century, but I am obviously mental as this book (the first volume) was published in 1980. Huh. Perhaps my library system just didn’t have any when I looked? I do not know. I’m glad I tried looking again, though, because I found The Founding totally enjoyable. Read the rest of this entry »
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick
St Martin’s Press, 1st US edition, 2000
Genre: historical fiction, romance
Synopsis & Review: Miriel Weaver is driven from her home by an unpleasant stepfather and her complaisant mother. Rather than deal with the headstrong girl, she is sent to the convent of St Catherine’s as an oblate, and there she will stay until she takes vows. Miserable and chafing under the convent’s strict rules, Miriel plots escape. Meanwhile, young Nicholas de Caen is a rebel prisoner attached to King John’s baggage train as it makes its way to Lincoln. After a delay in crossing the causeway across the marshes, the baggage train is swept away by the incoming tide. Nicholas manages to save both a chest of riches and himself from drowning, but is quickly lost in the marshlands. It is there that Miriel stumbles across him, and he is removed to St Catherine’s to recover under Miriel’s care.
When Nicholas leaves, Miriel goes with him, determined to escape convent life. Following him through the marshlands, she discovers his secret hoard and demands a share for her help in saving his life. The two strike an agreement and travel together—until Miriel absconds with some of the monies and a priceless treasure.
The monies she uses to establish herself as a young widow, and Miriel soon has a thriving business in the cloth trade. She soon finds herself married to an old gentleman for protection, and upon his death marries another—though this one is only twenty years her senior. Largely unhappy in her marriages, and certainly emotionally unfulfilled, Miriel makes do until Nicholas de Caen, now a wealthy boat master, re-enters her life. It is only a matter of time before Miriel and Nicholas must confront their shared pasts–and the realization that they are bound together. Only Miriel’s husband Robert Willoughbuy stands in their way, and they will soon discover that he brooks no interference in his life, and will do anything to have his own way, even murder.
I’m really quite astonished that I never before happened upon one of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books. Looking over her titles, I don’t see any that ring a bell, but it’s such a surprise that someone who has been reading historical fiction and romance as long as I have wouldn’t have ever encountered her. I’ve seen her and her books referenced numerous times on various blogs, and after reading Sharon Kay Penman’s high opinion of Chadwick, decided it was time to check her out for myself. Read the rest of this entry »
Within the Hollow Crown by Margaret Campbell Barnes
MacRae-Smith Company, 2nd printing, 1947
Genre: historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: After the death of the Black Prince in 1376, Edward III’s heir was Richard of Bordeaux, and as the oft-repeated adage “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child” goes, his reign was a much-troubled one. Due to his young age, Richard II was initially ruled by his Plantagenet uncles, especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. As he neared his majority Richard initially distrusted John of Gaunt–as did most of England–but his loathing was reserved for Gloucester and his party. Control of the government remained in the hands of a series of councils as prominent men struggled for supremacy, a condition offensive to the young Richard, who longed to restore England to a peace and prosperity unknown in England for decades. While the great tussled over influence, England strove to surmount the devastation of years of foreign campaigns and plague, a situation that came to a head in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The Revolt provoked the first independent moment of Richard’s sovereignty, but control of the government was soon back in the hands of other men.
After his marriage to Anne of Bohemia, however, Richard would assert himself more strongly, but the depredations of his minority inspired another rebellion, and his chancellor and household members were dismissed, and some executed. The crisis ended only upon Richard’s assumption of control at his majority and the return of John of Gaunt to England. Together the two worked to restore peace and stability, and Richard finally ended wars with France and began establishing a culture of the arts in England. But the death of his beloved Good Queen Anne devastated Richard, and the period of his “tyranny” began, a time that ended only with the usurpation of his throne by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and Richard’s subsequent imprisonment and murder.
For centuries Richard II would be remembered as extravagant, incompetent, weak, even mad, a ruthless tyrant unable to even provide an heir, a man from whom England had to be saved. But was the story so simple, or something far more complex? Read the rest of this entry »