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 »
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 »
We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
Originally published 1971
Book of the Month Club, 1st printing, 2000
Genre: historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: We Speak No Treason features three narrators who tell the story of the rise and fall of York, and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. The first narrator is The Maiden, a young woman in the household of the Duchess of Bedford and Elizabeth Woodville, who unexpectedly witnesses what she should not. She keeps her secret and manages to travel in the Duchess’ entourage, where she befriends a fool and falls in love with a prince. She is fortunate in that her prince loves her, too, and he becomes the center of her life until Warwick and Clarence rise against Edward IV, when the Maiden must bid farewell to her prince of Gloucester. It is then that she betrays herself, and due to her secret knowledge, is exiled, never to see court or her love again.
Our second narrator is The Fool Patch, jester to Edward IV. He loves the Maiden well, and hates Gloucester for seeming to betray her and for what Patch believes is an unseemly lust for the lands of Anne of Neville, Warwick’s daughter. Edward IV bestows Patch upon Gloucester as a wedding gift, and after spending time in the North, Patch comes to appreciate Gloucester’s justness and good character.
The Man of Keen Sight is the third narrator, a young man who becomes one of Gloucester’s henchmen at a young age. He serves Gloucester well, even accompanying him to Flanders during the brief exile following Warwick’s rebellion. When Edward IV returns to the throne, however, the Man of Keen Sight is distracted by the evils of livery and maintenance, and joins the household of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, son to Elizabeth Woodville and no friend to Gloucester. After Edward IV’s death and the race for the King, the Man of Keen Sight returns to Gloucester, and remains loyal until the last.
The fourth and final part sees a return to the Maiden, who is now The Nun, immured at a small religious house full of venality and betrayal. She now has two secrets, both Elizabeth Woodville’s and her own, and keeps them until those she loves best are threatened. Though she and Gloucester are bound closer than ever now, the Nun never sees him again until one final moment after she and he have both lost everything. click here to continue reading about We Speak No Treason