Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Lady of the English. Elizabeth Chadwick. Sourcebooks, Incorporated. September 2011. 544 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781402250927.

Two women desire to be the Queen of 12th Century England. One, Adeliza, wife of Henry I, sees her role as an actual Queen to be that of peacemaker in a realm where loyalties are based on ambition and the acquisition of power through land and riches. Such loyalties are bound to fluctuate as the tides of power fluctuate over the years.

Another woman, Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, has been promised she will be Queen upon the King's passing. Henry believes he has guaranteed this in having his counselors and liege lords pledge their loyalty on bended knee to Matilda. This is Matilda's story, a journey of yearning and suffering as Stephen of Blois usurps the throne after Henry's death. Matilda is married to Geoffrey of Anjou, a brutal man who almost destroys his wife. Scathingly sarcastic, Geoffrey, however, is a superb military strategist and supports Matilda's quest for the crown only because he believes it will benefit his own dreams of power.

The plot is not as simple as described so far. There are moments of temporary victory, moments of intense sorrow, and ultimately moments when the realization strikes that the timing is all wrong for Matilda's ascension to Queen of England. Thus a brutal civil war begins that tears apart a country undeserving of the shifting spheres of loyalty and success that follow.

Adeliza, believing Matilda should rightly fulfill her queenly destiny, and the men who surround Matilda are complex characters as portrayed in this engaging novel. Matilda is remarkably unable to truly control her strategy and even disregards the advise of those more knowledgeable about how to win over the lords who begin to see Stephen's weaknesses. Adeliza risks much in her loyalty to Matilda, shown in some heartrending scenes that remain potent long after they are read. Indeed, Adeliza is frequently the more sympathetic character than Matilda, a tough woman who hides her heart because she fears it may be deemed weakness.

The Lady of the English is an interesting story about this little-known slice of history and the woman who spent so much of her life in truth preparing another and those around her for the role of ruling the formidable Kingdom of England. Fascinating Middle Ages historical fiction!

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