Have I waxed poetic on how much I love Elizabeth Chadwick’s historical fiction on this blog? No?
I first heard about British author Elizabeth Chadwick several years ago when she was interviewed on The Word Wenches blog about her book The Greatest Knight, the first of her William Marshal books. Now, William Marshal is a famous historical figure of the English Middle Ages: a knight, Crusader, courtier and politician and solider to the early Plantagenet kings, advisor to the English kings, and eventually, the regent of the underage Henry III. He was there when Henry II’s sons rebelled against him, he was an important figure while Richard the Lionheart was off Crusading, and he remained loyal to bad King John and was one of the signatories of Magna Carta.
But I’d not heard of him before coming across mention of Elizabeth Chadwick and her novels.
I read a history book on the Plantagenets recently and of course, William Marshal was mentioned and I may have squealed because Chadwick’s William Marshal books and her other novels of real historical figures in the late 11th and 12th centuries are so compelling and rich and–although I’m far from a medievalist–her novels always feel authentic.
For example. I just finished Chadwick’s second book in her Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, The Winter Crown. This novel is mainly about Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life during her marriage to Henry II. Eleanor was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, so she was concerned with its governance, with grooming her heir Richard to be the next duke, but she was also concerned with maintaining Aquintaine’s sovereignty away from Henry II’s empire of England, Normandy, Anjou, and other parts of what we would call France.
Eleanor expresses the view that the world is tough for women, that being female in her sphere is to be a political pawn, and she resents it when Henry makes decisions about Aquitaine without consulting her–but none of this feels out of place for this character in her time. Her marriage was mostly for political reasons, so Eleanor isn’t bothered when Henry has a bevy of mistresses whenever she’s pregnant. It’s only when he starts leaving her out of important events and he has the same mistress for a longer period of time and flaunts her in front of the court and their children that Eleanor is perturbed.
Plus, any time I think that research in my so far eighteenth and nineteenth century world is difficult, I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s blog about reading pipe rolls written in Latin and researching things like the Crusades and the Templars and Magna Carta. In some cases, for some of the minor characters in her books, their exact dates of birth and death are unknown, the number of children couples had could be uncertain, and other details are sketchy.
I can’t imagine constructing a story about a world that is so different to ours in so many ways, but hey, that’s what Elizabeth Chadwick and others manage to do and do so well.