Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick is a continuation of her book The Greatest Knight.  Both books cover the life of England's greatest knight, William Marshall.  The Greatest Knight covers Marshall's early life and his service to Richard The Lionhearted.

In The Scarlet Lion, we follow Marshall in the last years of his life, from 1197 to 1218.  His marriage to Isabelle de Clare is his bedrock, and she is no typical medieval wife.  Instead she is recognized as his partner and helpmate, and she is Irish royalty in her own right.  Together they make a formidable pair as they help move England forward during the wars of conquest that are so frequent. 

For most of this book, Marshall serves King John, the last son in his bloodline who ends up King of England when his four other brothers die in various ways.  John is mercuical and cruel, delighting in pitting his couriers against each other and quick to take offense.  William and Isabelle must thread a wary path between serving John and becoming part of his cruelties. 

The couple have ten children and the reader gets to see how children were raised and the part that they played in consolidating power.  It was a common practice to take children as hostages for their parents' loyalty, and John took the Marshall's two oldest boys into his court as young men.  This created tension and conflict between the king and his subjects, and often between parents and children.  The female children were expected to make marriages that furthered alliances between the great families.

The reader gets to see court life during the reigns of  both King John and King Henry, who came after him.  There are intricate power plays and balancing acts to stay in favor and retain family inheritances and lands.  During this time, there was constant war between England and France, England and Wales and between the various knights who were each jockeying for power and influence.  William Marshall kept his honor and word through various travails and prevailed as a beloved leader.

This book is recommended for historical fiction lovers.

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