Monday, November 21, 2005
The Dragon and The Jewel by Virginia Henley
This book is a romance novelist's take on the love story between Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, and Eleanor Plantagenet, beloved sister of Henry II. These are the same characters from Sharon Penman's Falls the Shadow which I read and loved last year. (Falls the Shadow is the second book in the Welsh Trilogy that starts with Here Be Dragons and concludes with The Reckoning).
The main reason why I wanted to read this book is to see how the two different types of authors treated the same story. Bearing in mind that I read the Penman last year and may have forgotten some of the details, I have to say that the two authors agreed on most of the historical facts, but in Henley's book, I'm surprised that there was any time to go off to war with all the frolicking and debauchery that was going on between the knights and the maidens, and Simon and Eleanor.
Eleanor was married off at a very young age (i.e 9 years old) to one of the most influential men in England (William Marshall). Before she was 17 years old she was a widow, and she had made a vow of celibacy and was considering becoming a nun. Then she meets the handsome, virile Simon de Montford and things change!! Before too long, Eleanor and Simon were married in secret and the first of their children arrived. Simon then fell out of favour with the King and was exiled to Europe, and Eleanor accompanied him. Then, he was back in favour with King Henry, returning to England in triumph after having been involved in crusade type trips to The Holy Land. Henry's court was however not a terribly happy place to be, with lots of favouritism being shown to the Queen's family, and lots of disgruntled English nobles agitating for reform and control over the King's spending habits. Simon finds himself as one of the leaders of the opposition about to go off into battle against the King (his brother in law)...and this is where The Dragon and The Jewel finishes.
It is a shame that this is where The Dragon and The Jewel leaves off, because a lot of what happened after the Battle of Lewes was extremely interesting. Simon effectively became ruler of England for a couple of years, until eventually Henry's son Edward wrested control back. In the meantime, Simon set in place several reforms which could be seen to have links with out modern systems of Parliament.
In both accounts, Simon is portrayed as being extremely chivalrous, honest, fair, respected and loved - a man of great integrity. Simon and Eleanor are depicted as having a passionate and lifelong love for each other, and story is considered as one of the most romantic stories of their time.
As an aside, I had heard a lot of things about how hot Virginia Henley's books were but a lot of the sexy scenes didn't really do a lot for me.
Overall, I preferred Sharon Penman's book for both the historical story and the relationship developments, but Virginia Henley's book was a fun read of a story that I was already familiar with. There were also some things described in Henley's book that I am not sure could ever have happened. Might be time for a reread of Penman's book to refresh myself!