Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

Following early beginnings as a knight in the English royal household and a champion of the tourneys, William Marshal's prowess and loyalty have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare, heiress to great estates in England, Normandy and Ireland. Now a powerful magnate, William has weathered the difficult years of King Richard's absence on crusade and is currently serving him on campaign in Normandy while Isabelle governs their estates.

All the stability William and Isabelle have enjoyed with their young and growing family comes crashing down as Richard dies and his brother John becomes King. Rebellion is stirring throughout the Angevin domains and although John has created William Earl of Pembroke, the friction between the two men leads William and Isabelle to distance themselves in Ireland. The situation escalates, with John holding their sons as hostages and seizing their English lands. The conflict between remaining loyal and rebelling over injustices committed, threatens to tear William and Isabelle's marriage and their family apart. As the dramatic events unfold, William has to steer an increasingly precarious path that will lead him eventually to the rule of a country in desperate straits, and Isabelle walks with him every step of the way, fiercely intelligent, courageous - fearing for the man who is the light of her life.

The Scarlet Lion is a captivating historical novel, based on the true story of one of England's greatest leaders. Elizabeth Chadwick skillfully illuminates the complex lives of William Marshal, his wife Isabelle and the turbulent era of the early thirteenth century with all the texture, colour and dramatic detail of the richest stained-glass window.

Again this is a book that I finished a while ago, and having got around to reviewing yet!

The Greatest Knight was the first book that I read by Elizabeth Chadwick, and I really, really enjoyed it, so when this book came out, I had it on my request list as soon as it was added to the library catalogue! And I wasn't disappointed!

The Scarlet Lion basically picked up where The Greatest Knight left off. William and Isabel were married and enjoying life together. William was still serving the all powerful Angevin kings and queens of England, with Isabelle regularly giving birth to an ever growing number of children. Things are, however, destined to become a little less stable with the news that King Richard (known as The Lionheart) has died, and that he has supposedly named his duplicitous younger brother John as his successor.

What follows is episode after episode of betrayal, double crossing, promises and lies as John and William constantly clash, to the point where many of their lands are taken away, only to be returned at later times. John is a very tricky man. He often doesn't want William at court, and yet he will play games with his approval for William and family to return to their Irish lands. Even there, John's hand can be seen muddying the waters.

Isabelle was an amazing woman in her own right. It was through her family connections that William was entitled to rule many of their Irish lands. Not only did she give birth to many children, when she decides to remain in Ireland and William returns to court, Isabelle has to face their Irish enemies, defeat them and to pass judgement when 9 months pregnant.

She is also terribly torn, as John orders that two of her son's are bought to the court to learn to be squires and knights, much to the distress of William and Isabelle, who distrust John intensely. Whilst William continues to walk the fine line between obeying and defying John, their son's lives are literally in John's hands, and it is a dilemma that begins to form a breech in the formerly strong relationship between them. The breech grows larger, as John and his cohorts begin to influence the eldest son and heir, there is yet more dissension, this time between father and son, and in the end, there is a potentially a stand off looming between father and son.

Yet for all the political maneuvering, William manages to keep a couple of major assets - his honour and the respect of his peers, even those who don't always agree with him - and when John dies, it is William who is asked to lead the country, acting as regent to the young king, Henry III.

Chadwick has once again delivered a fantastic story, filled with the colorful characters of time past - real people with different problems than ours, but yet still with other recognisable problems that we can identify with - the pains of letting go of children, of family disharmony, of growing older.

The story of William Marshal's life, begun in The Greatest Knight, and continued in this book, is a very interesting and exciting one, and both books are well worth reading. I really do intend to read some of Chadwick's earlier works and work my way through her backlist!

Rating 4.5/5


  1. I'll have to look for The Greatest Knight (and then this one if I like it). I've read a few Chadwicks and really liked them. :)

  2. Am I still going to be in love with him after this book??

  3. I sooo want to read this book!!

  4. Oh yes! Definitely still in love with him Daphne!

    It's really good Ana!



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