Monday, June 23, 2014

"The Scarlet Lion"

Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel about the later life of the world’s most famous knight, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, is exceptionally well written and researched. It reads like an eye-witness account of history.

The 12th and 13th centuries in Europe were filled with spectacular, often excessively violent conquests, political intrigue, promiscuity and conniving. Royals came and went with impunity, often employing imprisonment or murder to retain power. In the guise of mentoring, sons and sometimes daughters of nobles were taken to the royal court as hostages to ensure loyalty.

By means of extraordinary intelligence, patience, and integrity, William Marshal survived service to four English kings, including serving as Regent for nine-year-old Henry after his devious father, King John died. Prince Louis VIII of France, King Phillip’s son, might have succeeded in conquering England during this time if it hadn’t been for William’s brilliant strategy and political dealings.

Even if you’re not into history, “The Scarlet Lion” is an action-packed, emotion-grabbing read. Being based on historical events makes it even more compelling. The behind closed doors material is realistic and moving. The last chapter, William’s death, moved me to tears.

Marshal came from low status and accepted an arranged marriage to a noblewoman of means. Isabelle De Clare was a fascinating woman and was her husband’s sounding board and safe haven. Together they survived some very scary situations, cherished their eight children and held on to properties in England, Wales, Ireland, and Normandy through tumultuous times.

The Scarlet Lion reference comes from Marshal’s coat of arms.

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