Friday, November 25, 2011
The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
"Already known as a knight of uncommon skill and honor, William Marshal has earned the friendship of King Richard and the love of a wealthy heiress. But when the Lionheart dies leaving his treacherous brother John on the throne, William and Isabelle need all of their strength and courage to face a shattered world. Their sons held hostage, their integrity at stake, the two must choose between obeying their king or honoring their hearts. Breathing life into history, Elizabeth Chadwick provides a riveting novel of an uncommon marriage between a man of valor and the only woman who could match him."
(from the publisher)
Actually, this will be two-reviews-in-one as I read The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion back to back. Although each is marketed as a stand alone novel based on the life of William Marshal, I highly recommend reading The Greatest Knight first. In this novel, the foundation of William's chivalrous character is set, from his harrowing childhood experience of his father's betrayal to his journey of becoming legendary for his skills as a soldier and champion of the tournament circuit. He grows to earn the confidence of kings and queens due to his loyalty and keen intellect (although he remained illiterate), and these characteristics contributed to his role as a diplomat and magnate. Chadwick fleshes out the legendary knight as a young man of honor and simple pleasures, respectful of women and committed to duty and his oath of fealty. Quite a man and hero, according the Chadwick.
The Scarlet Lion continues the story of William Marshal, now married to the beautiful heiress, Isabelle de Clare. Isabelle and William are a devoted couple enjoying their large family and balancing responsibilities to the king. Chadwick portrays William as a devoted husband and respectful of his wife's opinions which was very unusual for the times. He publicly acknowledged his pride in Isabelle's powerful position in her own right and often referred to his wife as his "safe harbor." Throughout the years, though, their relationship is tested as William's loyalty to his oath to King John (despite the king's treachery) brings troubled waters into their relationship with each other and their two eldest sons. William also created trouble for himself (and his sons!) by pledging an oath of support to the French King Philip in order to retain lands in France. King John is not one to take an offense lightly. Despite the trials that William's decisions and responsibilities bring to their married life, they weather the storms together. A wonderful love story and a glimpse of the intrigue of King John's court makes The Scarlet Lion a very enjoyable portrait of this historical figure. A bit dry at times (sometimes reads more like a retelling of historical facts), but still impeccable research and an authentic depiction of medieval life.
I plan on continuing with the story of their daughter, Mahelt Marshal, in To Defy a King.
4/5 stars for both The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion