Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
Little, Brown Book Group
Hardcover, 576 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
This continuation of the story of William Marshal begins in 1197 when William is about 50 years old and the father of 4 children, one of whom is his beloved daughter, Mahelt (review of her life story is soon to appear on this blog).
King Richard (the Lionheart of Robin Hood fame) is dead and the question of his successor must be resolved. The heir to the throne is the hated Prince John whom nobody wants as king. William uses his considerable influence to have John ascend the throne, recognizing his right to the crown. William swears loyalty to John and becomes Earl of Pembroke.
Time passes. Between battles, William and his wife Isabelle watch their children grow and add new ones to their family, eventually producing 10 children during 30 years of marriage. They are a loving, happy family. However, overshadowing the harmony and peace in the family is their relationship with King John which is, at best, precarious and tense. Tensions increase when William also swears loyalty to King Philip of France in order to safeguard his lands there. Tensions between William and King John further escalate when a royal summons arrives by messenger demanding William’s eldest son to serve as a squire (read hostage) to the King. Though fearing the influence of the King and his decadent court on their son, William and Isabelle do not refuse the summons. Throughout their lives they must perform a balancing act between loyalty to the King and rage at his injustices.
William and Isabelle prepare for a trip to Ireland, both to distance themselves from the King and to check on their Irish estates. On the eve of their departure King John again flexes his royal muscles demanding their second son, Richard, as a hostage against William’s good conduct in Ireland. The King seems set on destroying the Marshall family for daring to protect what is theirs. After being in Ireland for some time a message arrives from the King stripping William of all of his lands in England and commanding his presence at court. William leaves his heavily pregnant wife to govern their lands while he is away, which she does successfully. Once again we see that William and Isabelle are a formidable pair.
I liked reading about William and his family. I found myself wishing that he could have spent his later years enjoying his home and family - an impossibility given the political climate of the time. King John is portrayed as a horrible reprobate. William is an honorable man and maintains his loyalty to John doing all in his power to keep him on the English throne. When John dies William feels a great weight lift off his shoulders and relief from tyranny. He becomes regent of England on behalf of John’s nine-year-old heir, thus reaching the pinnacle of power in 13th century England. At a vigorous 70 years of age he is still going out to battle, but, like all humans, great or small, his health begins to fail. The author paints a poignant picture of William’s last days as he says goodbye to his large family and takes on Templar vows, renouncing all worldly matters. He dies a few days later, “old and satisfied with days.”
In any age and by any standards, William Marshal was an extraordinary man. He was a chivalrous knight, a contemporary of the Lionheart, a leader of men. He was a magnate yielding tremendous power who sought diplomatic solutions to national problems rather than resort to war. He was supremely loyal to an undeserving king. At the same time he was easy-going, courteous, and enjoyed simple pleasures. Thanks to Elizabeth Chadwick we can get a glimpse into his amazing life.
Disclaimer: I borrowed this book from my local library. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.