Published: Sept 1, 2011
Trade Paperback, 544 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
This book is historical fiction at its best: fiction with the ring of truth, history written as a story. Under the pen of Elizabeth Chadwick, the maven of historical fiction, the two main characters, Empress Matilda and Queen Adeliza come to life through the mists of time!
We meet Empress Matilda at the age of twenty-three. She is the grieving widow of Emperor Heinrich V of Germany and is returning to her father’s court. She is variously described as proud, headstrong, regal, and strong-willed. The author speculates that these characteristics were the result of kicking against a society that had rigid ideas about female roles and female power. Queen Adeliza, stepmother to Mathilda is about the same age and is kind, gentle, and a submissive wife, religious, generous to the poor, a peacemaker. A strong bond is formed between them as they share family ties, the same social standing, and were both benefactors to religious institutions of the day.
King Henry forces his daughter, Matilda, to marry Geoffrey of Anjou despite her objections (he’s a young lad of 14) for political purposes and their marriage is fraught with discord and contention. She finally produces a male heir and a couple of spares. Then, King Henry suddenly dies and the bid for the throne commences. Although Matilda is the legitimate heir, though not of the proper sex, her cousin, Stephen, takes the throne. People rally around him. Years of fighting and killing follow in an attempt to solidify power. Matilda finally, begrudgingly realizes that she will never sit on England’s throne, but is determined to secure it for her son. Meanwhile, Queen Adeliza marries a prominent baron, Will D’Albini. He is an ardent supporter of Matilda’s rival for the throne, which distresses his wife. Adeliza is torn between her loyalty to Matilda and her love for her husband. She takes comfort in having her most ardent wish fulfilled – she births at least 6 children, despite being barren in her 15 years of marriage to Henry.
As the account ends, Henry II, Matilda’s firstborn son and future husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine and future father of Richard the Lionheart, is soon to ascend the throne. She has done her duty for history. Adeliza and Will’s love story ends on a very poignant note as she retires to a nunnery.
The descriptions in the book make the 12th century come alive for me.“The women patted her hair dry and rubbed it with a silk cloth, before combing it and plaiting it tightly. Then they covered it with a fine white veil, edged with pearls and gold. Her gown was embroidered blue silk; her cloak was lined with ermine as befitted a queen and an empress.” The author’s attention to the tiniest details about that era enables the reader to visualize scenes she describes.
This is a book about two strong women, each trying to maintain dignity in their respective circumstances and attempting to live meaningful lives in a world dominated by men. Ardent readers of historical fiction will enjoy yet another masterpiece by Elizabeth Chadwick.
Disclosure: Thanks to Laura Brotzman from Sourcebooks for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.