Penmarric by Susan Howatch (re-read)

A long time ago (before I started blogging, anyway, which feels like a lifetime ago!) I picked up Susan Howatch’s 1971 novel Penmarric at the library. I knew nothing about it but, as soon as I started to read, I was drawn into a wonderfully compelling story which begins in 19th century Cornwall and is linked in a unique way to a much older story. I went on to read two of her other novels, Cashelmara and The Wheel of Fortune, which I also loved, and I’ve been thinking for a while now that I would like to read all three again.

Penmarric is divided into five sections, each narrated by a different character, beginning in 1890 with Mark Castallack. Mark’s mother, Maud, has spent her whole life working towards one goal: regaining Penmarric, the family estate which her father left to her cousin Giles rather than herself simply because she was a woman. Maud is determined to see Mark take his rightful place as master of Penmarric and eventually she gets her wish – but this does not bring happiness to any of the Castallacks.

The other four narrators are Mark’s wife, Janna, two of his sons – Philip and Jan-Yves – and one of his illegitimate sons, Adrian. It’s a story which spans six decades, taking us from the Victorian era through the turn of the century to the First and Second World Wars, but in Mark’s little corner of Cornwall a war of a different sort is played out as his marriage with Janna breaks down and his sons turn against each other and then against him.

What makes Penmarric such a great novel and what has made me remember it so vividly over the years, is that the story of the Castallacks mirrors very closely the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons. We know from history that Henry and Eleanor’s marriage was troubled, that she and their sons rebelled against Henry and that she was sent away from court, so Howatch’s fictional story follows the same outline. If you think of Penmarric as the throne of England, the rest begins to fall into place, and if you’re familiar with the period you’ll be able to identify Henry, Eleanor, Richard I, King John and even the King of France amongst the fictional characters in the book.

Each chapter opens with one or two relevant quotations from historical sources, giving an idea of what will happen in the pages that follow and helping the reader to draw parallels between the characters in the novel and their historical counterparts. The first time I read the book I didn’t have the knowledge I have now, so I didn’t pick up on everything, but this time I could appreciate just how well structured it all is and how cleverly Howatch works even minor episodes from history into the plot. Of course, it’s not essential to know anything at all about Henry and Eleanor before you begin as Penmarric can still be enjoyed as a wonderful family saga in its own right.

Of the five narrators, my favourites are the last two: Philip, the son who, being the closest to Janna, is hurt the most by Mark’s actions and who retreats into a single-minded obsession with reopening the Penmarric tin mine, Sennen Garth; and Jan-Yves, the youngest son and the one who stays loyal to their father – until it really matters. Each section is written in a strong, distinctive voice, each one adding to, complementing and contradicting the one before so that a character who seems particularly unpleasant when seen through the eyes of another becomes more sympathetic once they get a chance to tell their own side of the story.

Penmarric is a dark novel – as I’ve said, none of the characters experience much happiness in their lives and none of them are easy to like – but the plot is completely gripping, even when you’re reading the book for the second time. There are some lovely descriptions of Cornwall too; this is one of those books where the setting is as important as the characters and the plot. Although some of the family members move away and do other things, they are all drawn back again and again to Cornwall and Penmarric.

I really enjoyed my re-read of this book, especially now that I have enough familiarity with medieval history to be able to follow both layers of the story. I will be re-reading Cashelmara very soon and am looking forward to it as I can remember very little about that one.

The Snow Globe by Judith Kinghorn

This would have been a good book to have read over the Christmas period, but when I picked it up at the beginning of March we were having a spell of particularly heavy snow, which was quite appropriate! This is the fourth book I’ve read by Judith Kinghorn, so I had an idea of what to expect from it: an early twentieth century setting, a big house, a family with servants, their way of life changing as a result of the First World War. The Snow Globe does have all of these things, although the war aspect is not as strong as in The Last Summer or The Echo of Twilight.

The novel opens in December 1926. At Eden Hall in Surrey, the Forbes family are preparing to celebrate Christmas and eighteen-year-old Daisy has brought out her snow globe, a treasured gift from her father, Howard. She and her father have always had a close relationship and this makes it particularly upsetting when she overhears the servants saying that he has been having an affair. To make matters worse, her mother has just invited Howard’s mistress to spend Christmas with them. This creates a dilemma for Daisy. Does her mother know what has been going on – and if not, should she be told?

The discovery that her father may not be the man she has always believed him to be shakes Daisy’s confidence and makes it difficult for her to trust the other men in her life. There are three of them and they have each declared their love for Daisy over that same Christmas period: Stephen Jessop, the housekeeper’s adopted son and Daisy’s childhood friend; Valentine Vincent, the son of her father’s mistress; and Ben Gifford, who works for the family business. To give herself some time to think, Daisy goes to stay in London with her glamorous older sister Iris but eventually she will need to make a decision…will it be the right one?

I enjoyed The Snow Globe, but I found it very light compared to Judith Kinghorn’s other books. Although the book is set in the 1920s, there’s not a lot of history in it. Apart from the opening chapter, which discusses the disappearance of Agatha Christie, there are very few mentions of any other historical events or people of the time. However, it does still capture the feel of the 1920s very well, touching on the lives of those both upstairs and downstairs, class differences within society, attitudes towards marriage, and the changing roles of women.

I liked Daisy – although some of her actions seem a bit silly, it’s worth remembering that she is young and innocent and has just had her world torn apart. Her precious snow globe, which shows a miniature world encased in glass, could be seen as symbolising this: when the globe is shaken the illusion is destroyed and then, when things fall back into place, they are in a slightly different position than they were before. I also liked spending time with the servants, listening to their gossip and seeing life at Eden Hall through their eyes. The character who interested me most, though, was probably Mabel, Daisy’s mother. I found her reaction to the traumas in her life dignified and mature; she didn’t fall apart as some people would, but searched for the strength within herself to carry on.

There was enough happening in The Snow Globe to hold my interest from beginning to end, but it didn’t have the level of depth that I prefer in a novel. I would recommend it to fans of Downton Abbey or other ‘big house’ stories, but I think The Echo of Twilight would be a better choice to start with.

Thanks to Canelo for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, asks for ten books on our spring TBR. I’m sometimes hesitant to make lists like this because saying that I’m planning to read a book seems to guarantee that I won’t do it. There are still four books from the winter TBR list I posted in November that I haven’t read yet. Anyway, here are ten books that I really do intend to read in the next few months!


1. Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (1871)

This was the book chosen for me in the recent Classics Club Spin, so I need to read it before the end of April.

Cytherea has taken a position as lady’s maid to the eccentric arch-intriguer Miss Aldclyffe. On discovering that the man she loves, Edward Springrove, is already engaged to his cousin, Cytherea comes under the influence of Miss Aldclyffe’s fascinating, manipulative steward Manston.

Blackmail, murder and romance are among the ingredients of Hardy’s first published novel, and in it he draws blithely on the ‘sensation novel’ perfected by Wilkie Collins. Several perceptive critics praised the author as a novelist with a future when Desperate Remedies appeared anonymously in 1871. In its depiction of country life and insight into psychology and sexuality it already bears the unmistakable imprint of Hardy’s genius.


2. Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)

Review copy received from NetGalley.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.


3. The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst (2018)

Another review copy received from NetGalley.

Born on the night of an ill-auguring comet just before Charles II’s Restoration, Ursula Flight has a difficult future written in the stars.

Against the custom of the age she begins an education with her father, who fosters in her a love of reading, writing and astrology.

Following a surprise meeting with an actress, Ursula yearns for the theatre and thus begins her quest to become a playwright despite scoundrels, bounders, bad luck and heartbreak.



4. The Pharmacist’s Wife by Vanessa Tait (2018)

And one more NetGalley book.

When Rebecca Palmer’s new husband opens a pharmacy in Victorian Edinburgh, she expects to live the life of a well-heeled gentlewoman. But her ideal is turns to ashes when she discovers her husband is not what he seems. As Rebecca struggles to maintain her dignity in the face of his infidelity and strange sexual desires, Alexander tries to pacify her so-called hysteria with a magical new chemical creation. A wonder-drug he calls heroin.

Rebecca’s journey into addiction takes her further into her past, and her first, lost love, while Alexander looks on, curiously observing his wife’s descent. Meanwhile, Alexander’s desire to profit from his invention leads him down a dangerous path that blurs science, passion, and death. He soon discovers that even the most promising experiments can have unforeseen and deadly consequences…

Reminiscent of the works of Sarah Waters, this is a brilliantly observed piece of Victoriana which deals with the disempowerment of women, addiction, desire, sexual obsession and vengeance.


5. Munich by Robert Harris (2017)

One of those unread books from my winter list that I do still want to read as soon as possible!

September 1938
Hitler is determined to start a war.
Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace.
The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Fürher’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries; Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now. as the future of Europe hangs in the balance, their paths are destined to cross again .

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?


6. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley (2016)

The latest Flavia de Luce mystery, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, has recently been published but I need to catch up with this one first.

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough.

Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.


7. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (2010)

It’s been a while since I last read any of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books so I would like to read this one soon.

It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father’s last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already…


8. Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge (1949)

For the last three years I have joined in with Lory’s Elizabeth Goudge Day; she isn’t hosting one this year but I will still be celebrating Goudge’s birthday in April.

Unable to bear the prospect of a life at sea, young Anthony O’Connell deserts his ship at Torquay and escapes into the Devonshire countryside under a new name. When Stella Sprigg, adopted daughter of a local farmer, encounters ‘Zachary’, the pair instantly know they are destined to be together.

Intertwined with the local legend of St. Michael’s Chapel, Stella and Zachary’s story takes them from the secluded Devonshire valley to the perilous Mediterranean seas and finally to the poverty and squalor of eighteenth-century London.


9. Cashelmara by Susan Howatch (1974)

Having recently re-read Penmarric (review coming soon), I’m looking forward to continuing my Howatch re-reads with Cashelmara and then The Wheel of Fortune.

There were two subjects which lonely widower Edward de Salis never discussed: his dead wife and his family home in Ireland, ‘matchless Cashelmara’. So when he meets Marguerite, a bright young American with whom he can talk freely about both, he is able to love again and takes her back to Ireland as his wife. But Marguerite soon discovers that married life is not what she expected, and that she has married into a troubled family bitterly divided by love and hatred. Cashelmara becomes the curse of three generations as they play out their fates in a spellbinding drama, which moves inexorably towards murder and retribution.


10. The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope (1876)

Another book from my Classics Club list. I started to read it earlier this year but the time wasn’t right and I’m ready for another attempt now.

Despite his mysterious antecedents, an unscrupulous financial speculator, Ferdinand Lopez, aspires to marry into respectability and wealth and join the ranks of British society. One of the nineteenth century’s most memorable outsiders, Lopez’s story is set against that of the ultimate insider, Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium, who reluctantly accepts the highest office of state, becoming “the greatest man in the greatest country in the world.”

The Prime Minister is the fifth in Trollope’s six-volume Palliser series and a wonderfully subtle portrait of a marriage, political expediency, and misplaced love.


Have you read any of these? What do you have on your own spring TBR?

The Savage Brood by Martha Rofheart

Having read two of Martha Rofheart’s other books, Lionheart and Burning Sappho (about Richard I and the poet Sappho, respectively), I decided to try her 1978 novel The Savage Brood next. It sounded different from the others, being a multi-generational family saga and concentrating on fictional characters rather than real historical ones. I liked it enough to finish it but, as I so often find with this kind of book, the earlier sections were the best and I struggled to stay interested as the action moved closer towards the modern day.

The novel follows the fortunes of the Savage family, who have a long history as actors of one sort or another. It is divided into three sections which are set in different periods and work almost as self-contained novellas. We begin in Tudor England where we meet one branch of the family, a group of travelling players who make their living moving from town to town in a horse-drawn wagon and putting on performances for the local people. Finding English law too restrictive, the troupe move to Italy where, under the patronage of Cosimo I de’ Medici, they learn the skills of Commedia dell’Arte.

After a short ‘interval’, the story then jumps forward to 1752 where some of the Italian Savages (or Savaggi, as they have become known in the intervening years), return to London’s Drury Lane to work with the great English actor and producer, David Garrick. Garrick identifies young Miranda Savage as a special talent, but loses her when she moves to America – just in time for the Revolution.

There’s another interval and then we skip forward again, this time to San Francisco in 1906. The Savages have now made a name for themselves as vaudeville entertainers, but this form of theatre is in its final days as the first silent films begin to make their appearance. This section of the novel takes us right through both world wars and follows the careers of comic actor Sammy Savage, showboat musician Solange Sauvage, and Hollywood star JP Savage.

As I said, the first two sections were the most enjoyable, at least in my opinion. The third dragged on for too long, and except for the wartime parts, when the action moves to France for a while, I found the storyline much less interesting. The characters were unlikeable and self-obsessed, lacking the charisma of some of their earlier ancestors and little more than stereotypes of early Hollywood stars. By contrast, I loved the eighteenth century section and was particularly fond of Miranda Savage’s cousin Beau, who rises from humble beginnings to become a stage and fashion icon. Taken as a whole, though, I found the saga of the Savages unconvincing, with too many chance encounters between people who turn out to be distant Savage cousins.

Although Rofheart does acknowledge that women couldn’t act on stage in England until the Restoration, she does depict some of her sixteenth century female characters as acting with a travelling troupe. I didn’t think women were allowed to perform at all during that period (apart from in Italy), so that bothered me while I was reading, although I have since discovered a book on Women Players in England, 1500–1660, which suggests that women may have had more opportunities to act in sixteenth century England than I had imagined, at least on an amateur basis. I really don’t know enough about the subject to comment any further on Rofheart’s historical accuracy.

Despite the problems I had with The Savage Brood, I think it will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the theatre, incorporating almost every type of acting you can think of – Commedia dell’Arte, Shakespeare, vaudeville, film and more – set against a backdrop of major historical events. I’m not really in any hurry to read the rest of Martha Rofheart’s books, but if anyone has read The Alexandrian, Cry God for Glendower and Fortune Made His Sword I would like to know if you enjoyed them and if you think they’re better than this one?

Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye

I read this novel from 1956, the third in M.M. Kaye’s Death In… series, in the final days of February and it provided some welcome respite from the freezing temperatures and heavy snow we were experiencing in my part of the country. Lovely, evocative passages like this one took me away from the cold for a while and into the warmth and beauty of Cyprus:

Olive groves, the tree trunks so gnarled and twisted with age that some of them must surely have seen the Crusaders come and go, stood dark against the glittering expanse of blue, and below them the little town of Kyrenia lay basking in the noonday sun like a handful of pearls and white pebbles washed up by the sea.

The setting is not as idyllic as it seems, however: there appears to be a murderer on the loose – someone has already killed once and could kill again. The first death occurs on board the S.S. Orantares on which twenty-one-year-old Amanda Derington is a passenger. Amanda has accompanied her uncle on a business trip to North Africa and has suggested that she could visit Cyprus while he continues his tour of the various offices of the Derington empire. Horrified at the thought of his niece travelling alone, Uncle Oswin arranges for her to be chaperoned on the journey and to stay at the home of one of his managers on her arrival.

Setting sail from Egypt to Cyprus, Amanda gets to know Alistair Blaine and his wife Julia, an unhappy, bitter woman who accuses every other female on the ship of trying to steal her husband. When Julia collapses and dies in Amanda’s cabin after drinking a glass of her favourite lemon water, only Amanda knows that it was not suicide. Taking the advice of her fellow passenger Steve Howard, Amanda keeps her thoughts to herself, and when she finds a bottle of poison hidden behind her pillow she conceals the evidence from the police. After all, she herself would be the prime suspect and could find it difficult to prove her innocence. Unfortunately, this decision puts her in danger of a different kind when they reach Cyprus, where her knowledge of the crime could make her the killer’s next target…

Death in Cyprus is a great murder mystery with plenty of possible suspects. Apart from Amanda herself, I could imagine every one of them being the murderer and my suspicion fell on one, then another, then another, then switched back to the first. Could it be Persis Halliday, the American romantic novelist who has come to Cyprus to look for inspiration? What about Glenn Barton, the Derington employee who was supposed to be Amanda’s host in Nicosia but had to cancel because his wife had left him? Claire Norman, who seems to know far too much about everyone else’s business? Or Lumley Potter, the spiritual, bohemian artist who is Glenn’s wife’s new lover? The eventual solution to the mystery is quite logical and I feel as though I should have worked it out, but I had allowed myself to get too distracted by red herrings!

As this is a book from the 1950s, some of the attitudes are a bit dated, particularly regarding a romance which develops between Amanda and one of the group she travels to Cyprus with (I won’t tell you who he is, even though it’s very obvious from early in the book). There’s a definite sense that he views Amanda as a helpless woman who needs the protection of a man – although, to be fair, she gives that impression herself with her habit of repeatedly putting herself into dangerous situations from which she needs to be rescued, wandering off on her own in lonely places and venturing into strangers’ houses late at night! Of course, Amanda’s reckless actions do have a purpose because they are the reason for most of the suspense in the story.

I love the Death In… novels. I’ve read three so far and enjoyed them all, especially this one and Death in Kashmir. The books all stand alone – they have different settings and different characters – but I have been reading them in publication order anyway, which means Death in Kenya will be next for me.

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

This is a beautiful, moving novel based on a little known historical event: the 1627 raid by Barbary pirates on Iceland’s Westman Islands. Around four hundred Icelanders were taken in captivity to Algiers to be sold at the slave markets, among them the priest Ólafur Egilsson, his pregnant wife Ásta Thórsteinsdottir, and two of their children. We know from historical records that Ólafur was released and sent to Denmark to petition the Danish king (Iceland’s ruler in those days) in the hope that he would provide the ransom to free his subjects. His story was preserved in a memoir describing his capture and the voyage there and back, but the story of Ásta, who was not allowed to accompany him on the journey home, has been lost to history.

In The Sealwoman’s Gift, Sally Magnusson has given a voice to Ásta, a woman who, like so many others in centuries gone by, has been ignored and forgotten by history. As we know little or nothing about what happened to Ásta and the other women and children after their arrival on the shores of Algeria, this gives the author the freedom to create an interesting, realistic and believable story to fill in the gaps. She writes with sensitivity and understanding as she describes Ásta’s pain at being separated from her husband and children, her changing feelings for the man who buys her – Ali Pitterling Cilleby – and the agonising decision she eventually has to make.

There’s a lot for Ásta to adjust to in her new life; Algeria and Iceland couldn’t be more different, with very different climates, customs, foods, languages and religions. The religious difference is one of the most difficult for Ásta to accept – as the wife of a Lutheran minister, the possibility of her children having to convert to Islam is not easy for her to come to terms with. We also follow Ólafur on his return to Heimaey in the Westman Islands and see both the short-term and long-term effects the raids have had on the community. With such a small population to begin with, the loss of several hundred of their people has a big impact; it seems that almost everyone has lost a husband or wife, a child or a parent or a friend.

Iceland has a strong tradition of storytelling and some of these myths, legends and sagas are woven into the novel as Ásta finds some solace in remembering the stories of her homeland and narrating them to her master and his wives. This is another aspect of the book that I liked; you can learn a lot about a country from its stories and its folklore.

Sally Magnusson (who is the daughter of the television presenter Magnus Magnusson) has previously written several non-fiction books, but this seems to be her first novel. I liked her writing, apart from the fact that she chose to write in the present tense. I’m really not a fan of present tense and in this case I found it distracting and distancing, which I’m sure is not what the author intended. It’s down to personal taste, I suppose – you either have a problem with it or you don’t. I also thought that, while Ásta, Ólafur and the other Icelandic people are strong, interesting characters, the characters they meet in Algiers feel less well developed. If I’d had a stronger feeling for Cilleby, for example, as a person, I think I would have found the later stages of the story even more emotional.

These are just small criticisms and, as I’ve said, are probably just due to my tastes as a reader rather than the book itself, which is getting great reviews and really is a fascinating read.

Thanks to Two Roads for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

Historical Musings #36: Reading Elizabeth Chadwick

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. After putting thirty-five of these posts together since 2015 I’m starting to struggle for new ideas so while I rebuild my list of potential future topics, I thought I would try something slightly different for a few months: a series of posts on specific historical fiction authors. These should be relatively easy for me to write and will hopefully introduce new readers to some of my favourite authors. I’ve decided to start with Elizabeth Chadwick as I’ve just finished reading one of her books and am about to begin another.

Elizabeth Chadwick has written over twenty books set in the medieval period; her first, The Wild Hunt, was published in 1990 and her latest, Templar Silks, is out this month. Her earlier novels tend to feature fictional characters and storylines, while her more recent ones focus on the lives of real historical figures, particularly members of the Marshal and Bigod families. Let’s start by looking at the books I have already read (there are eight of them):

Lady of the English

Set during the period of civil war known as the Anarchy, this is the story of the Empress Matilda, daughter and heir of Henry I, who faces a battle with her cousin Stephen for the throne of England. Matilda’s son, Henry, will become the first Plantagenet king of England. We also follow the story of Matilda’s stepmother, Adeliza, another fascinating medieval woman.

The Champion

This one is set in France, Wales and England towards the end of the 12th century and follows the story of fictional heroine Monday de Cerizay and knight Alexander de Montroi. I learned a huge amount about jousts, tournaments and other knightly pursuits!

The Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy:

The Summer Queen
The Winter Crown
The Autumn Throne

This trilogy of novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine takes us through Eleanor’s entire life including her troubled marriage to King Louis VII of France, her relationship with her second husband, Henry II of England, her time in captivity following the breakdown of their marriage and the reigns of her sons Richard I and King John.

William Marshal books

The Greatest Knight
The Scarlet Lion – review coming soon

These two novels are based on the life of William Marshal – Earl of Pembroke, knight, statesman and adviser to five kings. I love Chadwick’s depiction of William and if the real man was anything like the fictional one, then he really deserved the title of ‘the greatest knight’.

Her newest novel, Templar Silks, is also part of the Marshal series, although I’m sure you would be able to read it as a standalone. I haven’t read it yet, but it follows William on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1183.

To Defy a King

This one tells the story of Mahelt Marshal, the daughter of William Marshal. As England descends into turmoil during the reign of King John, Mahelt finds herself in a situation where she must choose between her own family, the Marshals, and the family of her husband, Hugh Bigod.


The books I’ve listed above are the only ones I’ve read so far, but I also have three more Chadwick novels on my shelf which I’ve bought as I’ve come across second-hand copies:

The Love Knot
The Marsh King’s Daughter
Shadows and Strongholds

And here are the titles of her other books:

The Wild Hunt
The Running Vixen
The Leopard Unleashed
Children of Destiny
Shields of Pride
First Knight
The Conquest
Lords of the White Castle
The Winter Mantle
The Falcons of Montabard
A Place Beyond Courage
The Time of Singing

I don’t know much about any of these, apart from Lords of the White Castle which I started to read years ago and abandoned – although I can’t remember why, so I must try it again! I would like to read all of the others, except maybe First Knight which seems to be a novelisation of the 1995 film.

You can find out more about Elizabeth Chadwick by visiting her official website.

Look out for my reviews of The Scarlet Lion and Templar Silks in the next few weeks – and, of course, next month’s Historical Musings post when I will be choosing another author to write about.

Have you read any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books? Which are your favourites?