Although Red Adam’s Lady was first published in 1973, I wasn’t aware of it until a few years ago when it was reissued by Chicago Review Press as part of their Rediscovered Classics series. This edition has a foreword by Elizabeth Chadwick, one of my favourite authors of medieval fiction, and knowing that she rates this book highly was enough to make me want to try it myself.
Julitta de Montrigord is taking shelter from the rain in an alehouse one evening when she is abducted by the drunken Red Adam de Lorismond, the new lord of Brentborough, who carries her off to his castle and into his bedchamber. She manages to defend her virtue by hitting him over the head with a stool and tying him to a bedpost, but is horrified when, in the morning, he insists on making amends by marrying her. Julitta can think of nothing worse – even being sent to a convent seems preferable to her – but her uncle and guardian sees his chance to form an importance alliance with Brentborough and she is eventually left with no option but to agree to the marriage.
Despite the efforts of Julitta’s new husband to redeem himself, she is determined that this will remain a marriage in name only. Meanwhile she has plenty of other distractions; after all, as Red Adam’s Lady she now has a castle to look after and servants to manage – including the jealous chatelaine, Constance, who seems set on making Julitta’s life as difficult as possible.
This vivid and detailed depiction of 12th century castle life is one of the things I particularly enjoyed about this novel. There’s nothing glamorous or fairytale-like about Brentborough Castle; when Julitta first arrives, she discovers that her new home is dirty, neglected and has been badly managed during the lifetime of the previous lord, Adam’s uncle, and it’s fascinating to see how she goes about setting things in order. Away from the domestic setting, we learn a little bit of what is going on elsewhere in the country, with Henry II’s son, the Young King, preparing to rebel against him and England’s nobility facing a choice between one side or the other. Julitta’s uncle and his friends are supporters of the Young King, but Red Adam’s loyalty to Henry II makes him a traitor in their eyes.
There’s also a mystery aspect to the novel, with Julitta and Red Adam trying to find out what really happened to the former lord’s pregnant wife, who was believed to have been murdered although no proof was ever found. When another young man claiming to be the true heir to Brentborough appears on the scene, it becomes more important than ever that the truth is uncovered at last.
As for the romantic element of the story, I think a romance that begins with the hero trying to rape the heroine is always going to be problematic from a modern point of view, though probably not so much in the 1970s when it was written. In this case, it seems so out of character for Adam that the whole opening scene felt to me a little bit contrived, as a way of getting Julitta into the castle and setting up the rest of the story. Apart from that, I thought the characters felt like believable and convincing 12th century people rather than present day people in medieval costume and there was none of the annoying anachronistic language I sometimes come across in the historical fiction being published today.
Grace Ingram’s other novels, Gilded Spurs and several that she wrote under the name of Doris Sutcliffe Adams, all still seem to be out of print. It would be nice if a publisher could give more of them the same treatment as Red Adam’s Lady and make them available to new readers.
Book 32/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Book 4/20 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021