A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick: Love, loss, hatred, heartbreak and survival - book review -
Demure, dutiful and diligent, young Joanna de Munchensy is more than happy to keep a low profile in her role as royal attendant at the court of King Henry III.
But when an unexpected inheritance raises her status to wealthy heiress, Joanna is propelled into an arranged marriage which will bring not just undreamed of privileges, but a wave of bitter rivalry and unrest that will bring deadly danger to herself, her husband and their family.
Over thirty years ago, Elizabeth Chadwick made waves in the world of historical novels with her thrilling debut, The Wild Hunt, a sweeping tale of warring dynasties, political intrigue and soaring romance set in the wild, windswept Welsh Marches at the turn of the 12th century.
It was an instant bestseller, winning a Betty Trask Award, and was just the opener for a stellar career that has seen a string of enthralling stories mined from England’s rich medieval history… not least novels featuring the life, times – and descendants – of William Marshal, the legendary 12th century soldier and statesman.
Dazzling novels, including The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion, brought fresh recognition to perhaps one of the most outstanding heroes of English history, the man who served no less than five kings and was eulogised as ‘the best knight that ever lived.’
And now Chadwick has set her sights on another intriguing and forgotten character linked to William Marshal… his granddaughter Joanna of Swanscombe, one half of a 13th century power couple who must strive to build a life together just as England descends into a bitter civil war.
At the age of just eight in 1238, Joanna de Munchensy is dispatched by her father to the court of the notoriously weak King Henry III as a chamber lady to his wife Queen Alienor and she soon learns that to survive, she must ‘rise to the challenge, face it, and never let fear take control.’
Her future prospects are modest and of small consequence but as she grows up and proves to be loyal, competent and a favourite of the king and queen, her experiences of perilous political manoeuvring at Henry’s court teach her that it is ‘better to be a pawn on the edges, or not on the board at all.’
But her life changes at a stroke when an unforeseen inheritance catapults her into the royal spotlight. She is now the king’s ward and a young woman of substantial means, owning vast swathes of land and property throughout England, Ireland and Wales.
As a wealthy heiress, Joanna’s future is now in the hands of the king and Henry arranges a marriage to his charming, tournament-loving half-brother William de Valence, fresh over to England from his home in France.
Against the odds, the union proves to be a success but it stokes the flames of political unrest as more established courtiers object to the privileges bestowed on newcomers, and the king’s uneasy relationship with Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester and his sister’s husband, turns into all-out rebellion.
With a bitter civil war now raging and the brave but impetuous William in mortal danger and forced to flee for his life, it is Joanna who must fight on alone to save her husband’s life, outwit their enemies and protect their family and fortune.
Using a wealth of impressive research, and the trademark empathy she has gained from her experiences with Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society, Chadwick’s enthralling new adventure is another rich and sumptuously authentic journey into a tumultuous period of English history.
This is an author who blends history and romance with perfect precision, filling the pages with fascinating period detail, action-packed drama and conflict, the minutae of medieval domestic life, and the lighter, sweeter notes of heart-soaring passion.
From the savagery of warfare to the intimacy of a castle solar, the twisting, turning and often perilous world of Joanna and William springs to vivid life as their lives and their marriage become prey to the enmity of ambitious rivals.
Left alone when her husband is forced to flee, Joanna must gather all her strength, determination, political acumen and courage to keep their foes at bay and prevent them from destroying all that she holds dear.
Love, loss, hatred, heartbreak and survival all play their part in this riveting adventure which sees Chadwick at her storytelling best. Don’t miss it!
(Sphere, hardback, £20)