The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick: A riveting tale of ambition and desire, love and loss, heartbreak and survival - book review -

The Irish Princess
The Irish Princess
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At the Palace of Fearns in Ireland in 1152, the King of Lenister awaits news of his newborn child and is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada, a tough, battle-scarred soldier, wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom.

For the past decade or more, award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick has made the life and times of William Marshal – the legendary 12th century soldier and statesman – her own special territory.

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 English kings, among them Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, and was eulogised as ‘the best knight that ever lived.’

And now Chadwick has set her sights on another intriguing character linked to William Marshal… Aoife MacMurchada, the Irish princess who was his mother-in-law, and appeared in The Scarlet Lion as a woman in her later years.

Aoife (pronounced Ee-fa), mother of Marshal’s wife Isabelle de Clare, is yet another fascinating woman on the margins of history but Chadwick has lifted her out of the shadows and made enthralling flesh-and-blood of a life story that was forged in warfare, deadly danger, politics and passion.

At the Palace of Fearns in Ireland in 1152, the King of Lenister awaits news of his newborn child and is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada, a tough, battle-scarred soldier, wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom.

But the moment he holds tiny Aoife in his arms, Diarmait feels an unexpected ‘glow of protective love’ and realises that his only daughter will be his most precious treasure.

Two years later, in Pembroke Castle in south Wales, 24-year-old Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Striguil (Chepstow), is struggling under the embattled earldom left to him by his father, knowing that it is his responsibility to provide for his people.

But his future is suddenly placed in jeopardy when King Henry II takes the throne… Henry, who is bold and ruthless, resents the de Clare’s family’s support of King Stephen during the infamous royal battle known as the Anarchy, and strips Richard of both the Pembroke earldom and ‘royal favour.’

Twelve years later, 14-year-old Aoife and her family are forced into exile and find themselves at the mercy of King Henry in England. Aoife, who is now aware of her beauty but not its power, intrigues and beguiles Henry in equal measure and he agrees to help her father.

It is an alliance that leads the MacMurchadas to the charismatic Richard de Clare, a man who has served the new king with stoical diligence for little reward and is dissatisfied with his lot and open to new horizons.

Diarmait MacMurchada promises Richard that he will have Aoife’s hand in marriage in return for his help in Ireland, but Aoife, now an intelligent and determined young woman, has her own thoughts on the matter and she sets out to play the men at their own game… for herself, her family, and for her country.

Determined and fearless, Aoife is a much-loved daughter but also a pawn in the schemes and ambitions of her bellicose father, a hard-bitten warrior whose vicious battles with his Irish rivals mean that his family is in almost constant peril.

And it is into this maelstrom of politicking and power-seeking that Chadwick plays out Aoife’s journey from a childhood scarred by tribal violence through a marriage with the nobleman Richard de Clare, brokered between her father and the English court.

But Aoife is no pushover… strong, intelligent and capable, she is also a pragmatist and agrees to an arranged marriage to help her father, and then discovers that, against the odds, her husband is a man of principle who not only loves her but values and respects her in a union of true partnership.

From the royal halls of the scheming King Henry, to forbidding Welsh border fortresses, and the wild green kingdoms of Ireland, this thrilling, action-packed story is immaculately researched and filled with the author’s trademark rich detail, whether that is the drama of warfare, the minutae of medieval domestic life, or the sweeter notes of heart-soaring passion.

A riveting tale of ambition and desire, love and loss, heartbreak and survival, The Irish Princess is Chadwick at her storytelling best.

(Sphere, hardback, £20)