Lady of the English

Written by Elizabeth Chadwick
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

Maud, or Matilda, is the dowager empress of Germany and the only surviving legitimate child of Henry I, his son having drowned when the White Ship sank off the Normandy coast. Brought back to England on the death of her husband, she is forced to marry Geoffrey of Anjou as a means of ensuring that the French possessions remain under the control of the English crown. When Henry suddenly dies after eating a supper of lampreys, the whole balance shifts. Matilda, having been acknowledged as Henry’s heir to the English throne, finds that her cousin, Stephen of Blois, has beaten her to it, made a hasty journey to Winchester, secured the treasury and had himself crowned as king of England. Anarchy follows.

This is not the first time Elizabeth Chadwick has dealt with this period in English history, but here she tells the story with the relationship between Matilda and her stepmother, Adeliza, at its centre. As a result it gives a different slant on 12th-century England. I have always enjoyed Elizabeth Chadwick’s books since I opened my first one. Her characters live and breathe and leap out of the pages in much the same way as newspapers recount the lives of the people of today: we know them, we see them on our television screens and cannot doubt their existence, and so it is with Elizabeth Chadwick’s characters. Even the totally fictitious ones who provide a link to events are as real as the historical characters they support.

The author’s previous novel, To Defy a King, won the 2011 RNA Historical Novel prize, and deservedly so. Her newest book is also highly recommended.