The Earl in Black Armor

Written by Nancy Blanton
Review by Susan McDuffie

Ireland, 1635. Faolán Burke is ordered to Dublin Castle by his clan chief to spy on the English Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth. Wentworth seeks to serve and enrich his English monarch, King Charles I, and his policies endanger traditional Irish life and culture, take Irish land for the new English “plantations” which will be settled by Protestant Scots, and impoverish the native Irish. Although Wentworth knows Burke to be a spy, Burke gradually becomes more and more useful to the Deputy. Burke also meets the lovely Denisha, a woman with an enigmatic history, who serves as Wentworth’s assistant. The attraction between the two culminates in a secret romantic relationship.

Despite their conflicting loyalties, Faolán and Denisha aid Wentworth as he strives to pacify the rebellious Irish and serve his king. But King Charles’s autocratic manner, profligate spending, and stubborn insistence on his Divine Right to rule create problems not only with the Irish, but also with the Scots. War looms between England and Scotland. Wentworth, asked to raise Irish troops to support the King’s cause, is drawn into the struggle while Faolán and Denisha witness his rise and fall.

Blanton’s novel presents a finely nuanced and complex portrait of Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stafford, who was known as a scourge in Ireland but remained fiercely loyal to his king. The relationship between Faolán and Denisha frames this narrative, but that thread, to me, did not have the satisfying depth Blanton’s portrayal of Wentworth achieves. An interesting and very well-researched retelling of some of the events and historical personages in the years leading to the English Civil War, The Earl in Black Armor should appeal to lovers of English and Irish history.