The Scarlet Lion
This novel is a sequel to The Greatest Knight which told the early story of William Marshal, although any reader can, as I did, come to it cold. It continues the story of William’s life throughout the reign of King John and his role as Lord Protector to the young king Henry III. Although he is little known today, he was the greatest man of his time: a warrior, a powerful and wealthy landowner, an advisor to kings – in other words, a politician, at a time when Parliament was in its very earliest infancy.
Elizabeth Chadwick is a consummate historical novelist. All the political facts are here: King John and the Magna Carta, the wars with France, battles between English factions and Irish rebels. Where she fills in the gaps, she does so with total authority and plausibility. But what she does so well here is to tell us a moving story of a marriage. William ands his beloved Isabelle are not a modern couple in period costume but real people, fully alive within the customs and beliefs of their time. They argue, they make love, they celebrate and grieve; their children bring them joy and pain and not a little irritation, like all people have always done. But we never forget they are medieval people.
The author’s detailed knowledge of the period is so secure it does not detract from the page-turning story. I never felt she was trying to impress readers by trotting out her research. Everything is woven seamlessly into the narrative.
A period of history that was a dull monochrome to me at school bursts into colour within its pages, and now I fully understand the importance of the Magna Carta, why John was deemed a ‘bad’ king, and how people lived and loved during his reign. Can one ask for more in any historical novel?