Within the Hollow Crown

Written by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Review by Margaret Barr

One benefit of a strong market for fact-based historical fiction is the republication of the works of the finest authors of years past, and Margaret Campbell Barnes is worthy of that accolade. This novel of England’s Richard II is a poignant and powerful depiction of a misunderstood king and an age of conflict, division, and change.

To his hopeful nation, the blond and delicate boy-king Richard offers the best of both his parents—Joan of Kent’s charm and beauty, and the valor of the Black Prince. But the young monarch is hedged about with powerful and ambitious uncles—and cousins—who constantly raise suspicions and doubts. Early in his reign he is tested by the peasants’ rebellion. His sympathy for Wat Tyler and is stirred but ultimately overshadowed by his elders’ determination to maintain the status quo.

Salvation comes in his marriage with Anne, his Bohemian Queen, whose love upholds him in difficult times and with whom he achieves a mutually satisfying alliance. During this period of marital harmony his reign prospers, and men like Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert de Vere ensure a glittering and rarified court. In the aftermath of the Queen’s death, sorrow and wrath and desperate longing alter Richard and impel him towards his tragic fate. In asserting his strength, he responds to old grievances, banishing his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and implicating himself in the murder of his uncle Thomas of Gloucester. What remains of his softer side emerges in his relationship with his child-bride Isabella of France, but redemption proves impossible.

With lyrical prose and revealing dialogue, Barnes presents flawed yet impressive characters who fully inhabit their time and place, whose experiences and insights reveal complex political developments. The result is a superlative example of classic historical fiction.