This is a medieval romance novel set in the Welsh Marches (along the English-Welsh border) in the early twelfth century. It is one of Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier novels and I have been meaning to read it for a long time. Although not immersed in historical fact as her more recent work, this novel is still a well-crafted, imaginative tale. The characters are fictional figures instead of historical, however the context within which they are placed is just as historically valid and well-researched as you would expect from this talented author.
This novel follows on from an earlier novel, The Wild Hunt. Although the story is self-contained and therefore can be read by itself, I would still recommend reading them in order. The female protagonist in this novel, Heulwen, is the daughter of Guyon, the male protagonist in The Wild Hunt. Thus it is intriguing to read of the next generation and see how events have transpired.
Not only have events moved forward for our characters, the kingdom has also gone through turbulent events. This story is set during the time of Henry I, six years after his son and heir drowns in the sinking of “The White Ship”. It can be argued that this tragic event was the catalyst for a period of English history known as “The Anarchy”. After losing his heir Henry I is left with only one legitimate living child: his daughter, Matilda. Although this novel takes place prior to “The Anarchy”, Ms. Chadwick does a marvelous job of portraying the discontent the English lords felt at having to pay homage to a woman. It also gives insight into the type of woman that Matilda was (to explore this more deeply, Ms. Chadwick’s novel Lady of the English focuses upon the life of Matilda). Haughty and arrogant, Matilda alienated a lot of the lords that could have supported her. This novel sets the scene of how it came to pass that Matilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois, assumed the throne after Henry I’s death and successfully held it for his lifetime. Perhaps if Matilda had of been a more likeable figure the lords would have supported her claim instead.
However, I digress…
What I liked about this novel in particular is that whilst it alludes to the grand historical picture, the focus is primarily upon the relationship between Heulwen and Adam, a well-respected knight and land-holder in the Welsh Marches. Adam was the ward of Heulwen’s father and therefore they grew up together. It is evident from the very beginning that Adam has always held deeper feelings for Heulwen and yet she married elsewhere as a young girl. When the reader is introduced to the characters Heulwen is a young woman, a widow, and searching for a husband that will provide her with a marriage of convenience. Although it takes time to fully puzzle it out, the reader is aware that her first husband broke her heart in some way and thus she is not looking for a love match. She has sealed off her heart to prevent herself from being hurt once more.
The villain in this story is, of course, the man whom Heulwen has decided to marry. Oblivious to his atrocities, it is Adam who must bring them to light whilst trying to win Heulwen’s hand at the same time. This leads to an alluring medieval romance tale that I found to be a very entertaining read. Ms. Chadwick does a wonderful job of bringing the past to life and allowing the reader to view the romance in context. We are not viewing Heulwen and Adam as a modern couple merely living in the past, rather they are a true medieval couple. Their mannerisms and ideals are very different to our own and yet the depth of their feelings are the same. Love might very well be the only thing that has not changed throughout the centuries.
I look forward to reading the last book in the trilogy, The Leopard Unleashed.