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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Saturday, September 14, 2013

...of princes, kings and grudges


The Outlaw Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Richard, Coeur de Lion, an enigma. A man who was king and yet left his kingdom to corrupt and power hungry lords, beggaring his country for the sake of the crusades. Why is not the question. It does however provide the background for this story. It places Prince John, his foibles and his policies, his governing of England whilst Richard is away, and when he later becomes king, firmly in the limelight.
A teenage altercation with Prince John, shown as an arrogant, womanizing, drunken, spoilt whelp who held grudges long and deeply sets the path that Fulke FitzWarin will tread. Growing into a man of the same elk, John further fans this antipathy between them when as king he denies Fulke justice in the matter of his birthright holding, Whittington. Fulke refuses to pay homage to John and is declared an outlaw.  By now an accomplished commander and knight, Fulke proceeds to harass John at every chance. Fulke becomes the thorn in John's side.
With this background, fiction expounds on fact. Elizabeth Chadwick  has taken a story hidden in the mists of time and revealed it to our present eyes via what is essentially the love story between Fulke FitzWarin and Maude le Vavasour, the wife of Lord Theobald Walter. Both characters are impressive and fully elicit our sympathies.
When Fulke's mentor and friend Walter dies, they marry at dying his behest, both to thwart John and keep Maude safe. Fulke had been Theobald's squire. There had always been  strong attraction between the two, kept strictly in control out of deference, love and duty towards Theobald. 
Around their life's story rages the battles for kingdoms between John and his principalities in France and Wales. The fight for the charter of liberties, a code of conduct (Magna Carta) becomes an important part of this background. 
As Fulke explains to Maude,  'It means that never again will [a ruler] withhold land from a man on a royal whim. Never again will a woman be constrained to marry against her will, or an heir pay more than he should Ro inherit his father's lands.'
Bringing history alive is a wonderful skill and Elizabeth Chadwick has it in spades.
A thoroughly enjoyable medieval historical novel--empathetic and interesting.

A NetGalley ARC

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