Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: The Scarlet Lion

The Scarlet Lion is Elizabeth Chadwick's second novel about William Marshall, picking up shortly after The Greatest Knight leaves off.  While you can read one without the other, I recommend reading both.

There is a lot of ground covered in this book.  Over twenty years, William Marshall serves Kings Richard, John and Henry III.  He fights in many wars with the French, the Irish, the Welsh and even the English rebels.  His popularity at court waxed and waned, and there were times that he did not act quite as honorably as one might believe.  Two of his sons were taken hostage by King John.  His daughter married a rebel.  And through it all, John and his wife Isabelle stand tall.  They also get busy, as it seems like readers have a glimpse of every child's conception in this book- and there were many children!  (William only got married in his forties- so he was pretty old by the time his last child was born, too.)

I enjoyed this book, though I admit I enjoyed The Greatest Knight just a tad bit more.  I think I like the story more when William is the main focus, and in this book, he had to share the limelight with his massive family.

This was such a volatile time in British history, and while the story is action-packed, there were some things I wish I got even more exposure to.  For example, the Marshalls seem to have significant land holdings in Wales, and I'm sure Marshall had a great deal of difficulty with them, but that is only mentioned peripherally.  Also, King John signs the Magna Carta during this book, but it doesn't seem to be a very big deal.  I thought it would be more important, even if Marshall wasn't involved in the process- at least reacting to it.

William Marshall Jousting
But obviously, with so much going on in England at this time, Chadwick had to pick and choose what to focus on.  In a time filled with giants of history, they can't all feature in just one book.  And William and Isabelle are fascinating enough to carry this story on their own.  They lived turbulent lives but somehow seemed to find peace and happiness with each other (as evidenced by their brood of children).  I really enjoyed getting to know Isabelle better in this book- she is a strong woman who is aware of her rights and is willing to fight for them.  Actually, seeing Isabelle speak and act the way that she does in this book caused me to wonder exactly when women's rights began to be more and more curtailed.  I am not saying that women were allowed to do whatever they wanted in the 12th century, but it does seem like they had more power than they did in, say, Tudor England.

I also appreciated the more subtle relationship between William and his children.  As he was off fighting for large periods of time, he didn't have the relationship with his ten kids that he wanted.  And, as many of those children were born when he was past fifty, there was also a huge age gap between them.  I liked the way Chadwick acknowledged this in quiet ways, showing how William and his heir didn't always see eye-to-eye and in other various ways with the other children, too.

I enjoyed this story a lot, and I'm glad that Elizabeth Chadwick has brought William Marshall back into the limelight.  It is always so bittersweet when people say things about how people will remember "forever," or a person will "never be forgotten."  But... quite often, people are.  Perhaps paintings or effigies or woodcuts survive from the Middle Ages, but those don't show personality.  One person looks just as grim and proper and cold as the next.  You can't see laugh lines in an effigy or anger in a painting.  So while the people are there, the personalities are not.  Their deeds fade away and there is no one left to tell their stories, and all that is left is a cold stone marking their passing.  Therefore, I am grateful to Elizabeth Chadwick and to other historical writers who bring these people back to life, even after almost a millennium has passed since their birth, so that we can truly appreciate all that they did with their time on earth.


  1. Yesterday I went through the Chadwick I have not read, 7 I would sure like too read one day :)

  2. Sounds great and I think I might like these books!

  3. That last sentence right there is exactly why I love historical novels based on real people. All historical novels bring a period in history back to life but the ones based on real people can really give you a connection to the past. Wonderful review!

  4. I love it when a little known or forgotten figure in history is written about, because, as you say, time seems to swallow up people as individuals, and it is only through the tales of their exploits that some are known and remembered. That being said, I think both of these books that focus on William Marshall sound really good. I haven't yet read any Chadwick, but I have been coming across more and more reviews of her work over the last few months and am impressed by not only the numerous books that she has written, but also by her apparent popularity in the minds of book lovers! It sounds that although this book didn't focus on some of the larger aspects of well known history of the time, it was still an interesting read for you. I am glad that you liked it, and I think your review was wonderful!

  5. Your last paragraph = one of the main things I love about literature. You're right, so much is forgotten, even if it seems impossible it will be at the time. Novelists can't really know what happened back then, but they can help us imagine it complexly and in detail, and that makes a big difference.

  6. I bought this years ago, after reading The Greatest Knight, and really must get around to reading it! I like your point about women's rights during this era and noted the same thing with reading some of Sharon Kay Penman's novels. With issues like this in historical fiction, I always feel the need to do more research after, to figure out what is accurate and what the author took liberties with. I rarely actually get around to the research, but the intent is there!

  7. Blodeuedd- I think you'd like Chadwick. Enjoy the anticipation!

    Andreea- Yes, she's really good at historical fiction. Definitely recommend giving her a whirl.

    bitsy- YES, exactly! That's why I love it, too. I adore history of all kinds, though :-)

    Zibilee- That's a good way of describing it. Time DOES swallow up people as individuals.

    Nymeth- Exactly. I knew we felt the same way about that.

    Claire- Yes, it often makes me want to read more, too! For example, over the past several years, I've collected three of four books in Thomas Costain's Plantagenet series, but... haven't read any of them yet.

  8. This book sounds great! I am always look for the next good historical fiction and I love it when they are based on reality because then I feel like I am learning something too :)

  9. I haven't read anything by Chadwick but I have heard great things. I love GOOD historical fiction, not the Phillipa Gregory type

  10. There is a lot of talk about how women had more power than we've ever really acknowledged in the dark ages, or the middle ages. My own leanings are toward the certain kinds of women saw a certain kind of indepence in specific ways camp (widows for instance could run businesses and were much better off than married women who ceded their property and business to their husbands). This book is a pretty good primer on the issue of independence women could find through work: .

  11. like historical fiction, might give it a try,thanks!

  12. Oh my gosh. I want to read Scarlet Lion NOW. Henry, Richard, and John are some of my favorite monarchs to study, especially Henry who was essentially quite the badass, I mean, he was no Aefelred or anything, but still, he rocks. Did this book talk at all about Henry and Thomas Beckett or the Crusades??

    Oh, I wants to read this. Am now adding to my wishlist/library list.

  13. I really need to read some Chadwick!


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