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Review: Lady of the English, by Elizabeth Chadwick


Pages: 511
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2011 (Sourcebooks)
Why I decided to read: I’m a huge Elizabeth Chadwick fan
How I acquired my copy: review copy from publisher, June 2011

Lady of the English tells the story of Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. Although Henry made his barons promise to uphold Matilda’s claim to the English throne, his barons aren’t ready for a female ruler. The novel follows Matilda’s struggle to uphold her claim, pitting her against her father’s cousin, Stephen. The story is told alternately between Matilda’s point of view and that of her stepmother, Adeliza, from 1125 to 1149.

With the civil war between Matilda and Stephen, I always got the impression that Stephen was the kind of guy you’d invite over for dinner, and Matilda was more ice queen. It’s true that Matilda has been portrayed in historical chronicles as somewhat of a virago, so I was interested to see how Elizabeth Chadwick would vindicate her. I liked how she handled her character; Matilda is headstrong and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, although she was unable to take advice from those around her. In her author’s note at the end of the book, Chadwick poses an interesting theory that Matilda suffered from strong pre-menstrual tension, which might have accounted for some of her shark behavior. Matilda never became a crowned queen herself, but she was the mother of a future King, Henry II, who appears as a young boy in this novel.

On the other hand, there is Adeliza, the widow of Henry I and Matilda’s stepmother. When Henry dies, Adeliza retires to a nunnery; but she quickly forms an attachment to Willaim d’Albini, a character who’s a William-Mash type. Adeliza, however, is a weaker character than Matilda is, and I was less interested in her story. But I love how Elizabeth Chadwick manages to interweave historical details into her fiction. I always know I’m going to get a well-researched, entertaining story, as I did with this novel.

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