Presently I’m reading the middle novel of a trilogy about the rise and reign of Henry II in England. Book one, When Christ And His Saints Slept, traced the 12th century feud between cousins Stephen of Blois and Maude, daughter of Henry I though an uncrowned queen, to control the throne of England that resulted in a ten years war between them. In the end, Maude’s son Henry II took control of the throne and married the recently divorced Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a woman eleven years his senior.
This book, Time And Chance, chronicles the marriage of Henry and Eleanor, as well as Henry’s appointment of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, a move he hoped would give him control over the Church as well as the country. Becket’s unforeseen discovery of ‘God’ and a desire to protect the Church from state interference fueled a rivalry between the two that paved a road to murder.
The first book in this trilogy, though a weighty read at 746 pages in length (the hardcover version), was a rich and detailed recreation of the suffering of the people of England as Maude and Stephen waged their decade long battle against one another. In retrospect, no matter which side a person took up the cause for, Maude or Stephen, no one, especially the subjects they sought to ‘better’ the life of, won.
The murder of Thomas Becket is one of Medieval England’s most well-known stories of treachery and betrayal. Sharon Kay Penman’s abundant skill at recreating stories from the middle ages (having read both When Christ And His Saints Slept and Lionheart previously), make this a long anticipated read for me, and one I intend to savor.
I have already ordered the third and final installment of this cycle, Devil’s Brood, and look forward to the release of ‘A Kings Ransom’, the sequel to Lionheart, this winter. Sharon Kay Penman has an impressive assortment of novels which focus on this time period and the Plantagenets themselves. If you enjoy novels of this sort, she is not an author who will disappointment.