This year we are celebrating 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta. Why did the barons come together to write the charter, and force King John to sign it? Why did the king renege on his promises? 1215 was a turbulent time in English history and in her novel, ‘To Defy A King’, Elizabeth Chadwick brings this period to life. Set in England from 1204 to 1218 the story immerses us in England’s conflicts with France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Roman Church. Following the characters we are able to see how these conflicts influenced the actions of both the barons and King John.
The novel begins with Mahelt, daughter of William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke), becoming betrothed to Hugh Bigod (future Earl of Norfolk). The marriages of children of important families in medieval England were arranged for political expediency, not for love. However, Mahelt and Hugh grow to love each other as they struggle to cope with an endlessly changing array of family and political alliances. The Marshal and Bigod families find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict surrounding King John, with Hugh’s family helping to formulate the Magna Carta in the hope of limiting John’s power whilst the Marshals stay faithful to their oath to the King, no matter how much they disagree with him. When John breaks his promises there is turmoil and conflict in England, including a French invasion. Throughout it all Mahelt and Hugh have to tread a knife-edge to protect their family and lands. Only with the death of the King is Mahelt able to re-unite her birth family and marriage family, and look to the future with hope.
As always, the historical research conducted by Elizabeth Chadwick in writing this novel has been immense. We know from history that these people existed. We know where they were at certain times and what their political persuasions were, who they fought for, who they loved. What Ms. Chadwick has done, with great skill, is to bring these people to life. One can only speculate on personal relationships so long ago (although there are hints in some of the historical documents Chadwick has used for her research), but it is this rich development of character which brings the novel to life. If you have no knowledge of medieval history when you pick up the book, by the end of it you will have some understanding of what it would have been like to live in King John’s kingdom – food, clothing, living conditions, family duty, loyalty, political and religious beliefs – for this is a book which immerses you in all aspects of medieval life.
Elizabeth Chadwick has a flair for descriptive writing with pace and believable dialogue. Couple this with well-rounded characters, an historically accurate story and a remarkable depth of research, and you have a book which will keep you hooked from start to finish. If you enjoy historical fiction Elizabeth Chadwick will become one of your favourite authors – if she is not already!
(Elizabeth Chadwick has written a number of novels set in this era featuring the Marshal and Bigod families. You can find the chronological order here on Ms Chadwick’s website. I decided to recommend ‘To Defy A King’ because of its link to the Magna Carta although it is not the first in the series)
‘To Defy A King’ can be found on Amazon.