I loved this book. I have never known much-ahem-anything, about Matilda. All I know is that she did what a woman had never done before. I know that she battled against Stephen for the throne. Imagine the ye olde Facebook and twitter exchanges that it would’ve created. Anyway, I digress.
We are shown the two sides of a story. There is the story of Matilda, a powerful woman who was a German Empress forced to marry Geoffrey, the count of Anjou and many years younger than herself. Again, I knew nothing of him but this story has certainly displayed his calculating character admirably. We also see Matilda’s indomitable courage, even when Geoffrey beats her up shortly after they are married after she speaks up against his schemes. This story charts her battle against Stephen and her failure and also her making peace with Geoffrey in the end.
The second side of the story is that of Adeliza of Louvain, who was Matilda’s stepmother. This is not the typical evil stepmother relationship that the Brothers Grimm exposed us to. Adeliza was a year older than Matilda, married to Matilda’s father, Henry (who holds the record for the most illegitimate children; maybe closely met by King John?) because he wanted a male heir. We clearly see Adeliza’s desperation that she cannot give Henry a child, and we also see her marrying William D’Albini (following Henry’s death, obviously. We’re not on the Jeremy Kyle show here.) and bearing him six children. I am hesitant to admit, but the scene when Adeliza says goodbye to her infant daughter (‘Bless you all the days of your life,’) and when Will promises to be there for his children for as long as he lives, is the most moving scene in the whole book. The revelation about her illness seemed a bit sudden but it made it much more tragic.
I have always found this period of history to be fascinating and if someone like Elizabeth Chadwick can shed light on such a period of history while making the characters so…human…is just fantastic. Well done, Mrs C! I will definitely review more of her books very soon.