REVIEW of The Scarlet Lion, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick is considered by most historical fiction readers to be IT. She’s the top of the field. She’s the cream of the crop. And this is one instance where I agree with the popular voice. Chadwick’s novels are beautiful in their historical accuracy, their characterizations, and their storytelling ability.

The Scarlet Lion follows The Greatest Knight as the second book in Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshal series. It took me a few chapters to get into the story, but once I did, I was hooked. In the previous book, William married Isabella de Clare and discovered that she was the perfect companion, his safe haven in the storms. In The Scarlet Knight, both William and Isabella find many storms to weather.

King Richard dies soon after the story opens, and William supports John in taking the kingship (despite the complaints of John’s nephew Arthur). John is as mean, nasty, and debauched as any devotee of Robin Hood movies would have expected, and even though he is indebted to William Marshal, he will not prove grateful. John wrangles with Philip II of France, losing nearly all the English lands across the water. William, who owns substantial holdings in Normandy, can only keep them by swearing fealty to Philip for them. John gives him permission to do this, but later retracts his consent and accuses William of treachery.

To punish William for treating with Philip, John uses his justiciar in Ireland to harass the de Clare lands there. When William and Isabella wish to visit their Irish lands, he demands two of their sons as hostages. William displays an inhuman patience throughout these trials, refusing to rebel in any way against his sovereign. Isabella is not so restrained. She bitterly resents it when William agrees to turn their sons over to John, and the Marshals’ perfect marriage is sorely tested during these times.

I was rather surprised to discover towards the end of the book that my favorite character was actually King John. As loathsome as he was, he lent a lot of interest to the story. After his death, William is forced to take the reins of government as regent for John’s young son Henry III. The story winds to a close with the greatest knight of England on his deathbed, having served four English kings faithfully and preserved his honor through good times and bad.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the historical detail of Chadwick’s books is much to be praised. I have always been impressed by the milieu she creates. Today, I read an interesting guest post by Elizabeth Chadwick on Passages to the Past. In it she explains the use of “Akashic Records” in her research in addition to the usual primary and secondary sources.

My friend Alison King has the ability to access the past by tuning into the energy patterns of people and places that have gone before. She refers to her skill as being able to read the Akashic Records. I guess my handle on it would be psychic time travel…. I don’t expect everyone to believe in this, your mileage may vary, but I what I doing here, is telling you how it works for me and how I use it in my historical novels.

Chadwick explains how she uses this “psychic time travel” and gives detailed examples from her latest book, Lady of the English.

I find the Akashic Records very useful for finding out the things that history doesn’t tell us and also for examining people’s thoughts, feelings and emotions about a given set of circumstances. Because Alison can tune in to each individual, I can get a fully rounded view of an incident and not just one side. In that way it is even better than primary source. It skips the bias of the chroniclers. Even if the winners write the history as is so often said, I can also listen in to the losers and the bystanders. For example, when working on Lady of the English I had to write about how Empress Matilda felt about her adolescent husband Geoffrey of Anjou. I was able to look at Matilda’s thoughts and feelings on the matter, and then at Geoffrey’s. I was also able to look at what those around them thought and felt about it. When the child, the future Henry II arrived on the scene, I was able to explore his childhood through his own thoughts and feelings and through the observances and emotions of his parents and a wider audience.

Chadwick assures skeptical readers that she is careful to compare the Akashic Records with the primary sources from the period (where available)  to “test them for veracity.” Apparently, they always matched up. Chadwick has been using this resource since the later stages of writing The Greatest Knight. I am curious to see how a reliance on these Akashic Records will continue to influence her future work.

1 Comment

  1. Great Review! I love Elizabeth Chadwick as well. I also enjoyed the Scarlet Lion and think Chadwick has a great gift for being able to spin a wonderful historic tale. I often wonder if it is through her use of the Akashic Records. It certainly is interesting.

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