Time and Chance

[This is a review of a sequel. Read the review of the first book, When Christ and His Saints Slept, here.]

Soon upon finishing When Christ and His Saints Slept, I began the sequel Time and Chance. Whereas the first book mostly dealt with Empress Maud and King Stephen’s war for the English throne, Time and Chance is about King Henry II’s reign and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry’s ascension to the throne did not signify peace for England. He campaigned to claim Welsh territories and, most notably, would make his chancellor Thomas Becket archbishop and that would cause a long and bitter battle between them for seven years and that would end in tragedy. Aside from his marriage to Eleanor, it is his public argument with Becket that he is perhaps best well-known, and remembered, for.

Although he would not be crowned as King of France, through his marriage to Eleanor, Henry effectively ruled over both England and France: this would become known as the Angevin Empire.

Against Eleanor and his mother Maude’s advice, Henry appoints his friend and chancellor Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, although he was never a priest. By making Becket archbishop, he believes he can exert his control and reassert his rights over the Church of England. In a dramatic turn of the tables, however, Becket rejects his old lifestyle and zealously throws himself into his new life, becoming a staunch supporter and defender of the church to the point that a bitter resentment and antagonism grows between the two former friends.

Ranulf’s (from WCAHSS) role is expanded in Time and Chance, as he experiences a personal conflict as his loyalties to England and Wales tied as he acts as advisor to Henry as his nephew prepares to conquer Wales, in an attempt to expand his empire’s territories. Despite the advantage of having greater numbers (English as well as Welsh, enemies of the Welsh king Owain ap Gwynedd*), Henry’s attempts are generally futile as the English are unfamiliar with Wales’ harsh landscape and they are ambushed by the Welsh; in one of these ambushes, Henry nearly loses his own life. Seemingly fighting a losing battle, as a last resort to suppress the Welsh Henry orders the Welsh hostages to be taken to Shrewsbury, where they are mutilated. Two of the hostages being Owain’s sons. Within the story, Ranulf leaves the English camp for Wales, enraged by this decision; neither he or Henry will have communication for thirteen years.

Wherever he goes, it is a battlefield for Henry. While his and Eleanor’s union began as a passionate affair, with mutual attraction, their relationship is put under strain as Henry is kept away from home – and from Eleanor – for longer more than the last, with his political campaigns and his public argument with Becket. This also keeps him away from his children, who, as they grow up, come to know their father as well as a complete stranger.

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When Christ and His Saints Slept

Published via Pressgram

Published via Pressgram

After I read The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman, it was so riveting that I soon looked up her other books. I nearly read Lionheart next, after reading a blog interview with her, but decided to start at “the beginning”, so to speak, and began with her first book in the Plantagenet series: When Christ and His Saints Slept. I didn’t know what to expect with this one, as I did not have as much interest in or knowledge of this particular period in medieval history, so it was with happiness when I recognized that familiar pull as I became swept into the story and involved with the characters very much in the same way as I did while reading The Sunne In Splendour.

Much like the opening of The Sunne In Splendour, when we meet Richard as a child, Ms. Penman strikes a similar note in the beginning of When Christ and His Saints Slept with Stephen as a child, in a moment of vulnerability when he overhears his parents arguing about his father‘s cowardice during the First Crusade and his mother forces his father to make a second pilgrimage. From the vantage point of seeing different characters as children and through their formative years, we are able to watch them grow up and evolve and, in this way, we are better able to sympathize or even relate to them, and, perhaps, understand their actions.

When Christ and His Saints Slept is about the war for the English crown that would last fifteen years, which would ultimately lead to the beginning of the Plantagenet reign. After the death of his only legitimate son in the sinking of the White Ship, Henry I proclaimed his daughter Matilda (called Maude in the book to distinguish from the many Matildas) his heir. This created much disconcertion as a woman had never ruled in her own right back then and despite making his court swear an oath of allegiance to Matilda, after Henry I died, his nephew Stephen of Blois took the crown and was anointed king instead. This begins a long and bloody war for the crown, Matilda campaigning for what she believes is her right and later, fighting for her son Henry’s right as she realizes that her own hopes of being queen are futile.

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The Sunne In Splendour

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Day two of reading The Sunne In Splendour (published via Pressgram)

The first things I remembered learning about Richard III were 1) he was evil 2) he killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. I also remember being of an age – still a child – when one generally accepts what they’re told and doesn’t question it, so I knew that he was bad but I didn’t really comprehend at the time. I remember when my parents rented a VHS of Richard III with Ian McKellen and being told that it was scary, I wasn’t allowed to see it./p>

It wasn’t until in February of this year, in fact, that I began to learn more and understand Richard III when his grave was discovered in Leicester, in a parking lot (or car park, in British English). Either by coincidence or not, about a week before the news broke out, I had intended to watch Richard III, the very same movie my parents had watched years before. I borrowed it from the library and, well, for one reason or another, I kept putting it off until I had to return it, so ultimately didn’t end up seeing it. I still haven’t. (For sake of this post, I did consider watching it but I decided not to, except for the few clips I found and watched on YouTube.)

It was with much interest that I followed the Richard III story, as news broke out and pieces began to be put together, ultimately revealing how much his image was a product of Tudor propaganda – aided, with no thanks, by Shakespeare’s play. It was like a mystery. There is no concrete evidence that he did kill his nephews, which for some means that it isn’t out of the question – there’s just no evidence to prove it. There is just as much, or little, evidence to support either; however, the scales tip forward in his favour that he didn’t when we learn more about him as a person and how, during his brief reign, he helped the common people.

Some months ago I became interested The Sunne In Spendour by Sharon Kay Penman, after learning of it in an interview with Richard Armitage (he is named after Richard III and also has been attached, for a long time, to a project about the king). This is a historical novel that is, at heart, a biography of Richard III, beginning with him as a young boy to his death on the battlefield of Bosworth but it is also about the Wars of the Roses, especially his brother Edward IV. Sharon Kay Penman has that remarkable ability to create dimensional characters, men and women and children, that come alive and make you care about them. It was also through reading this book that I became better able to understand this particular period in time and history. The title derives from Edward IV’s (Richard’s older brother) badge of three suns or a phenomenon known as “parhelion“. He convinced his troops that the suns represented the Holy Trinity, although another version (perhaps in the book – it’s all a blur) states that he said the suns represented himself and his brothers Richard and George.

I borrowed it from the library, but for some reason did not start reading it immediately. (The length and thickness of the book – over 900 pages – didn’t unnerve me, I’ve read books longer than that, such as The Count of Monte Cristo.) I finally resolved to read it when I needed to return it to the library and I was pulled into the story, enthralled, from the beginning. I’ve not read a book in so long that has tugged at my emotions, moved me so deeply. I was involved with all the characters, and especially Richard as a boy – I felt so deeply for him and sympathized, to the point of tenderness. So wrapped up in my emotions was I that, sometimes, I was reading the words but scarcely comprehending what was happening and then–! This last sentence I refer specifically to the death of Edmund, one of Richard’s brothers. It is history, so it is bound to happen, but I invested in the characters from such an early start and so deeply that I grieved with the rest of them.

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