Book review: Favoured Beyond Fortune by Elizabeth Ashworth

Favoured Beyond Fortune by Elizabeth Ashworth
Favoured Beyond Fortune by Elizabeth Ashworth

The medieval world was a tough place for women… even if you were one of the wealthiest nobles in England.

Alicia de Lacy was the daughter of the high-ranking Earl of Lincoln, lord of Pontefract Castle in West Yorkshire and Denbigh Castle in Wales, and a man with close connections to the throne of King Edward I.

The earl’s only surviving child Alicia was heir to money and lands, and a desirable ‘catch’ for ambitious noblemen. Aged just 13, she was married to Thomas of Lancaster, the king’s nephew, in an alliance which should have brought her security, status, influence and even greater wealth.

The story of Alicia’s disastrous marriage, imprisonment and vilification is brought to vivid and dramatic life in Lancashire author Elizabeth Ashworth’s fascinating new novel.

The de Lacy family, who featured in Ashworth’s first novel The de Lacy Inheritance, had links to ‘Blackburnshire’ in Lancashire and it was through this connection that Ashworth began researching the torrid life of Alicia.

Determined to repudiate 14th century chroniclers’ descriptions of Alicia as ‘a wanton and immoral adulteress,’ Ashworth set about writing a novel that would restore her reputation and cast new light on her ordeals.

With her two brothers both dead, young Alicia de Lacy, raised at Pontefract Castle, is the apple of her father Henry de Lacy’s eye and with royal blood running through her veins from both her father and mother, Margaret Longespee, Countess of Salisbury, she is a valuable pawn.

Betrothed aged just 11 to Thomas of Lancaster, son of Edmund, Duke of Lancaster, and his wife Blanche of Artois, her destiny and the future of the de Lacys look to be in safe and exalted hands.

Brought up on tales of chivalry, Alicia hopes that Thomas will be handsome, courteous, accomplished and valiant like the knights of legend but the reality is that he is an arrogant and surly teenager who greets her with disdain from their first meeting.

Already fearful of spending the rest of her life with a man who has proved himself to be a cruel bully, she knows that all the wealth, titles and lands she inherits from her father will one day be in the possession of her husband.

Alicia’s marriage to Thomas proves to be devastatingly unhappy, and England is plunged into turmoil when the king is deposed and the country falls under the rule of the new monarch Edward II’s mother and her lover Roger Mortimer.

And the worst is yet to come as Thomas leads an ill-fated rebellion against the new king, leaving Alicia stripped of all her titles and possessions, and virtually under house arrest.

But there are two other men interested in Alicia’s fate – John de Warenne, grandson of the Earl of Oxford, and Eble le Strange, a nobleman’s son from the Welsh marches, who trained as squires in her father’s household. Both will be instrumental in changing the course of Alicia’s life…

Ashworth’s compelling story is a moving reminder of the plight of women in the Middle Ages. Wealth, privilege and position were no bulwark against male-orchestrated ambition, greed and power politics.

Alicia’s turbulent life and times have been painstakingly researched and Ashworth leaves no page unturned in her quest to debunk the myths which for centuries have overshadowed one of history’s much maligned women.

In Favoured Beyond Fortune, we have a reinvigorated and beautifully reworked Alicia de Lacy, a woman whose misfortunes are many but whose determination, resilience and bravery will not be snuffed out.

Her journey through love, loss, betrayal and redemption is as revealing as it is heartbreaking…

(Available as an ebook and in paperback by CreateSpace, £7.99)