Book review: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick

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The spirited daughter of the great medieval knight William Marshal was never going to be happy to take a back seat in her arranged marriage...

So when Mahelt is betrothed at the age of 10 to wealthy heir Hugh Bigod, the portents are not good in an age when a wife is expected to ‘stay at home, embroider and bear children.’

Elizabeth Chadwick makes a welcome return to the history of the amazing real-life Marshal family in her new and captivating novel set during the volatile reign of ‘bad’ King John.

Romance and history are what Chadwick does best and To Defy a King is a clever interweaving of fact and fiction into one big, spellbinding story with the sweet unfolding of a young couple’s love at its heart.

‘I pity whoever gets you to wife,’ says Will Marshal to his stubborn younger sister Mahelt as she grows up in the warmth and privilege of her family home in Berkshire in the early 13th century.

Her father is one of the most powerful men in England but her life changes dramatically when King John, a man mistrusted and disliked by her parents, suspects her father of treason.

To ensure her safety in troubled times, Marshal negotiates a betrothal between Mahelt and Hugh Bigod, heir to the great earldom of Norfolk.

Mahelt moves into the Bigod home to await her marriage but tensions arise between Hugh, a man who likes to stick to tradition, and his impulsive and fearless bride-to-be.

Her prodigious energy and strong sense of family duty threaten her bond with Hugh but relationships are set to be tested to the limit with the arrival of the Magna Carta crisis.

The wolfish and supercilious King John has taken Marshal’s sons hostage and is now determined to subdue the rebellious Bigods...

Chadwick’s great strength lies in her attention to detail – she brings to life all the daily humdrum of the medieval age but also seduces with the romance of her characters and the raw excitement of their times.

And as always, she provides fascinating information on the background to her research and the historical period.

To Defy a King sees Chadwick on top form ... unmissable!

(Sphere, paperback, £6.99)