"If she thought a man was a fool, she said so to his face in front of others, and gave no quarter. She was tall, slender, beautiful, desirable. . "
This is how Empress Mathilda is described. This is the woman this novel is about. She was the daughter and the only surviving heir to Henry I. The men of England got on their knees three times in front of her and three times, swore to uphold her as their queen. When her father died, however, they upheld her cousin Stephen instead. Mathilda was enraged and thus, a battle began to retain her crown and her country for not necessarily herself, but her heirs.
The novel begins in this manner, with Mathilda arriving in England from Germany where he husband, an emperor, has died. She begins her first steps towards inheriting the throne by abiding by her father's wishes and marrying Geoffrey of Anjou. This is not a happy partnership. He is a young, arrogant whelp and her thoughts. . well, here's a quote from the brave and opinionated Mathida, "No more of an abomination than me being made to wed an idiot who is as far beneath me as a pile of dung under the sky. . You may be my husband, but you will never be my lord and master and you will never amount to anything more than a scrawny cockerel on top of your little midden heap!"
I love this woman. Nevertheless, despite her strong words, duty prevails and her and Geoffrey manage to do what they are supposed to do and they breed heirs. This makes Mathilda all the more eager to ensure that she obtains the throne of England. "She gazed down at this child whom she had not wanted to conceive because of fear, because of anger, because her life was a battleground over which she had so little control. Now the field had changed. Her fight was for him now.."
Meanwhile, Stephen takes England and offers favors left and right till the coffers run out of money. Mathilda is just biding her time and waiting for loyalty to shift and then England shall be hers. Adeliza, Henry's former queen, is between a rock and a hard place as her new hubby supports Stephen, but she believes the throne belongs to her stepdaughter, Mathilda. These two experience much love and passion fraught with friction over their opposing sides. I loved their part of tale and in the end, had to blink tears away from my eyes. I won't reveal why.
Also on Mathilda's side is her half brother Robert and and Brian FitzCount. Brian is a doll who will do anything for Mathilda. He loves her as more than a queen. Will anything come of this unspoken passion?
|Stephen of Blois|
But Mathilda can't forget that all these men who swore fealty to her, also swore fealty to Stephen when it most suited them. "She was well aware that men who knelt to her and smiled one day would as likely stab her in the back and abandon her on another." Who can she trust to stay by her side and make her once and for all, the lady of the English?
Towards the end of the novel, readers get a good look at what Henry II has the potential to become. The young Henry is full of vigor, charisma, and spunk. I found myself enamored with his character despite his mere fourteen years of age.
Here is Geoffrey bragging of his sexual prowess,