The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “In 1154, Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in Europe, is crowned queen of England beside her young husband Henry II. While Henry battles their enemies and lays his plans, Eleanor is an adept acting ruler and mother to their growing brood of children. But she yearns for more than this – if only Henry would listen. Instead, Henry pushes Eleanor to the sidelines, involving himself with a young mistress and denying Eleanor her rightful authority. As matters reach a crisis, Eleanor becomes caught up in a family rebellion. And even a queen must face the consequences of treason…”

REVIEW: This is the second installment in Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy of novels about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a historical figure whom I have always found fascinating. The first novel, ‘The Summer Queen’, focused on Eleanor’s declining relationship with her first husband, King Louis VII of France, and her struggle to obtain a divorce in order to marry the new heir to the throne of England, the boisterous and passionate Henry II. Their efforts succeeded, and the opening of this book sees Henry and Eleanor being crowned King and Queen of England in 1154. Their relationship, however, although highly fertile in terms of heirs, is beginning to worsen, as Eleanor grows desperate to have more power and not be seen simply as a wife and mother. The death of the couple’s eldest son, William, the interference of Henry’s Archbishop, the infamous Thomas Becket, the discovery of a bastard son sired by Henry, and the introduction of Henry’s young and beautiful new mistress, Rosamund de Clifford, only combine to make things worse for the royal couple, and their marriage soon turns into a bitter and cold power struggle. Portrayed alongside this, however, is the blossoming relationship between Eleanor’s close companion and ladies’ maid, Isabel, and her new husband Hamelin, half-brother to Henry. This offers a heavy contrast to Eleanor and Henry’s marriage, and is an interesting tactic by Chadwick as it shows us just how damaged and bitter their marriage has become in comparison to a more normal, naturally happy marriage. Throughout the novel the tensions between Henry and Eleanor grow, and when their sons Henry, Richard and Geoffrey ally to rebel against their father, who seems reluctant to give them the power they are owed, Eleanor is caught in the middle of a family war, and Henry puts the blame for their son’s rebellion on her. By the end of the novel, Eleanor is held under house arrest and the rebellion seems set to rage on outside the castle wars. This book portrays the storm that took place before the darkest period of Eleanor’s life, and was a brilliant and fascinating read, making everything seem new and interesting despite the fact that I already knew the course of events. It is a very worthy sequel to ‘The Summer Queen’, which I also greatly enjoyed, and I very much look forward to the release of the final installment in the trilogy, ‘The Autumn Throne’, which is to be released in September.

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