This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: Time and Chance

Time and Chance, Sharon Kay Penman
4 roses

This is the second book in Sharon Kay Penman's Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. This one focuses mainly on the break between Henry II and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. I enjoyed this one though some of the stuff about Becket did drag a bit for me.

Two of the people Henry II trusted most were Eleanor, his wife, and Thomas Becket, his very close friend. In this continuation of Henry and Eleanor's story, they now many children, including several boys, and they seem to have a very good marriage. Henry has become close friends with his chancellor, Thomas Becket. Things start to go awry when Henry, against the advice of his wife and mother (and probably others as well), appoints Thomas Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He thought he would have a great ally with his close friend in this position. He soon found out he was very wrong.

The break between Henry and Becket and their ongoing quarrel is well documented in history. While both men were very stubborn, I found that I really had no sympathy for Becket. I believe that he brought most of the problems down on himself. He could have accomplished more of what he felt was "right" if he had attempted to stay friends with Henry. That's not saying that I did not get irritated at Henry for his stubbornness as well, I just never felt anything towards Becket except that he did it to himself. This could be because there really was not much of an in depth look at WHY Becket acted in this way; no delving into his thoughts to see why he thought he was right. Of course, Henry's rash statement of "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest" is well known to people familiar with the period and Penman uses a variation of this in the novel, though the outcome is the same. Becket is murdered by 4 knights in Canterbury Cathedral and almost becomes a saint overnight. This murder haunts Henry for the rest of his life. He even goes into self exile in Ireland for a while, though he proclaims that he is going to settle matters in that country. In the novel we see a Henry who is upset at the murder and knows that even though he did not order it, the knights thought they were doing his bidding. A lot of his sadness at this point could also be because he knows the blame is going to be placed solely at his feet.

During the mess with Becket, another of Henry's relationships begins to crumble and it is solely his doing. By taking a mistress and actually keeping her, setting her up at the royal manor at Woodstock, he inflicts a deep wound in his wife, Eleanor. I truly felt sorry for her. She had been a good wife to him from the beginning, baring him several children and even tactfully ignoring his other mistresses. Eleanor acts like a queen indeed when she finally confronts Rosamund Clifford at Woodstock (after traveling across the Channel, in winter, while almost at the end of her last pregnancy). If it had been me I would not have been able to act so calm and aloof; I would have torn into the girl. After this confrontation Eleanor gives birth to her last son, John (who most people will be familiar with as the evil King John in Robin Hood stories). After finding out about Henry's affection for this girl, Eleanor begins to drift away from him. This will lead to the final, explosive climax of their story in Devil's Brood. As to the character of Rosamund Clifford, I did not like her. I saw her as a young girl who was dazzled by the King, "fell in love with him," and then kept putting herself in his way until she got what she wanted - in his bed. I wanted to smack her, not only for going after a married man but for her constant sniveling and crying because Henry was not there with her (he was a King after all and had important things to take care of). I don't know why her character grated on my nerves so much but if there was one person in the story I'd want to go back in time and really knock around, it was this silly girl.

We see more of the fictional Ranulf in this story and quite a bit on the state of political affairs in Wales. Ranulf is, again, torn between his loyalty to his cousin the King and his love for his Welsh home. This is the story within the story in this book, even more so than it was in the first novel. Henry and Eleanor's son, Richard, also begins to pop up more in the last 1/3 of the story as well, which sets things up nicely for the last book in the trilogy.

Again, another great work by Penman. While the whole Becket issue dragged a bit for me, everything else moved along nicely. I came out of this one feeling extremely sorry for Eleanor, thinking Henry was a bit blind, Becket brought the trouble on himself, Wales was in trouble, and Rosamund Clifford was a silly little trouble maker. I am looking forward to the last installment in this trilogy to see how Penman brings that explosive climax to life.

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