The Winter Mantle begins in 1067 after The Conquest as Waltheof of Huntingdon and several other English nobles are kept under William’s close eye in Normandy. Waltheof desires William’s haughty niece Judith and is torn between making his peace with William and pressing suit for her hand or participating in further rebellion against the Norman conquerors. After one rebellion in the north fails, William forgives Waltheof and marries him to Judith, although she is torn between pride in her Norman ancestry and desire for her husband, and this eventually leads to discord in the marriage. Waltheof allows himself to be convinced to participate in one last attempt at overthrowing William, and this time with drastic results.
The story then takes up with the second generation, Waltheof’s beloved daughter Matilda and Norman courtier Simon de Senlis who at the behest of King William Rufus comes to take charge of the lands Judith inherited from Waltheof. Furious, the ever haughty Judith refuses to cooperate and wed Simon and he turns his eye to Matilda as a younger and more appealing choice. The story then continues as Matilda and Simon raise their children, and Judith finally comes to terms with her own guilt in Waltheof’s fate and his death as a traitor, as well as the consequences to Simon and Judith’s marriage from Simon’s actions on his return from the Crusades.
Based on true people, this was a lively entertaining tale and I very much enjoyed how the author was able to take such a snotty piece of goods like Judith and humanize her in the end – it really was a love/hate relationship between she and Waltheof and in many ways those two warring emotions are very much the same. As with all of her books, Chadwick has an amazing knack of bringing the medieval period to life, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothing and more. Highly recommended and a side note that the tiny baby at the very end of the book has his own story in The Falcons of Montabard.