Originally published in 1945, The Passionate Brood is Margaret Campbell Barnes’ somewhat fanciful take on Richard the Lionheart, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. As the book opens Eleanor is out of her Salisbury prison (not much mention of any rebellion with her sons, just that Eleanor had too much control over the boys). Geoffrey is dead, and Henry the younger is uncrowned and whining for lands. Richard has a foster-brother of peasant stock called Robin (son of his nursemaid Hodeirna), who has been well-educated and he and Richard’s sister Johanna share a love they know can never be. Johanna’s marriage has just been settled, Rosamund Clifford (old Henry’s mistress) is dead of poison and he’s now lusting after Richard’s intended, French Princess Alys (called Ann in this book). Richard and young Henry spot the pair in a clutch and the king bans Richard to Navarre, where he meets the Princess Berengaria and the two fall in love. Just for fun I looked up some dates (all of them according to Wik):
Eleanor’s Years of imprisonment 1173–1189.
Rosamund Clifford died 1176.
Joanna betrothed in 1176.
Geoffrey died in 1186.
Henry the younger crowned 1170, died 1183.
Just not adding up, is it? I know, I know, Eleanor was let out of Salisbury on occasion but in this book she was out for good and never went back.
Fast forward ten years or so, both Henrys are dead and Richard is King, but he’s hot to go a-crusading with Phillip of France and leaves England in what he believes are capable hands. Eleanor brings Berengaria to Richard en route to the Holy Land and the two marry and continue on their merry way with a side trip to Sicily to pick up a now widowed Johanna (who still pines after Robin) and then Cyprus for a little battle action before landing in Acre and hitting the major leagues. Meanwhile, back in England the always dastardly John stirs up mischief aplenty as he desires England’s crown for himself and tries everything in his power to stop Richard from returning and reclaiming it – but will our dear Robin (outlawed by an angry Richard) save the day? Will he and Johanna ever find true love and happiness? Will that awful Ida Comnenos come between Richard and his beloved Berengaria?
Well you know I’m not telling but if you know your history you know the rest of the story, and if not I’m not going to spoil. While I am willing to overlook minor historical errors in an older book, as yesterday’s authors didn’t have the immediate access we have today, I have to say this one was so far off base it was virtually impossible to take seriously. The timelines (as I’ve briefly detailed above) just don’t all fit. The rebellion of his sons against Henry II is a mere mention of some familial difficulty, and Eleanor’s long imprisonment gets the same shrift. As for Richard and Berengaria being in true love with a grand passion? I’m not buying it one bit, but the worst sin of all that completely threw me out of the story and never let me back in was Richard’s constant longing for the green grass of England. I do believe he rarely spent anytime there at all and was more interested in bleeding it dry to fund his crusade. We got a good chuckle at Goodreads over this quote from Eleanor to Richard,
But the citizens of London will probably build a splendid statue of you so that when John has turned them into a nation of shopkeepers they may still see the inextinguishable spirit of their breed in your uplifted sword.
There was one interesting tid bit that I did pick up on whilst discussing the book over at Goodreads (thanks to you know who for your valuable input), was that Richard did have a “milk brother” Alexander de Neckham, who was a renowned scholar. While the writing itself is not bad, the story itself and her characters just doesn’t come off well, and seems based on the myths we’ve heard over the years. Barnes’ Richard is a pale comparison to the one Sharon Penman wrote in her fabulous Devil’s Brood, and I suspect Sharon’s fans will be sorely disappointed in this one. I obtained my copy from the library, but there is a brand new edition coming out soon from Sourcebooks and as much as I appreciate them republishing these oldies, this is one that IMHO should have stayed dead and buried.