To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt, the eldest and most beloved daughter of my favorite hunk in history, William Marshal. Preparing an extended trip to get their lands in Ireland under control, Mahelt’s parents are anxious to see her married before they leave and to that end she is betrothed to Hugh Bigod, the son of Roger Bigod the powerful Earl of Norfolk. While still too young for the marriage bed, Mahelt and Hugh are married and she joins the Bigods at Framlingham Castle, although the very-independent-minded Mahelt and set-in-his-ways Roger don’t always see eye to eye.
When Mahelt reaches her fifteenth birthday she and Hugh are able to consummate their marriage and begin building a family together, but their happiness is ultimately threatened by the escalating tensions between King John and his barons. Hugh also has a lot of tension of his own to deal with from his half-brother William Longespée, who is quite full of himself and his relationship to the King (he is John’s half-brother through his mother Ida see more about that here);
“…although for Longespée attendance on John was a validation of his royal blood and an opportunity to pose in fine clothes.”
The conflicts finally lead to open revolt against the King and Mahelt finds herself torn between loyalty to the Bigods who want to oust John and her father who swore fealty to John and is honor bound to keep it. And what of her beloved brothers who have been held hostage for years by John to ensure her father’s loyalty?
“Do not talk to me of God. I have been supping with the Devil…I thought I had a long enough spoon, but I was wrong.”
Can Hugh keep his wife and children safe from John’s clutches? Can Framlingham Castle withstand the King’s army? Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to tell you – read it for yourself. While the first half of the book might not be fast paced enough for some readers, I really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down. I loved watching the budding relationship between Hugh and Mahelt grow into a strong, loving marriage, as well as Hugh’s somewhat stormy relationship with his half-brother William Longespée. As for Hugh? I’m in love again….
One of Chadwick’s greatest strengths is the way she effortlessly brings the medieval period and mindset to life – from the food, clothing, sights, sounds etc. and this latest one is no disappointment. A big thumbs up on the author’s notes at the end as well, I for one appreciate knowing what was real, what was surmised for the sake of the story as well as how ongoing research has affected what she’s written in her previous books on the Marshal and Bigod families. 5/5 stars and a must for Chadwick fans.
FTC, yes yes I admit it, I got an advance copy. Shoot me. I would have preordered it and just had to wait longer to read it.