Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry’s widowed queen and Matilda’s stepmother, is now married to William D’Albini, a warrior of the opposition.
Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man’s word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen?
Lady of the English tells the story of two very different woman: Matilda, the stubborn and strong-willed claimant of the English throne and the sweet-natured Adeliza who is staunchly loyal to those she loves. Matilda has always been a controversial figure in English history and while Chadwick does her best to make her likeable in this story, she completely fails and contrasting her with Adeliza just makes the situation worse. It is Matilda’s pride that makes me dislike her so much, and while I agree she was hard done by in regard to the English throne, she doesn’t help her situation by behaving so arrogantly.
Matilda’s relationship with her husband, Geoffrey, is tempestuous and while Anjou does come across as a dangerous charmer, I never once felt the underlying sexual attraction that Matilda claims to feel for him when they are reunited after a time apart. While their dislike of each other is apparent from the outset, we only know Matilda has a powerful sexual attraction to her husband because Chadwick tells us that is the case when she really should be showing us. Matilda treats her husband with so much contempt, it is hardly surprising their relationship was so stormy. Chadwick makes a comment in the afterword that she believes Matilda suffered from bad pre-menstrual tension which may have made her impatient, however she only alludes to this once in the entire book when Matilda is forced to flee London so this does not make for a convincing argument. It’s also patronising and a little insulting, can you image a male writer trying to get away with that one?
The truth is Matilda put her fight for the English throne above everything else, even her children from whom she is separated from long periods of time, and her selfishness is only highlighted by Adeliza’s constant emphasis on how her own children are better than any throne. Matilda’s friendship with Adeliza is also questionable as she is constantly complaining about how little support she is being given from her stepmother and she feels no qualms about putting Adeliza’s family in danger when she stays with them. I really didn’t know much about the real Adeliza before reading this book but I certainly have gained a lot more respect for her than Matilda and as far as I’m concerned, Adeliza was far more worthy of the title Lady of the English than Matilda. Having said that, Adeliza’s story really doesn’t have much of a dramatic hook and you can see why most authors usually choose to contrast Matilda with Stephen of Blois’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, who is summarily dismissed in this book as a frumpy hausfrau.
I mainly pick Elizabeth Chadwick when I’m in the mood for a quick historical read because her characters or plots don’t have much depth but there is still enough there for a satisfying read. However, a thoroughly unlikeable main character does this book no favours at all, despite the author’s attempts to make her appear more likeable by denigrating the other main protagonists.