The second in a trilogy (after When Christ and His Saints Slept, 1995) about a well-matched royal pair: ambitious Henry II and his feisty Queen Eleanor.
This time out, Penman vividly details how Henry sought fame and kingdoms for his family, but in Thomas Becket found an adversary for whose murder he would forever be blamed. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Henry and Thomas, his trusted Chancellor, whom, though not yet a priest, he appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Once appointed, Thomas—“a chameleon, changing his colors to reflect his surroundings”—became an implacable defender of the Church, risking his life and fortune to fight for what he believed. Penman deftly follows the twists of war and policy as well as the private betrayals and triumphs of family life, taking up the story in 1156. Henry, though 11 years younger, is still besotted with Eleanor, who has borne a daughter, two sons—Hal and the recently deceased William—and will go on to bear Richard, Geoffrey, and John, as well as another daughter. Henry is preparing to invade Wales, and bloody wars will reoccur in the years ahead, with special resonance for Henry’s favorite uncle, Ranulf, who, half-Welsh and married to a Welsh woman, must wrestle with his divided allegiances. While Henry wages various wars to secure his and Eleanor’s lands, arranges judicious marriages for their children, and falls for young Rosamund Clifford, Eleanor has her own concerns. She frets that Henry does not value her counsel (especially about the appointment of Becket), is away for months fighting, and is more in love with Rosamund than with her. Their marriage survives, and Henry secures kingdoms for his sons, but by 1171 he is universally held responsible for the saintly Becket’s murder a year earlier.
Perfect for fans of battles lost and won, on the field and in the boudoir, by a vivid cast of characters doing their best to make history live.