Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is better known for her regency novels. However she did write some medievals including this biography of William, The Conqueror.

Base-born son of Richard, Duke of Normandy, William the Bastard had to fight for his crumbling heritage, then to subjugate in battle his feudal lord, the King of France.

Spurned in love he horse-whipped the lovely Princess Matilda, then made her his bride.

Thwarted by the Saxon Earl Harold of a solemn promise of the throne of England, he sailed with his armies to a moment of destiny at Hastings.

A complex character, William had to fight for his life and his rights from early on. Born the bastard son of the Duke of Normandy it was by pure strength of will that he became one of the most powerful and respected men of his time.

The book is very detailed and follows William's life pretty closely, from battle to battle till he reaches the English crown thus giving us a rich and complex view of the day's politics and interests. To better show her views Heyer uses the character of Raoul, one of William's knights, who is fiercely loyal to him and is even entrusted with negotiating William's wedding to Matilda of Flanders (after a pretty unusual courtship).

William succeeded to his father very early in life. The Duke Robert had made his men swear his son would be his heir before going on pilgrimage and when news of his death arrived William was 8. Not willing to stand by their oath the Barons started fighting amongst themselves and tried to use the child as a pawn for their interests. Many of his guardians and presumably friends were killed trying to protect him.

At fifteen he was knighted and he was ready and determined to fight for his inheritance. Known as William the bastard he became ruthless in his pursuit of what he believed was rightfully his, first the Duchy of Normandy and then the kingdom of England.

We never get the feeling that we do know William very well, he always seems a bit cold emotionally, but she is great at describing the battle scenes and showing the charisma that made him a leader of men.

It doesn't really seem fair to compare this book to Heyer's other works as it's very different in tone and in subject matter. There's very little romance in this story unlike her other books. Although William and Matilda seem to have been happy in their marriage the books doesn't focus much on their relationship. I really enjoyed this story and I must confess that it made me want to go and look for her other medievals.

Grade: B

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