Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Guest post: Elizabeth Chadwick's favorite medieval novels

Today Elizabeth Chadwick is stopping by Reading the Past to discuss her favorite medieval novels. She has some wonderful recommendations I've read many of these books myself and you may want to have a notepad handy, as I have a feeling you'll be adding them to your wish lists. Thanks to Sourcebooks, publisher of her latest US release For the King's Favor, I have a giveaway opportunity as well... details at the end of this post.

Welcome, Elizabeth!


Thank you for inviting me to talk on your blog Sarah.

I thought since you are a librarian, it might be on topic to talk about my favourite novels set in the medieval period, both in the past and some more recent reads, now, because in a way they trace the path of my growing up and my career.

I didn't actually come to the Medieval period until my mid teens when I fell in love with a knight in a TV series. The tall, dark, handsome man with a sword and a fast horse, was what initially sparked my interest in the life and times of the period between 1066 and 1300. Prior to that I'd had no particular affiliation to medieval fiction or indeed to historical fiction of any kind.

My first foray into that world was a novel I bought with my pocket money titled The Burnished Blade by Lawrence Schoonover. It had first been published in 1948 but was a re-issue with a handsome blond man on the front and a scantily clad young lady reclining on cushions. I read and thoroughly enjoyed it and immediately set out to find other authors in this genre. At first I had a penchant for the big romances that have come to be known as ‘bodice rippers’ and I am not ashamed to say so. I would think nearly every woman of my age (and some men) have at least one of these on the shelf. They were an important part of growing up and I absolutely lost myself in their world when I was a teenager. The one I remember best is The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss – an adventurous tale of ravished women and rampant alpha males in 1066 England. I don't think I could read it now, but in my teens I was hooked. It was also in my late teens that I discovered the works of Roberta Gellis. Her historical romances were more grounded in serious medieval history and since I had begun to write my own novels, I was in awe of her research and the way her characters came to life and were of their time. I fell hook, line and sinker for Ian de Vipont, star of the second novel in her Roselynde Chronicles, Alinor. He was tall, dark and handsome (I am starting to see a pattern emerging!) but he was also his own man and with such a strong, well-rounded character, that he walked off the page and into the room. No cardboard cutout here. Around this time, I started to venture into the realms of more serious historical fiction and discovered the incomparable Sharon Kay Penman when I read her magnificent novel about Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour. This set me of on a Richard III quest and I must have read every novel about him that was available. I became a lifelong fan of Sharon's writing; I own every novel she has ever written and am fortunate enough these days to count her as a personal online friend. My very favorite novel of Sharon's is Here Be Dragons, the story of Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales and his marriage to Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John. I am also very fond of her medieval mysteries, especially Dragon's Lair and Prince of Darkness.

Entering my twenties, another medieval discovery for me was the great Dorothy Dunnett and her series of novels about Scottish adventurer Francis Crawford of Lymond. His story ran to six thick volumes. It wasn't the easiest fiction to get into and I had three tries before I really understood the magic of Dunnett, but once the key turned in the lock, I became an ardent reader. To keep a mystery going over the course of six books is some feat. During my twenties, I also became a fan of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels. She put the historical mystery on the map. I remember reading a book club edition of One Corpse Too Many and being blown away. I also fell deeply for Hugh Berenger (small dark and handsome this time!), who played Watson to Brother Cadfael's Holmes. I ended up buying the entire series, waiting each year for the next one to come out and I have a full set. Another author I particularly enjoyed was Cecelia Holland and an especial favourite of mine was Great Maria, loosely based on the story of the Normans in Sicily. Great Maria has recently been re-issued by Sourcebooks and I was able to read an advance review copy. Has it stood the test of time since its first publication in 1974? It most definitely has and I loved it all over again.

Becoming a writer of Medieval fiction as well as a reader has its downside in that one tends to become very difficult to please when it comes to finding novels that have not only a gripping story, but also that feel of authenticity. The more research one conducts, the harder it becomes. However, there are still gems out there waiting to be read. Some of my fairly recent favourites have included: The Unicorn Road by Martin Davies. I love his use of language and his exploration of the ways in which we communicate. Flint – an elegant little novel by Margaret Redfern that tells the story of two medieval characters forced into becoming ditch diggers for the castle at Flint, built by Edward I. In its own way, it’s like an offshoot of the Mabinogion series of traditional Welsh folk tales. I also very much enjoyed Jan Guillou’s Road To Jerusalem about Arn, a young Swede, undergoing training as a Templar. The setting is different, and the story well grounded in the attitudes of the time. It’s that bit different, and while I love historical fiction of all kinds, some of my favourites are the kind that stray outside of the box…although I do continue to admit a weakness for tall, dark and handsome in the window dressing!


A bittersweet tale of love, loss, and the power of royalty…

A captivating story of a mother’s love stretched to breaking and a knight determined to rebuild his life with the royal mistress, For the King’s Favor is Elizabeth Chadwick at her best. Based on a true story never before told and impeccably researched, this is a testament to the power of sacrifice and the strength of love. When Roger Bigod, heir to the powerful earldom of Norfolk, arrives at court to settle an inheritance, he meets Ida de Tosney, young mistress to King Henry II. In Roger, Ida sees a chance for lasting love, but their decision to marry carries an agonizing price. It’s a breathtaking novel of making choices, not giving up, and coping with the terrible shifting whims of the king.


Elizabeth Chadwick lives near Nottingham with her husband and two sons. She is the author of 18 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage, Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, The Winter Mantle, and The Falcons of Montabard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards. Much of her research is carried out as a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society with the emphasis on accurately re-creating the past. She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel. For more information, please visit

And now for a giveaway... thanks to Sourcebooks, we have two copies of For the King's Favor up for grabs. I read it last year from the UK edition (titled The Time of Singing) and highly recommend it. To enter: leave a comment on this post with a recommendation of your own favorite medieval novel. Deadline Friday, September 10th. This offer is for US and Canadian residents only. Good luck to all the entrants!


  1. I love The Other Boylen Girl.

    hewella1 at gmail dot com

  2. Wonderful guest post!

    I loved Great Maria as well :)

  3. (not competing, don't live in the US/Canada)

    Totally agree with Elizabeth Chadwick: Here be dragons by Sharon Kay Penman is the best historical novel ever written!

  4. Great guest post. Like Ms. Chadwick, I have enjoyed everyone of Sharon Kay Penman's wonderful novels. I would also recommend the Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter.

  5. Great post...I was especially interested to hear that it took Chadwick three tries to get into Dorothy Dunnet's books.

    I've tried several times myself and hope to crack it one day!

    In my opinion, Sharon Kay Penman's novels are all tied for best medieval novel - with a slight edge to "Here Be Drgaons" and "Sunne in Splendour."


  6. Hi, great guest post. I'm a new follower and wanted to say hello.

  7. Marie B.11:04 AM

    Well, I've been reading this blog for some time, but this seems like a good post for de-lurking. :) Not sure I could pick just one as a favorite - but I recently read a fantastic YA novel in a medieval setting called the Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan. It's easily made it onto my "favorites" shelf.

    marie1200 at gmail dot com

  8. Thanks for the interesting interview and list of books. Some I haven't read yet, so I'll be eager to try them out.

    Here are two medieval mystery series that I love. Each has several books in it.

    • Caroline Roe's "The Chronicles of Isaac of Girona" series

    • Sharan Newman's "Catherine LeVendeur Mystery" series

  9. I love all of Rosemary Hawley Jarman's books, too. Great guest, enjoyed reading it. I, too, have had trouble getting into Dorothy Dunnett for some reason.

  10. Brenna8:05 AM

    I'm a huge fan of Sharon Kay Penman's. Sunne in Splendour being my all time favorite!

  11. Brenna8:05 AM

    Sharon Key Penman's Sunne in Splendour is still my absolute favorite!

  12. Thanks for this guest post. I'm a big fan of Chadwick and appreciate her suggestions. Don't forget Katherine (Ana Seton) or Elizabeth Pargiter's (Elis Peters pseudonym) Brothers of Gwyneth Quartet.

  13. Anything by Sharon Penman is absolutely wonderful - but I also have to recommend Helen Hollick's novels "Harold the King" and "A Hollow Crown" - both are excellent accurate reads.

  14. Valerie L.11:29 AM

    Reading Sharon Kay Penman's Sunne in Splendour changed my life. I've loved historical fiction since I was a child, but her books were and are something very special.

  15. Great recommendations, thank you! I'm adding a few to my wish list from this post. I totally agree about SKP's medieval novels, they are great.

    My recommendation is the whole Welsh Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman. It's a must if you want to almost know it all for the Middle Ages for England and Wales :)

    Nunezbella at hotmail dotcom

  16. What a great guest post! Added a few titles to my TBR mountain. One of my favorites of all time is Lords of the White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick. I fell in love with that book! Please don't enter me in the giveaway. I already own it and what a wonderful read it was! Good luck to everyone - it is a great book!

  17. I really enjoyed Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles and her House of Niccolo series is just a well done, but my favorite is still Seton's Katherine. Just last year read Alison Weir's Mistress of the Monarchy to be able to compare what the historical record can tell us with what I remember of that wonderfully romantic novel.

  18. Deb Holland2:59 PM

    I have recently discovered Chadwick and am trying to read all her books this month, so I would love to win this one!

    So far I have recommended all of Sharon Kay to my Husband, and he has read the Welsh trilogy and When Christ...slept. My daughter has read all of the Henry/Eleanor trilogy and her best friend just finished Sunne in Splendor. Maragaret Frazer's Sister Frevisse and Joliffe series are wonderful, Sharan Newman's mysteries are great, but I recently read all 19 of Kate Sedley's Roger Chapman mysteries and I highly recommend them.
    But Katherine was the one that started it all, and I read it many times.

  19. Another fan of SKP here! I was delighted to see the mysteries she wrote mentioned because I thought the last two in particular were excellent!

    One of these days I will get brave enough to try Dunnett, and I own Great Maria, so probably should read it!

    No need to enter me into the draw!

  20. Great post! I've noticed before that EC and I seem to have similar tastes in our medieval HF :) I'm glad you liked Martin Davies' "Unicorn Road", which I loved and reviewed at Margaret Donsbach's Historical Novels Info website. Such a poignant story. For some reason this line from Li Bai's poem "Drinking Alone With the Moon" (Witter Bynner trans.) always comes to mind in association with it "--I watch the long road of the River of Stars".

  21. I think my vote for fave medieval novels would have to go to the Bernard Cornwell's Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (first two books of the Saxon Chronicles).

  22. *longtime lurker peeks around the corner*

    While it was Ellis Peters and SKP who introduced me to the genre, it's Diana Norman to whom I always return. "Fitzempress' Law" and "King of the Last Days" are great books that still hold up today.

    I'm also fond of her new "Mistress of the Art of Death" series (writing as Ariana Franklin), as well as her 18th century Makepeace Hedley books.

  23. I am also a great fan of Diana Norman's novels (and her alter-ego Ariana Franklin). She has yet to disappoint!

  24. Necro'ing this post because it's a great one! I'm a gigantic SKP fan. Stumbled across this page looking for my next historical fix, as I just finished re-reading the Welsh trilogy (for the 3rd time) to satisfy my craving after devouring A King's Ransom. I've read many other authors, but I loved that Elizabeth C mentioned Dorothy Dunnett. I had the same experience when I read King Hereafter (amazing story that argues Thorfinn Sigurdsson actually was MacBeth). It was difficult to penetrate the prose but very rewarding once I did, though I need to re-read it someday as I feel I missed a lot.

    I also wanted to mention The Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough, even though it's not medieval historical fiction. Amazing series of 7 books dealing with Julius Caesar and the fall of the roman republic. I only wish she could keep going into the Augustinian period but sadly, I read that Ms. McCullough's eyesight is failing her, forcing her to retire. Another series that I've read multiple times!