Monday, June 13, 2016

Book review of Isabella of Angouleme by Erica Laine

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Isabella of Angoulême

Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: October 2015
Publisher:  SilverWood Books

Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France are struggling over territory as the powerful Angevins threaten the French king. In regions far from Paris local fiefdoms disregard all authority.
The Tangled Queen is the story of the little known and very young Isabella of Angoulême who was abducted by King John in 1200. She became his second wife and queen consort, aged 12. He was the most reviled king in English history and his lust for her led to the loss of Normandy and the destruction of the Plantagenet Empire, which then brought about the Magna Carta.
Isabella came of age in England, but was denied her place in court. Her story is full of thwarted ambition, passion, pride and cruelty. She longed for power of her own and returned to France after the death of John to live a life of treachery and intrigue…

An excerpt from Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 1 can be found at the end of this post.

This novel is set in the early 1200’s when power, corruption and the need to marry well, to ensure the continued allegiances between powerful and corrupt families, were commonplace. It was not unusual for brides to be children, often promised to much older men from a very young age. Isabella was one such bride, promised to Hugh Le Brun, Count of Lusignan, and she was sent with her maid to live with the Lusignan family and await her marriage. Here she met the notorious King John, who wanted her for his bride and her father, being more concerned with the family name than his daughter, helped to abduct her and had no qualms at marrying her and sending her off to England at 12 years of age. The demands made on her by her husband meant her life, as Queen of England was often lonely, frustrating and difficult. She provided John with five children before his death in 1216, when she had little option than to return to France as Countess of Angoulême.

Despite never having heard of Isabella, I was intrigued by this book as not only is Angoulême about half an hour from where I live, but a recent holiday to Le Mans had sown a seed of interest in the Plantagenet history period and I was keen to learn more about the this royal family, whose kingdoms crossed borders between England and France for many generations.

Many places mentioned in England were recognisable to me from my childhood and I even remembered learning about some of the events that appeared in the book, like the signing of the Magna Carta in Runneymede. I have also visited many of the places mentioned in France (usually on my bike rather than on horseback like in the book), including Angoulême, Lusignan in the Vienne and L’Abbaye de l’Epau in Le Mans. They all played their part in Isabella’s story and this book helped me to piece together the shared English and French history. Having only recently become interested in this period, I was a little concerned that I might find it to be too much like a school history lesson, but I need not have worried as from the beginning Erica easily kept my interest by adding personality to the characters while retaining the historical facts.

As a British immigrant holding court in France (well I’m on the village council) at a time when Europe is going through turbulent times, this book has made me realise this is nothing new; similar problems have been happening for centuries and will likely continue to do so.

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Erica Laine
I was born in 1943 in Southampton and originally studied for the theatre. I moved with my family to Hong Kong in 1977 and worked and lived there for 20 years, writing English language textbooks for Chinese primary schools and managing large educational projects for the British Council.
Since living in S W France I have been very involved with a local history society and have researched many topics, the history of gardens and fashion being favourites.
Isabella of Angoulême began in 2011 at a writing workshop run by Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor. The story of this young queen was fascinating and although she appears as a character in some other historical novels I wanted to concentrate on her entire life and her importance to the English and the French and the role she played in the politics of power. Part Two is being written now and my head is more or less permanently in the thirteenth century.

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Brook Cottage Blog Tour Isabella of Angoulême

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Isabella smiled and yawned – it was time these chattering girls left. She dismissed them, haughty and impatient. Away they sped, some calling back to Isabella, jokes and remarks full of innuendo for her future. She frowned; this was not the way to treat a future queen.
‘Agnes, help prepare me for bed.’
Agnes closed the chamber door, unlacing the back of Isabella’s dress, folding the glorious red and gold silk into the large chest. Tomorrow Isabella would wear the blue gown, the splendid blue and silver fabric showing wealth and also loyalty. If red and gold had shown the power and wealth of the Taillefers, then the blue would mark their obedience and fealty.
Early the next morning Agnes was busy preparing a scented bath. Precious rose oil, drop by drop, turned the hot water cloudy. And then she was busy mixing the rosemary wash for Isabella’s hair. She would wear her hair loose today, and her small gold guirland.
Isabella woke up and saw Agnes looking at her, long and thoughtful, ready to make her stir, but she was already throwing back the covers and standing and stretching. Agnes nodded and together they moved to the bath, and Isabella slipped into the milky, perfumed water and rubbed the rosemary wash into her hair. She felt the water running down her back and shivered. Then she was being briskly dried by Agnes, who was determined to treat Isabella to the most thorough of preparations.
Her mother Alice entered the room and the three of them unfolded the wedding gown and dressed Isabella. Her chemise was soft and light, the dress heavy and cumbersome. Arranged within it, held within it as if caged, her face pale but proud, she moved to the window and looked down onto a courtyard full of people, horses, carts and wagons. A procession was moving through the crowd, with a stately canon and an even more stately bishop in the centre. The clergy were intent on their walk to the cathedral. Isabella clutched Agnes in a sudden fear. Then she rested her head on the window and took a deep breath. It was her wedding day.

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