I’m thrilled to welcome the wonderful Elizabeth Chadwick to S. Krishna’s Books! Elizabeth is here to talk about Isabelle de Clare, the leading lady in The Scarlet Lion. A huge thank you to Elizabeth for taking the time to write this for me to share!
Many thanks to S. Krishna for inviting me onto the blog to talk a little about the leading lady in The Scarlet Lion.
The Scarlet Lion is the story of one of the greatest men of the Middle Ages -William Marshal, who went from being an ordinary hearth knight in his youth, to ruler of England in his later years. But is also the story of his wife, Isabelle de Clare, a great woman in her own right.
William’s life has been well-documented in the historical record because soon after his death, his eldest son commissioned a writer to compose the story of his life in verse. As with most writings about people in the 12th and 13th century, the story very much concerns the man and his deeds. There are only fleeting references to Isabelle, but added to other details that are known about her, glimpses do emerge, especially concerning her relationship with William.
Her father was Richard Strongbow, a tough Norman baron who went to Ireland to fight for Isabelle’s grandfather and seek his fortune. He had red hair, freckles and grey eyes, so the chronicles say, and ‘delicate, even feminine features.’ Isabelle’s mother was Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough (Anglicised spelling), King of Leinster in southern Ireland. Aoife is mentioned in one chronicle as being blonde. We know that Isabelle’s daughter also christened Isabelle, had thick, flaxen blonde hair, as it is mentioned by writer Matthew Paris in the thirteenth century. So, it’s probably safe to assume that Isabelle herself had light-coloured hair. King Dermot is described as being very tall, and her father was tall too, thus Isabelle had the genes for height.
Her father died when she was about three years old. She had a younger brother, Richard, but he did not survive childhood, leaving Isabelle the sole heir to Leinster and lands in Wales, England and Normandy. She became a royal ward and probably stayed with her mother for some of that time. However, at some point, King Henry moved her to the Tower of London, to keep her under his safe eye because she was a valuable prize. In 1189, when she would have been 17 at the most, Richard the Lionheart, the new King of England, gave her to his knight William Marshal in marriage.
William was in need of funds and status to boost him up the ladder. Isabelle was of marriageable age and the matter of a master for her lands had to be settled. William was about 42 but still in his full prime. It was a big age gap, but not that unusual for the Middle Ages. It was also a business arrangement. The couple didn’t know each other at all on their wedding day.
What could have been a disaster, turned instead, into a solid, long-lasting relationship of of mutual respect and affection. William called her his ‘Belle Amie’ which roughly equates to dearest love, and he called her this after 30 years of marriage, when he was 72 and she was in her late forties. When he died, the chronicles make it clear that Isabelle was utterly distraught, and she only survived him by a year despite the great age gap.
They had ten children. The first, a honeymoon baby, was born within nine months of their union, the last, a girl, Joanna, came along when they had been married for around 20 years and by which time Isabelle and William were already grandparents.
Isabelle was a loving wife, but not always a doting one. She was prepared to stand up to William and tell him what she thought. When their sons were taken hostage by King John, she had her say against them being taken, and when William forgave some vassals for rebellion, she reprimanded him off for letting them get away too lightly. Unless he was away at war, she was always at his side, and he used her advice in all of his councils and valued her wisdom. ‘Without her, I have nothing,’ he said.
The story of William Marshal and Isabelle de Clare is one of the great unsung true love-matches of the Middle Ages. I only wish I could have been there to see it, and I hope I have done it justice in The Scarlet Lion.
THE SCARLET LION BY ELIZABETH CHADWICK—IN STORES MARCH 2010
A page-turning novel of honor, intrigue, treachery, and love, continuing the story of England’s greatest knight of the Middle Ages, William Marshal. Bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick, “an author who makes historical fiction come gloriously alive” (The Times of London), is known as a writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy.
By 1197 William Marshal’s prowess with a sword and loyalty with his heart have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare—heiress to great estates— and their brood is growing. But their contentment and security is shattered when King Richard dies. Forced down a precarious path by the royal injustices of the vindictive King John, the Marshals teeter on a razor-thin line of honor that threatens to tear apart the very heart of their family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Chadwick (UK) is the author of 17 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, the Winter Mantle, and the Falcons of Montabard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards. She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel. For more information please visit http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/, http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/ and follower her on Twitter http://twitter.com/Chadwickauthor.