To Defy a King, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


From acclaimed novelist Elizabeth Chadwick comes a story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.

The privileged daughter of one of the most powerful men in England, Mahelt Marshal's life changes dramatically when her father is suspected of treachery by King John.

Her brothers become hostages and Mahelt is married to Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk.

Adapting to her new life is hard, but Mahelt comes to love Hugh deeply; however, defying her father-in-law brings disgrace and heartbreak. When King John sets out to subdue the Bigods, Mahelt faces a heartbreaking battle, fearing neither she, nor her marriage, is likely to survive the outcome ...Winner of the RNA Historical Novel Award 2011, TO DEFY A KING is magnificent in scope and detail, with characters that leap off the page - this is historical fiction at its finest.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 560 pages, Illustrations, maps
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9780751541335



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This is effectively the fourth in the quartet of novels the author has written about the dominant Marshal family in Angevin England. The leading figure here is William Marshal's eldest daughter, Mahelt (who was later in life the only surviving Marshal of her generation and was appointed hereditary Marshal of England after the deaths without heirs of all five of her brothers - surely a unique role in the period for a non-royal female). The thrust of the novel is the clash between love and duty towards family on the one hand; and loyalty and honour towards one's seigneur or King on the other, during the troubled times of King John after the loss of Normandy (when Christ and His Saints, if not actually sleeping, were certainly dozing in a rather relaxed state). The story is as colourful a page turner as all Ms Chadwick's novels are, though I was somewhat less keen on this than the William Marshal novels, and I found Mahelt's relentlessly headstrong nature and constant stubborn refusal to compromise on any issue of any nature a bit irritating at times. Hugh and Roger Bigod came across very well, especially the former, while William Marshal very much took a back seat here and was hardly in it, despite being the mainstay of support for King John. John is certainly depicted here as without a single redeeming feature (except perhaps a love of books); and indeed his ability to alienate so many barons to the point where they fought for the French dauphin Louis as their preferred alternative monarch could have radically altered the course of English history, had not John died unexpectedly at the age of 49 in 1216 and prompted most of those barons to reassess their position and declare loyalty to the boy king Henry III and William Marshal as his guardian. In sum, despite minor reservations, this was as engaging a read as ever. 4/5

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