This is one of Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier books, and it’s quite thin – both physically and otherwise 🙂 – compared with her later books, but it’s still quite interesting and entertaining. It’s set in the late 1130s and early 1140s, during the period of the Anarchy, when Stephen and Matilda were battling for the throne; and most of it’s set in England, partly at Stephen’s court, partly on the battlefield, and partly at the main character Renard and his wife Elene’s estates on the Anglo-Welsh border. The focus is largely on the fictional characters and their lives, although real historical characters feature prominently as well.
The part that got me thinking, though, was the early section of the book, which showed Renard, before he was summoned home due to his father’s ill-health, as a soldier in the Crusader Principality of Antioch, then ruled by Raymond of Poitiers (perhaps best known as the half-uncle and alleged lover of Eleanor of Aquitaine, although Renard’s time there was a decade or so before Eleanor’s visit). The part of the world covered by the principality is now partly in Syria and partly in Turkey, border area which didn’t rank very highly in terms of global attention when this book was first published, in 1992, but is now, sadly, somewhere which we hear about every day. The city of Antioch itself is now the Turkish city of Antakya, a popular holiday destination … just 25 miles or so from the Syrian border and currently struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees.
The chapters about Renard in Antioch were mostly about his relationship with an exotic dancer, not about the complex history and demographics of the area; but then the book wasn’t supposed to be about the Middle East: it just got me thinking about what a messy, complex history the area has. The war between Stephen and Matilda, the Anarchy, the time “when Christ and his saints slept”, was settled in the end, but it lasted the best part of 20 years. All right, 12th century warfare can hardly be compared with 21st century warfare, but civil wars do tend to drag on and on. Let’s hope that something can be sorted out in Syria before long … and what was supposed to be a review of a decent if not brilliant book about medieval England has now got very depressing and completely off the point, so I’ll shut up now! End of review!