To Defy a King

ISBN: 9781402250897

By: Elizabeth Chadwick

Published: 03/08/2011

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“The best writer of medieval fiction.” —Historical Novels Review The adored and spirited daughter of England’s greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls foul of the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered. The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt’s planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected. Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh’s strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple’s lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone, not knowing if she—or her marriage—will survive. A brilliant story of a vibrant woman in a tyrant’s world, To Defy a King is another impeccably researched masterpiece from a beloved author. “I rank Elizabeth Chadwick with such historical novelist stars as Dorothy Dunnett and Anya Seton.” —Sharon Kay Penman, New York Times bestselling author of Devil’s Brood “Brilliantly weaving a strong plotline, historical accuracy, depth of character, and dialogue filled with intelligence and wit...Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the very best of historical fiction authors.” —Passages to the Past “When Elizabeth Chadwick writes about history, you feel like you are there in the thick of it.” —Long and Short Reviews

About the Author

Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick lives near Nottingham with her husband and two sons. She is the author of 17 historical novels, including Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, The Scarlet Lion, The Winter Mantle, and The Falcons of Montebard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Awards.



“It’s not fair!” Ten-year-old Mahelt Marshal scowled at her older brothers who were immersed in a boys’ game involving a pretend raid on an enemy castle. “Why can’t I be a knight?”

“Girls don’t go raiding,” Will answered with the superiority that came from being male, almost fourteen, and heir to the Earldom of Pembroke.

She made a grab for his horse’s reins and he snatched them out of her reach.

“Girls stay at home and embroider and bear children. Only men go to war.”

“Women have to defend the castle when their lords are away,” she pointed out. “Mama does—and you have to obey her.” Tossing her head, she looked at Richard, who was twelve and could sometimes be persuaded to take her part; but, although a broad grin sprawled across his freckled face, he didn’t leap to her defence.

“She has to do our lord father’s bidding when he returns,” Will retorted. “Papa doesn’t send her out with a lance in her hand while he stays at home, does he?”

“I can pretend; it’s all pretend anyway.” Mahelt was determined not to be bettered. “You’re not a man.”

Richard’s grin widened as Will flushed. “Let her defend the castle,” he said. “She might have to do it one day when she’s married.”

Will rolled his eyes, but gave in. “All right, but she’s not a knight, and she’s not riding Equus.”

“Of course not.”

“And she can be the French. We’re the English.”

“That’s not fair!” Mahelt protested again.

“Don’t play then,” Will said indifferently.

She shot her brothers a fulminating look. She wanted to ride Will’s new mount because it was a proper, big, glossy horse, not a pony. She wanted to jump him over hedges as Will did and see how fast she could make him gallop. She wanted to feel the wind in her hair. Will had called him Equus, which he said was the Latin name the scribes wrote meaning “warhorse.” Richard’s docile grey wasn’t the same challenge, and she had almost outgrown her own dumpy little chestnut, which was stabled up with a leg strain. She knew she could ride as well as either of her brothers.

Heaving a sigh, she stumped off with bad grace to defend the “castle,” which for the purposes of the game was the kennelkeeper’s hut. Here were stored the collars and leashes for the hounds, old blankets, hunting horns, various tools, baskets, and bowls. A shelf at Mahelt’s eye level held chubby earthenware pots of salve for treating canine injuries. Mahelt took one down, removed the lid of plaited straw, and immediately recoiled from the vile stench of rancid goose grease.

“Ready?” she heard Richard shout.

Her left arm crooked around the pot, Mahelt emerged from the shed and, with a resolute jaw, faced the youths, who were fretting their mounts. Both boys bore makeshift lances fashioned from ash staves, and gripped their practice shields at the ready.

Uttering simultaneous yells, the brothers charged. Knowing they expected her to lose her courage and dash back inside the shed, Mahelt stood her ground. She scooped up a handful of grease, feeling it cold and squidgy-soft between her fingers, and lobbed it at the oncoming horses. Will ducked behind his shield, which took the first impact, but Mahelt’s next dollop struck him over the rawhide rim, splattering his cloak and the side of his neck. Another scoop burst on the shoulder of Richard’s grey. His efforts to control his shying mount left him exposed and her fourth handful landed a direct hit to his face.

“Hah! You’re both dead!” She leaped gleefully up and down.

“I win, I win!” Triumph burned in her solar plexus. That was showing them.

Will was off his horse like lightning. Mahelt shrieked and tried to run inside the shed, but he was too fast and caught her arm. She spun round in his grip and struck his chest with her salve-covered hand, smearing his cloak with rancid grease.

“It’s dishonourable to hit a lady!” she cried as he raised a threatening fist.

Will looked at his bunched knuckles and, lowering his arm, gave her a disgusted shove instead. “Look what you’ve done to my cloak! I pity whoever gets you to wife. You’re a hoyden.” Mahelt raised her chin, determined not to show remorse or be browbeaten. “But I still won,” she said. “Against both of you.”

“Will, leave her,” Richard said with exasperation, wiping his face. “Let’s go. There are better places to practise. We’d get more hurled at us in a real battle than handfuls of old grease.”

With a final glare, Will flung round and remounted Equus. “It looks as if you’ve lost after all,” he said as he gathered his reins.

Through a blur of angry tears she watched her brothers ride away. Raising her hand to wipe her eyes, she found the stink of the salve on her fingers suddenly unbearable. She was cold, hungry, and empty. Her victory was a hollow one and she was going to be in trouble for wasting the hound-keeper’s salve and dirtying her brothers’ clothes. She returned the pot to its shelf and closed the shed door. When she turned round, she jumped, because Godfrey, her father’s under-chamberlain, was standing behind her. “Your parents are seeking you, young mistress.” He wrinkled his nose. “God’s eyes, what have you been doing?”

“Nothing.” She gave him an imperious look to cloak her guilt. “Defending the castle.”

Godfrey said nothing, but his gaze was eloquent.

“What do they want?” Facing both parents at once was generally reserved for serious misdemeanours. Her mother had eyes in the back of her head, but surely she couldn’t know about the grease-throwing yet and Mahelt couldn’t think of anything else she had done recently to warrant such a command.

“I do not know, young mistress. Your lady mother just said to fetch you.”

Decidedly on her guard, Mahelt followed him to the solar, pausing on the way to sluice her hands in the trough and wipe them on a net of hay tied to the stable wall.

Her mother and father were sitting before the hearth in their private chamber, and she saw a glance flicker between them as she entered. She could sense an atmosphere, but it wasn’t angry. Gilbert and Walter, her two younger brothers, were playing a dice game on the floor and a nurse was attending to her little sisters, Belle aged four, and two-year-old Sybire.

Her mother patted the bench and Mahelt came to sit in the space her parents had made for her between them. The fire embraced her with warmth. The hangings were drawn across the window shutters and the mellow glow from numerous beeswax candles made the room feel cosy and welcoming. Her mother smelled wonderfully of roses and the arm she slipped around Mahelt to cuddle her was tender and maternal. Mahelt decided her brothers were welcome to their silly game. Parental attention was better, especially if she wasn’t in trouble. She thought it odd that her father was holding her floppy cloth doll in his big hands and looking at it in a pensive manner. Seeing her watching him, he put it down and smiled, but his eyes were serious.

“You remember a few weeks ago, the Christmas court at Canterbury?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes, Papa.” It had been lovely—all the feasting and dancing and celebration. She had felt so grown up, being allowed to mingle with the adults. She had been wary of King John because she knew her mother disliked him, but she thought the jewels he wore around his neck were magnificent. Sapphires and rubies, so her cousin Ela had said, all the way from Sarandib.

“You remember Hugh Bigod?”

“Yes, Papa.” The heat from the fire was suddenly hot on her face. She picked up her doll and began fussing with it herself. Hugh was grown up, but he had partnered her in a circle dance, clasping her hand and winding her through the chain. Later he had organised games of hoodman blind and hunt the slipper for the younger ones, joining in himself with great enthusiasm. He had a rich singing voice and a smile that made her stomach flutter, although she didn’t know why. One day he would be Earl of Norfolk.


“Characters you care about. Or loathe. Atmosphere so pungent you can almost smell it. And juicy chunks of violent medieval history you can enjoy in the climate-controlled safety of your ...

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Format: Paperback

Length: 8 in
Width: 5.25 in
Weight: 19.52 oz
Page Count: 544 pages


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