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Book by Sharon Kay Penman When Christ and His Saints Slept
by Sharon Kay Penman

The Henry II Trilogy

Reading Group Guide

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For want of a crown its towns were plundered and torched, its women raped and slaughtered, its men used as fodder for transitory victories.

This was England from 1135 to 1154. For nineteen years two royal rivals -- one intent on retaining his ill-gained crown, the other demanding it as the rightful heir -- waged a violent, bloody war against each other.

In When Christ and His Saints Slept, the newest addition to her highly acclaimed novels of the middle ages, and the first of a trilogy that will tell the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, master storyteller and historian Sharon Kay Penman illuminates one of the less-known but fascinating periods of English history. It begins with the death of King Henry I, son of William the Conqueror and father of Maude, his only living legitimate offspring.

Penman portrays Maude as a strong-willed woman, fearless, incapable of obeisance, determined to wield sovereign power at a time when the primary function of women of royalty, no matter how intelligent or capable, was as dynastic pawns. Having endured two forced marriages, she was intent on seizing control of her destiny and of the crown she claimed was hers by birthright. Still, she was thwarted, not only by men lusting for power but by men fearful of the power of women.

Each side had its brief triumphs, its calamitous losses, its betrayals by seemingly loyal followers. But the greater betrayal was of the country itself, as warring armies cut bloody swaths the length and breadth of England and as first one side and then the other seized advantage, while the people themselves were held hostage, caring little who should wear the crown, yearning only for peace.

Maude and Stephen took center stage during these tumultuous years, but the supporting cast was an equally demanding and often dangerous lot: Geoffrey of Anjou, Maude's despised second husband, unfaithful and unpredictable; the hot-headed Earl of Chester, who swung like a weathercock in a high wind; Stephen's brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, a power broker for both sides and trusted by neither. Of all the high-stakes players, only Robert of Gloucester, Maude's bastard half-brother, emerged with his honor intact and was, perhaps, the only one among them who might have been worthy of the crown.

And then there was Henry, Maude's son and heir. As Stephen and Maude battled each other to a war-weary draw, it was Henry who became the ultimate victor. Intelligent, energetic, groomed from birth for kingship, he wanted two things above all else: the English crown and Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Louis, the French king. And indeed, he won both.

When Christ and His Saints Slept is a meticulously observed chronicle of a period thought of as primitive and barbaric. And yet, in the author's carefully documented re-creation of life and death in the twelfth century -- towns in flames, encircled by enemy armies; innocent people being starved and battered into submission -- we might be reading about blighted arenas of our own time. With verve, intelligence, and high drama, Sharon Kay Penman has bridged a vital link between the centuries.



Reviews:

"The magnificent combination of history and humanity that Penman's readers have come to expect again animates her latest work."
--Publisher's Weekly

"Tirelessly researched . . . this sprawling historical novel demonstrates a keen understanding of its time and place, and renders historical figures in terms of flesh and blood, rather than as cardboard cutouts."
--Booklist


Published April 1995
by Henry Holt and Company
hardcover / $ 
ISBN: 0805010157
ISBN13: 9780805010152

paperback / $18.00
ISBN: 0345396685
ISBN13: 9780345396686
Published by Ballantine Books

 


A King's Ransom

 

 



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Sharon Kay Penman
author of Lionheart, Devil's Brood,
When Christ and His Saints Slept
and Time and Chance
from Penguin Putnam

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