Georgette Heyer’s second Medieval novel is The Conqueror. However, unlike her first Medieval, Simon the Coldheart, this story is not about a fictional character. It is about a real character from history, William, Duke of Normandy, the only man ever to conquer Britain. Today, romance author, Regan Walker, gives us some insights into this historical novel which is populated with a host of real characters from Medieval European history. Though Regan finds the romance between the main characters sadly lacking, she does share with us that a pair of secondary characters do find true love in this book. Do you prefer historical novels populated only with fictional characters, or do you like a few real historical figures thrown into the mix?
All are welcome to post their views on this novel, or historical romance in general, in comments to this article.
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Despite it’s subtitle (A Novel of William the Conqueror The Bastard Son Who Overpowered a Kingdom and the Woman who Melted His Heart), sadly for us romance lovers, there is very little in this novel by Heyer relating to the relationship between William and his wife Matilda. Though there is a chapter devoted to his determined "conquering" of her (including his beating of her when at first she refused to marry him), it’s not a love story nor a romance.
The story begins in 1028 with William’s birth and continues to his coronation Christmas Day 1066, though most of the book is taken up with the battles for and around Normandy prior to the Conquest.
William is portrayed as a hard man, molded by his dubious beginnings, his relentless determination to have his will carried out and his ambition for the crown of England (ostensibly to secure Normandy’s future). Heyer depicts him (accurately, I believe) as a brilliant strategist in war and exceedingly cruel when it served his purposes. He valued courage and loyalty. In this story, William says that Harold Godwinson is the only man he respects. But, per the legends which Heyer ably captures, that didn’t stop William from using Harold, forcing him to give an oath of fealty (or face a gilded imprisonment in Normandy), the breaking of which he used against Harold to secure the Pope’s backing for the planned invasion of England.
Heyer does a good job of showing how William the Conqueror served his own needs. Any good he did for others was motivated by what it could gain him. Perhaps that is what it took to gain a country like England, but Heyer suggests there was something lost in the man for the effort, as echoed in the reservations uttered by the men who served him. For that, Heyer deserves full marks at bringing to life the real man.
The history presented is interesting and entertaining, though I felt like I needed a dictionary, a map of France in the 1050s and 60s and a notepad for all the names and places thrown at me, particularly when so many men around William had the same first name. (Not that Heyer could do anything about that!) Such things made it difficult at times to understand just what was going on or who the men were behind all those names.
In large part (perhaps the best part), this is the story of a friendship between one of William’s closest knights, Raoul de Harcourt, and a Saxon named Edgar, who held lands under Harold Godwinson, and who was the hostage of William, Duke of Normandy.
If there is a romance here, it’s the love story between Raoul and Edgar’s sister, Elfrida, and that is a good one!
Regan Walker is a #1 bestselling, award-winning author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romance novels. She has been a featured author on USA TODAY’s HEA blog three times and twice nominated for the prestigious RONE award (her novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize, won the RONE for Best Historical Novel in the medieval category in 2015).
Regan writes historically authentic novels, weaving into her stories real history and real historic figures. She wants her readers to experience history, adventure and love. Her most recent release, Rogue Knight, the second in her Medieval Warriors series, is set just three years after Duke William of Normandy conquered Britain.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, who she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
Connect with Regan online at:
Twitter: @RegansReview (https://twitter.com/RegansReview)