Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Time and Chance - Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Becket

I love historical fiction and Sharon Kay Penman is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her books are well-written, her characters interesting and three-dimensional but of their time not ours, and she is a first rate storyteller.

I just finished Time and Chance, the second in her series about the early centuries of the last millenium, and it picks up just where its predecessor, When Christ and His Angels Slept, left off. Henry II of England and Eleanor of Acquitance are the 12th century power couple--passionately in love, soulmates and astute leaders, strong willed, intelligent, and attractive.  They also have lots of children--heirs and spares as well as daughters to marry off advantageously

Time and Chance tells the story of their estrangement--it describes how this well-matched couple started along the path that took them  to the point where they end up at each other's throats.  The fly in the ointment, or perhaps the poison in the well, is none other than Thomas Becket.  He was Henry's closest friend and confident, hunting companion and man about town. And then Henry decided to make him Archbishop of Canterbury, against Eleanor's wise counsel, and Becket became Henry's greatest enemy, causing him years of strife and anguish, trouble and anxiety.

Penman does a wonderful job of leaving the personality and motivation for Becket's about-face ambiguous.  She implies a jealous ambition, a mental instability, and a personality disorder, but we never get inside Becket's mind to know what is going on there.  We only see how his actions and sanctimonious approach to his job undercut Henry's peace of mind, which leads to his seeking solace with the fair Rosamond, and the destruction of his relationship with Eleanor.

I absolutely loved Time and Chance, not just the main story line, but also the wonderfully rich cast of other characters.  I loved hearing the further adventures of Ranulf, the bastard son of Henry I, half-brother of Maud, Henry II's mother, whose allegiances are divided between his loyalty to his English (and Angevine) nephew and his mother's Welsh family.  I also enjoyed reading about the Welsh king and his extended feuding family. Having a lot of sons doesn't necessarily make for a happy home in the 12th century, which is really the subject of the next book in the series, Devil's Brood, which details the further disintegration of Henry II's family as Eleanor and their sons plot against the king.

I think this series would make a fantastic mini-series, along the lines of The White Queen.  Of course, it's hard to imagine a better Eleanor than Katherine Hepburn, but I'm sure there's an actress out there who could prove me wrong.


  1. This is such an interesting period in history.

    Your description of Becket in this book reminds me of Shakespeare's Iago.

    Before I read a book like this I would want to Brush up in the actual history.

  2. This sounds like a book I need to read - I love Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I know I need to read more Sharon Kay Penman. I always read such good reviews about her work.

  3. I had not known of this author but I looked her up on wikipedia. Wow! She sounds like a great find. I might try out one of her mysteries first. Thx for the review! Have you read her mysteries?

    1. I've read one of the Justin de Quincy mysteries, The King's Man, but it was so long ago, I really need to reread it.

  4. This sounds great. I love well written historical fiction. And I agree, this would make a great mini-series. I have seen The Lion in Winter and it is great, but TV allows for so much more detail which makes historical dramas all the more richer, I think!