The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer has arrived just in time for the holidays. This historical saga of William, Duke of Normandy, who defeated the Saxons in The Battle of Hastings in 1066, is told vividly, accurately, and with mastery by an author who was able to do her research using the rare resources in the London Library.* The story covers William from his infancy until his victory. Although this book is mostly historical, it wouldn’t be a Georgette Heyer novel without some romance. The proud Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, balks at her betrothal to the baseborn William, which sets up an interesting tension:
The Lady Matilda rose slowly to her feet, and made a reverence to her father. Speaking in a cool, very audible voice, and with her hands clasped demurely together, she said, picking her words: “My liege and father, I thank you for your care of me. If it be your will that I should wed again be sure that I know my duty towards you, and will show myself obedient to your commands as befits my honour and yours.” She paused. Watching her close, Raoul saw the smile lift the corners of her mouth, and was prepared for the worst. Veiling her eyes she said: “Yet let me beseech you, beau sire, that you will bestow my hand upon one whose birth can match with mine, and not, for the sake of our honour, permit the blood of a daughter of Flanders to mingle with that of one who is basely descended from a race of burghers.” She ended as coolly as she had begun, and making a second reverence went back to her stool and sat down, looking at her hands.
A stricken silence hung heavily over the company. There were startled looks, and men wondered how the Norman envoys would stomach this insult. Montogoméri flushed, and took a step forward. “Rood of God, is this to be our answer?” he demanded.
Raoul intervened, addressing himself to Count Baldwin. “Lord Count, I dare not take such an answer back to my master,” he said gravely. Surveying the Count’s shocked face he came to the conclusion that the discourteous reply had been prepared without his knowledge. Curbing Montogoméri with a frown, he said: “My lord, I await Flander’s reply to my master’s proposals.”
Count Baldwin availed himself of the loophole gratefully. He rose to his feet, and made the best of a bad business. “Messires,” he said, “Flanders is sensible of honour done her, and if she is obliged to bestow our daughter in marriage on the Duke of Normandy, were it not for the repugnance the Lady Matilda feels towards a second marriage.” So he began, and went on at length, smoothing away the insult. The envoys withdrew, one thoughtful, the other smouldering with indignation. What Count Baldwin said to his daughter is not known, but it is certain he sent for Raoul de Harcourt late that evening and was closeted with him alone for a full hour.
As with Simon the Coldheart, Georgette employs a more old-fashioned writing style for this early era in both language and detail. This makes the book harder to read than her regencies, but also more realistic in tone. She also writes the tale through Raoul de Harcourt’s eyes, a fictional character, so that we never quite get into William’s mind or understand his motives. However, for those who cannot get enough of historical biographies, this newly reissued Georgette Heyer history is a must read! Order the book at Amazon or at Sourcebooks.
Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below
- Our other The Conqueror Review
These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen’s World through mid-December: Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro’s Daughter, and The Conqueror.
*The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge, The Bodley Head, Ltd, London, 1984.