Review: The Reckoning

The Reckoning

The Reckoning (Welsh Princes #3), Sharon K. Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991 (Link is to a different edition).

Summary: Brings to a close the struggles between Wales and England under Edward I, the complicated relationship between brothers Llewellyn and David ab Gruffyd, and tells the story of the women who loved them–a true tale of love and loss.

Last month, I reviewed the second volume of the Welsh Princes Trilogy, Falls the Shadow, which focused on Simon de Montfort and his campaign for the rights of the people with their king. In that book, the ongoing power struggle between the English and the Welsh remains in the background. In The Reckoning, Penman brings the history of conflict between England and Wales to its culmination.

Much of the story is told through the eyes of a young man, Hugh, who becomes squire to Bran de Montfort until his death of tertian fever in Italy, after which he serves Bran’s sister Ellen, who had been betrothed to Llewellyn ab Gruffyd, Prince of Wales, until the death of her father Simon and the family’s flight to France.

Llewellyn has his own troubles. His mercurial brother Davydd has always coveted his power, even while Llewellyn, as did his grandfather, Llewellyn Fawr, understood that only a united Wales could have any hope of standing against English might. It is an odd relationship of brothers strangely drawn to each other, despite Davydd’s betrayals, and alliance for a time with their hated enemy, Edward I, who, with the death of his feeble father, Henry III, is exerting his reign. Davydd marries Edward relation, Elizabeth at Edward’s behest, a relation that blossoms into genuine love.

Meanwhile, Llewellyn, fighting for Wales survival, and without an heir beside his betraying brother Davydd, revives his betrothal to Ellen, Simon and Nell’s daughter. Ellen, her priest brother Amaury, and Hugh take a perilous sea voyage and are seized by “pirates” who are in fact in Edward’s employ, and becomes a bargaining chip in the struggle, In the end, Llewellyn relents, is humbled and pays homage to Edward in return for the chance to marry Ellen.  He continues to hold Amaury to keep Llewellyn on his best behavior. Edward encroaches more and more on what were once Welsh domains and prerogatives, doing what Llewellyn had been unable to do–to unite Wales against the English and under his leadership.

The story reaches a high point at Dolwyddelan in December of 1281. Despite an earlier plot to assassinate Llewellyn, foiled only by a freak storm, Davydd and Llewellyn have drawn close, and the other lords of Wales are ready to follow Llewellyn into rebellion. There is one other wonder, and it is that Ellen is with child–an heir for Llewellyn! Was this what goaded Davydd into initiating the rebellion before Llewellyn was ready?

Edward I is a relentless foe, and the remainder of the story is one of heartbreak that I will leave to the reader. Only the love of the Squire Hugh, and Caitlin, the daughter of Davydd (a fictitious element) survives. Let us just say that it is from this period of time that the heir to the English crown is the Princ(ess) of Wales.

Penman writes a gripping tale of two men, Edward and Llewellyn, who each love a country and idea. Only one could survive. Her characters and their relationships are complex, especially the relationship between Llewellyn and Davydd. So many of these people are related by blood or marriage and we see in Edward especially the tension of love and the ruthless use of power to achieve his ends. She paints a time where love could be passionate, especially in the knowledge that life was fragile and death could come in many guises, and often before one was ready. This is an older series, yet one that I hope remains in print. Penman, over these three volumes, tells the story of the ascent of the English kingship, and what was lost in the process.

My review of Here Be Dragons.

My review of Falls the Shadow.

 

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