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Review: The Founding, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

As a poor orphan, Eleanor Courteney figured that she was safe from marriage and would be spending the rest of her life with her friend Belle in the home of the earl of Somerset.  Lord Edmund has bigger plans for her, though, and sends her off to be wed to Robert Morland, the son of a wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmer.  At first deeply unhappy with her father-in-law and new husband, Eleanor soon starts to appreciate her husband and assert her own independence and influence over her household.  When her father-in-law dies, Eleanor virtually takes his place as head of the family.  This family witnesses the events of the close of the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, and Bosworth Field, always on the side of the Yorkists.

The Morland Dynasty is a huge, huge series of books that is still not finished.  Each volume covers a bunch of years in the family’s life and I’m pretty sure they each have a separate story and don’t leave us with cliffhangers.  Or so I hope!  Anyway, as you all know, I’m a fifteenth century England nerd.  I have pretty strong opinions on the history here.  This book, for anyone who is interested, is really a romantic image of Yorkist England.  I was particularly amused by the constant emphasis on Richard, duke of York as a soldier.  Every noble was supposed to be a soldier.  Obviously not everyone was inclined to enjoy martial pursuits but they were supposed to and made an effort to appear soldierly, except maybe Henry VI.  This doesn’t make Richard special.  Also, some outdated history; there’s no chance that the princes in the tower actually made it to Yorkshire, much less were killed by Henry VII.  It’s tremendously unlikely that no one anywhere would have reported their existence in those two years.  The author provided an author’s note in the front of the book with her bibliography list, so I do know just how outdated that history is – I have read every single one of the books in question!  I give her a ton of credit for doing that research, though, and I don’t want to take that away.  It’s just that a lot has changed in the past 30 years.

Okay, on to the book itself.  The prose reminds me of books I used to read when I was a kid, which might make sense because it was written in the 80s.  It has that idealized feel which makes me realize why everyone wants to live in the past.  It’s just lovely in this book.  Even though there are battles and people die in horrific ways, everyone moves on fairly quickly and continues with their happy, usually long  lives.  It’s a nice story, a saga through years of turmoil that still manages to make it all sound rosy.  I don’t know how Harrod-Eagles manages that, but she certainly does.  To be honest, I like it.  It didn’t really bug me that the history was old because this doesn’t really feel like the Middle Ages I know; it’s an idealized period that never actually existed.

I liked the characters, too.  Eleanor is a strong, independent woman.  It’s also interesting to see how she goes from young, impressionable girl to strong, old-fashioned grandmother and head of the family.  I like how the affection between her and her husband grows very slowly over time.  I think it’s a nice example of what might actually happen in arranged marriages.  There are, of course, bad examples of that in this book too, but the initial Morland marriage is the foundation of the entire dynasty.  

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series.  Maybe this isn’t great, thoughtful reading, but I found it to be very enjoyable.  I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction in particular.

This book is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

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