A.D. 1062. The Holy Roman Emperor is dead, and his underage son, snatched from his mother, is a puppet in the hands of regents. The fate of the empire lies in the hands of three women. Surprisingly, the Church takes their side, but Rome’s support has a price. Countess Matilde refuses to be a pawn in the marriage game. Is she the child of Charlemagne’s prophecy?
The youths of Matilda of Tuscany and Henry of Germany are reimagined in this novel of female and male power, love, betrayal, and survival. A blend of fact and fiction, Lotharingia is a sweeping tapestry of abbeys and castles, relics and prophecies, saintly hermits, scheming cardinals and princes, and some incredible medieval women who dared to dream the impossible: to rule in a man's world.
AD 1062. During the High Middle Ages, Countess Matilde of Tuscany is one of the most powerful women in all of Christendom. A descendant of the legendary Charlemagne, she is an heiress who stands to inherit vast lands. She lives in a world where strictures are placed upon women, including those who wield great power. While she is powerful, she must rule with a man by her side. Enter Gottfried, Duke of Lower Lotharingia. He is a beastly brute of a man, and Matilde cannot bear the idea of marrying the monster. After they marry, the marriage quickly turns abusive, and Gottfried breaks the non-consummation clause of their contract. She seeks asylum at the court of King Heinrich of Germany, where love eventually develops between the two.
This book can be likened to a masterfully woven tapestry, since it tells such a captivating story. The characters, of which there are many, are like the different colored threads that come together to create a compelling work. The result? Lara Byrne’s book is engrossing. While it does start off a bit slow, once I reached a certain point I had to know what would happen next. In Matilde we have an unconventional and strong heroine who faces such horrible circumstances but rises above them. With Heinrich, we have a young king who has just come into his own power and confidence. It is apparent that Byrne must have done an extensive amount of research. She writes beautifully and brings the politically unstable world of 11th-century Europe to life.
Set throughout Europe in early Medieval times, Lotharingia expertly weaves the political intrigue, scheming, and religious manoeuvring of the age with a compelling love story that has the potential to change the course of history…
Lotharingia is a first-rate historical fiction. The sheer scale of the research to produce what is an excellent and completely immersive reconstruction of a historical period is absolutely staggering. It really has been meticulously recreated from the smallest of details to the big set-pieces. Ms. Byrne is not just writing about the 11th century but seems to be writing from within it.
The fictional story Ms Byrne has melded with the facts is just as absorbing and utterly convincing. The relationship between Matilde and Heinrich is beautifully realised, twisting and turning with the depth of their emotions, and subtly infused with the vibration of sexual tension without being gratuitous.
Matilde and Heinrich’s personalities are written with thoughtful intent, consideration, and dimension. Both can be amusing and infuriating in equal measure. Ms Byrne has really made them come alive without simply adding a few tokenistic details and they also feel very contemporary. Matilde, especially, is more than capable of carrying this novel, and further instalments.
All of the supporting characters are wonderfully authentic and the dialogue is commanding but never stagey. Adalbert was a standout and his last scene with Heinrich was incredibly moving. Godefroy was suitably villainous without becoming pantomimic, and the dynamic between Margravine Beatrice and Agnes was supremely interesting and quietly powerful.
From the beginning, the reader is plunged straight into the swirling politics and conspiracies. There is a large cast to wrestle with, but there is a helpful glossary at the beginning of the novel to add familiarisation, and a more expanded version at the end which is a considerate aid to reader consolidation.
The plot has a number of side angles, all of which have relevance in some form to the main thrust of the narrative. The book is written in third person but from multiple perspectives and this really helps the reader become fully involved, and also adds a brushstroke of foreshadowing and dramatic irony for the reader which is crucial in a historical fiction work of this magnitude. However, the richly detailed, descriptive imagery ensures that the religious and political machinations never become too dry or dense and I liked the touch of the supernatural with Beatrice’s reliquary and portents.
The novel is well-paced and never loses momentum helped by the relative short chapter structure and the switch between various events and characters. As the situation between Matilde and Heinrich gathers pace, the story is truly gripping, simmering with nail-biting suspense and charged with foreboding.
Lotharingia is a real treat for fans of the genre. Highly recommended.