1315. England is in the grip of the Great Famine. Torrential rains have fallen through all of 1314 and show no signs of abatement. The common people are on the brink of starvation. Crops rotted in the fields, animals perished and what little food was available, is priced beyond their reach. It is a life of desperation beyond belief.
Elizabeth Ashwell’s historical fiction novel An Honourable Estate is set in the County of Lancaster, Wigan Parish, in the North of England. Mabel de Haigh holds the manor house of Haigh through hereditary rights and resides there with her husband, William Bradshaigh. Theirs is a deep love of 25 years.
The Earl of Lancaster is the feudal lord of Wigan and his minion, Robert Holland, is punctual with collection of dues owing to His Lord, the Earl. Neither Mabel and William nor the villagers have money or trade in kind to pay the dues and still survive.
William intensely dislikes the Earl of Lancaster for his brutal execution of Piers Gaveston, beloved friend of Edward II, which he witnessed during his 4 years Knight’s compulsory service under Lancaster.
Edward II and the Earl of Lancaster are at considerable odds prior to the execution of Gaveston; the Earl (cousin to Edward II) believing he had entitlement to the Throne of England. The execution of Gaveston firmly entrenches the enmity.
William decides, against Mabel’s misgivings, to join his friend Adam Banastre in rebellion against the Earl and Robert Holland. It is a lost battle. William is branded a rebel and traitor. Further misfortune falls upon him when he is declared an outlaw for failing to attend a murder hearing. William is doomed to forever hiding in forests or his life is forfeit.
Mabel refuses to believe her husband is dead.
“Until I see his body I will not believe that he is dead,” Mabel told him [Sir Edward Neville] defiantly.
There is worse to come when Neville pays Mabel a visit to inform her:
“The lands are forfeit on William Bradshaw being declared an outlaw.”
“For a year and a day?”
“Yes, my lady. That is correct.”
An Honourable Estate is the story of a woman’s courage to do whatever she must to retain a home for her children and protection for her villagers. It’s also a tale of faith. Faith in God and faith her husband lives though she hears no news of him. But time marches on. Mabel has to make a choice of the lesser of the evils.
An Honourable Estate is written from 2 points-of-view: Mabel and William.
We follow William as he struggles to remain alive, yet provides compassionate care for those attacked by Scots, who are also starving. His anguish that he cannot contact Mabel haunts him. William has one slight chance, if he plays his cards right, to redeem himself with Edward II.
I truly enjoyed An Honourable Estate. Ashworth aptly portrayed the political times and the devastating effects of the Great Famine. Her writing provides depth, but flows smoothly. The prologue in An Honourable Estate immediately draws you into the story. Many times novels contain prologues because it “is the fashion”. This prologue has a purpose.
I recommend An Honourable Estate. Ashworth has written a great historical fiction novel.
My rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)
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