To Defy a King

To Defy a King

4.1 196
by Elizabeth Chadwick

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An action-packed medieval novel from a USA Today bestselling author

Named the Historical Novel of the Year by the Romantic Novelist's Association in 2011, To Defy is King is a riveting novel of family loyalty and betrayal, featuring the daughter of William Marshal-one of Chadwick, and history's, most beloved characters.



An action-packed medieval novel from a USA Today bestselling author

Named the Historical Novel of the Year by the Romantic Novelist's Association in 2011, To Defy is King is a riveting novel of family loyalty and betrayal, featuring the daughter of William Marshal-one of Chadwick, and history's, most beloved characters.

The spirited daughter of England's greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal, lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls out with the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered.

The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt's planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected.

Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh's strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple's lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone. Caught between the family she was born in and the family she married into, Mahelt is uncertain if she-or her marriage-will survive.

Written with vivid detail and great historical accuracy, To Defy a King is an immersive historical novel of Medieval England. Fans of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Sharon Kay Penman, and Bernard Cornwall will take pleasure in this well-crafted story of a vibrant, noble woman in a tyrant's world.

More Medieval Historical Fiction Titles from Elizabeth Chadwick:
Lady of the English
- A medieval battle of the sexes
The Greatest Knight-the seldom told story of the Greatest Knight of the Middle Ages
The Summer Queen —a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

What readers are saying about To Defy a King

"This is truly historical fiction at its finest."

"An enthralling historical fiction novel with superb characters and a remarkable story."

"I cried and laughed and could not stop reading, which is the formula for a five star novel for me!"

What reviewers are saying about To Defy a King

"...juicy chunks of violent medieval history you can enjoy in the climate-controlled safety of your own home." -USA Today

"The characters are wonderful — fleshed out, individual, not stereotypical and graceful. The blend of action scenes and emotional scenes are well balanced."-The Maiden's Court

"Not only will you feel as though you are really in the story, but you will gasp in shock, smile, chuckle here and there, and at one point, shed a tear or two."-Book Babe

What people are saying about bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick

"A star back in Britain, Elizabeth Chadwick is finally getting the attention she deserves here." — USA Today

"Elizabeth Chadwick is to Medieval England what Philippa Gregory is to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and Bernard Cornwall to the Dark Ages."-Books Monthly, UK

"The best writer of medieval fiction currently around." -Historical Novels Review

"Chadwick is an icon for the historical fiction community for her ability to create a believable and passionate story based around major events of the era."-The Burton Review

"Breathing life into historical personages is hallmark Chadwick."-RT Book Reviews

"Picking up an Elizabeth Chadwick novel is like having a Bentley draw up at your door: you know you are in for a sumptuous ride." —Daily Telegraph

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A majestic High Middle Ages series continues in Chadwick's latest (after For the King's Favor) as Mahelt "Matty" Marshal, the daughter of legendary British knight William Marshal, becomes a bride at 14. Though the marriage, to Hugh Bigod, future earl of Norfolk, is arranged, Matty is open to it and embraces the passion that eventually comes. She bears Bigod four children and enjoys a peaceful life until tyrannical King John takes her paternal family hostage, first her brother Will, heir to the earldom of Pembroke, then her brother Richard, and finally her father, who has openly opposed the king's greed and land-grabbing. Matty's determination to save her father and brothers while also standing by her husband and keeping her new family safe creates both conflict and, ultimately, joyous rewards in a well-told saga filled with just the right amount of exacting period detail. Both longtime fans and readers new to Chadwick's series will be thrilled. (Mar.)
RT Book Reviews
It is no surprise that Chadwick is one of the most respected authors of medieval historical novels. 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick of the Month
Chadwick again captures the inherent complexity of medieval alliances and rivalries in this irresistibly readable historical romance featuring a willful and wily heroine ensnared in a particularly thorny political hornet's nest. Chadwick's characters step directly off the pages of history into this fresh fictional reimagining of a perilous time and place.
From the Publisher
"It is no surprise that Chadwick is one of the most respected authors of medieval historical novels. 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick of the Month " - RT Book Reviews

"Chadwick again captures the inherent complexity of medieval alliances and rivalries in this irresistibly readable historical romance featuring a willful and wily heroine ensnared in a particularly thorny political hornet's nest. Chadwick's characters step directly off the pages of history into this fresh fictional reimagining of a perilous time and place." - Booklist

"Ms. Chadwick has a way of telling her stories that pulls me from my current surroundings and submerges me in the place of her tale. Her eye for detail AND storytelling is so good that you forget where and almost who you are and just join the characters in the book." - The Broken Teepee

"I highly recommend reading To Defy A King, and for that matter all of Ms. Chadwick's books. They are really a true treat to read. I found I tucked myself into bed quite early at night just so I could read their story for hours and hours." - History Undressed

"Ms. Chadwick's reputation precedes her, but her actual writing exceeds her reputation by a mile. I was really taken by the ease with which Elizabeth writes about history.There wasn't a dull moment in this book." - Reading Extravaganza

"After reading four of Elizabeth Chadwick's books I don't think that there is anything she can do wrong in writing this genre. The characters are wonderful — fleshed out, individual, not stereotypical and graceful. The blend of action scenes and emotional scenes are well balanced. You come away from each of these books wanting more!" - The Maiden's Court

"One of my favourite medieval authors, the super talented Ms. Chadwick, is at it again with her latest offering, To Defy a King. I always marvel at how easily she seems to bring these characters to life all the while helping her 21st century readers understand and appreciate times from long ago." - Book Drunkard

"4/5 Excellent! This vivid and engrossing tale of a noble daughter's life will draw you in, so set aside a few hours for the reading!" - drey's library

"You know you can't go wrong with Elizabeth Chadwick's writing, as she has gained fans around the world. I doubt anyone bothers reading this review because of the fact that almost everyone has the same opinions of her..Chadwick is an icon for the historical fiction community for her ability to create a believable and passionate story based around major events of the era" - The Burton Review

"With vivid immediacy, To Defy a King tells a story of politics in the vicious era leading to the Magna Carta, which is also a moving and sexy love story and, above all, the story of a woman who refused to tolerate demeaning and abusive treatment - even from her king - in a time when many women simply accepted it as their lot. " - HistoricalNovels.Info

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt

"It's not fair!" Ten-year-old Mahelt Marshal scowled at her older brothers who were immersed in a boys' game involving a pretend raid on an enemy castle. "Why can't I be a knight?"

"Girls don't go raiding," Will answered with the superiority that came from being male, almost fourteen, and heir to the Earldom of Pembroke.

She made a grab for his horse's reins and he snatched them out of her reach.

"Girls stay at home and embroider and bear children. Only men go to war."

"Women have to defend the castle when their lords are away," she pointed out. "Mama does-and you have to obey her." Tossing her head, she looked at Richard, who was twelve and could sometimes be persuaded to take her part; but, although a broad grin sprawled across his freckled face, he didn't leap to her defence.

"She has to do our lord father's bidding when he returns," Will retorted. "Papa doesn't send her out with a lance in her hand while he stays at home, does he?"

"I can pretend; it's all pretend anyway." Mahelt was determined not to be bettered. "You're not a man."

Richard's grin widened as Will flushed. "Let her defend the castle," he said. "She might have to do it one day when she's married."

Will rolled his eyes, but gave in. "All right, but she's not a knight, and she's not riding Equus."

"Of course not."

"And she can be the French. We're the English."

"That's not fair!" Mahelt protested again.

"Don't play then," Will said indifferently.

She shot her brothers a fulminating look. She wanted to ride Will's new mount because it was a proper, big, glossy horse, not a pony. She wanted to jump him over hedges as Will did and see how fast she could make him gallop. She wanted to feel the wind in her hair. Will had called him Equus, which he said was the Latin name the scribes wrote meaning "warhorse." Richard's docile grey wasn't the same challenge, and she had almost outgrown her own dumpy little chestnut, which was stabled up with a leg strain. She knew she could ride as well as either of her brothers.

Heaving a sigh, she stumped off with bad grace to defend the "castle," which for the purposes of the game was the kennelkeeper's hut. Here were stored the collars and leashes for the hounds, old blankets, hunting horns, various tools, baskets, and bowls. A shelf at Mahelt's eye level held chubby earthenware pots of salve for treating canine injuries. Mahelt took one down, removed the lid of plaited straw, and immediately recoiled from the vile stench of rancid goose grease.

"Ready?" she heard Richard shout.

Her left arm crooked around the pot, Mahelt emerged from the shed and, with a resolute jaw, faced the youths, who were fretting their mounts. Both boys bore makeshift lances fashioned from ash staves, and gripped their practice shields at the ready.

Uttering simultaneous yells, the brothers charged. Knowing they expected her to lose her courage and dash back inside the shed, Mahelt stood her ground. She scooped up a handful of grease, feeling it cold and squidgy-soft between her fingers, and lobbed it at the oncoming horses. Will ducked behind his shield, which took the first impact, but Mahelt's next dollop struck him over the rawhide rim, splattering his cloak and the side of his neck. Another scoop burst on the shoulder of Richard's grey. His efforts to control his shying mount left him exposed and her fourth handful landed a direct hit to his face.

"Hah! You're both dead!" She leaped gleefully up and down.

"I win, I win!" Triumph burned in her solar plexus. That was showing them.

Will was off his horse like lightning. Mahelt shrieked and tried to run inside the shed, but he was too fast and caught her arm. She spun round in his grip and struck his chest with her salve-covered hand, smearing his cloak with rancid grease.

"It's dishonourable to hit a lady!" she cried as he raised a threatening fist.

Will looked at his bunched knuckles and, lowering his arm, gave her a disgusted shove instead. "Look what you've done to my cloak! I pity whoever gets you to wife. You're a hoyden." Mahelt raised her chin, determined not to show remorse or be browbeaten. "But I still won," she said. "Against both of you."

"Will, leave her," Richard said with exasperation, wiping his face. "Let's go. There are better places to practise. We'd get more hurled at us in a real battle than handfuls of old grease."

With a final glare, Will flung round and remounted Equus. "It looks as if you've lost after all," he said as he gathered his reins.

Through a blur of angry tears she watched her brothers ride away. Raising her hand to wipe her eyes, she found the stink of the salve on her fingers suddenly unbearable. She was cold, hungry, and empty. Her victory was a hollow one and she was going to be in trouble for wasting the hound-keeper's salve and dirtying her brothers' clothes. She returned the pot to its shelf and closed the shed door. When she turned round, she jumped, because Godfrey, her father's under-chamberlain, was standing behind her. "Your parents are seeking you, young mistress." He wrinkled his nose. "God's eyes, what have you been doing?"

"Nothing." She gave him an imperious look to cloak her guilt. "Defending the castle."

Godfrey said nothing, but his gaze was eloquent.

"What do they want?" Facing both parents at once was generally reserved for serious misdemeanours. Her mother had eyes in the back of her head, but surely she couldn't know about the grease-throwing yet and Mahelt couldn't think of anything else she had done recently to warrant such a command.

"I do not know, young mistress. Your lady mother just said to fetch you."

Decidedly on her guard, Mahelt followed him to the solar, pausing on the way to sluice her hands in the trough and wipe them on a net of hay tied to the stable wall.

Her mother and father were sitting before the hearth in their private chamber, and she saw a glance flicker between them as she entered. She could sense an atmosphere, but it wasn't angry. Gilbert and Walter, her two younger brothers, were playing a dice game on the floor and a nurse was attending to her little sisters, Belle aged four, and two-year-old Sybire.

Her mother patted the bench and Mahelt came to sit in the space her parents had made for her between them. The fire embraced her with warmth. The hangings were drawn across the window shutters and the mellow glow from numerous beeswax candles made the room feel cosy and welcoming. Her mother smelled wonderfully of roses and the arm she slipped around Mahelt to cuddle her was tender and maternal. Mahelt decided her brothers were welcome to their silly game. Parental attention was better, especially if she wasn't in trouble. She thought it odd that her father was holding her floppy cloth doll in his big hands and looking at it in a pensive manner. Seeing her watching him, he put it down and smiled, but his eyes were serious.

"You remember a few weeks ago, the Christmas court at Canterbury?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes, Papa." It had been lovely-all the feasting and dancing and celebration. She had felt so grown up, being allowed to mingle with the adults. She had been wary of King John because she knew her mother disliked him, but she thought the jewels he wore around his neck were magnificent. Sapphires and rubies, so her cousin Ela had said, all the way from Sarandib.

"You remember Hugh Bigod?"

"Yes, Papa." The heat from the fire was suddenly hot on her face. She picked up her doll and began fussing with it herself. Hugh was grown up, but he had partnered her in a circle dance, clasping her hand and winding her through the chain. Later he had organised games of hoodman blind and hunt the slipper for the younger ones, joining in himself with great enthusiasm. He had a rich singing voice and a smile that made her stomach flutter, although she didn't know why. One day he would be Earl of Norfolk.

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Chadwick is the author of 17 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage, For the King's Favor, Shadows and Strongholds, The Winter Mantle, and The Falcons of Montabard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Awards. Visit

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To Defy A King 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 196 reviews.
TnCJ More than 1 year ago
The first book I read written by Elizabeth Chadwick was a Free Friday book called The Greatest Knight. Truthfully? I was expecting a nothing book to fill times I needed to be doing something. What I read was amazing. As a historical author, Elizabeth Chadwick created a world that we have never seen. Filled with historical fact, using that information to bring life to the people she writes about. With a good 'inner eye' because of the way she writes you feel you truly know the people she writes about and the life they lived. To Defy a King delves into the live of Mahelt Marshall, daughter of William Marshall, labeled in english history as the greatest knight because of his loyalty, honesty, fairness and strong sense of family. During a time when women were honoured but not respected beyond bearing children, Mahelt stood strong to how she was raised, became partner to her husband and a strong influence to people around her. History come to life, with all it's excitement, sadness, drama and humor. That's what you get in this book - and any from Elizabeth Chadwick!! THANK YOU!
laura24 More than 1 year ago
I was instantly immersed into this fantastic written story. Worth the time!
Lizzlett More than 1 year ago
This is the 4th book by Elizabeth Chadwick that I have read in the last three weeks and I was sad to part with the Marshals and Bigods when I finished. I love the huge window she opens into a very turbulent time with women who are more than chattel and men who knew the meaning of honor and chivalry. The eldest daughter of William Marshal and Isabelle deClare must have been special and this book shows her path as she winds her way from childhood as the cherished eldest daughter in the lively Marshal household through her often prickly path as a new bride, mother and chatelaine in the much more restrained Bigod household. As usual, the characters are richly drawn amid the events of King John's reign. Totally awesome!! I have been fascinated with William Marshal and his family for over 25 years, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about him in these past four novels. I cannot wait for more of her bookis to make the transition to NOOKbooks!!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1204 daughter of renowned British knight William Marshal, fourteen year old Mahelt "Matty" Marshal marries Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk in a politically arranged deal between two powerful families. Over the next few years, the pair shares a deep regard for one another that turns to love as they raise their four children. The serene rustic lifestyle ends for Matty and Hugh when King John begins systematically abducting her family. He arrests the heir to the Pembroke earldom, Matty's brother Will; and follows that with incarcerating her other sibling Richard. Finally King John goes after her famous father, who has made it clear he is against the monarch's avaricious stealing of land. Matty resolutely tries to get her family free while also remaining loyal to her husband and their children; not easy to achieve when contradictions and conflict are the norm. This is a great Middle Ages biographical fiction that enables fans of Elizabeth Chadwick to feel they are "living the history". The story line is character driven mostly by the heroine although the support cast especially her two families enhance the heroine's dilemma of being caught in the middle of rescuing her birth family and yet not endangering her married family. Readers will enjoy Matty's efforts to walk a thin red line as she knows not to waste her time pleading For the King's Favor since the Marshal kin are persona non grata, but cannot remain idly on the sidelines. Harriet Klausner
stevie15 More than 1 year ago
If you read the William Marshal book, The Greatest Knight, this is a continuation of the story of his daughter. Mahelt tells her story and you see the world and the world of her father through her eyes. I loved this book and wish that there were more.
Suuze More than 1 year ago
This author knows how to write historical fiction and back it up with facts! Obviously, she spends inordinate amounts of time researching before she writes her novels. At the end of the book, she almost tells another story about the facts and how she found them, what it means, etc. Fascinating! This story is of emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel. What courage it took in those days to defy a king, no matter how powerful and rich you were. Everything could be taken away, including your children, at the whim of a cruel, morally corrupt king. The characters were so interesting, and it thrills me to know they actually existed! Chadwick brought me to tears...and laughter, many times. I felt as if they were *my* family. That's the way I like to be affected and drawn in by characters in a book. Wonderful book, can't wait to read more Elizabeth Chadwick!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, obviously well researched. Not something I went tearing through either. If you like medival historical novels, you will enjoy this.,. The characters are human and flawed, a very good thing.
penname96 More than 1 year ago
Another amazing spirited emotional read from Elizabeth Chadwick. This is a great follow up to The Scarlet Lion. This time Chadwick takes us on the journey of Mahelt Marshal (William's strong willed daughter.) If you have not read The Scarlet Lion that is OK. This is a stand alone book. If you love History and have not read Chadwick, you are missing out!
GtzLstNRding More than 1 year ago
This book was fabulous - felt like you were stepping back in time. I loved how Chadwick continued the story of the Marshall that served the 1st King Henry and his sons. The Marshall was a key component to the success of this line of kings. Hence, his daughter was an image of him - moreso then his sons it seems. The story is longer, there are some parts of the politics that were a little over done, but overall the story is fantasic.
Bet52 More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed. The story sounded interesting, but I thought the writing rather flat and the transitions between sections was not as smooth as it could be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MerryWifeofWindsor More than 1 year ago
The proud and beautiful young Mahelt Marshal lives with her two indulgent parents. Mahelt is officially betrothed to Hugh Bigod, son of the 2nd Earl of Norfolk. At first neither of them are too eager for the idea of marriage. However, when William Marshal attracts King John’s ire and Mahelt’s brothers, William and Richard are taken as hostages, the king pushes for Hugh and Mahelt to marry sooner than was intended. She moves officially to Framlingham to live with a stranger for a husband and a cold-hearted father-in-law, who is obsessed with running the earldom. It seems that Mahelt’s only consolation is that of her mother-in-law, Ida, Countess of Norfolk, who treats her with loving kindness. Mahelt cannot help but fear for her brothers, who as hostages, can be harmed at any time. Mahelt takes matters into her own hands. Confiding in only her serving maid, Edeva, she slips out one night and goes to meet her brother. As Mahelt is visiting with William, he gives her a parchment that is something that he wants her to send to Ireland to their mother. The parchment is a letter from John to his castellans and agents, speaking at length about sending soldiers to Ireland. Mahelt promises to do so. When she returns home to Thetford, she discovers that Edeva betrayed her to the Earl and Mahelt orders the servant out of her presence permanently. The Earl orders for Mahelt to come to him. Much to her horror, she sees that Tarant, William’s groom who saw her back to safety the night before, is all bloodied and bruised. Her father-in-law conveys to her that she will never do such a thing again and that from thence, he will ensure that she is occupied with “wifely duties,” such as running the manor. Hugh soon returns and discovers that his wife has betrayed the Bigods. His father charges him with keeping Mahelt in line and to rein her in. While Hugh deeply loves his wife and seeks to obey his father to the best of his ability, he has no interest in breaking Mahelt. He knows that he needs to tread a thin line, that everything is at stake. If he cannot convince Mahelt to calm down and to abandon any desire for revenge against the king, the Bigod as well as the Marshal families are in grave danger. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed “To Defy a King.” The heroine, Mahelt is the one that made the story great in my eyes. Some words to describe her are devil-may-care, spitfire, and intense. She saw that her family was being singled out and wronged by the king. Born out of that was a desire to stand up for her father and her brothers, but there was a sense of helplessness. It was heartbreaking to see the situation that her family was in. The cast of characters surrounding her felt very real and they were easy to relate to. Even the difficult and infuriating Earl of Norfolk. Chadwick’s portrayal of King John was masterful. He was diabolical, selfish, hot-tempered, and disturbingly lecherous. It was easy to despise him. Her portrayal of him was very well done. However, I felt that her John was a rather flat character. Perhaps it was because he didn’t really get enough face time in the book. I am giving this book 4.5 stars. It was a fantastic book, but, I found it to go a little too slow at times. It dragged at other times, and, had a tendency to be a bit dry. Besides that, “To Defy a King” is a book that I wholeheartedly suggest.
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