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When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series #1)

When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series #1)

4.6 59
by Sharon Kay Penman

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"A COMPELLING, WELL-WRITTEN EPIC. . .Penman is an accomplished novelist and certainly has staked a claim to medieval England as her literary fiefdom."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England's King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry's beautiful daughter Maude,


"A COMPELLING, WELL-WRITTEN EPIC. . .Penman is an accomplished novelist and certainly has staked a claim to medieval England as her literary fiefdom."
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England's King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry's beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned.
Sharon Kay Penman's magnificent fifth novel summons to life a spectacular medieval tragedy whose unfolding breaks the heart even as it prepares the way for splendors to come—the glorious age of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Plantagenets that would soon illumine the world.
"[A] marvelous medieval pageant of a novel. . .Another jewel in [Penman's] already glittering crown."
—The Orlando Sentinel
"Penman once again tells a tale of kings and queens, singular destinies, and double-crosses. . . .[She] inventively animates a large cast [and] continues to base her narrative on the firm ground of fact."
—Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The magnificent combination of history and humanity that Penman's readers have come to expect again animates her latest work (after Here Be Dragons). Any reservations about it lie more with the period than with her evident abilities as a novelist. Despite the very real tragedy inflicted on the common people by the 12th-century battle between Henry I's surviving legitimate heir, Maude, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois (distaff grandson of William the Conqueror), the era lacks epic qualities. It's somewhat like watching an inept and dirty soccer match with England as the ball: siege follows siege, castles are thrown up, opportunistic barons settle grievances or swipe land as Maude and Stephen fumble for the throne. Still, Penman gives a most persuasive and moving account of these complicated politics. She portrays Maude as a strong woman whose frustrations made her brittle, and Stephen as a man too chivalrous for the age of chivalry. She also introduces her first fictional protagonist in the form of Ranulf, one of Maude's illegitimate half-brothers, a successful addition to the cast until he turns a little soppy and marries a blind Welsh cousin. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the narrative is Penman's skill in showing how essentially good people can end up doing great evil. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.)
Library Journal
King Henry I's death in 1135 led to a bloody 20-year struggle between his only legitimate child, Maude (called Matilda in most historical accounts), and his nephew, Stephen of Blois, for control of England. Penman (The Sunne in Splendour, 1982) showcases her mastery of the historical novel in this long and thoroughly engrossing study of pragmatic politics, idealism, and the role of women during the 12th century. She brings to life a vast array of unforgettable characters, both historical and invented, all of whose loyalties are being constantly tested by the chaos of the times. This novel, the first of a projected trilogy, should win new readers for Penman and delight her longtime fans. It belongs in all public libraries, large and small. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/94.]-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
School Library Journal
YA-Maude, the daughter of King Henry I of England, is in contention for the English throne with her cousin Stephen, the son of William I. This is a rousing and detailed account of that 12th-century struggle between them; both held valid claims and had shifting supporters. This 20-year controversy was much like a civil war, with such loss and pain that the period was characterized by a contemporary chronicle as a time of great wretchedness ``when Christ and His Saints slept.'' The events of this period were dramatic and ironic and carry the plot at a hectic pace. The cast of characters is lengthy, but well defined. The fictional principal, Ranulf, is a young nobleman, a squire pledged to Maude's cause. He is introduced as a teenager and both Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are seen in appealing youth. There are battles, sieges, endless treacheries, and excellent views of primitive and advanced politics, all spiced with a great deal of gallantry, camaraderie, suspense, and sex.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Brad Hooper
Tirelessly researched but at times tiresomely presented, this sprawling historical novel nonetheless demonstrates a keen understanding of its time and place (in this case, twelfth-century England and France) and renders historical figures (in this case, crowned and noble heads) in terms of flesh and blood rather than as cardboard cutouts--both characteristics being requirements of successful historical fiction. With her latest novel, popular writer Penman inaugurates a trilogy focusing on the lives of King Henry II of England and his colorful consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This initial volume paints the background of Henry II's reign: the civil war that raged in England for two decades as the result of a dispute between his mother and her cousin over the succession to the throne. From the darkness of this quarrel, which left England completely wrung out, ultimately stepped Henry Plantagenet, whose ascension as Henry II brought the country back into the light. For avid historical fiction readers (and Penman has established a firm following among them), a place to lose oneself for hours on end.
From the Publisher
"[A] marvelous medieval pageant of a novel. . .Another jewel in [Penman's] already glittering crown."—Orlando Sentinel

"Penman once again tells a tale of kings and queens, singular destinies, and double-crosses. . . .[She] inventively animates a large cast [and] continues to base her narrative on the firm ground of fact."—Kirkus Reviews

"A COMPELLING, WELL-WRITTEN EPIC…Penman is an accomplished novelist and certainly has staked a claim to medieval England as her literary fiefdom."—Philadelphia Inquirer

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Eleanor of Aquitaine Series , #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.56(h) x 2.22(d)

Read an Excerpt

July 1156 
Chinon Castle 
Touraine, France 

AS the king of En gland crossed the inner bailey of Chinon Castle, his brother watched from an upper-story window and wished fervently that God would smite him dead. Geoffrey understood perfectly why Cain had slain Abel, the firstborn, the best-beloved. Harry was the firstborn, too. There were just fifteen months between them, fifteen miserable months, but because of them, Harry had gotten it all– En gland and Anjou and Normandy–and Geoffrey had naught but regrets and resentments and three wretched castles, castles he was now about to forfeit.

 He’d rebelled again, and again he’d failed. He was here at Chinon to submit to his brother, but he was not contrite, nor was he cowed. His heart sore, his spirit still rebellious, he began to stalk the chamber, feeling more wronged with every stride. Why should Harry have the whole loaf and he only crumbs? What had Harry ever been denied? Duke of Normandy at seventeen, Count of Anjou upon their father’s sudden death the following year, King of En gland at one and twenty, and, as if that were not more than enough for any mortal man, he was wed to a celebrated beauty, the Duchess of Aquitaine and former Queen of France. 

Had any other woman ever worn the crowns of both En gland and France? History had never interested Geoffrey much, but he doubted it. Eleanor always seemed to be defying the natural boundaries of womanhood, a royal rebel who was too clever by half and as willful as any man. But her vast domains and her seductive smile more than made up for any defects of character, and after her divorce from the French king, Geoffrey had attempted to claim this glittering prize, laying an ambush for her as she journeyed back to Aquitaine. It was not uncommon to abduct an heiress, then force her into marriage, and Geoffrey had been confident of success, sure, too, that he’d be able to tame her wild nature and make her into a proper wife, dutiful and submissive. 

It was not to be. Eleanor had evaded his ambush, reached safety in her own lands, and soon thereafter, shocked all of Christendom by marrying Geoffrey’s brother. Geoffrey had been bitterly disappointed by his failure to capture a queen. But it well nigh drove him crazy to think of her belonging to his brother, sharing her bed and her wealth with Harry–and of her own free will. Where was the justice or fairness in that? 

Geoffrey was more uneasy about facing his brother than he’d ever admit, and he spun around at the sound of the opening door. But it was not Harry. Their younger brother, Will, entered, followed by Thomas Becket, the king’s elegant shadow. 

Geoffrey frowned at the sight of them. As far back as he could remember, Will had been Harry’s lapdog, always taking his side. As for Becket, Geoffrey saw him as an outright enemy, the king’s chancellor and closest confidant. He could expect no support from them, and well he knew it. “I suppose you’re here to gloat, Will, as Harry rubs my nose in it.” 

“No, I’m here to do you a favor–if you’ve the wits to heed me.” The most cursory of glances revealed their kinship; all three brothers had the same high coloring and sturdy, muscular build. Will’s hair was redder and he had far more freckles, but otherwise, he and Geoffrey were mirror images of each other. Even their scowls were the same. “Harry’s nerves are on the raw these days, and he’s in no mood to put up with your blustering. So for your own sake, Geoff, watch your tongue–” 

“Poor Harry, my heart bleeds for his ‘raw nerves,’ in truth, it does! Do you never tire of licking his arse, Little Brother? Or have you acquired a taste for it by now?” 

Color seared Will’s face. “You’re enough to make me believe those tales of babes switched at birth, for how could we ever have come from the same womb?” 

“Let him be, lad.” Thomas Becket was regarding Geoffrey with chill distaste. “‘As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.’” 

“You stay out of this, priest! But then,” Geoffrey said with a sneer, 

“you are not a priest, are you? You hold the chancellorship, yet you balk at taking your holy vows . . . now why is that?” 

“I serve both my God and my king,” Becket said evenly, “with all my heart. But you, Geoffrey Fitz Empress, serve only Satan, even if you know it not.” 

Geoffrey had no chance to retort, for the door was opening again. A foreigner unfamiliar with En gland would not have taken the man in the doorway for the En glish king, for he scorned the trappings of kingship, the rich silks and gemstones and furred mantles that set men of rank apart from their less fortunate brethren. Henry Fitz Empress preferred comfort to style: simple, unadorned tunics and high cowhide boots and mantles so short that he’d earned himself the nickname “Curtmantle.” Equally indifferent to fashion’s dictates and the opinions of others, Henry dressed to please himself, and usually looked more like the king’s chief huntsman than the king. 

To Geoffrey, who spent huge sums on his clothes, this peculiarity of his brother’s was just further proof of his unfitness to be king. Henry looked even more rumpled than usual today, his short, copper-colored hair tousled and windblown, his eyes slate-dark, hollowed and bloodshot. Mayhap there was something to Will’s blathering about Harry’s “raw nerves” after all, Geoffrey conceded. Not that he cared what was weighing Harry down. A pity it was not an anchor. 

What did trouble Geoffrey, though, was his brother’s silence. The young king was notorious for his scorching temper, but those who knew Henry best knew, too, that these spectacular fits of royal rage were more calculated than most people suspected, deliberately daunting. His anger was far more dangerous when it was iced over, cold and controlled and unforgiving, and Geoffrey was soon squirming under that unblinking, implacable gaze. When he could stand the suspense no longer, he snapped, “What are you waiting for? Let’s get it over with, Harry!” 

“You have no idea what your rebellion has cost me,” Henry said, much too dispassionately, “or you’d be treading with great care.” 

“Need I remind you that you won, Harry? It seems odd indeed for you to bemoan your losses when I’m the one who is yielding up my castles.” 

“You think I care about your accursed castles?” Henry moved forward into the chamber so swiftly that Geoffrey took an instinctive backward step. “Had I not been forced to lay siege to them, I’d have been back in En gland months ago, long ere Eleanor’s lying-in was nigh.” Geoffrey knew Eleanor was pregnant again, for Henry had announced it at their Christmas court. Divorced by the French king for her failure to give him a male heir, Eleanor had then borne Henry two sons in their first three years of marriage. To Geoffrey, her latest pregnancy had been another drop of poison in an already noxious drink, and he could muster up no sympathy now for Henry’s complaint. 

“What of it? You’d not have been allowed in the birthing chamber, for men never are.” 

“No . . . but I’d have been there to bury my son.” 

Geoffrey’s mouth dropped open. “Your son?” 

“He died on Whitsunday,” Henry said, softly and precisely, the measured cadence of his tones utterly at variance with what Geoffrey could read in his eyes. “Eleanor kept vigil by his bedside as the doctors and priests tried to save him. She stayed with him until he died, and then she made the funeral arrangements, accompanied his body to Reading for burial. He was not yet three, Geoff, for his birthday was not till August, the seventeenth, it would have been–” 

“Harry, I . . . I am sorry about your son. But it was not my fault! Blame God if you must, not me!” 

“But I do blame you, Geoff. I blame you for your treachery, your betrayals, your willingness to ally yourself with my enemies . . . again and again. I blame you for my wife’s ordeal, which she need not have faced alone. And I blame you for denying me the chance to be at my son’s deathbed.” 

“What do you want me to say? It was not my fault! You cannot blame me because the boy was sickly–” Geoffrey’s breath caught in his throat as Henry lunged forward. Twisting his fist in the neck of his brother’s tunic, Henry shoved him roughly against the wall. 

“The boy has a name, damn you–William! I suppose you’d forgotten, for blood-kin means nothing to you, does it? Well, you might remember his name better once you have time and solitude to think upon it!” 

Geoffrey blanched. “You . . . you cannot mean to imprison me?” Henry slowly unclenched his fist, stepped back. “There are men waiting outside the door to escort you to a chamber in the tower.” 

“Harry, what are you going to do? Tell me!” 

Henry turned aside without answering, moved to the door, and jerked it open. Geoffrey stiffened, eyes darting in disbelief from the men-at-arms to this stranger in his brother’s skin. Clutching at the shreds of his pride, he stumbled across the chamber, determined not to plead, but betraying himself, nonetheless, by a panicked, involuntary glance of entreaty as the door closed. 

Will untangled himself from the settle, ambled over to the door, and slid the bolt into place. “Harry . . . do you truly mean to imprison him? God knows, he deserves it . . .” He trailed off uncertainly, for his was an open, affable nature, uncomfortable with shadings or ambiguities, and it troubled him that his feelings for his brother could not be clear-cut and uncomplicated. 

Henry crossed to the settle and took the seat Will had vacated. “If I had my way, I’d cast him into Chinon’s deepest dungeon, leave him there till he rotted.”

“But you will not,” Becket predicted, smiling faintly as he rose to pour them all cups of wine. 

“No,” Henry admitted, accepting his cup with a wry smile of his own. “There would be two prisoners in that dungeon–Geoff and our mother. She says he deserves whatever punishment I choose to mete out, but that is her head talking, not her heart.” After two swallows, he set the cup aside, for he drank as sparingly as he ate; Henry’s hungers of the flesh were not for food or wine. “I’m going to try to scare some sense into Geoff. But since he has less sense than God gave a sheep, I do not have high hopes of success.” 

“Just do not give him his castles back this time,” Will chided, in a tactless reminder of Henry’s earlier, misplaced leniency. “It would serve him right if he had to beg his bread by the roadside.” 

“Sorry, lad, but Scriptures forbid it. Thomas can doubtless cite you chapter and verse,” Henry gibed, “but I am sure it says somewhere that brothers of kings cannot be beggars.” 

“I thought it said that brothers of beggars cannot be kings.” Becket tasted the wine, then grimaced. “Are your servants trying to poison you with this swill, Harry? Someone ought to tell them that hemlock would be quicker and more merciful.” 

“This is why men would rather dine with my lord chancellor than with me,” Henry told Will. “He’d drink blood ere he quaffed En glish wine. Whereas for me, it is enough if it is wet!” Becket’s riposte was cut off by a sudden knock. Henry, the closest to the door, got to his feet; he was never one to stand on ceremony. But his amusement faded when a weary, travel-stained messenger was ushered into the chamber, for the man’s disheveled appearance conveyed a message of its own: that his news was urgent. 

Snatching up the proffered letter, Henry stared at the familiar seal, then looked over at Will. “It is from our mother,” he said, moving toward the nearest lamp. Will and Becket were both on their feet by now, watching intently as he read. “I have to go to Rouen,” he said, “straightaway.” 

Will paled. “Not Mama . . .?” 

“No, lad, no. She is not ailing. She has written to let me know that Eleanor is in Rouen.” 

Meet the Author

Sharon Kay Penman has lived in England and Wales and currently resides in New Jersey. She is the author of six other novels: Falls the Shadow, Here Be Dragons, The Reckoning, The Sunne in Splendour, When Christ and His Saints Slept, and the first Justin de Quincy adventure: The Queen’s Man.

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When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series #1) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is good not great. I kept looking at what page I was on - it was a little dry. I did finish it - not sorry I read it. I could definately put it down and go do my chores which speaks well for a clean house but not for a book that makes me ignore everything else.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took me a month to read however it is a book I will never forget. The story is enchanting and captures you in every way possible. Loved, Loved Loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. I found myself 'googling' different facts and Penman was right on target - she brought the characters to life and with the blend of the historical facts and the fiction added in, I just couldn't put the book down. I can assure you, when you read this book, you feel every battle, seige and the horrors the 12th century could bring in England - and bringing the historical figures to life just made the book a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never read any of Ms. Penman's works before this book, but I am certain that I will now go purchase all of her other books! I just finished reading this tale, and I find myself missing the characters! For those of you not interested in history, this book will give you reason to start being interested. As one critic commented, the characters are brought to life and are not merely cardboard cuts outs that most students study in school. I've done a lot of research on the geneological data that she represents in this book, and I have to say she has done an AMAZING job! I am a direct descendant of William de Warenne, so it was fun to read about his life and the characters surrounding him. I tip my hat to you, Ms. Penman, and look forward to reading the rest of your books.
ladylawyer8650 More than 1 year ago
This author was new to me. I depend on readers' reviews before buying a book. Thank all the reviewers for honest assessments of this author and this book. I liked Ranuld best. Poor Maude. Did she have any happiness? King Stephen's character flaw was unfortunate though I did enjoy his company. Henry was Henry, enough said. I have to think hard to remember how the book began, but did it not have a glorious end? Elanore, merely a whisper at first, was in the end loudly proclaimed. Deservedly so.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this up from the local bookstore only because it had a reference to my beloved Eleanor of Aquitaine. Instead, I found myself growing to respect another of history's great medieval women. The Empress Matilda and her story is one of the most interesting true, factual histories I have ever studied, and lately I have been doing everything in my power to locate histories of that era (see below), only to discover how closely 'Saints' is to the real evidence (blame me, I know, for not taking Penman's author's note seriously, but trust me, what she did say was true). What amazed me was that this civil war - created by Penman to sound so like a fictionous story - is actually so true! Bravo to Penman.
TravelerWR More than 1 year ago
Well researched. If one is interested in early English @ French history or just early history in general this is a well written book. The reading , at times slows down a bit, but only because of the amount of detail presented. Also because I would Google some of the facts. The life, battles and sieges of 12th England century brings into stark clarity how difficult life was. This is the 2nd book by Penman I have read and look forward to reading the rest.
Sensitivemuse More than 1 year ago
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman features the beginnings of the Plantagenet dynasty. It features the bloody war that raged England between Stephen and his cousin Maude. Stephen steals the crown after King Henry the First's death from Maude, who's the rightful heir to the throne of England. With that main event, you get a lot of war, a lot of betrayal, and a lot of family struggles to keep the crown, or to take it. I strongly recommend studying the family tree first which is gratefully provided in the beginning of the book. That way you can find it who is related to who (you'll find out they are all related somehow) and who is married to who. It may help you to take notes so you'll also know who is who as it does get confusing. Especially in the beginning just when the story starts to develop. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT of characters. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the family tree helped me get through with it and although I didn't take notes, I got the main idea on who's who once the story progresses. To me, it felt like reading a very exciting history book. It feels so historically accurate and everything is rich in detail from the way the characters talk to the way everything is described. The battle sequences are interesting. They do seem real and they seem quick even though the book is filled with battles and wars and seiges. I like them a lot though as it does make you progress through the novel faster and it adds action to the plot. The politics of this book is also interesting. Although there were parts where I was shocked to see betrayals by certain characters yet it adds excitement and intrigue which in turn makes the book historically accurate as well. Besides the battles and the politics, you are also taken to some of the characters' more personal lives and their personal troubles. For example you have the story of Ranulf, who loves Annora who was his betrothed until she got married off to someone else. In turn he does what he can to win her back. It's these mini stories that also help the story go along and it's nice to see these, as it brings more "flesh" and depth to the characters instead of making them flat and cardboard like. What I love the most is the portrayal of women in this book. I love Maude, as she was so strong and determined to continue the war to get her crown back and all of this for her son Henry (the second). You get a lot of strong female characters and how they actually provided the backbone and their never ending support to their husband/son's causes. I liked the portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine despite the myths surrounding her life, I think it was well done and I admired her ability to secure her future without any thought of how others might see her. Basically, you won't see many weepy needy women in this book. They're all a beacon of strength. The only problem I have with this book? just way too many characters to go through and it got a little confusing in the beginning. However once you establish the main players, and how they're involved in the war then it gets easier. As I have mentioned before, perhaps it's wise to take notes, or to take into account the family tree in the beginning. Overall a wonderful book for historical buffs out there, especially those curious or lovers of the Plantagenet Dynasty. This is my first book about them and I don't regret it one bit. I loved the rich history, it was like looking at one very detailed
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every chapter in this book seduces the reader into that complicated maze of English history so smoothly you can't remember the exact moment you became part of it. You just know you are there and you don't want it to end. Great going Sharon Penman!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't finish it.
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Love this series!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this series. I read all 4 books within 3 months and I can't wait for the 5th book. I appreciate the detail that Ms. Pennman gives the characters and the events of time period. This detail gives the reader the illusion of tramsporting back in time. Sharon Kay Pennman and Margaret George are my favorite authors of historical novels!
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The story of henry the second and how he became king of england.
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This has to be one of the historical novels written in recent years. Great story with real figures.
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