When two ambitious families occupy the same patch of English soil, rivalry is sure to take root and flourish. A glimmer of initiative swells into blind desire, and minor hurts, nursed with jealousy, fester into a malignant hatred. When a bitter feud is born, the price for this wild and beautiful piece of ground will take more than three generations to settle.
Richard Lanyon answers to no one save the aristocratic Sweetwater family, owners of the land he farms. His bitter resentment is legend within the bounds of their tiny Exmoor community, but as their tenant, Richard must do their bidding. Still, even noblemen don't have the power to contain ruthless ambition, and the Sweetwaters are no exception. Driven to succeed, Richard is prepared to take what is not his, and to forfeit the happiness of his family to claim the entitlements he lusts for.
In this epic story Valerie Anand creates a vivid portrait of fifteenth-century English life that resonates with the age-old themes of ambition, power, desire and greed.
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About the Author
Born in London, Valerie Anand knew at the age of six that she wanted to be an author. At the age of fifteen, she saw MGM's film Ivanhoe. She walked into the cinema knowing that she wanted to be a novelist and walked out of it knowing that historical novels were the kind she most wanted to write.
Over the course of her long and distinguished writing career, Valerie has written many works of historical fiction and is well known for the Ursula Blanchard series of Elizabethan mysteries written under the pen name of Fiona Buckley.
Still living in London, Valerie Anand is a frequent visitor to Exmoor, the setting featured in The House of Lanyon.
Read an Excerpt
Allerbrook House is a manor house with charm. Three attractive gables look out from its slate roof, echoed by the smaller, matching gable over its porch, and two wings, with a secluded courtyard between them, stretch back toward the moorland hillside which shelters the house from northeast winds. In front the land drops away gently, but to the right the slope plunges steeply into the wooded, green-shadowed combe where the Allerbrook River purls over its pebbly bed, f lowing down from its moorland source toward the village of Clicket in the valley.
Allerbrook is far from being a great house such as Chatsworth or Hatfield, but its charm apart, it has unusual features of its own, such as a mysterious stained glass window in its chapelno one is sure of its significanceand the Tudor roses, which nowadays are painted red-and-white as when they were first made, which are carved into the hall panelling and the window seats.
The place is a rarity, standing as it does out on Exmoor, between the towns of Withypool and Dulverton. There is no other house of its type on the moor. It is also unique because of its origins. The truthas its creator Richard Lanyon once admittedis that it probably wouldn't be there at all, if one autumn day in 1458 Sir Humphrey Sweetwater and his twin sons, Reginald and Walter, had not ridden out to hunt a stag and had a most distressing encounter with a funeral.
There was no manor house there when, in the fourteenth century, the Lanyons came from Cornwall and took over Allerbrook farm. Then, the only dwelling was a farmhouse, so ancient even at that time that no one knew how long it had stood there.
Sturdily built of pinkish-grey local stone and roofed with shaggy thatch, it looked more like a natural outcrop than a construction. Around it spread a haphazard collection of fields and pastures, and its farmyard was encircled by a clutter of barns, byres, stables and assorted sheds. Inside, the main rooms were the kitchen and the big all-purpose living room. There was an impressive oak front door, but it was never used except for wedding and funeral processions and the hinges were regrettably rusty. It was a workaday place.
On a fine late September evening, though, with a golden haze softening the heathery heights of the moors and gilding the Bristol Channel to the north, there was a mellowness. That mellowness seemed even to have entered the soul of the man whose life was now drawing to a close in one of the upper bedchambers.
This was remarkable, because George Lanyon's sixty-one years of life had scarcely been serene. He had been an aggressive child, apt to bully his two older sisters and his younger brother, for as long as they were there to bully. The Lanyons had never, for some reason, been good at raising healthy families. All George's siblings had ailed and died before they were twenty. Only George f lourished, as though he possessed all the vitality that should have been shared equally among the four of them.
As an adult, he had quarrelled with his parents, dominated his wife, Alice, and shouted at his fragile younger son, Stephen, until the boy died of lung-rot at the age of eleven. The grieving Alice, in her one solitary fit of rebellion, accused him of driving Stephen into his grave, and she herself faded out of life the following year.
Only Richard, his elder son, had been strong enough to survive and at times to stand up to him or, if necessary, stand by him. George also quarrelled with their landlord, Sir Humphrey Sweetwater, when he raised their rent. George had refused to see that this was dangerous.
"The Sweetwaters won't throw us off our land. They know we look after it. They were glad enough to have us take it on when Granddad Petroc came here, looking for a place, back in the days of the plague when everyone who'd lived here before was dead."
"That was then. This is now, and I don't trust them," said Richard. He was well aware that the Sweetwaters, although only minor gentry, were on social if not intimate terms with Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, which was a double-edged blade. On the one hand, they considered themselves so far above their tenants that they could scarcely even see them. But on the other hand, if the said tenants tilled the land badly or wrangled over a rise in the rent, they were as capable of throwing the offenders out as they were capable of drowning unwanted kittens. You never knew. Richard loathed the Sweetwaters as much as George, but he was also wary.
The quarrel passed over. George gave in and paid the increase, and the Sweetwaters continued to regard the Lanyon family with disdain. Quietly the Lanyons began to prosper, though Richard considered that they could have done better still if only his father hadn't in so many ways been so pigheaded.
Extraordinary, Richard thought as he stood looking down at his father's sunken face and half-shut eyes. Extraordinary. All his life he had fought this man, argued with him and usually given in to him. And now, would you believe it, George was making a good Christian end.
Betsy and Kat, the two middle-aged sisters who cooked and cleaned and looked after the dairy and were so alike in their fair plumpness that people often mixed them up, were on their knees on the other side of the bed, praying quietly. At the foot stood Father Bernard, the elderly parish priest. "He's safe enough," Father Bernard said with some acidity. He knew George well. "He's had the last rites. Luckily you fetched me while he was still conscious. Lucky you had that horse of yours, too, whatever your father thought!"
Richard Lanyon grinned, f leetingly. Father Bernard lived down in Clicket village, in a cottage beside St. Anne's, the elegant little church built of pale Caen stone imported from France for the purpose by some pious bygone Sweetwater.
There was a long, sloping mile of Allerbrook combe between the farm and the priest, but George had asked for Father Bernard with pleading in his eyes and begged his son to hurry, and Richard had been able to do so, because he had a good horse at his command. George always said he had lost only three battles in his lifetime. One was the squabble over the rent. Another, a very long-running one, was the way Richard, once widowed, kept on refusing to remarry and make another attempt to raise a family. The third was over Richard's purchase of Splash.
"Why can't you ride a local pony like everyone else?" George raged when Richard went off to a horse fair miles away and came back leading a two-year-old colt with a most remarkable dappled coat. The dapples were dark iron-grey and much bigger than dapples usually were, overlapping and running into each other so that he looked as though someone had splashed liquid iron all over him. "The ponies round here can carry a grown man all day and never tire or put their feet in bogs by mistake. What did you spend good money on that for?" Master Lanyon senior demanded.
"He's well made. I'm going to break him for riding and call him Splash," said Richard.
"I give you your cut from any profits we make," George bellowed at his unrepentant son, "but I don't expect you to throw it away on something as ought to be in a freak show!"
But Splash, with his long legs and his undoubted dash of Arab blood, had proved his worth. He was as clever as any moorland pony at avoiding bogs and he could outdistance every horse in the parish and beyond, including the bloodstock owned by the Sweetwaters. He had got Richard down to the village and to the priest's house so quickly that by the time Richard was hammering on Father Bernard's door, the dust he had kicked up as he tore out of the farmyard still hung in the air.
"Get up behind me," Richard said when the priest opened the door. "Don't stop to saddle your mare. It's my father. We think he's going."
And Splash, head lowered and nostrils wide, brought them both back up the combe nearly as fast as he had carried Richard down it, and before he drifted into his last dream, George Lanyon received the sacrament and was shriven of his sins and given, thereby, his passport into paradise.
"I couldn't have done it without Splash," Richard said, and glanced at his father, wondering if George could hear and secretly hoping so.
But if he did, he made no sign and when Peter, Richard's nineteen-year-old son, came quietly into the room asking whether the patient was better, Richard could only shake his head.
"Keep your voice down now, Master Peter." Betsy, the older of the two sisters, looked up from her prayers. "Don't 'ee be disturbing 'un. Your granddad's made his peace and he's startin' on his journey."
Peter nervously came closer to the bed. As a child, he had seen two small brothers die, and at the age of eleven he had been taken to his parents' bedchamber to say farewell to his mother, Joan, and the girl-child who never breathed, and every time he had been stricken with a sense of dreadful mystery, and with pity.
The pity this time was made worse by the change in his grandfather. Petroc, the Cornishman who was George's own grandfather, had died before George was born, but his description had been handed down. He had been short and dark, a very typical Cornishman. He had, however, married a local girl, said to be big and brown haired and clear skinned. The combination had produced good-looking descendants, dark of hair and eye like Petroc, but with tall strong bodies and excellent facial bones. In life, George had been not only loud voiced and argumentative; he had also been unusually handsome.
Now his good looks had faded with his vitality. He had been getting thinner for months, and complaining of pains inside, though no one knew what ailed him, but the final collapse, into this shrunken husk, had come suddenly, taking them all by surprise. To Peter it seemed that the man on the bed was melting before their eyes.
George himself had been drifting in a misty world where nothing had substance. He could hear voices nearby, but could make no sense of what they said. His body no longer seemed to matter. For a change, nothing was hurting. He was comfortable. He was content to surrender to whatever or wherever lay before him. But in him, life had always been a powerful force. Like a candle f lame just before it gutters out, it flared once more. For a few moments the mist withdrew and the voices made sense again and his eyes opened, to focus, frowningly, on the faces around him.
Father Bernard. Sharp-tongued old wretch. But he'd provided the last rites. No need to fear hell now. With difficulty he turned his head, and there was young Peter, his only surviving grandson, looking miserable. Why did the Lanyons never produce big healthy families? As for Richard
Wayward boy. Been widowed for years; should have married again long ago. Should have listened to his father. I kept telling him. Obstinate, that's what he is. Big ideas.Always thinks he knows better than me.Always wanting to try new things out.
Oh, well. Richard would soon be able to please himself. His father wouldn't be able to stop him. Didn't even want to, not now. Too tired
Weakly he turned his head the other way, and saw the white-capped heads of Betsy and Kat. Beyond them was the window. It was shut, its leaded panes with their squares of thick, greenish glass denying him a view of the world outside. He'd had the windows glazed long ago, at more expense than he liked, but he'd always detested the fact that Sweetwater House was the only dwelling for miles that could have daylight without draughts. Yet even with glazing, the daylight was partly obscured and the view scarcely visible. "Open window," he said thickly. "Now. Quick."
Betsy got up at once. Kat murmured a protest, but Betsy said, "No cold wind's a'goin' to hurt 'un now, silly. We'd be doing this anyway, soon." She clicked the window latch and f lung the casement back, letting cool air stream into the room.
She meant that, once he was gone, someone would open the window anyway, because people always did, to let the departing soul go free. George knew that quite well. He wanted to see where he was going.
The window gave him a glimpse of Slade, the barley field, all stubble now, because the summer had been good and they'd got all the corn in and threshed, as well. The names of his fields told themselves over in his head: Long Meadow, Slade, Quillet, Three Corner Mead
He had been proud of them, all the more so because they were really his. He knew that in many places fields were communal, with each farmer cultivating just a strip, or perhaps more than one, but compelled to plant the same crop as everyone else and changing strips each year. Here in the southwest, it was different. Here, a man's fields were his own.
Beyond the farmland was a dark green line, the trees of Allerbrook combe, and in the distance strode the skyline of the moorland's highest ridge, swimming in lemon light. There were strange mounds on the hilltops of Exmoor, said to be the graves of pagan people who had lived here long, long ago. He'd like to be buried in a mound on high ground, but he'd have to be content with a grave in the churchyard of St. Anne's. He wouldn't even be able to hear the sound of the Allerbrook well, no, he wouldn't be able to hear anything, near or far, but
He was growing confused and things were fading again. But how lovely was the light on the moors. He'd never attened to it in life. Been too damn busy trying to control that awkward son of his. Now he wanted to float away into that glorious sky, to dissolve into it, to be part of it .
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read over 500 historical novels. I do not say this to brag but rather to demonstrate my surprise that this book is not more widely read. The plot is unpredictale, the story is fast paced and riveting and it is extremely well written. I will not elaborate on the plot since another reviewer has done so but I strongly suggest to those readers that enjoy historical fiction to read this book. It is not a happy ending romance novel but it is filled with joy and the gritty sadness of everyday life.
In Exmoor, England Richard Lanyon always resented the fact that his father was a tenant farmer working for aristocratic affluent Sweetwater clan. Richard wants to be free by owning his land not slaving for someone else to gain the profits of his toil as the case with his recently deceased dad. Ambitious, he will shape the future through his son.---------- His goal seems achieved when he arranges for his offspring Peter to marry wealthy Liza Weaver. However, Peter loves Marion Locke and his fiancée loves someone else. Neither are pleased with the arrangement, but both accept the inevitably of their marriage as they understand their duty to family. Meanwhile the widow Richard is attracted to Marion. While his brokenhearted son and equally despondent daughter-in-law struggle together, Richard has a dark secret that fosters a deep guilt that haunts his gut and a fear that if revealed THE HOUSE OF LANYON will topple like a deck of cards.------------ This is an interesting family drama that sprawls across the late fifteenth century. The story line provides a fascinating look at the dysfunctional relationship between social classes especially outside of London. However, the historical tale targets those readers who enjoy a Barbara Taylor Bradford like saga occurring prior to and during the War of the Roses era.---------- Harriet Klausner