The Lords of Vaumartin

by Cecelia Holland

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Lords of Vaumartin by Cecelia Holland The 1346 Battle of Crécy launches The Lords of Vaumartin, the story of a Breton nobleman robbed of his inheritance. At fourteen, Everard de Vaumartin is, says his uncle's wife, "a feeble enough creature, always dreaming like a girl, or bent over a book." She urges him to become a monk, which means his deceased father's estate would pass to his uncle Josseran, who has been holding it during Everard's minority. Everard refuses, despite his love of learning. When she suggests he go to war instead, he agrees. To Josseran, she says, "If ... something befell him, who would blame you?"

The scenes of warfare in The Lords of Vaumartin are exceptional. Vivid and frightening, they convey the confusion of warfare, especially to a young man plunged into battle for the first time, without confusing the reader. Readers learn viscerally why the French lost faith in their king, the hesitant, vacillating John II, early in the Hundred Years' War. "It would be disastrous to charge down this road in a rainstorm.... The rain was falling harder now, loud on the helmets and shields of the knights. Josseran pressed his horse closer to the king, wanting to counsel agreement with the Genoese captain.... The king sat in his saddle, frowning, the rain running down his face, while the Genoese captain shouted from the ground, but the words might as well never have been spoken...."

Unlike many who fight at Crécy, Everard does not lose his life. In Paris he reinvents himself as a scholar and clerk, but the war dominates all, bringing political turmoil, financial disorder, famine and plague. Amid disaster, he crafts a strangely satisfying life. Though Everard is fictional, historical figures play key roles in The Lords of Vaumartin. An especially memorable portrait is of Dauphin Charles, the grandfather of the more famous dauphin whose champion would be Joan of Arc. (1988; 344 pages)

More about The Lords of Vaumartin at Powell's Books or

Other historical novels set in medieval France:

Vainglory by Geraldine McCaughrean (1991), about an aristocratic French family's obsession with wealth and castle-building through five generations beginning in 1429. See review or more info at

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse (1949), about Charles d'Orleans, an accomplished poet captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt, and a nephew of King Charles VI of France. More info

The Iron King by Maurice Druon (1955; also titled The Ardent Infidels), first in a series about the Capet dynasty of France. More info

Nonfiction about the Battle of Crécy and fourteenth-century France:

The Road to Crécy by Marilyn Livingstone (2005). More info

The Hundred Years' War: Trial by Battle by Jonathan Sumption (1992), the first volume of a series on the Hundred Years' War. More info

Censure and Heresy at the University of Paris, 1200-1400 by J.M.M.H. Thijssen (1998). More info


Charles V of France at Wikipedia

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