The Lords of Vaumartin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sent into the world at the age of fourteen, Everard de Vaumartin accompanies another of his uncles, Yvain, to fight for the cowardly French King Philip in his wars against Edward Plantagenet, King of England, who is attempting to regain his ancestral holdings on the European mainland. At the Battle of Crecy, where the flower on French knighthood is cut down by the English longbow, Yvain is killed. Everard survives; fearing for his life if he returns to Vaumartin, he flees southward to Paris.

The rest of this engaging historical romance is set in Paris and details the life and education young Everard receives both in the university and in the streets of France’s teeming capital. Everard’s experiences in the city provide author Cecelia Holland with an opportunity to explore a number of themes and historical events from the mid-fourteenth century, including the Black Death, the rise of the universities, the rising power of the monied middle class, the increasing reliance of the upper classes on the expanding power of urban merchants, and the question of class and gender during the waning of the Middle Ages.

The novel concludes with Everard returning to Vaumartin after the death of his usurping uncle and with the blessing of his aunt, who throughout the novel has terrorized him. It is to a much-changed Vaumartin that Everard returns. The Black Death, the growing power of the cities and the merchant class, and the toll exacted by the English wars have much changed France. Everard returns to his ancestral home ready to assume his position of power, but also ready to meet the challenges and changes of a new age.

In this, her sixteenth novel, Cecelia Holland has written an energetic story as engaging as it is informative. Although perhaps somewhat overlong and in places a bit disjunctive, the novel in general runs smoothly and carries the reader along with an engaging mixture of fantasy and history. Holland is one of the more skillful writers of this type of romance and provides her readers with an engaging fictional account of history.