Friday, 7 February 2014

The Founding: Cynthia Harrod Eagles, reviewed by Kathleen Jones

The Founding

by Cynthia Harrod Eagles


If you like Philippa Gregory, you'll love this. I read another writer's blog (Random Jottings - The End of a Dynasty?) recently lamenting that Cynthia Harrod Eagles' publishers had 'dropped' her because sales of her cult historical novels weren't as high as they would have liked. The blogger raved about the Morland Dynasty and the Kirov Saga (the latter set in Russia) and I was intrigued. Here was a writer with a long track record of rave-reviewed historical fiction and I'd never stumbled on her before. Why? Under-promotion, the blogger suggested - all the publisher's fault, and one of the reasons why so many writers are now self-publishing. So I hopped over to Amazon and downloaded the first of the Morland Dynasty saga - The Founding - set in the 15th century world of Richard III, Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses - Lancaster and York.

I was immediately gripped by the central character - Eleanor Courtenay, impoverished ward of Lord Edmund Beaufort (grandson of John of Gaunt) - who is sold off in marriage to a wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmer and wool merchant who wants to trade his money for a bit of spit-and-polish and some aristocratic influence. The gently born and educated Eleanor is transported to a filthy northern farmhouse and bears four children in three years. Eleanor's courage and sheer bloody-mindedness win in the end, but the influential connection she brings with her also carries obligations that are not always comfortable. She and her husband find themselves caught up in the civil war and torn between allegiance to the Lancastrian Beauforts or to Richard of York. Eleanor's private loyalties prove costly.

It's been a very good read with accurate historical detail - a wonderful insight into the way women had to live - enduring superstition and prejudice and almost continual child-bearing. I also liked the way that Eleanor's character developed through the book as she aged and was changed by circumstance. I'm off now to down-load the next book, The Dark Rose, to follow the fortunes of Eleanor's grandchildren. There are 35 books altogether, bringing the family's fortunes up to the present day, so I expect to have to pick and choose a bit, but there are some readers who have read every one and are totally addicted!

I might also follow Random Jottings' suggestion and write to the the publishers to protest about their actions - it's time Readers started to make publishers aware of what they want. 

The Founding is currently available second hand for 1p, on Kindle for £4.72 and free from your local library. 


Kathleen Jones writes biography, poetry and historical fiction.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life'. 

The Sun's Companion - 20th century historical fiction.