Northumbria in 1070, like the rest of England, was still reeling from the impact of the Norman invasion four years earlier. On the whole, you could say that the English – those of Anglo-Saxon and Danish origin who had lived in England for generations – still to a large extent opposed the Norman incomers. This was mainly William’s fault. Instead of assuming the crown and letting the country go on happily as it always had, so that no one was really inconvenienced by the change, he granted all his Norman followers huge estates, dispossessing the English land-owners and building up an atmosphere of bitter resentment and enmity that would last for generations to come.
The heroine, Wilfreda, known as Lily, the beautiful heiress to large tracts of Northumbria – her father was a powerful English earl, her maternal grandfather the King of Norway – has already been very unhappily married once to a Norman, Vorgern, but he is now dead and she has reluctantly become the focus of a widespread rebellion led by her childhood friend Hew. William sends his most trusted, and most feared, general, Radulf, “the King’s Sword”, to put down the rebellion – and Lily falls into his hands.
However, she claims to be someone else, a friend of hers whose family have supported the Normans, so instead of sending her straight off to William, he keeps her with him – and falls in love with her.
And she with him.
And that is what is is, a love-story, (the) Lily and the Sword. Hew, a nasty piece of work, is represented as the villain, Radulf as a good man and a great warrior who is simply doing his job, serving his king.
It is an enthralling story, it is well written and it has a convincing background, much of it being set in early medieval York. But I can’t help wondering whether a young Englishwoman who embraced the Norman conquerors quite so enthusiastically – albeit in the name of peace – would have been as popular as Lily apparently is with “her people”. Imagine a Nazi Britain in 1949 …