Cecily by Annie Garthwaite
Cecily, Annie Garthwaite
Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Historical Fiction
Well, I’ve mentioned before how I hated history as a subject at school, all battles and dates, and yet now adore reading it. Its books like this that have made the change for me, brought history to life, through the retelling of events as well as we can imagine, through the eyes of the players involved. We read much about the men in history, the key players, and yet behind them, for better or worse, were often some very strong women.
Cecily is one such, and when we first meet her as a child its clear she adores Richard, and that feeling is reciprocated. It makes them a force to be reckoned, Cecily is fiercely intelligent and Richard wise enough to listen to her.
And yet, she’s a women at a time when life was fraught with danger. Not just the danger of being close to the king, the politics which can change day by day, but also the dangers of life for women of the time, childbirth being a huge one. Expected though to keep on producing children, male children especially. The girls were pawns, married off at a young age and sent to grow up with the husbands family. We see one of Cecily’s daughters sent away at the tender age of five. Five! How heartbreaking for a mother, and perhaps some of the reasons some women like Cecily became so pragmatic. They could find themselves on opposite sides, politically, of their close friends, and even family. They had little control over many things, so they needed to exert themselves where they could. Cecily wanted much for her family, safety, but also to be seen politically, to have prominence in the top echelons of society.
Its a difficult line, and we see Cecily and Richard back and forth, England to France, and then sent to Ireland, problem shooting, where the solution looks insolvable. Richard, advised by Cecily, manages to tread a path, commanding respect and yet what amazed me was how he had to fund the soldiers personally. He needed the riches and lands the King granted to pay for the things the King and treasury refused to do. Never outwardly, its was always promises, and yet they knew money was needed then, not later.
There’s always enemies of course, those who have the kinds ear, especially when the king is weak and Richard and Cecily reach highs and then are plunged down again. Its a thankless task and sometimes – often in fact when I’m reading about characters like this – I wonder why, just why? Why put yourself in the position where your life can be changed, snuffed out even, on a whim. Hard times.
I did have to back track several times to recall who was who and where they fitted in, as this isn’t a period of history I’ve read much about. There are very many characters here who take prominence, and I needed to be sure exactly how they fitted in. Its quite a deep book, intense at times, but the day to day stuff provided the perfect contrast.
I loved that we saw life on a very personal level here, the daily issues and hardships, the small triumphs, the sad losses of children, the feeding at a moments notice of five hundred people. Cecily really had to run a tight ship, be on top of things and she made it look so simple. Throughout we saw just how much love and respect was there between Cecily and Richard. How scared she must have been each time he went off to fight, not knowing if he’d be back. There’s a part where she’s checking his armour before one such event, praying over any vulnerable spots, that brought to me how she must have felt. Richard too, had to show a brave face when inwardly he didn’t know if he’d be back.
The ending, showing the early start of the two families fight for kingship, was also heartbreaking, showing just how sometimes, despite best intentions, attempts to guide a King who is weak, who makes bad decisions, people just have to make a choice they really don’t want to. And yes, I cried.
Stars: Five, a fabulous and very dense read. I loved the small details, the descriptions of life on a personal level.
ARC supplied by netgalley and publishers.