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Book Review: Time and Chance - Sharon Kay Penman

by Tamara Mazzei (originally published in the Lake Charles, American Press)

Time and Chance, the latest entry from historical fiction author Sharon Kay Penman, offers an engaging portrayal of Medieval England and France. Focusing on the characters of King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the martyred archbishop Thomas Becket, Penman explores the complex political and personal landscape of her characters with a deft hand.

As a sequel to When Christ and His Saints Slept, the narrative of Time and Chance begins in 1156, shortly after Henry II has married Eleanor of Aquitaine (the former queen of France) and succeeded to the throne of England.

By using a changing viewpoint, Penman shows us life through the eyes of Henry, Eleanor, Thomas Becket, and a purely fictional character, Ranulf, who was also featured prominently in When Christ and His Saints Slept, and who gives a certain measure of continuity to the story.

Penman is noted for her historical accuracy, and while I've heard a few minor quibbles from historians, all in all, the book seems to be as well researched as her others. In fact, the one criticism I have is that she sticks too closely to the chronicles, in some cases even quoting them directly. There's nothing wrong with sticking to documentary evidence, but I admit to wishing that Penman had gotten a little more deeply into the heads of her characters, in spite of the lack of sources documenting their motivation. Or perhaps, because of that lack.

All in all, however, I think Time and Chance is a credit to Ms. Penman and I would highly recommend it to historical fiction lovers everywhere.


If you are interested in researching the characters in Time and Chance further, the following resources may help.

Books Nonfiction

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings - Amy Kelly

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography - Marion Meade

Henry II - W.L. Warren

Henry Plantagenet, A Biography of Henry II of England - Richard Barber

Richard the Lionheart - John Gillingham

The Lives of Thomas Becket - Michael Staunton

Quest for Becket's Bones: The Mystery of the Relics of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury - John Butler

Thomas Becket: The Last Days - William Urry


Medieval Sourcebook: Peter of Blois: Letter 154 to Queen Eleanor, 1173

Eleanor of Aquitaine, a 'Foolish Woman'? - Emma Thomas. CLIO Journal of Ancient and Medieval History at Dickson College ISSUE NUMBER THREE NOVEMBER 1998

Eleanor During the Crusades - Not scholarly, but interesting (ed.)

BBC Monarchs and Leaders Series: The Character and Legacy of Henry II

Henry II from Britannia.com

Medieval Sourcebook: A Description of Henry II

Medieval Sourcebook: Gerald of Wales: On Henry II and his sons, from The Topography of Ireland, Chapters 49-50

BBC Church and State, Beckett, the Church and Henry II

The Acta of Henry II

The Bull of Pope Adrian IV Empowering Henry II to Conquer Ireland. A.D. 1155

Thomas Becket - Resources

ORB: Becket Bibliography


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