Regicide begins with a description of a historical event: King William of England, known as William Rufus (1087-1100) died after being struck by an arrow while he was hunting in Normandy, shot by a person unknown. His younger brother Henry succeeded him with such great haste that murder was suspected, but never proven.
The real story commences in 1119, when Hilary (a person who did exist), a traveling teacher, sometime poet and clerk in Holy Orders, is let go from his position as a tutor to the daughter of the Lord of Beaugency, after she dies of St. Anthony’s fire (ergot poisoning, common in France and Germany at the time). Taken by cart with his books and papers to the Loire River, from where he could go by boat to Orleans in search of a new position, he spends the night at a riverside inn. There he meets John of Muchelney who buys the impoverished young man his dinner and afterwards plays dice with him. When Hilary loses, his debt is discharged by his obligation to take a bulky pouch to Count Fulk of Anjou. The next morning, Hilary finds John horribly murdered and fearing himself in danger, eschews the boat and quickly begins the many days’ walk to Orleans and then Chartres. Still feeling himself followed, he goes on to Paris to consult with his old tutor and Master, Peter Abelard, in the hopes of some direction as to what to do.
When he and Abelard read the contents of the pouch entrusted to Hilary, they realize that it is part of a conspiracy to overthrow King Henry, a message about who benefitted from the death of William Rufus, and about the Great Jewel of Alfred the Great, which had been missing since 1066. Despite the fact the contents puts Hilary in the crosshairs of both sides of the debate, he nevertheless feels his vow to deliver its contents is unbreakable and Abelard decides to help Hilary fulfill his promise.
The author weaves many historical characters in and out of this story – Heloise, Fulk of Anjou, Walter Tirel, Hugues de Payen – as our pair travels as far as Jerusalem in search of Fulk, then returns with the rejected pouch contents to present to King Henry as a sign of goodwill. Death follows them, and the reader is treated to the Tower of London, along with a mass of other historical details.
The story reminded me no small amount of the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Peter Abelard is the philosopher, deep thinker, orator and teacher, while Hilary, his student, is the grounding and querying sidekick.
I loved the history around which this novel is woven – that of the Anglo-Saxons – and I found the detail captivating. However, because of this detail, the book must be read slowly to absorb everything and I found myself doing some online searching of the history. It also varies from slow and ponderous exposition to scenes filled with action and tension. Luckily there was enough of the latter to keep me going!
If you like historical fiction and an alternative and intriguing story of an ages-old mystery, and you don’t mind the occasional slow pace, then Regicide is a book for you.
This review is offered as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I purchased this book for review.
About the Author
David Boyle is a British author and journalist who writes mainly about history and new ideas in economics, money, business and culture. He lives the South Downs, in Sussex, and writes in a small green hut at the end of his garden. He has found that history now absorbs him the most, from Richard the Lionheart to Enigma and a great deal in between. He tries to recapture some of the spirit, even the magic, of the past in his books Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma, Before Enigma, Operation Primrose, Rupert Brooke: England’s Last Patriot, Peace on Earth: The Christmas Truce of 1914, Jerusalem: England’s National Anthem, Unheard Unseen: Warfare in the Dardanelles, Towards the Setting Sun: The Race for America and The Age to Come.
You can find David Boyle on twitter @davidboyle1958
and on his website: http://www.david-boyle.co.uk/
Regicide can be found on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Regicide-Peter-Abelard-Great-Jewel-ebook/dp/B01IPCCKJ8