Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
In Lotharingia, Lara Byrne brings the story of Charlemagne’s star-crossed heirs vividly to life. We see the world mainly through the eyes of Countess Matilde of Tuscany, a feisty young heiress. Despite her descent from Charlemagne, and her warrior training, she must obey the rules of her world. Although unwilling to fit into the traditional woman’s role, she must still leave her Tuscan inheritance for an arranged marriage to the brutal duke of Lotharingia.
The novel, Lotharingia, Charlemagne’s Heir, recreates the fascinating personalities that shaped Europe at the time of the power struggle between pope and emperor. Mathilde enlists formidable allies—her mother, the Pope himself, and her husband’s feudal overlord, King Heinrich of Germany. Heinrich, she discovers, is another of Charlemagne’s heirs; another force of nature. He defies the fate thrust upon him by other people’s ambitions. It leads him to clash with his feudal underlings, his mother, and the Church, and makes him heroic.
Charlemagne’s Star-crossed Heirs
This is an immersive novel rich with intrigue. The struggle between the Empire and Papacy for the supremacy permeates every conflict. It leads to the impossible choices faced by complex people placed in impossible situations.
One pleasure of Lotharingia is its setting. It takes places in Italy and Germany at about the same time as the Norman Conquest. Although I knew there had been an investiture controversy, but I knew none of the details. This immensely entertaining and well-written novel brought the events to life. This book is a lush tapestry that weaves the many plot strands into a compelling pattern. Matilde is an unconventional and strong heroine who experiences terrible events and rises above them. Heinrich begins as a brash youth, testing his newly won power and grows into a powerful man who has faced loss and become wiser and stronger.
In her author notes, Byrne says that very little is known about these people in the historical record. Nonetheless, she has woven a credible story with plausible settings, characters and behaviour. Only, at times, in Mathilde’s relationship with Heinrich, did I find my credulity strained, but this is a quibble. I could not put it down and await the sequel with enthusiasm.