A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury


Edith Pargeter




Date Reviewed:

Nov 8, 2013

he hero of this novel is a lord called Henry "Hotspur" Percy. Apparently he is a famous figure from English history, but I had never heard of him before. Hotspur was the Lord of Northumberland, a vast area of northern England, which made him a powerful man. He was also a traitor to King Richard II, allying himself to his good friend Henry - together the two overthrew King Richard II and imprisoned him, installing Henry upon the throne, where he called himself King Henry IV. Although King Richard II is supposed to be treated well in prison, he dies and all the citizens of England suspect that King Henry IV had him murdered. All these events take place before the novel begins.

At the start of this novel, King Henry IV sits uneasily upon his throne. He is perpetually short of cash, and the Kingdom of Wales is full of raiders and rebellion. An expedition into the rough country of Wales proves fruitless, and the King is forced to turn back, which makes him appear ineffective and weak.

Parageter introduces us to a woman named Julian, a Welsh woman who lives in a border town of Shrewsbury, between the English and Welsh lands. I think the Julian character is meant to be such a sympathetic figure that the reader will root for her and the doughty Welsh rebels against those bad ol' English. Julian is so reserved and beautiful, and quietly courageous, that certainly the reader will want her (and the Welsh) to succeed in their rebellion against King Henry IV. Hotspur happens to meet Julian, and despite their being on opposite sides of the conflict, Hotspur acts with such overwhelming chivalry and nobility, that Julian can't help but be smitten. So the reader gets to admire the generous, trustworthy, heroic Hotspur through Julian's eyes.

I think Hotspur is shown in such idealized light so that the reader will forgive him for his prideful rebellion against King Henry IV. Yes, Hotspur now betrays King Henry IV, the man he just helped to put on throne. Hotspur leads an army of rebels from the North against the new King. It is impossible for Parageter to justify these historical deeds of the traitorous Hotspur, no matter how many times Julian swoons for the radiant hero. Hotspur is a prideful man, and his temper causes him to throw in his lot with the rebellious Welsh.

The armies of King Henry IV and Hotspur meet on the fields outside of Shrewsbury. Naturally, Hotspur is invincible - he tirelessly slaughters men left and right. Hotspur is a killing machine, and none can stand before his sword as he laughingly butchers the loyal English knights (his fellow countrymen). Do you remember that quote by Robert E Lee: "It is good that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it." Hotspur is very very fond of war. It is sort of like Conan chopping down hordes of opposing fighters. But wait - a nasty treacherous archer in a tree fires an arrow than kills Hotspur - Woe! How unchivalrous! To be slain by a distant assailant! Parageter makes sure that the reader knows the cowardly archer meets a nasty end. I confess, I was delighted when the insufferable Hotspur bit the dust. The earth is better of without a man who twice betrayed the King of England, no matter how heroic he appears in Julian's worshipful eyes.

King Henry IV triumphs! Hotspur and the Welsh are thwarted! (Is it a spoiler for me to relate events from the historical record?)

From the way Parageter closes this book, she seems to imply that even though the noble Hotspur lost, he would be forever remembered as great warrior, a man of honor, an eternal champion that is a symbol to all the English. I found this amusing, since I had never heard of him.