Lotharingia: Charlemagne’s Heir by LARA BYRNE
Lotharingia: Charlemagne’s Heir is an early medieval story that begins in 1062. The story goes back and forth between Germany and Italy and features the political and religious conflicts of the times.
Into a bubbling cauldron of turmoil go Pope Alexander II, King Heinrich IV (Holy Roman Emperor), Matilda of Tuscany, secret religious artefacts and a prophecy handed down through the generations from Charlemagne. The author weaves a believable story from real historical characters from an era in which few written records were made.
The book begins with a long list of characters and I was a little daunted—concerned that I would never get to remember them all. However, once I got into the story, it wasn’t too hard to keep the main players organised in my head. In a period in which many noblewomen were no more than political pawns, the author has brought to light several strong female characters. Matilda of Tuscany and her mother Beatrice of Canossa held powerful positions through lands and their support for the papacy; added to this they owned several rare holy relics which were highly prized at the time.
I thought that the author did a good job with this book, especially considering the complex political situation between the Pope and The Holy Roman Emperor, a situation which was always threatening to topple from its precarious power balance. I liked Matilda and the fictional account of her life felt real; I could see myself happily reading more from this era in a second book.
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Barely known in the English-speaking world, Countess Matilde of Tuscany was a trailblazer who defied the gender expectations of her age, eventually becoming the most powerful woman in the Holy Roman Empire. Lotharingia is a fictionalised re-telling of her youth, as she grapples with the constraints of femininity in her quest for self-definition, power, and love.
Countess Matilde is the sole heir to Tuscany, a descendant of Charlemagne, and a trained warrior, but a woman can only rule with a powerful husband at her side. Even her formidable mother’s mysterious relics and diplomatic nous cannot change Rome’s mind about her betrothal to the duke of Lotharingia, a man who fills her with dread. Determined to choose her path in life, Matilde enlists the support of powerful players, leaving no stone unturned to secure her freedom to love and rule.
Across the Alps, Matilde’s overlord, King Heinrich of Germany, is coming of age, in a court rife with intrigue. His request to divorce sends shock waves through Christendom, and Rome, alarmed at the potential political consequences, decides that Matilde’s marriage can no longer wait.
When, after a chance meeting, Heinrich rescues Matilde from her abusive husband, friendship blossoms into forbidden love, a love with unexpected consequences.