Book Review: The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier

kingsgeneralHonor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone. As the English Civil war is waged across the country, Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, and Honor remains true to him.

Decades later, an undaunted Sir Richard, now a general serving King Charles I, finds her. Finally they can share their passion in the ruins of her family’s great estate on the storm-tossed Cornish coast-one last time before being torn apart, never to embrace again

Set in Cornwall during the English Civil War of the 1640’s and  told from the viewpoint of an elderly Honor Harris as she reflects back on her life and love. Eighteen year old Honor loses her heart and prepares to marry Richard Grevile until an accident permanently cripples her from the waist down. Richard and Honor separate, and meet years later during the Civil War as he is now the King’s General in the West for King Charles I,  as they fight the Parliamentarian rebels. While Honor refuses to marry Richard, her feelings for him are as strong as before and they begin a relationship as the tides of war ebb and flow around them.

For protection, Honor takes up residence at Menabilly, the family home of Honor’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Rashleigh. She is not the only section of the family to do so, and there are continual undercurrents of strain that are only made worse by the war coming close by. Richard visits Honor here regularly and persuades her and Jonathan to hide his son Dick there. There is only the implication of anything more than a platonic relationship, in the form of gossip, name calling, and Richard’s repeated staying overnight in Honor’s bedroom. Menabilly suffers at the hands of the Parliamentarians however, who wreck the place in reaction to the losses they have suffered. Honor soon finds herself homeless not once, but twice, as her family react badly to her friendship with the domineering Richard.

Being a woman and a cripple, living on the humour of others during a civil war, means Honor can often be on the outskirts of the war, and much of her updates on the war is from second hand gossip and from the rare letters from Richard  – even rarer when he is forced to the continent.

The New Model Army are brought in under Cromwell, and those people previously supporting Parliament realise just how worse things could be under a Puritan leader and Richard returns to lead the potential new uprising. However, he has burnt too many bridges, fallen out with too many people of influence, for his Royalist rebellion to be any success, so he is forced back to the continent to waste his days uselessly until his death.

Honor and her brother Robin, two of the few remaining members of what was previously a large extended family, finish their lives in quiet retirement, with Honor writing this tale.

Richard is not necessarily a sympathetic character – he is fickle of temper, willing to pit one person against the other (even family members), use and discard people to his own ends, doesnt care for those who may hate him in the process, including his own sons, legitimate and otherwise. Even though he loves Honor, he isnt faithful at any point even when courting back in the early days.

Honor is stubborn and wilful in youth, and her disability in older age slows her down slightly, in body if not in spirit. Some would say she is blinded by love and ignorant of Richard’s flaws, but she sees them (she believes) and still follows him as necessary

As per other Du Maurier novels, the story – though fictional – is based somewhat in fact (apparently!) but it takes someone like Du Maurier to produce a novel as good as this .

 

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