I really wanted to recommend The Maiden's Heart if for no other
reason than the story premise is a bit unusual. How many romances are
there were the heroine insists on a "spiritual" marriage? Moreover,
Beard has clearly done some research about the Middle Ages. But what
keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending that fans of medieval romances
read this book centers on the fact that, while the premise is very
medieval, the characters and the tone of the book seems strangely
The story centers on the marriage of Sir Hugh de Grayhurst and Lady
Margrete Trewsbury. Sir Hugh is one of those unhappy second sons who,
deprived by primogeniture (and a tyrannical father) of any hope of
inheriting property, has earned his livelihood on the tournament
circuit. But Sir Hugh is now thirty and, although he can still hold his
own in the joust, he is tired of the life. He informs his cronies that
he wants to marry and settle down. But who will have a landless knight
for a husband?
It just so happens that in the very neighborhood where he makes his
declaration, there is a woman in need of a husband. Margrete Trewsbury
is twenty-five but she has avoided marriage because she dreams of
becoming a nun. However, she was forced to leave the convent because
her father needed her to run his barony. Lord Giles had been injured
many years ago and has not been quite right ever since the raid that led
to his wife's rape and murder. Margrete has struggled to hold the
barony together, but the once prosperous Longrove has fallen on hard
times. Now Lord Giles wants his daughter to marry because he fears he
has not long to live. And news of his wishes have become public
Sir Hugh immediately sends his squire to propose a match and Lord Giles
agrees. Hugh's friends tease him that the woman must be as ugly as sin
to have remained unwed so long. Instead, Hugh finds the loveliest woman
he has ever seen. When Margrete informs Hugh of the kind of marriage
she wants, he at first refuses. But the land and the lady are too
tempting and so they wed.
Thereafter, part of the story has to do with the growing affection
between the two, part with the problems of their developing a working
relationship now that Hugh is in charge, and part with the dangers posed
by Hugh's old enemy who is in cahoots with the bishop and wants both the
lady and her land (as well as the rumored treasure that resides within
Hugh, as a hero, is the answer to a maiden's prayers. He is honorable,
able and caring. He comes to love his wife, but will not force himself
on her nor will he take advantage of her momentary weakness. Margrete
is a woman who has good reason to avoid the marriage bed over and above
her belief that virginity is a holier state.
As I said before, an interesting premise.
Why then am I not more enthusiastic about the book? Some of my reasons
are sui generis. As I noted, Beard did some research, but not
enough. Her understanding of feudal tenures, vassalage, the 14th
century legal system, and the social stucture is incomplete. But I do
recognize that most readers will not find these elements as jarring as I
Beyond these problems is the fact that I did not feel that I was reading
about real medieval people in a real medieval setting. Rather,
the characters seemed more like stock characters and the setting seemed
hazy. Again, this may well reflect my own preferences when reading
medieval (or any historical) romance.
So, while I recognize the undoubted good points of The Maiden's
Heart, including its unusual plot and its attractive hero, the book
does not have that special something that lifts it above the ordinary.
An acceptable medieval romance, but not an outstanding one.