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When Christ and His Saints Slept (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine #1)

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4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  9,585 ratings  ·  543 reviews
In this novel, Sharon Kay Penman brings to life a dark period in English history, painting a canvas rich in the textures and colors of the era. Here is the pain and suffering of the innocents, the conniving and duplicity of the barons; here is the terrible reality of lawlessness - the burning towns, ravaged countryside, weary people. But above all, here are two extraordina ...more
Paperback, 784 pages
Published February 6th 1996 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1994)
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Best Historical Fiction
87th out of 5,240 books — 20,105 voters
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay PenmanHere be Dragons by Sharon Kay PenmanWhen Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay PenmanKatherine by Anya SetonFalls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman
Historical Fiction: The House of Plantagenet
3rd out of 203 books — 377 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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StoryTellerShannon
Penman's broad epic scope focuses on the dynastic struggle for the crown of England. This takes place in the early 12th century when Henry I, who had over 20 illegitimate children, loses his one legitimate heir in the White Ship Ordeal (i.e. basically, a chunk of the fleet sank in the British storms). Upon Henry I's death it was settled that Henry's daughter, Maude, would rule. For his barons this was quite unpopular as women were not supposed to rule, which opened the doors for a cousin, Stephe ...more
Iset
Aug 05, 2011 Iset rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Absolutely everyone
Recommended to Iset by: Dad
It was with great anticipation that I returned to Sharon Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept, the first book by Sharon Penman that I ever read at the tender age of 10, and which for good reasons immediately became one of my favourite books of all time and in all the years since has never been displaced from its solid and thoroughly deserved status as the cream of the crop not just of historical fiction but across genres. This is the only book for which I have ever stayed awake without slee ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
You will look at this book and find the 742 pages daunting, but I will relieve your mind on that score. The book reads fast. Penman keeps the pages moving bringing history to life and putting flesh on the bones of a vast array of characters. Despite the plot involving so many historical figures I never found myself to be lost. I have read quite a bit about the Plantagenets and that may have helped me to decipher the where, why and what more easily, but I do think a reader with less background of ...more
Bryon
I liked this book, and am a fan of Penman's...but there were a few issues that I had with this one:

1.) "Head-hopping": Sometimes it's really hard to tell who she's talking about, and you have to go back and re-read to figure it out.

2.) Many scenes seem to have this basic structure:
1. Some major characters, most likely nobles, are talking about something eminently important.
2. Suddenly...A rider/knight will rush in to tell them that someone has died/been born, or a castle/city is under siege/ta
...more
Misfit
A Sad and Tragic Period in England's History and truly a time when Christ and his Saints slept. A fascinating, complicated tale with a huge cast of characters, many with similar names. It was hard to keep track of at times, a list of who's who at the front of the book would have been helpful, as SKP did in the next book, Time and Chance.

The characters were well written, and I appreciated that neither Stephen (who did steal the crown) nor Maude were written as black and white/evil vs. saint -- a
...more
TheFountainPenDiva
It still boggles the mind to think that England went through twenty years of civil war because men just couldn't stand to see a powerful woman on the throne. When Christ and His Saints Slept is a very long book, which would make for a very interesting miniseries. This novel is the real Game of Thrones, played against a backdrop of shifting loyalties, clashing armies and the suffering of innocents. One cannot help to feel some sympathy for Stephen, the man who should not have been king. I wanted ...more
Samantha
Sometimes I have a difficult time deciding how to rate a book. I expect to find that a 5-star book stands out among the millions of written pages out there. This one does. I have read it before and knew exactly what would happen, but that didn't stop tears from forming in my eyes at times as Penman skillfully made history come alive.

Even the title is more eye-catching and thought provoking than most. When Christ and His Saints Slept was an era of English history fraught with unfortunate events b
...more
Nate
This truly epic novel covers the years between 1101 and 1154 in England and some duchies in France as the nobility fought an astonishingly long and destructive war over who would sit the throne of England; Stephen of Blois or the Empress Maude. A huge cast of characters populates this book and their conflicts with each other and themselves are what propels this story. All of them have distinctive personalities and personal motive is a huge factor in this story, as sides were changed often and lo ...more
Robin Wiley
It called to me, so I decided to reread it.

Wow, what a completely shitty time to live in England or France! It amazes me that one could carry on a war for 20 years and just dismiss the misery one is causing people. The common people didn't care who wore the crown. They just wanted to live their lives and feed their families. But every year or so you mow down their town on the way to the next castle, fort or stronghold. Your army marches on it's belly, so you take everything edible on the way thr
...more
Moppet
When I was a little girl I had a chart showing the Kings and Queens of England on my bedroom wall. I was especially interested in the Queens of England - that is, the ones who had ruled in their own right, not the consorts. But there weren't too many of those. Prior to Mary I (if you don't count Lady Jane Grey), there was only one - Matilda.

So I was disappointed to learn that Matilda had never really reigned. On his death her father, Henry I, who had lost his only legitimate son in the wreck of
...more
Lori (Hellian)
I'm having such an easier time getting into this than Here Be Dragons.

Don't be misled by the 3 star rating, this was a very good book! I notice another review says "I'm glad I read it, and I'm glad it's over", which is how I feel.

The history was fascinating, I knew nothing about Maude and the civil war in 12 century England. Both she and Stephen, who usurped her crown, were extremely well depicted and fully fleshed out into real people. And when one thinks of a usurper, one usually things of a
...more
Kerrie
Not since Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series have I read such a meticulously researched and yet full-of-life novel of historical events which have only been preserved in ancient and dryly worded contemporary histories. Penman had quite the feat, considering that the chroniclers of the time, misogynist men of the Church, were hostile to Maude and her pursuit of the English throne that was rightly hers. She did an excellent job of balancing Maude as a sympathetic but flawed woman who had ...more
Kirsten *Dogs Welcome - People Tolerated"
Sharon Kay Penman is the all time master of historical fiction. (Her Welsh Princes trilogy even made my Dad cry!)

This is the first in her Plantagenets series. It starts with the death of the only *legitimate* son of King Henry I and what that leads to. Will his daughter take the crown back from her cousin Stephen? What happens when her son Henry meets the Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine?

This is some of the most dramatic and romantic of historical times. Names from history litter this book
...more
Sage
This is not a great example of historical fiction. The story is thin and feels like it is just there to connect the historical elements that the author had researched and wanted to tell us about. It's hard to develop much interest in any of the characters. Really, this isn't so much a novel as a seemingly endless series of vignettes. I'm struggling to get through it, but sticking it out for some reason. I definitely wouldn't recommend.
Michele
Oct 06, 2008 Michele rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any historical fiction fan or anyone interested in this period in history.
Recommended to Michele by: Historical Fiction forum
The remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman began in 1996 with the publication of When Christ and His Saints Slept. Thus begins the remarkable story of the Angevins and their conquest of the English throne.

In the fall of 1120, off the coast of Normandy, the infamous White Ship ran aground, leading to the drowning of William Adelin. This in itself may have just been a footnote in history but for the fact that William happened to be the only legitimate male offspring of Henry
...more
Chrissie
Finished: I am VERY glad I read the book. However I am also glad that it is done. So how can I give it more than three stars. The author brings to life the medieval era. After reading the book you truly know the character traits of the main historical figures. I cannot emphasize this enough. They become true friends/foes. They are real, no one-sided portrayals. No good guys and bad guys, just real people with good and bad qualities. Boy did I come to like Henry II! And King Stephen before him, a ...more
Alina Radu
I like this author increasingly more with every book I read.
The book tells more the story of Stephen of England and Empress Matilda of England.
The life of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are shown less but this is because they are still very young.
Anyway is amazing the young age at which they began to appear on the political scene.
I can not wait to read the second book.
Jennifer
Wow. This novel didn't quite pull on my heartstrings the way "Here Be Dragons" did, but nonetheless this was still a wonderful, beautifully written novel.
This is what I personally would call an "epic" novel. By this I mean that this is a novel that opens up an entire world and allows us unfettered access. There is a wealth of characters, which at first seems rather overwhelming, but who soon become familiar faces to us as we delve further into the story. It is a long story. This is not a novel
...more
Vessy
"Why did a crown complicate matters so?" So true, Stephen, so true. This simple thought says it all. Why people think that being a ruler gives you more power and freedom is beyond my comprehension. A king is his people's as much as they are his. It is one of the most dangerous and complicated partnerships ever. So many people whose will you are dependent upon. And different people have different desires and principles. It is a really tricky and harsh buisness to be able to balance between others ...more
Robyn
If you have ever had an argument with a family member and thought that they were truly crazy, then you need to read this book! It will put everything into perspective for you! It was cousin against cousin, brother against brother, uncle against nephew. You name it, they did it to each other. Laying siege to castles and capturing each other as a prisoner. And all for a crown that never brought Stephen any happiness. This was my first Sharon Kay Penman book and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I ...more
Elaine
William the Bastard, the Conquerer (1066-1087) had: William Rufus, King William (1087-1100) who was killed by a hunting arrow. Henry I,(William's youngest son) became king from 1100 -1135. Henry's only legitimate son drowned when the king's White Ship sunk in the English Channel. His daughter Maude (also known as Matilda) was first married to Heirich, the Holy Roman Emperor. After he died Maude married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and had a son, Henry II.
Stephen, William's grandson, Maude's first c
...more
Melissa
A masterful telling of the turmoil between Maude, heir to the throne, Stephen, usurper to the throne, and Henry, Maude's son, this novel is of the riveting history of early England. After a disastrous sinking of a ship and the death of the heir to the throne, Maude, the King's daughter is called back from Germany to be the new heir to the throne. Because of her new husband and the fact that she is a woman, when the King dies his favorite nephew Stephen is given the throne instead. Desperate to w ...more
Ryan Groesbeck
If I could sum up this book with one word, I think it would be "sad". As one of the barons says early in the book, the choice is between a queen who listens to no-one, and a king who listens to anyone. It's a terrible choice, made worse by the newness of the Norman-French aristocracy which is still settling into control of England over a restive populace. Leading magnates switch sides with alarming frequency, and the ones who suffer worst of all are the poor caught in the middle. Penman does an ...more
Amy
I love English history, literature, tea, scones, accents, cities, and beer. In fact, my family even has a manor in England! (And, by my family, I mean, waaaay back, if you trace my last name, you get to England. And then, if you trace some of those people forward, you'll find out that they were slightly fancier than their American cousins & got to be Lords & Ladies & meet Shakespeare & Queen Elizabeth I, and have a giant manor that looks like a castle.)

ANYWAYS. So, I love the Bri
...more
Rachel
This is a delicious work of historical fiction, in both its historical context and in the depth of development of the characters portrayed. I chose this book specifically because I was interested in learning about Stephen and Maud, but I have to say that I learned so much more than I anticipated.-- about Stephen and Maud, true; but also about the hardships of living during this time, about the politics and power struggle of the barons, and even about siege strategy and battle negotiations. The e ...more
Catherine
I cannot think of enough good things to say about this book and its author. The book was over 700 pages and I couldn't wait to turn each one of them. When Christ and His Saints Slept isn't high literature, but it a great story. Characters are well-defined and the plot is engaging, making for an all around enjoyable read. Moreover, Penman has done her homework, trying to stay as close to documented historical events as possible. Where she strays from historical fact she is forthcoming about it - ...more
Dawn
I didn't like this book, skipping over and skimming through the last half as fast as I could.

Set in 1135 England, it tells the story of Stephen and Maude's fight over the thone.

I picked out this as my first Penman novel because it was set in the era of Brother Cadfael. The amount of time spent on Maude's unhappy marriage and Stephens wife was tedious and jumping from one drama to the next drama was too much action and not enough story or character building. The history was fascinating but the w
...more
Laure Estep
I'd give it an extra star or two if I could. Excellent research, wonderful character development, compellingly told. Neither warring faction is presented as the traditional good guy, nor one evil, which is something exceedingly rare in literature, or history for that matter. I genuinely liked both Stephen and Maude. Penman does a brilliant job bringing the characters and the horrors of the war vividly, believably to life. This was my first Penman novel, and I look forward to reading more very so ...more
MichelleCH
Why couldn't Sharon Kay Penman have been my history teacher? Her writing is spot on - and yes, there is a large cast of characters but this brings depth and breadth to a story that would otherwise have been difficult to tell. The founding of the Plantagenet dynasty and Maude's fight for the crown is powerful with plenty of twists and turns. So looking forward to the next book in the series.
Rosi
Slow reading due to too many characters. The author should have chosen a main character and told their story. There was no connection with any of the endless characters in this book. None of the hordes of characters in this book is sympathetic or likeable and the book is severely lacking in character development - I was never drawn into any of them and couldn’t get past seeing them as 2-dimensional and boring. And, unfortunately, the author added even more characters which had no relevance to th ...more
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Penman received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, she majored in history, and also received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Rutgers University School of Law, and later worked as a tax lawyer. Penman suffered from an eighteen month bout with mononucleosis.

The Sunne in Splendour, a novel about Richard III of England is one of the most popular books on the Historical Nov
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More about Sharon Kay Penman...

Other Books in the Series

Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine (3 books)
  • Time and Chance (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #2)
  • Devil's Brood  (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #3)
Here be Dragons (Welsh Princes, #1) The Sunne in Splendour Falls the Shadow  (Welsh Princes, #2) The Reckoning  (Welsh Princes, #3) Time and Chance (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #2)

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