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

4.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,692 Ratings  ·  594 Reviews
A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England's King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry's beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned.

Sharon Kay Penman's magnificent fifth novel
Paperback, 784 pages
Published February 6th 1996 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1994)
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Best Historical Fiction
90th out of 5,711 books — 21,914 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 201 books — 399 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
Aug 05, 2011 Iset rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 16, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 05, 2008 Bryon rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2015 Tania rated it really liked it
"A man can be our enemy, Eustace, and still be a decent sort.

I've read all of Philippa Gregory's king and queen books, and this is only my second title by Sharon Kay Penman. I enjoy them both but for different reasons - PG shows you all the intrigues in the courts, but you're never really aware of what is happening to the man on the street. These are quick, easy and very intriguing reads. SKP shows the effects of the kings wars and decisions on the country as a whole. I found it especially sad t
Aug 20, 2008 Misfit rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medieval
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
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
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
Mar 21, 2013 Nate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-ages, owned
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
Mar 13, 2013 Sage rated it it was ok
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.
James Oliver Burns
I have always loved historical books about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, and even though this a work Historical Fiction it was well researched and meets my criteria for Historical Novels. 1st, is it historical accurate describing Battles, and Characters. 2nd, are the characters described real people and how many fictional people are there. 3rd, Can the book come to life as if I'm living the story.
I don't have the words to describe how much I enjoyed reading this book.
The first chapters
Robin Wiley
Mar 05, 2013 Robin Wiley rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 28, 2009 Lori rated it liked it
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
Oct 16, 2010 Kerrie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: plantagenets
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
Wow! What a fascinating and through look at 12th century England and Europe when King Stephen and Empress Maud were fighting for the Throne of England. I started this with very little knowledge of the period before Henry II was King of England. He is of course famous for his controversial marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry and Eleanor don't show up much until the last 20% of the novel but that did not deter from my reading experience.

The story is told from the perspective of historical pers
Actual rating is 4.5 stars

This is the second Sharon Kay Penman book that I have read, the first being the brilliant The Sunne in Splendour - A Novel of Richard III which is one of my favourite books of all time. I therefore went into this with high expectations and I'm pleased to say that I was not disappointed at all.

Set in England and France in the middle of the 12th century, during a bloody, nineteen year civil war known as the Anarchy, this has everything you could want from a historical fi
Krista Baetiong Tungol
"And so began for the wretched people of England, a time of suffering so great that they came to fear "Christ and his saints slept.""

Now I understand what the fuss on this book is about! It is a clear-cut narration of historical events leading to the Anarchy and what it was like for people from all standing to live through and suffer the tribulations of this particular period, starting from the day Stephen and Empress Maude fought over England’s crown. Reading this is like poring over a history
Oct 06, 2008 Michele rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Alina Radu
Sep 10, 2015 Alina Radu rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 01, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 17, 2016 Gary rated it it was amazing
What makes Sharon Penman's historical novels set in medieval Britain so amazing is how they combine sticking quite close to historical facts, with making a thrilling read enjoyable to modern readers, together with an engaging cast of characters.
This novel documents the nineteen year civil war between Empress Maud, Countess of Anjou and Lady of the English and King Stephen, a war which ravaged England and caused great suffering to the people.
Penman outlines the complex characters of Maude- proud,
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
Aug 24, 2010 Elaine rated it liked it
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
Based on the conflict between King Stephen and Empress Maude, this is an extensive and very well written novel for historical fiction enthusiasts. Written in third person, it follows numerous characters and sub-plots.

I think the most interesting thing about the novel is that neither Maude nor Stephen are portrayed as the protagonist or antagonist. Though this means the reader's loyalty is split, it also means the characters are well developed with realistic positive and negative qualities. You
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it
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
Jul 13, 2015 Ryan Groesbeck rated it really liked it
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
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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
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)

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