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

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4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  7,682 ratings  ·  472 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
Published (first published January 1st 1994)
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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
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
Isis
Aug 05, 2011 Isis rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Absolutely everyone
Recommended to Isis 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Michele
Oct 06, 2008 Michele rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
Sarah
Henry I is on the throne but his true son and heir, William drowns on the White Ship. With no legitimate male heir, Henry I goes against custom and decides to name his daughter, Maude his hier. Maude, widow of the German Emporer cannot take the crown unmarried, and is forced into an arranged marriage with Geoffrey the Count of Anjou.

Upon the death of Henry I, Maude is in France with her husband and before she has a chance to set sail for England, her cousin Stephen has taken the crown. For the n...more
Robin
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...more
Lindz
I think one of the big reasons I started reading was that I had found a good way of time travel. Being transported back in time as a privileged guest, so see, feel and experience things no one else could even comprehend, but without losing the comfort and safety of my childhood bedroom.

"When Christ and His Saints Slept' had everything I could want from a Medieval packaged holiday. The Glamour, the battles, passion, conspiracy, looming castles and bloody sieges.

This novel is epic, she really fo...more
Bob
The title of this book refers to the forsakenness a land experiences in a time of war, when destruction and attacks upon civilians cause one to wonder if God is oblivious to the suffering taking place. I believe that not to be so, but this review is not the place for that discussion!

This historical novel covers the civil war for the crown following the death of Henry the First. His daughter Maude was in line for the crown, but the unacceptability of a woman taking the crown resulted in it being...more
Ruth
c1994. Some of my favourite books have the bitter conflict between Maude and Stephen as a back drop - (eg Cadfael) so it was interesting to have Maude and Stephen as the main protagonists again. This book does sprawl over 806 pages but split into chapters representing certain periods of time which does break it down somewhat. No fault of Ms Penman, and in her introduction she does try to explain and entitle characters with their less formal names, but there are still way too many Maudes, Roberts...more
Cheryl
Loved it! I really enjoy reading historical fiction and this book was no exception. I especially liked how the author made the characters more real by using the speech and customs of our day. It's ironic, however, that the one thing that made the book most enjoyable for me was also the one that bothered me the most. I've always felt the middle ages were a time of formality and decorum and by allowing the characters to "let down their hair" so to speak, I'm afraid the author has changed the perso...more
Victoria
Although it took me ages to actually read this book and quite a while before I got with the pace, I did enjoy it.
This period is completely new to me, having never read anything before the time of Henry II. I did find it confusing to begin with as so many names are similar or the same. The author has tried to differentiate between the characters by slightly changing the spellings of names or changing names altogether etc but I still found it confusing. However, once I became more familiar with t...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
More about Sharon Kay Penman...
The Sunne in Splendour Here be Dragons (Welsh Princes, #1) Falls the Shadow  (Welsh Princes, #2) The Reckoning  (Welsh Princes, #3) Time and Chance (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #2)

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