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When Christ and His Saints Slept

(Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine #1)

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  12,582 ratings  ·  721 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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4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,582 ratings  ·  721 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
Jeffrey Keeten
Dec 04, 2011 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
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Mar 02, 2011 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
May 30, 2008 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
May 02, 2014 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
May 18, 2012 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.
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Before the Tudors and before the Plantagenets; England, France, and much of Europe was comprised of territories up for conquest. Although history always highlights men, there were women groveling for crowns, as well. Ever hear of Empress Maude versus King Stephen? Sharon Kay Penman traverses this period in her novel, “When Christ and his Saints Slept”.

A warning must initially be signaled that Penman’s novel is a heavy one. The pages immediately introduce a multitude of characters and the story i
Aug 20, 2008 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
Steven Walle
This was a great book written about the eleven hundreds in England and Normandy. It speaks of the fierce fighting for the crown and many betrails of the heart. I recommend it highly.
Enjoy and Be Blessed.
Krista Baetiong Tungol
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ryan Macadangdang
"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
Jan 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
Now I read Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and his Saints Slept many many years ago (I purchased a hardback copy with much anticipation when it was first released, mostly because of my adoration of Ellis Peters' brilliant Brother Cadfael series which takes place in the same historical period) and I must admit that I have neither the energy nor even the inclination to consider a detailed and intense rereading (at least at present) in order to pen a longer and more involved review, as my reading e ...more
The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears
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
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Sharon Penman has for a long while now, taken first place on my list of favorite authors, in any genre!

No matter which genre I delve into, no author (so far) has been able to draw me in as well as Penman does. Medieval England is filled with all the elements one needs for an entertaining read but no one highlights these elements quite like Penman!

What can I say? I loved this book! I couldn't put it down!
Feb 26, 2013 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
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
Deborah Pickstone
I have read this several times but realised during this re-read how much more critical a reader I have become - not necessarily a good thing, in some ways. So, the complaint first; writing forsoothly. I wish she wouldn't. Also, the use of the term 'lad/lass' every time someone speaks to someone else gets REALLY irritating. I know it's an English habit but not everyone uses it and I doubt it was different then. It's part of the writing forsoothly. I think it's one of the dangers of writing about ...more
Robin Wiley
May 02, 2009 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
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve Donoghue
Well! My first impression, back when this book appeared in 1995, was that it ran aground on all the author's research and failed really to ignite as a big sprawling work of fiction. But now, returning to the book a quarter-century later, I saw SO much more of its merits. In some very real sense, this could be viewed as a work of dramatized history rather than historicized drama - it's fantastic and well-paced and genuinely empathetic throughout. So glad I re-visited this one.
James 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
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
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 24, 2009 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
Jul 12, 2010 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
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
Alina Radu
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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.
Oct 06, 2008 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
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
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
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Play Book Tag: When Christ and His Saints Slept(Listopia) 4.5 stars 2 17 Sep 03, 2018 04:24PM  
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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

Other books in the series

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (3 books)
  • Time and Chance (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #2)
  • Devil's Brood  (Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, #3)
“I inhale hope with every breath I take.” 133 likes
“…she remembered watching a summer sunset from this very spot. Not so long ago; just a lifetime.” 105 likes
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