Title: If All the Swords in England
Author: Barbara Willard
Major Themes: Britain, Henry II, Thomas Becket
Synopsis: A pair of twin boys find themselves caught up in the conflict between Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Historical fiction is our favorite genre to read aloud. We love hearing about historical events in such a way that they come to life. If All the Swords in England, by Barbara Willard, has done that for Thomas Becket. We aren’t likely to forget very soon how the conflict ended between English King Henry II and his friend, Thomas Becket, whom he appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. The details of that conflict are never spelled out very clearly here, though, which was a bit disappointing to me. All we know for sure from this book is that the King, who has a ferocious temper, wants the Archbishop to submit to his rule, while the Archbishop is determined to stand up for what the Church and the Pope have decreed.
The story is told through the point of view of a pair of twins, Edmund and Simon. They are 11 years old; their family was killed by robbers a year ago and now an old family servant is trying to find them a position in the royal court. Unfortunately, Simon’s hand was withered when he held his dead father’s hand for several hours, and this deformity means he will not be accepted in the court. Since he can read and write, he will seek employment with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to accomplish that, goes to the home of the family servant’s sister. Her husband has a very distant connection with the Archbishop, so they hope he can make an introduction. Instead, the king makes a proclamation that everyone connected with the Archbishop is to be immediately banished from England, and Simon is caught up with them and dragged along to the coast.
Simon eventually finds his way to the Archbishop and becomes part of his household, acting as scribe. When the Archbishop tries to reconcile with the King, he is present. Meanwhile, Edmund has become a servant to the King, until one day when the King flies into a rage. Edmund flees, attempting to get to England to warn the Archbishop of his danger before four of the King’s knights arrive to kill him. Will he make it in time?
You will enjoy the depiction of life in the 1170s in England and France, and the glimpse at politics and church life. Barbara Willard has done well at bringing these events to life.
WARNING: Chapter 11 describes a horrific murder.
Listening Level—Ages 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above