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Wednesday, 22 March 2016

The Story of the Trial and Death of Sir William Fitzherbert by Malgorzata S.M.B. McKeon (translated from the Polish by Jana Zubrzycka)

Title: The Story of the Trial and Death of Sir William Fitzherbert

Author: Malgorzata S.M.B. McKeon

Publisher: Kraków’s Grill Publishing Kraków 2014

ISBN: 978-83-941-2086-2


The story of the trial and death of Sir William Fitzherbert is far from a typical Jane Austen novel. In fact, it would be much more accurate to describe it as Jane Austen’s “Twelfth Night”. It is an understated, quiet, yet, ultimately, brilliant portrayal of the verdict rendered on a man in an unjust court who is ultimately sentenced to die.

The murder at the center of this novel took place in the last years of the sixteenth century; specifically in November of 1555. The central figure of this story is the last lord of Raglan Castle, one Sir William Fitzherbert. Sir William is the embodiment of the ideal of a twelfth century knight, with an impeccable military pedigree, but who came to possess “the threadbare mantles and patched surcoats of the second rate cavaliers of the times.” He is impeccably dressed in the regalia of a Knight of the Garter, but this is actually a long-delayed recognition, and title, for Sir William. He was born into the tradition of chivalry and he cherished it. He thought he embodied it.

“The author portrays a noble character,” reviewer Patricia Soll stated in her review in The Horn Book Magazine, “who is pompous, impudent, shallow, vain, and egotistical. But like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sir William retains a nobility of spirit that persists in spite of the conduct that earns his death and the villainous characters who pursue it.”

But Lady Fitzherbert, Sir William’s wife is also the embodiment of a twelfth century lady. She is quiet, modest, and dignified. Her piety is absolute, and sets her apart from the rest of the novel. She believes fervently that Sir William, who has always been distant and aloof, is a man of honor. She sets herself to redeem