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from Reviews (ADR)
concerning La Comtesse de Salisbury; Édouard III

     La Comtesse de Salisbury was written in 1839, and is one Alexandre Dumas' earliest historical romances. His first historical best-seller, Le Chevalier d'Harmental, would not be written until 1841, and the golden age of his romances, the 1840's lay ahead. It is of interest because it shows Dumas working on the "mix" of history and romance in order to produce an effective work. In this case, the mix is mostly history. All of the principal characters and events of the book are historical, and take place in their historical sequence. Dumas used his dramatic skills to imagine scenes and dialogue to entertain his readers and advance the action. These imagined scenes alternate with long sequences of historical narrative. Character and circumstance sometimes motivate actions that, to the historian, might be more matters of policy. However, as a work of history, the "plot" has more of the meandering aspect of real life than the usual clockwork precision of a typical Dumas novel or play, and breaks off abruptly.
     The book opens in the winter of 1338, in the court of England's King Edward III, who, after a dramatic scene involving a banquet and a cooked heron ("Then I thought the most timid of birds fit meat for the most coward of kings"), revives his dormant claim to be King of France. Edward lusts after the beautiful Anne Grafton, but Anne is betrothed to the Earl of Salisbury. Edward travels (in disguise) to Flanders, where he concludes a military alliance with the burghers there, and also with a number of continental princes. Edward opens what will turn out to be a century of warfare with France by invasion. The Earl of Salisbury is captured. Anne stays in a Scottish castle under the protection of Salisbury's nephew, William of Montague.
     Several towns change hands by siege or treachery, but Edward is called home to deal with a rebellion (led by David Bruce) in Scotland. This gives Dumas the opportunity to provide a short history of Scotland in the first half of the fourteenth century, featuring William Wallace and Robert Bruce. After more fighting (in Scotland), Edward learns that Anne is besieged in the castle Wark, and leads his forces to raise the siege. The fighting ends with a truce that recognizes (for the moment) Scottish independence. The Earl of Salisbury returns and marries Anne.
     England, Scotland, and France settle into an uneasy peace, but Edward grasps another opportunity to get into France in the shape of a rivalry for the Duchy of Normandy, with rival claimants supported by the Kings of England and France. After more inconclusive fighting, the contestants lapse back into cold war (circa 1340), and Edward sponsors a tournament (with jousting) to be held at Windsor, where rival knights from the three countries can compete.
     Various chivalric deeds are done, but William of Montague is killed by a Scottish knight. On the trip home from Windsor, Anne is drugged and raped by King Edward. When the Earl of Salisbury returns, he finds Anne wearing black. On inquiring the cause, he is told "My lord, I wear it for your honour, basely stolen from me at Nottingham Castle by Edward of England." The book ends.
     Dumas would revisit the theme of a noble betrayed by his sovereign repeatedly, most notably in Louise de la Vallière, and Olympe de Clèves.

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