Book Review: I, Jacqueline by Hilda Lewis #historicalfiction #netherlands #15thcentury

Spunky and indomitable Jacqueline

Bookxpert Rating : 3.5/5

Genre : Historical fiction

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AAGE KUA TOH PEECHE KHAYI

This is a popular saying we have in Hindi, which means that you have a well in front of you, and a gorge behind you. So whichever way you go, it is going to end in disaster.

'I, Jacqueline' centres around the life of Jacqueline Hainault, and is based in 15th century Netherlands. Jacqueline was the heir to her father Duke William VI, hereditary prince of Hainault, Holland, Friesland and Zealand after his death. She became Countess of these lands at the tender age of sixteen.

A map of Netherlands roughly during Jacqueline’s era. We can see three of her four counties here- Friesland, Holland and Zealand. Hainault is a little down south and not in this map.
Map sourced from here.

I should state right at the outset that I did not have any background of this history. It’s title attracted me at a sale. Since this is a historical fiction, some facts might have been messed here and there to suit the theme of the story, which I am alright with.

This book is all about Jacqueline- thrice married, thrice imprisoned and ransomed. A spunky lady with an indomitable attitude, she fought tooth and nail for her lands. Even her bitterest rivals respected and admired her, most of them even admitting so to her.

Jacqueline’s struggles to keep her lands safe and under her control is what is described in most of the book. That, and her extensive marriage life. Thrice married, as the blurb states.

Sadly, as the book progresses, the spunky part of Jacqueline gets overshadowed by her miseries, and I feel an increasingly overwhelming sense of pity for her.
On many ocassions Jacqueline finds herself in the 'aage kua toh peeche khayi' situation I have explained at the start. Even so, I felt that Jacqueline herself was to blame for her miseries to an extent. They were the result of her own bad decision making, and could have been avoided or at least minimized, had she acted with more discretion.

I admired her audacity to challenge the patriarchial culture of her times and fight her own battles, and take complete responsibility of her successes and failures.

Her mother was Burgundian, which was apparantely a selfish breed of people. Neither her father nor Jacqueline trusted her. On the contrary, he counseled Jacqueline to not heed her mother’s advice!

He turned at last and said slowly, ‘God forgive me but I must speak…while there is time. Don’t trust your mother, Jacque. She’s a de Charolais. To advance the honour of her house-her own house-she’d be without pity, without faith. One day you must stand against her. Your mother and your uncle of Burgundy! You must stand against them both…and it may be, alone.’

It struck me as odd then, when Jacqueline did exactly what he had warned her against, after his death. Even more so when she ignored his word for a second time, knowing the first time was disastrous.

Everytime Jacqueline was about to take a major decision, I felt dread that something bad would happen, with anticipation that maybe this would turn out good.
How much more could she take? Will she get up again after this debacle?
She always did. She parried and she fell, then got back up and struck again. And again. And again.

Her perseverance and determination were so strong- within eight years she was reduced to a pauper by her rivals(of which there was no dearth). Greed can make a man blind. Her own mother, cousins and uncles conspired to rob her of her lands.
From having lands, servants and palaces, she went to living a frugal life in a hut, scraping by to cover food expenses from the allowance she was given. And she still did not lose hope. She still stood strong. But even in death-

I am so weak I cannot, without help, stand, nor sit upright in my bed. But I do not want to die… I do not want to die. Even now I cannot say Thy will be done. My own will fights against this last Farewell. Why must I die in the midst of the only true happiness I have ever known?…
…between me and God. Make me well, oh God; if not wholly well, then a little well, a very little… as well as I was last year, last month, last week even…
God does not hear me.

Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault, Friesland, Holland and Zealand

I might be sounding like a broken record now, but I, Jacqueline is a story about this amazing woman who could not rise to her full potential because fate dealt her a bad hand.

I enjoyed reading this book. The author could have made it more interesting by including more of outside politics, and harping less on Jacqueline's miseries.

For an additional reading of the fascinating life and travails of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault, Friesland, Holland and Zealand-

  1. The Remarkably Resilient Jacqueline d’Hainault
  2. Jacqueline, Duchess of Bavaria-Straubing, Countess of Holland, Zeeland, Hainaut and Oostervant

EPITAPH FOR JACQUELINE:

Four times in wedlock heart and hand I gave
And though my ancient line ends in this grave
Gorcum I won from William Arkels’ host.
Three thousand English in one day I lost.
My husband from his prison to set free,
My kingdoms all I gave to Burgundy.
Ten years I reigned in grief; content am I
In my ancestral tomb at last to lie.

About the author:

Hilda Winifred Lewis (1896–1974) was a British author of historical and children’s fiction. Lewis originally worked as a teacher, but started writing when she moved to Nottingham in the 1920s. Most of Lewis’ works are out of print; however, a number are available either in print or as e-books.

What’s good :-

  1. The lady in question- Jacqueline Countess of Hainault!
  2. That the book is written in first person- it feels like Jacque is narrating her story directly to us.
  3. The writing- which is not overly archaic, but not completely modern too. It does convey an ‘old’ feel.

What could have been :-

  1. Lesser harping on Jacqueline’s misfortnes and more of politics that concerned her.
  2. Some pictures. A map of the lands during Jacqueline’s era would have been hugely helpful.

Other Stuff:

The title:- I, Jacqueline- clearly states that this book is about the life of one Jacqueline.

Best Line:-

Her courage was always great; she led her armies, won her battles, accepted defeat.

Genre :- Historical fiction
Final Thoughts :- A good read if you like historical fiction. Little slow, but engaging read overall.
Up Next :- ‘Mayada’ by Jean Sasson.

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