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Grisly Grisell, by Charlotte Yonge
Lepanto Press
Number of pages:


This captivating tale situated in 15th century England is the story of a young girlís perseverance and victory in virtue. The Wars of the Roses play an important role in the plot of the story. The family of Grisell Dacre of Whitburn is devoted to the white rose (House of York); while the family of the man to whom she is betrothed supports the red rose (House of Lancaster).

The author immediately captures the readerís attention with a gunpowder accident that leaves the young Grisell dramatically scarred for life. The culprit of the accident is none other than her future husband, Leonard Copeland. Finding sympathy in none but her benefactor, the Countess of Salisbury, Grisell is placed in a convent in hope of recovering at least her health. It is in this convent that she meets Sister Avice, who sees to the healing of her wounds and the education of her soul.

After the death of the Abbess, Grisell must return to her dreary home in the North Country, where she fears she will be hated by all. However, Sister Aviceís gentle manner has taught Grisell "how not to be loathly in the sight of those whom she could teach to love her."  At the height of the Wars of the Roses, Grisell is left without family and must take her role as Lady of the castle. The circumstances of war bring her once again in contact with the boy she was to marry, Leonard Copeland. As the story develops, Grisell becomes the valiant woman, who serves and tends unselfishly to anotherís needs and brings the heart to love.

Strong points:

  • The story encourages virtue, especially perseverance in the good.
  • It clearly portrays the various temperaments of man and how oneís character is molded by the choices made in life.
  • It is beautifully written with vivid images of the English and Flemish countryside. The challenging vocabulary provides a new dimension in the enjoyment of the story.
  • Reference to familiar names and places entices the reader to research both the history and geography of England.


The novel makes use of many historical events; however, the Catholic teacher will make a few reservations:

  • Pg. 58: "Öthe yoke (of the Pope) had been shaken off during the Great Schism, no sooner had this been healed than the former claims were revived, nay, redoubled, and the pious Henry VI was not the man to resist them." There were abuses of power on both the side of the Papacy and the kings. The truth is that both were supposed to work together and the Church was a restraint that kept the kings from becoming tyrants.
  • The character of the Queen seems a little exaggerated, we hear her spoken only as the "Frenchwoman." It seems normal that she would fight for the right of her son to reign in succession to his father, Henry VI. For a good treatment of Prince Edward of Lancasterís claim to the throne, one can read with profit from the Glory of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll, p. 576-8.


This is a great book to study with girls since it gives them a beautiful example of true womanhood. Students love the story and are always different (for the better) after reading it. The ending is a little romantic, but quite innocent.

Teachers will find in this book a powerful tool to help girls understand the beauty of their feminine vocation.