Bruges in the 14th century. Young Marguerite Van Maele is the only daughter and heiress of the count of Flanders. Her father dislikes her for not being a boy and hesitates whether to marry her off to a prince of England or of France. As both countries are at war, it is a delicate affair.

The novel focuses on Marguerite coming of age. She prefers her adventures with the boys to her lessons of embroidery and learns to fend for herself thanks to an Italian fencing master. When her father demands that she wed a man she detests, the young countess uses all her cunning to stop the marriage. The only thing she cannot conquer is the plague, which marches across the land killing thousands…

Flanders Literature characterized the novel as follows: “This novel is based on the life of Marguerite van Male (1348–1405), the daughter of the Count of Flanders. The young aristocrat beautifully and convincingly portrayed in this book is a girl of flesh and blood, a gangly redhead with the fox-like face of her father. A wayward, boyish, wild and eccentric child, constantly at odds with her authoritarian father, she cannot be forced to do anything and refuses to be corseted – literally and figuratively – by anyone.

Marguerite relates in a sober, enthusiastic and lively style how everything has gone against her from the day she was born, because she was not the son her parents had dreamed of but rather ‘one of God’s little jokes’. She tells her story with pluck and without too much sentiment: about her hatred for her father, her beloved mother’s insanity, her mischievous escapades with the castle’s armour-bearers, her first lessons with the sword, and the boredom of embroidery. The historical background provided by the Hundred Years’ War and the gloomy atmosphere of the Middle Ages, its suffocating religion and superstition, the plague, the grimy colours and smells are subtly present throughout.”

I wrote this novel with Pat van Beirs. The Dutch version came out in 2005. Is has since been published in ten languages. The English adaptation was by John Nieuwenhuizen. The novel came out in Australia as “With a Sword in my Hand” and in the US as “A Sword in her Hand.’

Below you can read a translation of the first chapter commissioned by Flanders Literature.

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