949 years ago today, there was a final battle for England. In a way, it was a three way battle for the country. The battle leading up to this one involved Harald Hardrada, King of Norway and Denmark at the time who felt he had a valid and rightful claim. Without Harald Hardrada’s involvement, Harald Godwinsson King of England at the time might have actually been better prepared and able to win against William of Normandy at the battle of Hastings.
I am not going to go into a detailed discussion of the events but I do want to share a few books and such that I have read about the people involved in this history and these events.
Helen Hollick has two excellent books about the prior events leading up to the battle and the final outcome.
The Forever Queen: This book is a great depiction and detail of Emma of Normandy, whom little is known about but who is so important in history. It is the first of two books on Emma and her offspring, with the second book being, I am the Chosen King.
What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?
Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.
Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.
I was quite impressed with all of this book. I appreciate that it was not so much a gushy over done, made up romance novel but more of a historical docu-drama of her life. Helen Hollick took the limited details surrounding this somewhat forgotten queen that we hear so little about and wove those details into an excellent story!
It is not a feel good, happily ever after love story by any means. If you are looking for that, you will be quite disappointed. What you will find is a story about the grim and gritty realities of a woman’s life in those early medieval times. Just because a woman was of noble blood and ended up with a crown- more than one, it did not mean her life was any easier. In fact, in so many ways it was even more difficult.
Emma was married first to Æthelred who failed as both a King and a husband, but Emma did do her duty in providing him with not one, but two legitimate heirs. That should have given her some security in those times but unfortunately luck was not with her… or maybe it was? The kingdom is overtaken by Cnut who claims her along with the kingdom. She finally finds love with him only to have him die leaving the kingdom in another battle of who should rule.
The story of her life was well documented in this book with more than enough factual information woven into the story to give what I felt it was an excellent representation of the constant hurdles she endured throughout her life that colored and shaped how she viewed her role and her destiny as well as that of her sons.
In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.
I was just as impressed with it as I was with the first book! What is interesting for me now is the comparison between this work and the information I previously read in Carol McGrath’s books about the same people. Where as Carol’s books deal more with Edith’s and her daughter’s lives and their possible perspectives of the time and events, this work goes into more depth concerning all of the key figures of the time. By reading all of them, I think you could gain a better insight and picture of what was happening and how those involved might have come to the choices they made.
Carol Mcgrath has a series about the women involved in these events. The Handfasted wife and the Swan daughter by Carol McGrath.
These two books are about history during the time of William the Conqueror. They are well written historical biography types more than romances.
The first one, Handfasted wife tells the story of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of Edith (Elditha) Swanneck, Harold’s common-law wife. She is set aside for a political marriage when Harold becomes king in 1066. Determined to protect her children’s destinies and control her economic future, she is taken to William’s camp when her estate is sacked on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. She later identifies Harold’s body on the battlefield and her youngest son becomes a Norman hostage. Elditha avoids an arranged marriage with a Breton knight by which her son might or might not be given into his care. She makes her own choice and sets out through strife-torn England to seek help from her sons in Dublin. However, events again overtake her. Harold’s mother, Gytha, holds up in her city of Exeter with other aristocratic women, including Elditha’s eldest daughter. The girl is at risk, drawing Elditha back to Exeter and resistance. Initially supported by Exeter’s burghers the women withstand William’s siege. However, after three horrific weeks they negotiate exile and the removal of their treasure. Elditha takes sanctuary in a convent where eventually she is reunited with her hostage son. This is an adventure story of love, loss, survival and reconciliation.
The second book is about Edith and Harold’s daughter, Gunnhild. The Swan Daughter is a true 11th C tale of elopement and a love triangle by best-selling author of The Handfasted Wife, Carol McGrath. A marriage made in Heaven or Hell. It is 1075 and Dowager Queen Edith has died. Gunnhild longs to leave Wilton Abbey but is her suitor Breton knight Count Alan of Richmond interested in her inheritance as the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swan-Neck or does he love her for herself? And is her own love for Count Alain an enduring love or has she made a mistake?
Carol has recently published a third book in the series- I have it on my list to read!
The Betrothed Sister
(Book three in The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy)
xile, Danger and Revenge
1068 and exile for the royal women of Exeter. Thea is betrothed to Prince Vladimir of Kiev. She carries revenge in her heart for the Normans who killed her father and the Rus court is threatened from within and without. Can Thea find peace in her heart and understanding from her prince?
Finally, a third author gives her version of the events and the people. Patricia Bracewell has two books available so far of a planned trilogy. She gives a slightly different perspective but the stories are just as compelling as Helen’s or Carol’s versions!
England, A.D. 1002
In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, a fifteen-year-old girl kneels to receive an English crown – an act that will echo down the ages. Within that circlet of gold the ambitions of four powerful men are about to collide, for this young queen is the key to all that they desire. To a calculating Norman duke she is a blood tie to the wealthiest monarchy in Europe. To a haunted English king she is a guarantee of allies against a fierce and brutal enemy. To Denmark’s Viking ruler she is a prize worth ten times her weight in silver. To a young ætheling of England she is a temptation to forbidden passion. Her name is Emma…and she will change the course of history.
England, A.D. 1006
England is under siege. Famine and death stalk the land, ambitious royal sons chafe against a father’s implacable rule, and across the Danish Sea a fierce enemy is poised to strike. A desperate, feckless king sits upon England’s throne, railing against a pitiless God and fearing Almighty vengeance for an ancient sin. His young queen, Emma, fears for the life of her infant son, for she has wed into a royal line that does not balk at murder to win a crown. Determined to protect her child from any who would harm him, the queen forges alliances with men of power, unaware that in a far corner of the kingdom there is treachery afoot. When England is ravaged by wave after wave of Viking armies, when loyalties are strained to the breaking point and no one is safe from the sword, the queen faces a final, terrible dilemma, and at stake is the one thing that she holds most dear.
In these first two books of the series, Patricia has done an amazing job of sweeping us into Emma’s world. She has given us a view of that world with it’s desperation, conspiracies and treacheries from a young girl’s perspective as she tries to weave her way through all the traps, snares and entanglements that become her life. I am looking forward to book 3 to read Patricia’s version of the outcome for Emma and the others who make up her world.
None of these books should be labeled or put into a Historical Romance genre or category. All three of these authors have put an enormous amount of time, effort and research into telling these stories from a historical point of view and reference. What they have done is well beyond any simple story of romance. They have all taken the people involved in these historical events and breathed life into them. They have all approached it from different perspectives and made these people come alive, made you care about them and better understand the situations that they were placed in during this time of chaos and turbulence. They deserve much credit, praise and appreciation for telling this story and these events in a way that we might not always think to look at it!