Viking Best Reads
Medieval History, vikings and invasions!
When you hear the word “Vikings” it might summon images of burly men running across beaches, post-invasion, fur coats… pretty much Game Of Thrones a long time in the past.
Well, to be completely honest, it was a pretty messy showdown.
I’m going to begin with King Edgar and his 3rd (maybe 2nd?) wife Ælfthryth because she caused the most scandal. Firstly, can I note how difficult these names are to pronounce/type (never seen this “Æ” before… and sometimes she is known as Elfrida and her son is called Æthelred which means I get them muddled up all the time)! However, this particular lady is super important in ‘Viking’ history as she was the first woman to be termed Queen that century and the first Saxon Queen of England! This meant she was the first woman that could aid the King in governing the realm.
Yet, when King Edgar died, his eldest son Edward (from his previous marriage) was crowned King. This did not sit well with Ælfthryth, as she wanted her son Æthelred to be King (especially as she was his only wife to crowned). So, the tale goes, that King Edward was invited to visit her at Corfe Castle but as soon as he arrived he was stabbed to death by her men! The murder of a King was a outrage but King Edward was quickly buried and Æthelred was crowned King.
Æthelred II, quickly became known as ‘Æthelred the Unready’ and his reign was equally troubled. As he was only 12 when he became King, his mother takes a big lead in the start. Only when she dies did another main lady enters the picture… Emma of Normandy.
Emma was pretty incredible.
It was known that Emma and Æthelred had a bad relationship (he was potetinally abusive towards her and was an equally a useless ruler!). During their marriage, she had two sons and one daughter with Æthelred, her eldest son was called Edward and was known for being a fairly quiet and shy boy. She, meanwhile, was known for being resilient and bright. This is shown by her name appearing against a number of documents from this time, which was pretty unheard of for women. When the Danes continued to raid England, eventually Emma fled England to Normandy to escape the invasion by Sweyn (1013). It was only pure luck that Sweyn died a year later and Emma and her children were able to return. Then, Æthelred’s eldest son Athelstan, (born to his first wife) died. This meant either Emma’s son, Edward, or Edmund Ironside (also born to Æthelred’s first wife) would be the next heir and then… another death… King Æthelred dies.
This is where it gets really messy, Emma sends her children safety to Normandy but decides to remain in England. This was a decision that makes her one strong lady! Edmund Ironside is made King but another twist occurs when Sweyn’s son, Cnut (or Canute) invades England to take the throne for himself. Cnut is victorious and becomes King, putting Emma in a very tricky position. At the time Cnut was crowned she was bravely kept under siege, in the safety of London when she decides to greet her new King. The moment they meet, Cnut demands Emma as his Queen. She literally becomes Queen again!
Her marriage with Cnut produces another son, Harthacnut, who on his death, allows Emma’s eldest son Edward to be heir to the throne. Phew.
Books about this period of History
Here are some of my suggestions…
Of the Ring of Earls (Book 1) – Juliet Dymoke
Waltheof of Huntington was an English Earl, alive when William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) has successfully taken the throne of England in 1066. This Earl’s life made history as he was arrested for treason on the new conquering king! I gave the book 2 stars as sometimes I felt the story was a bit dry.
Shadow on the Crown & The Price of Blood (The Emma of Normandy Series) – Patricia Bracewell
Both these books follow the very beginning of Emma of Normandy’s life and time as Queen to King Æthelred. It covers a lot of the competition she has with, Elgiva, Æthelred’s Anglo Saxon mistress and how fragile their kingdom was at this period. My only reasons for not giving 5 stars was because the end of the second book still left a lot of Emma’s life untold!
A Hollow Crown – Helen Hollick
This book on Emma of Normandy was much more a full tale, it covers 50 years of Emma’s lifetime and 6/7 Kings of England! Although it didn’t have much “romance” in, like the Patricia Bracewell books did, it was exciting and pacey!
Wife to the Bastard – Hilda Lewis
Matilda of Flanders, was Queen to William the Conqueror and her beauty and determination made her a very good match for the King. This book covers her love for Brihtric, who she met before William and her ultimate revenge on him. It also focuses on her relationship with William and their oldest son, Robert, especially as his two younger brothers were ambitious enough to try and surpass his claim to the throne.
The Swan Daughter (The Daughters of Hasting series) – Carol McGrath
This book tells the tale of Gunnhild, one of the daughters of King Harold of 1066, and his first wife, Edith (known for her beauty as Edith Swanneck). The Swan-Daughter is the second in the trilogy of The Daughters of Hastings and follows Gunnhild’s marriage to the fiery red-headed knight, Count Alan of Richmond.