Book Review: Watch the Lady

watch the lady

Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

Let’s begin simply… this was a great read. It’s got love, battles, family rivalries and Elizabeth I all mashed together so, for me, it was a hit.

It centers around a lady named Penelope Devereux. Penelope was beautiful, clever, well-loved and also skilled in politics… a dangerous but winning combination. Penelope is mainly known in history because she was also the muse of the poet Philip Sidney, who wrote love poems about her, so this was a nice way to learn more about her life.

Unfortunately, Penelope’s married was unhappy. The book hints at a number of reasons why, but it was commonly known that Penelope was openly having an affair with Charles Blount. In Elizabeth’s court this happens all too often, with lots of nobility all marrying ‘in secret’, which becomes less secret when children are involved!! Although *plot twist*, the fact Penelope’s husband never took action against his wife through the affair and illegitimate children, suggests their marriage was not as it seems! Dun dun dun. So, Penelope rules her own household.

In complete contrast, Penelope’s mother, Lettice Knollys, who married the Queen’s favourite Robert Dudley in secret, was hated by the Queen. Lettice was banished from court, all because of her marriage, which meant her children had to make their own way… Penelope did exactly that.  She was close to the Queen, putting her in a powerful position in court and then, after her step-father Robert Dudley dies, Elizabeth becomes equally obsessed with Penelope’s handsome brother, also called Robert (Earl of Essex). Essex, was a bit of a wild child. He falls in and out of favour of the Queen, which all ends in a very climatic way (no spoilers here!). Yet, Penelope keeps her scheming and influence cleverly at a distance.

There is also one more key person in the book, called Robert Cecil. Unlike Penelope and Robert, he was not beautiful and was noted to have a slight deformity. However, he too holds a lot of influence with Elizabeth. He quickly becomes an enemy of the brother and sister duo, even though he might secretly fancy Penelope.

So he stage is set and all the young members of court compete for Elizabeth’s attention. In a court of lies and love affairs, with no obvious heir to the throne, who is going to win the game?

I would definitely give this book a read, a five stars from me!

If you want to read more about the Tudors, have a look at my best reads for the Tudor period.

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Book Review: Conqueror Trilogy

Conqueror Trilogy

Of the Ring of Earls (Book 1) Henry of the High Rock (Book 2) The Lion’s Legacy (Book 3) by Juliet Dymoke

Three books set from William the Conqueror to Henry II. I love to read about a period of history that is not very well documented. Plus, it does not follow the typical “main character” but focuses instead on the underdog of the time! From an earl to the youngest brother to a woman!

01:

The Ring of Earls follows an English Earl  called Waltheof of Huntington when William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) has successfully taken the throne of England in 1066. This is based on a true story of this Earl’s life as he… SPOILER ALERT… becomes the only member of the English nobility to be executed during the reign of William.

As many English nobles had conflicted loyalties once William was crowned, with many seeing the king as a “foreigner”, Waltheof is found in the center of a treasonous plot on the King’s life and must face the consequences.

Interestingly, the same man is covered in a book called The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick which takes a more romantic view of the love Waltheof had for his wife, Judith de Lens and subsequently his eldest daughter’s marriage.

Both books were unfortunately, my least favourite, even though it had such promise! I wish we had seen a bit more into Judith’s deception and Waltheof is certainly a charismatic character, but some parts were slightly dry and I was left a little disappointed.

Winter Mantle

02:

Henry of the High Rock is the second in the Conqueror Trilogy. This book is centered around William’s youngest son, Henry. Henry was the youngest of three sons with his two eldest brothers Henry’s elder brothers called Robert Curthose and William Rufus. After their father’s death, Henry’s brothers became kings of Normandy and England and he is left with nothing. As both brothers are not favorable kings, Henry needs to bide his time and be patient for his opportunity! Maybe he can rule it all!

I loved this second book in the trilogy and there were some moments of page-turning pace! I really engaged with Henry’s strife with his useless brothers!!

03:

Lastly, The Lion’s Legacy is set after Henry I’s reign, when he dies with no heir or sons, and fleaves everything to his fierce daughter, Matilda (known as Empress Maude). However, without his authority, a second heir emerges, her cousin Stephen Count of Blois and Mortain. A war rages over England with both Stephen and Matilda desperate to secure the throne for themselves. This is also tangled with her forbidden love for an English Earl, Brien. Although married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, Maude is a force to be reckoned with on her own and her courage and personal life is played out among the civil unrest.

What I though was sad about this tale is Matilda was never officially crowned Queen of England. Plus, although the love affair with Brien could be fictional (who knows!) it does seem she had an unhappy marriage with Geoffrey. However, her legacy lived on with her son Henry II and his wife Eleanor (probably my favourite Queen ever!!) and I enjoyed seeing a powerful medieval woman portrayed in the way Juliet described. You would need some serious balls to do what she did!

If you like Medieval history maybe try The Swan-Daughter which I reviewed here.

 

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Book Review: A Hollow Crown

Hollow Crown

A Hollow Crown by Helen Hollick

Not much is known about our history before 1066, so I get excited when I see a book about Emma of Normandy, who was Queen of England (twice!) in the 11th century. I also recently read The Price of Blood about Emma and was hooked, but luckily “The Hollow Crown” covers much more of her life.

Emma was sister of Duke Richard II and when she was only a little girl (roughly 13 years old) she is sent to England to become King Æthelred’s second wife – but, importantly, his first Christian wife. This marriage meant, for the first time, there was a link between England and Normandy which paved the way for the famous conquest of William the Conqueror in 1066. However, this was a loveless marriage. She was often the victim of Æthelred’s abusive nature and his cowardly attitude to subduing the countless uprisings of this period. During the marriage, she has two sons and a daughter by Æthelred called Edward, Alfred and Goda but unfortunately, she struggles to love her children due to the horrible way they were conceived!

10 years later, things start to move super quickly… when King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invades England, so Emma and Æthelred have to flee to Normandy with their children. Whilst in exile, Emma (who is now a grown woman and becoming more confident by the day) vows never to leave England again. As a result, when Sweyn dies only a year later, she returns. Only for Sweyn’s son, Cnut, to also invade England. Whilst trying to defend London both Æthelred and then his eldest son and successor, Edmund Ironside, die. So many deaths! Now, Emma is now in charge of her own destiny.

In a bizarre twist, she chooses to marry, Cnut (Sweyn’s son!). For Emma this meant her sons were safe and for Cnut, it prevented the Norman court from intervening in England. However, this marriage proved to be more successful than either party would have hoped. Emma falls madly in love with Cnut and he realises how to work with his clever wife to keep England secure – proved by the fact he would allow her to govern whilst he was in Denmark. A number of happy years of marriage, Emma gives birth to two more children with Cnut, Harthacnut and Gunhilda. Unlike before, peace reigns.

It is not until Cnut dies suddenly, when Emma’s world comes crashing down. Her son, Harthacnut, is in Denmark and the throne is left bare. This is when Harthacnut’s half-brother Harold “Harefoot” makes his move and steals the throne without any need for a fight. Desperate, she asks for her two sons from her first marriage (Edward and Alfred) to return but when Alfred does arrive he is captured and killed horribly. She is forced to flee again.

The end of Emma’s life sees her son Harthacnut become King of England followed by her other son Edward “the Confessor”. She dies peacefully after being Queen of England twice, with her two sons being made King of England (and Denmark) during her lifetime.

What I found so amazing about this book was the fact over roughly 50 years (Emma’s lifetime) there were 6-7 Kings of England! Therefore, as you can imagine, this book was one of the longest and most thorough portrayals of her life. Unlike some historical novels I have read, this was not so focused on some of the ‘romantic’ elements of her life but still showed her as a powerful medieval woman. Hooray!

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Book Review: The Price of Blood

Price of Blood book

The Price of Blood (The Emma of Normandy Series, Book 2) by Patricia Bracewell

I have a confession, I read this book having no idea there was a first book in the Emma of Normandy series. So I shall be reading that shortly! But this book starts in the thick of it and so I would recommend reading this series in the correct order! 

Anyway, this is the second book about Emma of Normandy, set in 1006 AD. The book begins when she has now been made Queen of England, alongside her ageing husband King Æthelred who married her to try and pacify the Norman invasions (by the way, get used to a lot of names like this! It’s so confusing, there’s Æthelred, Athelstan, Ælfhelm etc.). She has also just given birth to her first child, a son, called Edward.

You can tell from the start this marriage was definitely not a love match. Emma is beautiful, kind and wise in contrast to her husband who is portrayed as cruel, cowardly and determined to keep Emma from her beloved son. So, Emma constantly finds herself a pawn in the King’s game. Her only friends, the King’s eldest son Athelstan, a man we suspect she truly loves, and the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot help her win favour in her husband’s eyes.

When the King is struggling to keep control of his realm and the Danes are continuously attacking towns across England, leaving a trail of destruction. Emma is struggling with being BOTH a Queen and mother as she finds herself rejected from her husband’s side and often in danger’s way.

Then, enter another key women in this tale, Elgiva (sometimes known outside this book as Ælfgifu – again with these names!!). She is the daughter of Ælfhelm who was an Earl – or some sort of powerful nobleman – of southern Northumbria. She is portrayed as a fiesty, seductive mistress that wants to control her own destiny in a world ruled by men. Unlike Emma, she is prepared to take great risks in securing herself as a Queen. The contrast between these two women is great.

When the King believes Elgiva’s father is conspiring against him with the Danes, he murders her entire family in the most gruesome way! Desperate, she flees to the safety of an old family ally. However, she is not beaten yet. Once she’s safe, she finds herself being given as a wife to a Viking Lord called Cnut (don’t misspell his name!!). A passionate relationship between the two begins. Elgiva is headstrong like her husband and they both want the same thing… the crown.

This is where the two women’s path starts to entwine. Emma is Queen of England trying to protect her country whilst Elgiva is now paired to their enemy, Cnut and the Danes. In a country torn by war, little do both women know their paths are going to cross in more and more ways in the coming years.*

The Price of Blood is a great read about two very different women. By the end of the book I still feel the best is still to come, as Emma’s journey has only really started. Also, I would have loved to have seen more about Emma and Elgiva as woman. I am a sucker for love scenes and getting involved in all those relationships that create their characters. This I feel was slightly lacking in places. However, this fast pace book will definitely show a time in history that is so undocumented.

 

*SPOILER ALERT…

So I couldn’t help myself and I started to read more about this pair of women. After this book, in 1016, King Æthelred dies and Emma finds herself windowed and defenseless. To make matters worse, Athelstan, her love, has also died and is no longer heir apparent. Therefore, the King’s third eldest son, Edmund Ironside, becomes King, but again… not for long. Only six, short, months later Cnut invades England and conquers the throne. This makes him King of England and Denmark together. Suddenly, Elgiva is ‘put aside’ for Emma! What a twist. Emma becomes Queen again. With four sons between the two wives and then when Cnut acquires Norway too… I just think he was greedy… this really shows how chaotic this period of history was.

 

If you want to read more from Medieval period here are some more books on Medieval Queens: 

  1. Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell: The first book in this series, it follows a young Queen Emma of Normandy as she first meets her new husband, King Æthelred.
  2. Queens of Conquest by Alison Weir [NEW THIS YEAR!]: A series of famous woman of the Norman period. Such as Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror and Empress Matilda, mother to King Henry II.
  3. A Hollow Crown by Helen Hollick: This documents Queen Emma of Normandy’s entire life, from  Æthelred to Cnut.

shadow on the crownqueens of conquest

Hollow Crown

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Book Review: The Chosen Queen

The Chosen Queen

The Chosen Queen (Queens of Conquest) by Joanna Courtney

This book follows a very special medieval lady in history, called Edyth Alfgarsdottir. I was really eager to read about her because she was the lady who became queen TWICE.

The tale opens when Edyth, as a young girl, witnesses the handsome Earl Harold marrying his handfast wife, the beautiful, swan-neck, Lady Svana… and vows she too wants to marry for love.

Edyth is beautiful and courageous but her family was in trouble. In 1055, the old King, Edward the Confessor, has no sons and the succession for the throne of England is in question. Edyth’s father, (with the very strange spelling…) Ælfgar, is exiled on the charge of treason and their family has to flee to Wales for safety.

There, Edyth meets the charismatic Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (Griffin), the first King of Wales. Both her father and Griffin are keen to make an alliance and this is made all the stronger when Edyth and Griffin instantly fall for each other’s charms and marry. However, chaos surrounds them. With an aging King, England is open to foreign invasion and Griffin and her father are too ambitious. In a bizarre twist, Harold, the Earl who once she looked up to, attacks Griffin’s court and they both have to flee for the mountains. Then, when Edyth’s father dies she fears she is even more vulnerable and alone. Huddled on the mountain’s edge, with her children so young and frail, she realises her husband has been killed by his own men and she is captured and taken back to England.

A widow and all alone with 3 young children, Edyth is desperate. So, when Harold meets Edyth again in England and he instantly falls for her beauty she is stuck in an impossible situation. Although he is married to Lady Svana (Edyth Swannesha – both women are called Edyth which is really helpful!!) Harold is first in line to take the throne after the dying King and he needs a legitimate Queen in the eyes of God and he wants Edyth. Edyth is obviously slightly reluctant, this is not only her late husband’s enemy but Lady Svana is her friend. She is asked to make the hardest choice between her heart and the future of England…

I probably have given away too much already, but the one thing I really loved about this book was how Edyth’s character goes from strength to strength! You are with her from her first glimpse of love, her turbulent marriage and her constant friendship with Lady Svana. Which also is why I liked the way Lady Svana was depicted. I imagined her as this serene, motherly figure, constant in her views/ faith and a source of love for Edyth. This just made me love their characters even more. I found myself gripped in the romance, fast-paced style of writing and the characters involved. So much so that I instantly wanted to read more about the infamous Battle of Hastings and the women caught up in the clashing Kings.

 

If you want to read more from the Battle of Hastings here are some more books:

  1. The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick: A love story of William the Conqueror’s niece and her romance with Waltheof of Huntington, although in Medieval marriage nothing is easy!
  2. The Conqueror’s Queen (Queens of Conquest) by Joanna Courtney [NEW THIS YEAR!]: This is also part of the Queens of Conquest trilogy but this time it’s about William the Conqueror’s wife, Mathilda of Flanders.
  3. The Constant Queen (Queens of Conquest) by Joanna Courtney: Elizaveta is the princess of Kiev and her husband the fearsome Viking warrior, Harald Hardrada, together are set on the throne of England.

Winter Mantle

conquerorconstant

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