Book Review: My Fair Lady

my fair lady

My Fair Lady: A Story of Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s Lost Queen by  J.P. Reedman

Eleanor of Provence, Queen to Henry III , is a little unknown in history.

She is often only remembered through her husband and sons… because she was mother to Edward I (Edward Longshanks), who other than being a giant for this period of time (over 6ft!), he was an excellent solider who had a thing for battles with rebels in Scotland… Braveheart anyone? And her husband, Henry III of England, who was the son of King John and assumed the throne when he was only nine!

Although there was a big age gap between Henry and Eleanor, it is apparent that she really did love her husband. She always tended to him when he was sick and they were known to discuss running the country together – which is unheard of involving a woman! Shock horror. Although, I’m not sure she makes that many great decisions.

Unfortunately, her faults lay when it came to money and she was known to spend large amounts on herself and her foreign family, which was not popular at all. So, even though she was obviously devoted to her husband she was very much hated by the Londoners. With one event meaning she was pelted with stones, mud and rotten vegetables whilst sailing on a barge on the river Thames.

This book also follows Simon de Montfort, from Eleanor’s perspective. She really didn’t like him!! With good reason in some ways, as Simon led the rebellion against Henry during the Second Barons’ War and ruled England in his place! He not only stripped the King of unlimited authority he started to form the beginnings of a parliament that would make decisions in his place. However, in a plot twist, SPOILER ALERT… a year later Simon was killed by forces loyal to the King in the Battle of Evesham and she did reclaim the throne.

Overall, this book was a good description of Eleanor’s life, it’s not my favourite but it was interesting to read. The sad thing about Eleanor is nobody knows where she is buried. She is one of the only Queens without a proper burial and that’s why I feel sad for her!! Let’s hope she’s a little bit more appreciated through books like these.

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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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Book Review: The Swan-Daughter

The Swan-Daughter

The Swan-Daughter (The Daughters of Hastings Book 2) by Carol McGrath 

This is the second book in the series surrounding the first Norman King of England, William the Conqueror. However, interestingly enough, it focuses on Gunhild of Wessex who was the eldest daughter of King Harold II who ruled for less than a year before his death in the Battle of Hastings (1066) – hence Daughters of Hasting series.

The reference to the “swan-daughter” was due to Gunhild’s mother ‘Edith the Fair’ being known as ‘Edith Swan-Neck’, probably because of her beauty and long swan-like neck!

When Gunhild’s father, the King, was killed she was receiving her education in Wilton Abbey under the careful watch of a dictatorial prioress called Christina. Gunhild loathes the religious life and longs to escape and fall in love. This opportunity presents itself when she first meets the fiery red-headed knight, Count Alan of Richmond, and through a few more chance meetings she agrees to elope with him and escape to his estates in France (Normandy). Hurrah!

However, life with Alan is not what she hoped for. He is cold and she is inexperienced as a wife. She constantly questions whether he loves her or if he just married her for the chance to win her inheritance and lands from her mother, Edith. Their relationship is tested further when she discovers Alan had once been a suitor for her mother’s hand and he swears fealty to King William the Conqueror, the man who killed her father!! Her only friend is Alan’s brother called Niall and as she confides in him, she finds herself falling further out of love with her husband. (Even though he is called Niall in this book, his real name is also Alan – confusing history names!) 

I won’t spoil the ending, but this is a really great read set after the famous Battle of Hastings. Women in this period were so powerless to their fates after a change in King, so I was delighted to find a tale about a princess who eloped for love!

If you are still interested in this period I also really recommend The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney, which is about Edyth, the queen consort to King Harold II. She is remarkable as she was queen twice! Read my book review for The Chosen Queen here.

*Images taken from: www.amazon.co.uk

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Book Review: Brazen

brazen

Brazen by Katherine Longshore

This is the tale of Mary Howard. She is a relatively unknown Duchess, growing up in the court of Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. Her story is a completely young and new perspective to this period of Tudor history and a refreshing change to the many books written from the viewpoint of one of Henry’s 6 wives.

Mary was the only daughter of Thomas Howard, the powerful and extremely ambitious 3rd Duke of Norfolk who was the prime instigator involved in securing his niece Anne Boleyn to be married to King Henry VIII. Her mother, was a cold woman who alienated her in court. As a result, when Mary is married to Henry Fitzroy (referred to as ‘Fitz’ in the book), King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son from his relationship with Elizabeth Blount, when she is only 14, she finds herself pushed into a dangerous court life. As the queen had only one heir, the young Princess Elizabeth, Fitz became a strong contender for the throne. Some English nobles even believed that the king intended to make Fitz his heir when Anne continued to miscarry sons.

Although not intended to be a love match, the more Mary gets to know Fitz, the more she finds herself falling in love with her husband. Due to their age, and a belief that young boys cannot consummate a marriage too young as it might kill them (this was a crazy theory that King Henry supposedly believed that having an early intercourse with Catherine killed his brother Arthur) the two are parted and forbidden to see each other. It soon becomes clear they might have to go behind the king’s back to be together.

Life at court was precarious, and particularly when Anne Boleyn begins to fall out of favour with the king. Those closest to the queen even had to try desperately to keep their lives. Mary, being her cousin, found herself and her young husband as the center of this.

This book was a really interesting read as I have never heard of Mary Howard before! I though the relationship she had with Henry is really believable, with them both enjoying poetry and being recognized as finding each other attractive, and I enjoyed seeing this period of time from a young girl’s voice. Although only covering a three year span, even the Acknowledgment at the end of the book taught me a lot about this plucky Duchess!

*This images was taken from: www.amazon.co.uk There are no real examples of portraits of Mary Howard that I could include! The closest is a “Portrait of a Young Woman” by Hans Holbein the Younger, that some have argued might have been Mary Howard… however she could equally be a young Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. 

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