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 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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