Tuesday, April 26, 2011

QUEEN EMMA AND THE VIKINGS by Harriet O’Brien ✰✰✰✰

Quick Version
A history of Emma, Norman wife of two kings of England (one Anglo-Saxon and one Dane), mother of two kings of England, and great-aunt of William the Conqueror.
Long Version
Emma is every historian’s dream subject.  Born into a position destined to make her a pawn in the power plays of the highest nobility, Emma had the intelligence and the cunning to rise to eminence in a world where women were undereducated and disregarded.
Despite a length of less than three hundred pages, this book does an excellent job telling not only Emma’s story, but the tale of the time in which she lived.  This is a period of English history full of shifting politics and cultures.  Alfred the Great had ruled shortly before, the apex of Anglo-Saxon England.  Emma’s first husband, the inept Aethelred led to its ruin.  Cnut the Dane conquered England and in a stunning move married the popular and recently widowed Queen Emma.  Following his demise, Emma held on long enough to put not just one, but two sons, one by Aethelred and one by Cnut, on to England’s throne.
In addition to the machinations of politics, Harriet O’Brien paints a vivid picture of life at all levels of society during Emma’s lifespan, interspersing her portrait with useful tidbits such as which food items would not have been seen and when they were first cultivated in England.  I finally learned the difference between mead and ale!
I highly recommend this history to readers of Helen Hollick’s historical fiction, [B]The Forever Queen[/B] and its recently released sequel [B]I am the Chosen King[/B].  It also stands on its own as a wonderfully readable account of the life and times of a woman too often overlooked in the annals of history.

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