Monday, August 05, 2013

Queen Emma and the Vikings (2005)

Queen Emma and the Vikings. Harriet O'Brien. 2005. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading this biography. This biography starts around the year 1000 and ends around 1052.  As a young girl, Emma was married to Aethelred (the Unready), the Anglo-Saxon king of England. The couple had two sons and a daughter. One of those sons, Edward, would later become king himself as "Edward the Confessor." England during this time was a mess with plenty of Vikings raiding and pillaging. After her husband's death (and I am simplifying the story in this summary), she married the Viking king, Cnut. This couple would have two children. Their son, Harthacnut, would eventually be king as well. As if that wasn't quite complex enough, Emma is the great-aunt of William the Conqueror. So Emma's importance is clear.

I found this biography complex but fascinating. The author did a great job in providing clarifying resources for her readers. The front of the book contains an extremely helpful dramatis personae. There is a full paragraph of background and summary for each person in the book. There are family trees. There are maps. There is a timeline. The text itself is as clear as it probably can be. If it reads like a tangled mess at times, it is precisely because it was a tangled state of affairs. This biography is full of tension between the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings, the Church, the "old ways" and "the new ways." There is a focus on politics, the economy, law-making, and the church. (Plenty of talk about monks and their record-keeping and book writing. I was surprised by all the texts and records kept during this period.)

One of the things discussed in this biography is the shaping or crafting of history. Emma commissioned a monk to write a history for her, this book could be seen, in a way, as a tool of propaganda. Writing with a specific audience and purpose in mind and "making" the facts fit that purpose.

Two Horrible Histories Songs:

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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