“The Chosen Queen” of the title is Edyth of Mercia, Queen of Wales, Queen of England, granddaughter of the famous Lady Godiva and sister of the earls Edwin and Morcar. After her father was exiled by Edward the Confessor, on charges of treason, Edyth’s family took shelter in Wales, where she married Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, the only man who can really claim to have been king of the whole of an independent Wales. Gruffydd was killed in 1063 or 1064, in a dispute between his own men during an invasion of Wales by Harold Godwinson, and Edyth subsequently married Harold and became Queen of England. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what happened to her after the Battle of Hastings, which is presumably why the book ends shortly after that point, or how many children she had.
Harold’s “handfasted” wife, Edith Swan Neck, is a much better-known figure, and she also features in the book. However, she’s renamed “Lady Svana”. I can see that having two major characters with the same first name might have got confusing, but surely one could have been referred to as “Edith” or “Edyth” and one as “Ealdgyth”? Oh well. Changing that name is understandable, but I found it ridiculously patronising that a lot of Anglo-Saxon names were changed to modern English names – for example, “Morcar” becoming “Marc” – because the author thought that readers wouldn’t be able to cope with Anglo-Saxon names such as Morcar and Gytha. Talk about dumbing down!
It was all quite Mills and Boon-ish, as well. A lot of heaving bosoms! And a main element of the plot was the idea that Edyth and “Svana” were close friends, that Svana was absolutely fine about Edyth marrying Harold, and that both of them loved Harold and he loved both of them. All a bit too Mills and Boon-ish”! William the Conqueror is presented as a definite baddie, as is Tostig, Harold’s infamous brother who allied with Harald Hardrada and fought against Harold, Edwin and Morcar at Stamford Bridge.
So it’s not the most intellectually challenging of books, but it’s still an interesting read. Everyone knows about Harold and William and the Battle of Hastings, but the other prominent personalities, and even the other events, of 1066 and the period leading up it aren’t nearly as well-known. I’m surprised that, despite the efforts of English Heritage, more hasn’t been done to mark the recent 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and it was nice to be able to read this book at this time. It’s the first in a trilogy about the wives of the three men (Harold, Harald Hardrada, and William) vying to become King of England after the death of Edward the Confessor, and I’ll be getting the second once a cheap copy comes up on Amazon!