Today, author Patricia Bracewell joins us to chat about how Emma of Normandy inspired her to write a historical trilogy based on this infamous figure’s life. Emma led a fascinating life!
Emma of Normandy: England’s Twice-Crowned Queen
Historical novelists are story tellers, not historians; nevertheless, they can often pluck a figure from the past – someone who has been ignored or cast into shadow by some larger event or the mere passing of centuries – and by imagining their lives can resurrect them from history’s footnotes. Case in point: Emma of Normandy, the heroine of my novels Shadow on the Crown and The Price of Blood.
If you’ve never heard of Emma you are not alone. Most of the historical figures who lived before that pivotal date of 1066 – especially the women – have faded into a kind of mythic fog. Yet the career of Queen Emma laid the foundation for the Norman Conquest that would occur 14 years after her death and would change the face of England.
The daughter of a Norman duke, Emma arrived in Canterbury in 1002 as the peaceweaving bride of the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred II. Although it sounds like a medieval fairy tale – the daughter of a mere duke gets to wed a king! – it was nothing of the sort. Emma was the first royal bride in nearly 150 years who came from foreign shores, and she was probably regarded with suspicion by just about everyone. She was Æthelred’s second wife and stepmother to his eleven children, six of whom were sons. Emma’s first task, of course, would have been to provide the king with yet another heir to the throne, so it’s unlikely that her stepsons welcomed her with anything resembling enthusiasm.
There were other factors at work, too, which must have made Emma’s first marriage an ordeal rather than a triumph: England was under siege. Year after year, waves of Viking armies ravaged the kingdom. In 1013 Emma and her young children, one of them barely a year old, would be forced to flee to Normandy when such a voyage must have been perilous. Æthelred abdicated his throne and he, too, took refuge with his wife’s Norman kin – doubtless a bitter reunion for all.
Emma’s life, though, was one of reversals of fortune that sound like – well, like something out of a novel. King and queen would return to England, but Æthelred, bent on vengeance against those who had sided with his Viking enemies, did not balk at murder to achieve his ends. His actions would lead to an elder son’s rebellion, and although the king would die in his bed, Vikings bent on conquest would strike again and the widowed Emma would be trapped in a London under siege. Some say she made a deal with the Vikings; others claim she tried to flee and was captured. Either scenario is grist for a novelist’s mill. In the end, a Viking warlord was crowned king of England, and one of his first acts was to take Æthelred’s widow to wife. Emma was once again anointed queen of England, yet one must wonder what she was thinking and feeling as she went to her new husband’s bed.
And that’s only the first half of her story. Queen Emma would experience more reversals of fortune in the years to come: despair, heartbreak, triumph and treachery before the final curtain. But as a novelist studying the events of her life, it seemed to me that the drama of the years from her first marriage to the early days of her second was really quite enough to be going on with. I determined to write a trilogy that would cover those years, and in it I would incorporate all the intrigue and peril that Emma must have known. The first two books of my trilogy are complete. The third will appear as soon as I can commit all the right words to paper – words befitting the dramatic life of this remarkable queen.
PATRICIA BRACEWELL taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. The first novel in her trilogy about Emma of Normandy, Shadow on the Crown, was published by HarperCollins in 2013. The second book in the series The Price of Blood has just been released. In researching her novels she has traveled to Britain many times as well as to France and Denmark. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Oakland, California.