The Forever Queen: Sometimes, a desperate kingdom is in need of one great woman

The Forever Queen: Sometimes, a desperate kingdom is in need of one great woman

3.9 115
by Helen Hollick

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USA Today Bestseller!

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son,

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USA Today Bestseller!

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England's shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.

Praise for Helen Hollick

"If only all historical fiction could be this good." -Historical Novels Review

"Hollick juggles a large cast of characters and a bloody, tangled plot with great skill."
-Publishers Weekly

"A very talented writer."
-Sharon Kay Penman, bestselling author of Devil's Brood

"Helen Hollick has it all. She tells a great story." -Bernard Cornwell

What Readers Are Saying

"Paints an exceptional portrait of extremely excellent read...once you begin reading you won't want to stop until you absolutely have to!"

"Every fan of medieval history fiction and of Anglo-Saxon England should read this book."

"For any historical novel fans this is a must. Impossible to put down."

(This book was previously published in the U.K. as THE HOLLOW CROWN.)

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Sourcebooks, Incorporated
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April 1002-Canterbury

Emma was uncertain whether it was a growing need to visit the privy or the remaining queasiness of mal de mer, seasickness, that was making her feel so utterly dreadful. Or was it the man assessing her with narrowed eyes from where he stood at the top of the steps? A man she had never seen until this moment, who was four and thirty years to her three and ten, spoke a language she barely understood, and who, from the morrow, was to be her wedded husband. Did he approve of what he saw? Her sun-gold hair, blue eyes, and fair skin? Maybe, but Emma was uncomfortably aware that he was more probably thinking her nose was too large, her chin too pointed, and her bosoms not yet firm and rounded.

Her eldest sister had laughed when Emma confided that this Æthelred of England might be disappointed with his bride. "Pleasure him in bed, ma chérie," had been the answer. "In bed, no husband will remain disappointed for long." Here in England, Emma remained unconvinced.

Hiding her discomfort as well as she could, she stared at this King's sun-weathered face. His blond hair, curling to his shoulders, had silver streaks running through it. His moustache trailed down each side of his mouth into a beard flecked with grey hair. He looked so old!

Her long fingers, with their bitten, uneven nails, rested with a slight tremble on her brother's left hand. Unlike her, Richard appeared unperturbed as they ascended the steps leading up to the great open-swung doors of Canterbury Cathedral. But why would he not be at ease? It was not he, after all, who was to wed a stranger and be crowned as England's anointed Queen.

She was aware that Richard of Normandy had agreed to this marriage of alliance for reasons of his own gain. He ruled Normandy and his brood of sisters with an iron will that imaged their father's ruthless determination-their father Emma had adored; her brother, who thought only of his self-advancement and little else, she did not.

The drizzling rain had eased as their Norman entourage had ridden through Canterbury's gates; the mist, hanging like ill-fitted curtaining across the Kent countryside had not deterred the common folk from running out of their hovels to inspect her. England and the English might not hold much liking for the Normans and their sea-roving Viking cousins, but still they had laughed and applauded as she passed by. They wanted peace, an end to the incessant i-víking raiding and pirating, to the killing and bloodshed. If a union between England and Normandy was the way to achieve it, then God's good blessings be upon the happy couple. Whether this marriage would be of lasting benefit and achieve that ultimate aim no one yet knew. The Northmen, with their lust for plunder, were not easy to dissuade, and the substantial wealth of England was a potent lure. For a while, though, when Richard, in consequence of this wedding denied winter access to his Norman harbours, the raiders would search elsewhere for their ill-gotten gain or stay at home. Unless, of course, they elected to offer Richard a higher incentive than the one King Æthelred of England had paid.

If Emma minded being so blatantly used for political gain, it was of no consequence to anyone. Except to Emma herself. What if I am not a pleasing wife? What if he does not like me? The questions had tumbled round and around in Emma's mind these three months since being told of the arrangement, had haunted her by night and day. She knew she had to be wed; it was a woman's duty to be a wife, to bear sons. Either that or drown in the monotonous daily misery of the nunnery, but there would be no Abbess's veil for her. Her brother needed the alliances his sisters brought, the silver and the land. Normandy was a new young duchy with no family honour or pride to fall back upon, only the hope of a future, which Richard was too impatient to wait for. This, Emma had understood from the day their father died. Richard wanted all he could get, and he wanted it not tomorrow or next year, but now. One by one his sisters had been paired to noble marriages, but they were all so much older than Emma. She had not expected to be bargained away so soon.

Æthelred was stepping forward, reaching out to take her hand, a smile on his face, crow's-foot lines wrinkling at his eyes.

She sank into a deep reverence, bending her head to hide the heat of crimson suddenly flushing into her cheeks. At her side, Richard snorted, disgruntled that she should be greeted before himself.

He had not wanted to escort her to England. On that dreadful sea crossing he had vociferously balked at meeting face to face with this Englishman, King Æthelred. "I do not trust a man who was involved in the murder of his own brother to gain the wearing of a crown," he had stated several times over. If these were his thoughts, then why, in the name of sweet Jesu, had he agreed to this marriage? Why was she here, feeling awkward and uncertain, fearing to look at the man who would soon be taking her innocence of maidenhood? Non, Richard had not wanted to come to England, but he had wanted to ensure that the agreed terms were honoured. Dieu! He needed the financial gain and the respectability, the prestige of having his youngest sister wed to one of the wealthiest Kings in all Europe.

From somewhere Emma had to gather the courage and dignity to raise her head, smile at Æthelred...She clung to the talisman of her mother's parting words: "No matter how ill, how frightened, or how angry you might be, child, censure your feelings. Smile. Hold your chin high, show only pride, nothing else. Fear and tears are to be kept private. You are to be crowned and anointed Queen of England. The wife and mother of Kings. Remember that." Emma took a breath, looked at the man who was to be her husband, and knew, instantly, that she disliked him.

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Meet the Author

Helen Hollick lives in northeast London with her husband, daughter and a variety of pets, which include several horses, cats, and two dogs. She has two major interests: Roman/Saxon Britain and the Golden Age of Piracy-the early eighteenth century.

Helen Hollick lives in northeast London with her husband, daughter and a variety of pets, which include several horses, cats and two dogs. She has two major interests: Roman / Saxon Britain and the Golden Age of Piracy--the early eighteenth century.

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Forever Queen 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 115 reviews.
Erin_N More than 1 year ago
When 13 year old Emma arrived at the gates of the Canterbury Cathedral to do her duty by her Norman brother, little did she know that she would be marrying England for life. In 1002 the King of England, Æthelred the Unready, entered into an agreement with the Duke of Normandy. Duke Richard would provide England with a much needed alliance against the raiding Northmen while King Æthelred would provide the newly formed Norman duchy with the stability of land and coin. And Emma was the key. She would wed a king 21 years her senior and be anointed England's Queen. Unlike all the queens before her and unlike most who followed, Emma's reign outlasted two husbands, two step-sons, and two sons; all of whom shared the crown with Emma during her lifetime. Beloved by her subjects, Emma was England's heart, its strength, and its hope for the future. The only anointed Queen for 5 of the last Saxon kings and aunt to the conquering Norman kings, Emma's bloodline has run through the veins of British monarchs and nobility throughout the ages. Helen Hollick brings the story of England's perpetual queen to life in The Forever Queen. Hollick captures the political intrigue of early Medieval England and presents with some of the most colorful characters to sit on the British throne. And, despite the historical record having very little information about Queen Emma (aside from the Encomium Emmæ Reginæ, a "spin" biography commissioned by Emma to give credence to her son's claim to the thrown), Hollick manages to see past the male monarchs of the time and find the unsung tale of Emma "Ælgifu" of England.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
I think many people who like medieval "chick lit" will enjoy reading this, which is why I'm assigning it a higher rating than I normally would. It was not really my cup of tea, though, and I could not complete the book due to the rather bland storytelling. If you prefer something more robust in this genre, read Lady MacBeth, by Susan Fraser King, or for a bit of rough-and-tumble, Bernard Cornwell's excellent Saxon Tales series.
penname96 More than 1 year ago
I'm making up a new star 3.75. The research was 5 stars, the writing 3. There aren't many historical fiction books out there about this time period. Not only was Emma's story interesting, but this not as well known part of English history is fascinating. The author is correct in her notes that history has forgotten English Kings prior to William The Conqueror. This story starts with Emma being married to Aethelred aka The Ill advised King. She then goes onto marry Cnute, who will become king. This is not a spoiler alert, it is on the back cover. Then 2 of her Sons become King. Not to mention Stepsons. This book is filled with information. It is a must read for fans of English History. My issue with the writing was that it needed some editing. I also didn't like her style of starting a chapter and you not knowing who she was talking about until 3-6 paragraphs in. If you are looking for fluff or romance, this isn't it. The story is real and cruel at times. Some pages I couldn't put down others I could skim. I just received the follow up I Am the Chosen King, which I heard is a great read. I can't wait!
gl More than 1 year ago
From sparse historical data, Hollick pieces together the story of Emma, daughter of Richard I of Normandy, just as she has been contracted to marry King Aethelred of England. We follow her life as a young girl matched with an ineffectual and quick tempered husband as she slowly comes into herself. As she makes friends and grows confident, we see the beginnings of a loyal and charismatic leader. Emma's world is full of violence, political intrigue, war and uncertainty - which makes for a gripping and fascinating novel. While the book is around 650 pages, too long for one sitting, it's hard not to stay up all night. Emma draws you in with her sense of honor, her humor and her complicated and unusual life. If you're fond of historical fiction and not squeamish about violence, war, intrigue and betrayal, do check out The Forever Queen. It's a fun, satisfying read. ISBN-10: 1402240686 - Trade Paperback Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (November 1, 2010), 656 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.
DustymomCA More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyble read. Lovers of historicsl fiction will like this book. Not too many books on this time period (1006 on). I enjoyed the history as well as the story. Emma is a very interesting lady.
LadyLucyLehn More than 1 year ago
This book took me a while to get in to- there were so many characters introduced, the setting was always shifting, and the language and vocabulary took some time to get adjusted to and learn. But once I got the hang of it (about a hundred pages in!) I loved it. Couldn't put it down until I was done. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series. The author draws the scenes and characters so vividly, it is like you are there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just loved this book. Historically informative and rich. Great story with characters that are incredibly rounded. Seem to connect with every single one. Amazing how I just couldnt stop talking about this story the entire time and years after reading it. Can't wait until her next book!
BookLover25KH More than 1 year ago
This book was incredible and definitely one of the best books I've read in a long time! If you enjoy history of england or just want a good book, I recommend you read this. It is really long, so you will get your money's worth on this one.
TaraBelle1 More than 1 year ago
Love Helen Hollick
jv-0426 More than 1 year ago
Being a fan of historical fiction this rates right up there with Weir & Gregory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story! Masterfully told.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think was an extremely well researched book, so that is why the high star rating... It wasn't really a story about Emma, but more of a story about the entire period with multiple main characters. I did enjoy it and will read her other books.
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carpe_librum More than 1 year ago
The Forever Queen is the story of Emma of Normandy who became Queen Aelfgifu when she was married at age 13 to England's King Aethelred and was given as little choice about her public name as her husband. Her story encompasses England's Saxon history through Aethelred's reign, that of his son Edmund, Danish invader Cnut, and two of her own son's . . . oh, and there's a bastard usurper in there for a few years as well. Having not spend much time reading about this era (1002-1042), I found this book a good combination of entertaining and educational. Hollick does an excellent job of making the people and places of a millennia ago come alive and giving those people plausible motivations and personalities where history may have not left us much information to go on. I appreciate the fact that she seems to include as much as we do know and only use artistic license to fill in the gaps, and she admits where this occurs in her author's notes. Though Emma is a cold, vain, and ambitious woman, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her when all that she had worked for (more than once) seems to fall apart, mostly because she is a woman who has to work through a husband or son to govern England. She soon forgets her Norman roots and considers herself English and by far the best person to be running the place. If only she didn't need some incompetent male to stand behind! I could only be partially sympathetic when her neglected children end up disappointing her. This novel was a great way to learn about England's history before the Norman Conquest. (It is hinted at: "The boy is too base-born to rise higher." Well, maybe not.) Be prepared though. Hollick gives the most charming and likeable personalities to those who die before their time! We are not given much opportunity to mourn these people though. Due to the author's habit of ending a chapter with a sudden death and picking up the next chapter some time later, your eyes barely have a chance to well up before you realize the story has already moved on. Besides the fact that I found Emma somewhat unlikeable, though realistic, Hollick's habit of having short choppy chapters that make great leaps in time was my only other serious complaint. This seems to be more of an issue in the first half of the book. I'm not sure if it was due to the lack of information about the times, forcing her to work with what was available or some other reason that caused these stunted chapters that didn't always add much to the story. The time jumps between chapters sometimes left me wondering what had happened to what I was just reading about, but if I had to choose between accuracy or better flow, I am glad the author chose to not fill in gaps that could not be filled with anything known. I have had this book on my shelf for a while, but now that I have read it I am ready to carry on with it's sequel, "I am the Chosen King." Hollick has raised my interest in a period of history that I had previously ignored, and I am anxious to stay with her story.
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stevie15 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book , it told the story of how Britian was established. The alliances made with other countries to maintain peace and gain property.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now on to I Am The Chosen King