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

by Helen Hollick


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

Married to a king incompetent both on the throne and in bed, Emma does not love her husband. But she does love England. Even as her husband fails, Emma vows to protect her people-no matter what. For five decades, through love and loss, prosperity and exile, Emma fights for England, becoming the only woman to have been anointed, crowned, and reigning queen to two different kings, the mother of two more, and the great aunt of William the Conqueror.
Praise for Helen Hollick:
"Helen Hollick has a powerful talent for bringing the past vividly to life." -Elizabeth Chadwick
"If only all historical fiction could be this good." -Historical Novels Review
"Hollick juggles a large cast of characters and a blood, tangled plot with great skill." -Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402240683
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 11/01/2010
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 501,031
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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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