Shadow on the Crown

Shadow on the Crown

by Patricia Bracewell


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143124351
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Series: Emma of Normandy Series , #1
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. She holds an M.A. in English Literature and her historical research has taken her to Britain, France and Denmark. She has two grown sons, and she lives with her husband in Oakland, California.

Reading Group Guide


The year is 1001, and the wife of Æthelred II, Anglo–Saxon king of England, has just died. Emma, the sixteen–year–old sister of Richard, duke of Normandy, is promised in marriage to the king, on the condition that Richard will help protect England’s shores from his ally Swein Forkbeard, the plundering Dane. The bargaining chip is that Æthelred make Emma not just his wife but queen of England.

When Emma arrives at the royal court, her reception is chilly at best. Her husband keeps her at a distance and treats her with suspicion. In fact, he seems to resent that he has had to take a new wife at all, and the more she attempts to fulfill her role as queen and counselor, the more hostile he becomes. Haunted by past sins and terrified by the prospect of being overthrown, Æthelred makes rash decisions and as his difficulties increase he becomes ever more hostile toward Emma.

His sons are no better, for they are threatened by the power she wields and by her potential to bear a child who will usurp them in the line of succession. The only exception among them is the eldest, Athelstan, to whom Emma feels an immediate attraction and emotional connection—feelings that she knows are dangerous.

Among her worst enemies is Elgiva, the beautiful but conniving daughter of Ælfhelm, ealdorman of Northumbria and one of the king’s closest advisers. With her own designs on the crown, Elgiva insinuates herself as the king’s mistress and sets about undermining Emma’s power wherever possible.

The only way for Emma to secure her status is to bear the king a son, which means luring him away from Elgiva’s bed. In the meantime, she works to build alliances with members of the court, the church, and her subjects who admire her for her generosity and noble spirit. Yet everything Emma has worked for is threatened when Swein Forkbeard and a Viking army sweep into England, plundering towns and brutally murdering innocent citizens.

Patricia Bracewell’s debut novel is based on a little–known period of real–life history recorded in The Anglo–Saxon Chronicle. Starring a fiercely passionate, independent heroine, Shadow on the Crown is the first installment of a dazzling new trilogy that is sure to hook readers with its exquisite period detail, courtly intrigue, and irresistible suspense.


Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking on a writing career. This is her first novel. She lives in Oakland, California.


1. Shadow on the Crown is set in eleventh–century England. What drew you to this particular time and place in history?

It was Emma herself who drew me there. I first stumbled across a reference to Emma of Normandy on an Internet bulletin board that mentioned the bare details of her life: daughter of the duke of Normandy, wife to two kings of England, and mother of two kings. I had considered myself fairly well versed in English queens, but I had never heard of Emma. What piqued my interest the most was that she had been wed to two different rulers of England. There must, I thought, be quite a story there. I began to dig a little, and I was hooked.

2. In the notes following the novel, you mention how some parts of the story have been fictionalized. How did you decide where to digress from the official record? In which areas might you have wanted a bit more source material to work from?

Any digression from the official record was made in order to create conflict and complication for the story. In every instance I asked myself if the incident I was relating or the relationship I was inventing could have happened. If the answer was yes, I gave myself the green light. For example, Emma and Elgiva would historically be rivals at a later period in their lives. I chose to start that rivalry many years earlier. I needed a foil for Emma, and why make up a fictional character when there was a historical figure waiting in the wings? As for additional source material, I wish that The Anglo–Saxon Chronicle had been much more comprehensive. The men who compiled it wrote down only what they believed were the major events of a given year. Seldom did they attempt to explain why things happened, or how.

3. Can you talk about your research methods and process for this book? What discoveries surprised you along the way?

I began by reading general histories of the Anglo–Saxons, the Normans, and the Vikings. From there I progressed to books that dealt specifically with Æthelred II and Emma of Normandy. At the same time I began to research details about the period in academic journals—clothing, weaponry, warfare, land ownership, architecture, trade, roads, ships, horses, food, and much more. I drove through Normandy, visiting Rouen and the abbeys along the Seine. I went to England and followed Emma’s route to Exeter, spent several days in Winchester, took a two week summer course on the Anglo–Saxons at Cambridge, visited the Anglo–Saxon village at West Stow, and watched a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings. What surprised me the most was just how little is left from the eleventh century. Artifacts are rare, and building remains even rarer. The late Anglo–Saxon kings had great wealth and large retinues. They must have had great halls and palaces, but very few traces of them can be found.

4. What are the advantages, as an author, of writing historical fiction? What are some of the challenges?

One advantage to writing historical fiction is that the bones of the story—the names, the dates, the events—are already laid out for the writer. That being said, once the author has created a personality for each character in the novel, a whole host of motivations, emotions, and conflicts come into play. The writer has to continually remind herself that the story is not in the historical events, but in the actions, attitudes, and relationships of the characters caught up in those events.

5. You chose to tell this story through four different points of view: Emma, Æthelred, Athelstan, and Elgiva. How did you choose this particular structure and why did you settle on these four figures as the focus of the story?

Although I always thought of this as Emma’s story, I knew that there would have to be scenes in which Emma could take no part. The history of that period was written by men about the doings of men, so a male viewpoint was necessary in order to round out the world that Emma would have known. Æthelred was the obvious choice, and I was intrigued by him as a historical figure. However one of the very first scenes that blossomed in my mind as I was thinking about this novel was the scene where Athelstan meets the seeress and is told that he will never be king. That scene had to be experienced through Athelstan’s eyes, and so I had my third viewpoint and, ultimately, my hero. He gave me, as well, an opportunity to explore what must have been a very difficult father/son relationship. Elgiva was, of course, Emma’s rival historically, and I wanted to give her a voice. She is my bad girl. She is dark where Emma is light, selfish where Emma is generous, vengeful where Emma is forgiving. At the same time I tried to give Elgiva enough depth that she would not become a caricature. There should be moments when the reader feels some sympathy for her.

6. One of the themes that emerged throughout the narrative is how little power women had in this society, in which even their brothers could control their fate, and yet Emma is something of a proto–feminist character. What is it about Emma that enables her to have the power that she does?

As a consecrated queen, the historical Emma must have wielded a certain amount of power and she probably had more responsibilities than I could even show in the novel. She would have had properties, revenues, and perhaps even industries—vast weaving sheds, for example—to manage. She would have had a fairly large household staff that she must have supervised to some extent, and she would probably have played a large role in the raising of Æthelred’s daughters. In her later years Queen Emma was a force to be reckoned with, and we cannot forget that she sprang from Viking stock. At the same time that I was creating this strong–willed character, though, I wanted to make sure that she was a woman of her time. Emma recognizes and accepts her role as a woman in a patriarchal society, but she also recognizes her power as a queen and she understands what alliances she must make in order to fully achieve it.

7. Æthelred’s ghostly visions have a Shakespearean quality to them. While this book seems to be firmly placed in historical reality, paranormal elements are part of the characters’ belief systems. What was the thinking behind this aspect of the story and your decision to leave it somewhat ambiguous for the reader?

In the eleventh century, pagan beliefs and Christian thought overlapped. In particular, words carried great power, whether they were prayers addressed to a saint for a good harvest or charms that could hurt or heal. Vikings invaded because there was great sin in the land; diseases were caused when evil spirits entered the body. So belief in supernatural intervention by saints or demons was a historical reality. One of England’s earliest historians, a monk writing in A.D. 1121, described Æthelred as hounded by the shade of his brother. When I read that, I knew that there had to be a ghost. His first appearance probably owes a great deal to the years I spent teaching Macbeth to high school English classes, and by the way, the historical Macbeth lived in the eleventh century, too. The ghost is Æthelred’s personal demon—the incarnation of his own guilt and fear, which does not make the ghost any less real.

8. Emma makes a profound choice, between love and honor. How did you arrive at this decision on her behalf?

My function as the author was not so much to choose honor over love on Emma’s behalf, but to put her in a situation where she had to make that choice. It doesn’t appear anywhere in the histories. It is where history ends and storytelling takes over, where the heroine has to be tested and she must pass the test. The Emma that I created, I hope, could not have made any other decision and still have been true to her nature.

9. What are some misconceptions about this era that you uncovered during the process of writing the book, and what insights would you most want readers to take away from it?

One misconception is that women were chattel and had few rights under the law. In pre–Conquest England, though, women could own, inherit, and bequeath property to their heirs. By law a girl could refuse to marry a man if she did not approve of him, although it’s impossible to know how or even if that law was enforced. If girls were not being forced into marriage, such a law would not have been needed. Another misconception, and one that I was certainly guilty of, was that there were castles in England as soon as there were English kings. In fact, the oldest castles—their ruined walls still visible today—were fortresses built by the Normans after 1066 to suppress the English populace. Before that date, there was no need for them, so the English castle was a Norman development. There were English kings, though, long before the Normans came. There were courts filled with ritual and intrigue, royal families whose members did not always get along, and an elite class that patronized the arts and supported religious establishments. The Anglo–Saxon culture was a rich one, and it was the foundation on which high medieval England, more familiar to us, would be built.

10. Shadow on the Crown is the first part of a trilogy. Why did you decide to write three volumes about Emma, and what can readers expect from the upcoming books?

I wanted to write a story that would focus on a period in Emma’s life about which very little was known, but which must have been an extraordinarily difficult time, not just for Emma but for all of England. As I pondered the history of that period, I realized that there was too much story for just one book, so I divided those fifteen years that I wanted to bring to life into three parts. The next book begins about a year after the final scene of Shadow on the Crown and will cover about eight years. The same four viewpoint characters will return, and readers can look forward to murder, vengeance, betrayal, passion, pestilence, and heartbreak. Events will take place on a broader canvas, from a royal hunting lodge at Corfe to London to Worcester to a part of England that was once called Holderness. Emma, though, remains at the heart of it all.


  • Emma is a teenager when she’s selected to be the next queen of England. What circumstances have created this situation for her?
  • Right away, Æthelred and Emma have a challenging relationship. What do they think of each other at the outset of their marriage, and how does this impression evolve or change over time?
  • The threat of Swein Forkbeard hovers over most of the action of this book. Why is he so feared, and what do the royal family and their subjects stand to lose?
  • Emma realizes early on that the loyalties of her court and the public at large are constantly shifting. What measures does she take to protect herself and build alliances?
  • Emma’s Danish heritage is a blessing and a curse in her new role as queen of England. How does it help her and how does it hinder her?
  • How does Æthelred’s past come back to haunt him? How does it inform his actions throughout the book?
  • What draws Emma and Athelstan together and what keeps them apart?
  • What is Elgiva’s role in this story, and what is her ultimate motivation for behaving as she does?
  • After several attempts, Emma finally gives birth to a son. How does Æthelred react and what does this mean for the future of England?
  • How do Emma’s priorities and values evolve over the course of the book? Where do you expect her to go from here?
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    Shadow on the Crown: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
    irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
    Great Surprise! I admittedly love historical fiction about British royalty, but I also admit I want it well researched and well-written. This novel delivers on every level. Taking on the largely mysterious lives of the Pre-Norman Aethelred and Queen Emma, Bracewell does a superb job of keeping your attention. The action moves at a swift, attention-grabbing pace. This is a rare book where I lost track of time, only to be disappointed I was almost finished. Be warned, however, that keeping track of the very similiar names and complex relationships can take time; however, once you have it... I realize this is a planned trilogy, but the wait for Book Two will be difficult. I hope Bracewell has made much progress with that second novel.
    StephWard More than 1 year ago
    4.5 Stars 'Shadow on the Crown' is a beautifully written novel set in the year 1002 that follows young Emma of Normandy as she is sent across the Narrow Sea from her home to wed the much older King Athelred of England. After being thrown into a new land and a new kingdom, she must deal with a husband who doesn't trust her, stepchildren who despise her, and another woman who will do anything to get her hands on the crown. Emma must learn to adapt to her new role as Queen and she makes alliances with men at court in order to win the love of her English people. Soon Emma finds herself falling in love with a man who is not her husband, the king, all while dealing with the dangerous threat of a Viking invasion that would threaten not only her role as Queen, but her life as well. I don't normally read much historical fiction, but this book's description had me intrigued as it was set in medieval England and the surrounding area. I thought that a book with a strong female lead during that time would prove to be fascinating. Well, I was definitely not disappointed with this book. Emma proves to be a strong young woman who must mature and adapt to her new life quickly. She is brave, courageous, loyal, and self-assured - all great qualities for a Queen and as the novel's leading lady. The other characters weren't as rounded as she was, but they all provided the required situations and relational ties - both good and bad - that Emma needed in order to grow as a character. The setting was perfect and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the time period as well as the varying locales found throughout the novel. The writing was what really got to me. The author has a magical way of writing that draws the reader into the scenario at hand - whatever it may be. I found myself easily imagining the story unfolding while I felt I was amongst the characters. I could shut my eyes and see what the author was describing, which is a marvelous trait that not all writers have. The writing itself was wonderful and had a solid plot and pace that felt natural. Overall, I loved this magnificent adventure back in time to witness the brave life of Emma and the opportunity to love her and root for her throughout the book. I very highly recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction as well as to readers who love a fantastic story told by a truly enchanting author. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
    kopsahl More than 1 year ago
    In this stunning debut of a planned trilogy, Bracewell tackles the life of Emma of Normandy who was sent to marry King Aethelred of England in the place of her ailing sister in 1002 A.D. One condition that was requested by Emma’s father, Richard of Normandy, was that Aethelred would anoint her as queen which leads to Aethelred instantly regretting his decision after their marriage. Aethelred already paranoid and mistrusting of everyone around him turns his anger towards his young wife. Emma learns fast that she must tread lightly and that having a son would be the only way to secure her position but even she can predict what Aethelred might do next. Aethelred’s oldest son Athelstan is instantly attracted to his father’s new wife even though he knows it is forbidden. He also knows he should fear that Emma bears a son to replace him in line for the throne because his father has no love for his eldest son and is constantly berating and humiliating him in public. Emma is thrown to wolves when she comes to England. Even with her vast knowledge in languages she is unfamiliar with court politics and her eyes are opened wide when her rival Elgiva of Northampton comes to court and insinuates herself in the King’s bed in hopes of him setting aside Emma. Emma knows she needs to win the hearts of the people of England and forge some alliances with some influential men because Swein Forkbeard and the Vikings are knocking at the front doors and ready to take over England in revenge for the St. Brice’s Day Massacre in which Aethelred ordered the extermination of all Danes that included Forkbeard’s sister. Bracewell does a remarkable job mixing the real events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with her own imagination without detracting from the heart of the story. She weaves a story of innocence lost, treachery, hope and love that ends with Emma realizing that she must do whatever needs to be done to make her son the next king. This was a refreshing storyline and I look forward to the next installment. (DRC was received via publisher in exchange for an honest review)
    bettysunflower More than 1 year ago
    Emma of Normandy married King Athelred (aged approx 40) in 1002 as a sixteen year old bride. Her older sister had been the original choice, however, her mother felt that she was not strong enough to fill the position. Emma knows all that is as stake for her and for all the people involved an she approaches her marriage with open arms and a willing heart. The King was married before and has eleven children from what appears to be a rather cold and loveless marriage. Athelred's fist wife was his 'consort', however, Emma's brother negotiated the title of "Queen" for Emma. Emma is very wise and mature for her age as she 'navigates' her way through the political issues surrounding the King. She finds herself with a rather cold husband who seems to be fairly disinterested in his younger children. I was impressed with this book and once I began reading I had trouble putting it down. I was very surprised to see that this is the authors first book as it is so well presented and is an easy flowing read. I also discovered that it is the first of a trilogy and look forward to reading more of Emma Queen of England.
    Mirella More than 1 year ago
    Emma of Normandy, the great-aunt of William the Conqueror, was wife to two English Kings, and mother to two others. King Aethelred the Unready sought her hand in marriage to secure Normandy as an ally to England. Despite the fact he dislikes her, she bears him two sons, Alfred and Edward the Confessor. Because Aethelred already had sons from a previous marriage, the succession to the crown for Emma’s two sons was far from certain.    When Aethelred died, Canute the Great showed came knocking at her door seeking marriage. This time, Emma insisted that any sons born to her from this marriage be given preference to succeed as king over Canute’s son from his previous marriage. Before he would agree, the cunning Canute demanded tit for tat – Emma must also repudiate the claims of her own sons to the crown of England in favor of their future sons. This she did, alienating her sons, shattering their trust in her, and rendering their relationship cold and distant from that day forward. Emma reigned happily as Canute's queen for eighteen years. Together they had one son, Hardicanute. When Canute died, however, all promises made seemed to hold no weight. Discord broke out between all their sons from both marriages as they battled young Hardicanute for the crown. When Canute’s eldest son claims the throne of England, Emma is sent into exile. After much bloodshed, both sons of Canute, as well as her son Alfred, were killed. Her son Edward the Confessor, who wisely stayed out of the conflict and never sought the throne, ended up with the crown of England. Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell tells the fascinating story of Emma of Normandy. With flowing narrative, Emma’s life is brought to light in great detail and foresight. From Viking attacks to deadly family conflicts, this novel is so brilliantly written that I could not put it down. I was engaged to the very end. Aethelred’s dislike and lack of respect for Emma is poignant, her unhappiness heart-wrenchingly depicted. Amid a hostile court, Emma perseveres and struggles to make her way and define her role. It is a story of love, hate, betrayal, and perseverance. Riveting from start to finish.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love this story! Will read the next books. Very well done,great story teller.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This story has a strong heroine who has to navigate a rather treacherous path. I know the author has embellished the history to make it interesting, but it feels authentic. Yes royal marriages may not have been the romantic love relationships we may think they should be, especially with biases due to lineage that may have been felt in some regions within England. I like the liberties that this author has taken and feel the story is believeable and interesting and makes Emma more realistic to readers. What a wonderful journey the reader goes on with multiple points of view given. It allows the reader perpective for motivations for various people who interact with the main characters. We see lots of envy, jealousy, and sadly the pain and suffering of royal family members. Life is no picnic for these royals. We see pains felt by rivals and are able to see the extremes to which they will go to better their situation. I look forward to all future installments of this trilogy. This is a book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction such as ones about King Arthur.
    pagese More than 1 year ago
    I confess to knowing next to nothing about this time period. I'm familiar with William the Conquer who is descended from these people. But, that is about as far back as my English history knowledge really goes. This was a brutal time period. I know that in this time period women were little more than property. Men often took what they felt was rightfully theirs and sometimes did so by force. Keeping a mistress on the side was common place, and wives were expected to look the other way. But honestly, this took that idea to a whole new level. It was extremely graphic, but I was reminded that even in the historical fiction time period I tend to read, women were still progressing forward. I loved Emma. I think she knew from the start that her place as wife and Queen would not be easy. She was a bargaining tool and nothing more. At any moment, someone could go back on the agreement made when she was married and place her in danger. But, she also held power that women before her lacked. She was made Queen and gave birth to a son that contested the line of heirs. She never wavered in her beliefs to get what she felt she deserved. King Athelred was an interesting character. There were times that I thought if he gave Emma half a chance he might actually grow to love her. But, all he can see is his resentment and fear. His own paranoia and delusions are really what drive this story to his breaking point. He refuses to see reason from any of his advisers. He is convinced his sons are trying to take the thrown from him. His thought process and actions lead to so many horrible repercussions. This is suppose to be the first in a series. I would be interested to read the next one. Emma kind of comes off as calculating at the end. The little research I've done makes her seem less than that. Although I do find in fascinating that she was the wife of 2 kings, mother to 2 kings, and stepmother to 2 kings. What a lineage to pass on!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Shadow in the Crown is a convincing, well written work of historical fiction. Medieval England is one of my favorite time periods and the plot moves along quickly here as Queen Emma faces the reality of the times for women. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, interspersed with the plot, anoints the book with an authenticity that helps the reader suspend disbelief. The usual themes of pride, jealously, betrayal and abandonment are explored in depth from Bracewell's rich imagination. I am eagerly anticipating book two of the trilogy.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was very easy to get into and very hard to put down. Cant wait for the next one!
    anniemichelle More than 1 year ago
    This book which is based on real events recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle had me from the first page and kept me turning pages well into the night… Our story starts out on Dec. 24 of 1001 in Normandy, amidst one of the coldest winters in recent memories. 15 yr. old Emma is arguing with her sister about going out in the frigid weather just to Check on her horse. Making her way outside to the stables Emma hears men approaching and hides behind her horse as her brother and the frightening & powerful king Swein Forkbeard come to put up their horses, she hears the conversation turning towards her and her older sister. It Seems time to be marrying off The sisters… And so begins the incredible journey of Emma, soon to be married to the much older King Athelred of England, who hates her on site as well as his sons who mistrust her and a mistress who wishes she were dead. The only way for Emma to have any power or respect at all is to have a son for her king. Emma goes through many exciting and horrific times while trying to keep her King and her crown. This was an education for me as well as a very, very good read. I could not imagine growing up in such a time when women were basically just baby makers. I must say one of my favorite parts of this book were the humorous and tongue twisting names! This is the first book in a trilogy, which is good in that there will be more books and bad as now I have to wait for the next two books!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    this book was outstanding!!!!! the characters come to life. ms bracewell does an excellant job of making you feel as if you were right there with emma. i can't wait until the next book comes out
    AngieJG More than 1 year ago
    Wow, what a read. I enjoyed this book very much. I stayed up so late reading last night that my eyes hurt and I have a headache. I  love that it is part of a series, but I hate that I have to wait for most likely a long time before the next installment.  Though I loved the book, I just did not like any of the characters. Hopefully, book 2 will provide some much needed likable characters!
    Anonymous 7 months ago
    If you Love History you will love this book!!!!
    Anonymous 9 months ago
    Really enjoyed the characters and story. A bit violent but didn’t dwell on it. Lots of strength in Emma which gave the book buoyancy.
    Anonymous 9 months ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I liked the part where one of the Danish characters called one of the British characters a piece of carrion.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Plenty of adventure and just enough romance to keep me turning the pages eagerly. Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I expected a historical fiction with a touch of romance, when I got more I was pleasantly surprised. If you want the above with political agendas and several different perspectives you will truly enjoy. Oh yes, and a well written first novel doesn't hurt either.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    LanaGirl More than 1 year ago
    Simply Wonderful. Beautifully written. Great characterization. So much so, I simply didn't want the book to end. This isn't my typical book that I pick up. I am an avid reader, but I don't typically buy historical fiction.However, this is such a captivating story, and so wonderfully written, I will be the first in line to read the equal when it comes. A fast paced, exciting read that you don't want to end. 
    RDH_SC More than 1 year ago
    Great story - looking forward to the next however I always fear trilogies because the cadence and repetition become boring by book 3.  I hope that I am proved wrong as I could not put the first down.
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