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Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and Greed in 11th Century England Hardcover – July 28, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (July 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345963
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,615,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While much remains unknown about Queen Emma as an individual, her story offers a fascinating entrance into the tumultuous world of late Anglo-Saxon England. Daughter of the duke of Normandy, descended just a few generations from Viking invaders, Emma (985–1062) was the wife of two kings (the English Aethelred and, later, his Danish Viking successor, Cnut), the mother of two kings and great-aunt of the Norman William the Conqueror. Despite her secondary status as a woman, Emma can be seen as a key factor in this momentous transitional period, serving as a source of stability and continuity in uncertain times. London-based journalist O'Brien provides a lively account of the harsh realities of war and politics in this era, the vagaries of political marriage and the thin line between invaders and settlers. She examines without condescension the competing values of Christian and pagan custom. Unnecessary excursions into the present tense—mostly at the beginning of chapters—mar the tone of the narrative, which is otherwise nicely ironic about its self-serving and conflicting sources. These sources cannot definitively reveal whether Emma made her choices as a wife, mother and political actor out of calculation or necessity, but she was a woman who clearly took what fortune offered and built the best life she could from it. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Harriet O'Brien is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Independent and Condé Nast Traveler, among other publications. This is her second book.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
Well researched and written.
Awtumleef
O'Brien does a very good job of bringing to life Emma and showing us the world she lived in, notably her life amongst kings and the nobility.
Brian Hawkinson
I absolutely loved this book, and I am confident that any fan of European, British, or medieval history will love it as well.
Miawil

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on September 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Many people these days believe that the history of England began in 1066 with the Norman Conquest. This book shows that there was a thriving society on that island for years before that event. Rather than see that time as a Dark Age, this book retells the history of a land and a culture that was subsumed after the Conquest. We get the stories of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, the Danish rulers, and the intermarriage with the Norman aristocracy that eventually led to Hastings. Queen Emma successfully bridged the gaps among those three disparate societies, and was the wife of two kings of England, and the mother of two onthers, not to mention the great aunt of Wiliam the Conqueror. It's an exciting story, one that often reads like fiction, but it is all true. Love, greed, murder, betrayal, and all of the other virtues and vices we know so well are present in this tale, and it is well worth reading!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A reviewer on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is very well-written and well-researched. Plus, O'Brien writes in a reader-friendly way, so that even people new to the subject can "get it." She is very insightful in her assumptions about Queen Emma, adding just enough imagination with passages containing references to authentic texts. Her understanding of Kings Aethelred and Cnut are superb. This is a book well worth your while!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's clear that Emma didn't passively attain this distinction. How did she do it? The records for the era are hardly extensive, so the biographer has a lot of work to do.

O'Brien did the work and has produced a solid bio. I particularly liked the parts on how Emma commissioned her book and how the assigned monk may have constructed her spin on history. I also liked the chronological chart at the end which sets Emma and her time within not just a European timeline, but also a worldwide framework.

The amount of research that goes into a volume like this is to be respected, but I held back a star because the question of how Queen Emma made her comebacks is only technically answered. You do not get the feeling you understand Emma the way you come to understand the central characters in a Fraser or Weir biography.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jason Fisher on December 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The century or two leading up to the Norman Conquest is a favorite historical period for me, and I've read a number of books balanced roughly on the fulcrum of the year 1000, give or take. And Ms. O'Brien's was a very worthwhile addition to them. Like another reviewer, though, I wished for more on Emma -- or Aelfgifu as the Anglo-Saxons called her. Still, the book was quite a worthwhile and well-written portrait of the times and the characters involved in those fateful years.

And I still say Harold got a raw deal. Arrow in the eye (at least, according to the Bayeux Tapestry) -- that's gotta hurt! ;)
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on January 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Emma was certainly remarkable. This Norman noblewoman was married to two kings of England, one Saxon, one Viking, and was mother to another king. The life and its violent times of this pragmatic survivor are expertly told in this book, in which author Harriet O'Brien does a good job of fitting together thousand-year-old puzzle pieces and telling a coherent story even in the face of the sometimes limited information at her disposal. Queen Emma is a book that educates and entertains, and above all else illuminates an often forgotten and ill-chronicled era in the history of the English peoples.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Hawkinson VINE VOICE on October 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've come to understand how Dark Ages and early Medieval time period biographies are written, especially in regards to women, and so it is easier to take in their lives. There aren't that many sources and the sources that there are are tangential references from a different figure in history, such as a king or other noble male figures. The scarcity of the documents makes it hard, and the fact that women were considered inferior to men also meant that biographies on women, such as Emma or Eleanor of Aquitaine, would invariably revolve around the lives of the men that they interacted with. Emma is no different as her life is told through the lives of the four kings directly related to her and to, eventually, a fifth king a few generations later.

Emma is important as she is the bridge that joined the three different cultures together. Born a Norman, married an Anglo-Saxon and then remarried a Danish Viking, all of which were the various men and women that lived in England at the time. She went through a lot and was involved in many facets of the English monarchy and nobility. There is no doubt in my mind that Emma was one of the more important women of early England. O'Brien does a very good job of bringing to life Emma and showing us the world she lived in, notably her life amongst kings and the nobility. This is certainly a laymen's account, not necessarily written for the hardcore historian, and focuses more on telling a story than being a scholarly dissertation.

That being said there were a few areas I would have wished could have been better. First and foremost is writing style. She switches back and forth from the present tense to the past tense. One minute she is writing about the past and the next she tries to write as though we are right there.
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