Non-Fiction - shortlisted for Book of the Month
non-fiction Anglo Saxon England
7th Century - 11th Century
If you think that the women of the Dark Ages simply sat back with their embroidery and took little notice of what their husbands or sons, brothers, uncles or cousins were doing, then think again! Women of those times were hugely influential and Annie Whitehead proves it time and again in this excellent account of life and role of women in those turbulent eras of English history.
For the most part, each section is dealt with chronologically, which is most helpful. The author has very much kept the reader in mind in making this an easier read than one might think, given all those awkward Anglo-Saxon names and very convoluted family relationships. Family trees are equally useful and thankfully these are included as well.
The women themselves range from wicked to saintly, pushy mothers and wives and even a 'Warrior Queen' – though whether Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, actually wielded a sword is obviously debatable. Also debatable is the reliability of sources and Ms Whitehead examines the discrepancies, omissions, insertions and sometimes tall tales with a level-headed and unbiased neutrality, offering her own interpretations but always with solid research as her back-up. What comes through very clearly is that many of these women would have been of little worth had it not been for their bloodlines. Yet there were many of 'low birth' who rose to power.
Several black and white plates show the main locations of power – castles and abbeys – as well as a splendid line drawing. Especially pleasing was an appendix of the women who were canonised together with the deeds they were credited with for achieving their sainthoods.
All in all, this is an essential work for those interested, professionally or not, in this period. Highly recommended as an essential for any reader or writer's bookshelf who interested in Anglo Saxon English history.
© Richard Tearle
e-version ARC reviewed
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