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VINE VOICEon 9 November 2004
"A Hollow Crown" by Helen Hollick is the story of Queen Emma of England. Emma who? properly most reader will ask themselves as pre-Norman English rulers and their consorts are not very well known.
So who is this Queen Emma:
Emma was the daughter of Richard I Duke of Normandy and sister of Duke Richard II. In 1002 she became King Aethelred's second but first Christian wife. This marriage created the dynastic link between England and Normandy which, in the end led to the Norman invasion of England in 1066. She had two sons by Aethelred: Alfred the younger son was murdered in 1036 while on a visit to his mother in England, and Edward ("the Confessor") was king of England from 1042 to 1066. Her second marriage, to Cnut, the King of Denmark who claimed the throne of England, was politically advantageous to both parties:
it prevented the Norman court from intervening in England on behalf of Alfred and Edward, and it protected Emma's sons from murder by Cnut. Harthacnut, Emma and Cnut's son, was king of Denmark and of England (1040-42). Following Cnut's death in 1035, Emma supported Harthacnut against his half-brother Harold "Harefoot". In 1037 she was forced into exile by Harold, only to return with Harold's death in 1040. Emma seems to have become estranged from her son Edward and in the year following his accession to the throne: He confiscated her lands and property. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggest that Emma's crime was to have kept her wealth from Edward, but it is also believed that Emma supported Magnus of Norway's claim to the English crown. Emma died in 1052.
"A Hallow Crown" covers Emma's life from her arrival in England till the accession of Edward the Confessor. The rest of her life the interested reader will have to read about in the author's previous book "Haraold, the King". This is not the most fortunate solutions as I would have preferred to read about the life of Queen Emma in one go.
Helen Hollick sheds light into this "dark age" of English history. Step by step she develops the character of this Saxon Queen whose life was a huge struggle - on a personal and political level. It seems that was influx - Christianity has not fully conquered the life of the English. Her husband's first wife was not joined with the king in a Christian sense. Nevertheless their off-springs had a claim to the crown. She herself was the king's Christian wife and crowned queen. Her crowning became of up-most importance to herself and the country as the kings died and had doubtful claims to their crowns she remained the only undisputed legitimacy source of legitimacy. Emma grows stronger and stronger through the years, a female force in a male world: strong, but still very much dependent on the males.
As with the life of Emma the book (more than 800 pages!) grows stronger as one gets on. The first 100 pages I have to admit I found a hard struggle and I was nearly giving up on the whole book. But I am glad I did not. Step by step it becomes more interesting and gripping. The end is a bit odd. While the book sometimes explores details in epic length, the end is rather sudden and as said before not satisfying as it does not end with Emma's death.
All in all a good book, but with certain flaws, but still 4 stars.
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on 4 October 2004
This is the story of Emma of Normandy, Queen of England in the 11th century. She was married, in a strategic alliance, to King Aethelred of England. Aethelred is a mean-spirited, mostly indifferent husband to his 13-year-old wife Emma. She realizes very soon in the marriage that he is a failure as a king and husband and soon grows to loathe her first born son, Edward, (later to be known as King Edward the Confessor) because he is a constant reminder of her husband the king, and of brutal manner in which he was conceived
Eventually England is invaded by the Viking King Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut. Aethelred loses the eventual battle with both father and son. Aethelred was called the Unready for being an exceptionally inefficient king (and husband).
This book paints an exceptional portrait of Emma, who is a very complex woman and ruler throughout the years. She withstands amazing hardships in her personal and professional life. Many people have thought her a hard uncaring mother to King Edward, however, the reasons behind the hardness of her actions and emotions are revealed in this enormous volume of 864 pgs. I felt as though I knew her inside and out after reading this book! It was an extremely excellent read and I, for one, am very sorry it had to end this soon! Read this title, it is well worth the time as this book is a virtual page turner! Once you begin reading this novel you won't want to stop until you absolutely have to! I'm eagerly looking forward to the next prequel or sequel in this series! Bravo Helen Hollick! Keep up the great work!
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on 24 August 2013
Helen Hollick is an extremely talented writer and is without doubt among my three most favourite historical authors. This book was the first I read of hers and I was drawn into it immediately and read avidly through it. "A Hollow Crown" is a fabulous novel. Helen has a great talent for making her characters so true to life and for me when I read her books I feel I am right there with them, they are so skilfully woven into the intricacies of this wonderful book. Helen weaves the true historical characters so magically with how she imagines they would have truly been when they lived. Emma is so strong and stands out for me among all the cast of fascinating and brilliantly drawn characters. Married at thirteen to King Aethelred, Emma is the pivot on which the book is written around. This vivid, complex and colourful novel must not be missed if you are a fan of top class historical novels. You won't be disappointed. It runs to 864 pages but I never wanted the book to end. I have read it four times over the years.If you never buy another historical novel buy this one.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 November 2007
"A wife of two kings and mother of two more" and thus begins the long and complicated tale story of Emma of Normandy, sent at the age of 13 to marry Aethelred of England who earned the well deserved nickname The Unready, and they have two sons Edward (The Confessor) and Alfred. England is constantly being bedeviled by the Danish Vikings, who come once a year to wreak havoc and demand money, and finally due to Aethelred's incompetence the Danish conquer England and Emma and her family flees in exile to Normandy. After Aethelred dies, Emma makes the choice to remain Queen of England and marries the Danish conqueror, Cnut, which turns out to be a much more successful marriage than the first one.

Although I quite enjoyed this tale of a strong Queen who was determined to hold onto her crown at all costs, I felt that it tended to bog down and drag at times, and while this was an entertaining read, it doesn't quite come up to a five star read. I very much appreciated the author's notes at the end where she quotes her sources and points out what is known and what she has surmised, etc. Still, if you are interested in learning more about pre-conquest Saxon England, this is a very good start, along with the sequel, Harold the King which I plan on reading in the near future. Side note, the book info page states the page count at 500+ pages, it is actually 864 pages.
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on 21 June 2005
First I read Hellen's 'Harold the King' and I have enjoyed it very much, so I decided to read this one too, and was certainly not disappointed after it... This book is very well written and brings the reader into the exciting story of Queen Emma, and full of interesting and colorful figures like Earl Godwine, Cnut, Edmund Ironside and many more.
Every fan of medieval history fiction and of Anglo-Saxon England should read this book.
Tal K.
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on 3 July 2013
Really enjoyed this book, it seemed to be a bit slow at the beginning but got better and better as i read it. My husband is reading it at the moment and is also enjoying it. My knowledge of this period in history is limited to put it mildly but the author turned it into a very interesting read. If you like reading about characters that actually lived and not just the product of somebody's imagination,then you should enjoy this book. Helen Hollick certainly brings the characters into technicolour. I have already read the book that actually follows this one about King Harold but will now read it again and feel that I will find it even more enjoyable the second time around. Will certainly read other books by this author.
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on 23 June 2013
Absolutely 100% brilliant gripping epic storytelling with the greatest material provided by actual historical figures, locations and events. A book everyone should read before they die. The chapters may be minute but to be honest the strategy behind it is fantastic as each chapter is allowing the reader a brief glimpse back in time at important moments from histories records, both on record and off record, such as Queen Emma's wedding night with King Athelred, or when Athelstan defys his father's ill-advised actions yet again or when Canute first meets Queen Emma, when the young princes Edward and Alfred are cast into exile in Normandy for the majority of their lives, when Alfigfu of Northampton tries yet again to seat her son on the throne, the list goes on and on and because it is such a VAST span of history. A generation of history that is so often over-looked it is a true scandal and insult to the honour and memory of so many brave, charismatic, powerful and history-changing personalities. That all lived during the reign of the first Queen in England's young history to truly cause so much imbalance in the power-struggle filled world of men. It's only after reading this EPIC homage to Queen Emma that I learnt about the great Livia of Rome who married Octavious who went on to be known as Emperor Augustus and who lived quite a similar life and suffered a similar fate. This is a great book for anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon, Norman, French, Danish history. Helen Hollick is perhaps written a story of equal mastery and beauty and depth as Bernard Cornwell. I do hope her awe inspiring narrative telling of this unqiue and incredible woman who changed the course of English history and who ultimately is responsible for 1066 and all that happened after, spreads far and wide and awakens the british public. As they realise that as much as we all love good old Elizabeth 1st for being the first female ruling monarch to reign for so long and so well in a world of male politics, a full six centuries before her Queen Emma just did as well if not more so with the simple difference being one was married (twice), the other wasn't.
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on 12 July 2012
This novel follows the story and life of Emma of Normandy from her marriage to Æthelred the Unready in 1002 until the death of her son Harthacnut in 1042. Her personal and political struggles are closely documented in this novel. Throughout the book, during the shifting and changing of the monarchy she became the only source of real legitimacy which is never successfully challenged in the long run, she had the authority to rule and the guts to pull it off. This rich tome clocks in at roughly 850 pages and pays close attention to details, allowing for a lot a gradual character development as Emma grows from a native twelve year old to a shrewd and political astute woman in her fifties. The book contains an informative author's note at the end to separate the realities from the fiction. This review contains spoilers.

One of the most important threads to the story in the importance of the role of Queen and the kind of power Emma eventually welds is representative of that. I liked the use of Ja for Cnut and Harthacnut while Emma's other sons, Edward and Alfred, used Oui to highlighted the different circles of influence forming on the both in Europe and England. I really enjoyed all the little details like the custom of there only being one woman crowned and consecrated as Queen of England at a time, not losing her title if her husband died or was deposed. It is clear that the author has done her research, subsequently the world she built and described came to life for me. The hard and dark sides to early medieval life were certainly not brushed over or ignored with was refreshing. Some scenes were brutal and at times difficult to read, however they were worth it for the realism they gave the novel and helped contrast with how happy Emma was later in her marriage to Cnut. I liked that there was no easy was out for Emma in her political dilemmas, she has to sweat, bargain and exert her authority over Englishmen who have to grow to trust her. She really had to fight hard to keep and hold her crown. The novel certainly avoided dressing up modern attitudes in Anglo Saxon dress which was great.

There was a colourful cast of characters who I warmed to throughout the book. Godwin was wonderful as Emma's stanch supporter and friend. His and Emma's enduring friendship did hit some serious rocks but manages to survive despite this. Edmund Ironside who grows from a boy idolising his brother into a great leader of Englishmen was one of my favourites in the book. Cnut was such a bragging boy who allowed himself to be pushed in the wrong circumstances by the wrong people and transformed into one of the most competent kings of Anglo Saxon England, which was riveting. Harthacnut was interesting from the perspective that he was a horrid bully of a boy but after Ragnhilda's death and he was sent way to mature, growing into a man worthy of respect. However one of the most interesting characters is definitely Ælfgifu son, Harold Harefoot, as he was complex, interesting and ultimately at points a better king for England then Harthacnut. As a character Emma is well rounded and contains ambiguous shades of grey rather then being drawn in black and white as do many of the characters through this novel. For example, the lack of love she bears for her first two sons because they are Æthelred's children and that the manner of Edward begetting was rape. However when Alfred dies in part due to Godwin's actions she struggles to completely forgive him, despite blaming Alfred in a large part for his lack of thinking. The author isn't afraid to kill beloved characters, in fact characters beloved or not died all over the place in this novel making me genuinely worried what was going to happen to any favourites I might have, practically no one escaped unscathed in this novel. The characters of Gunnhilda, Pallig, Freda and Alfred were especially hard to leave behind.

The book, although very good does have flaws. It does take the first hundred or so pages too warm up as Emma learns about England and its ways, whilst living with her ineffectual bully of a husband who takes all of his failings out on her. However if you persevere with the book it becomes very rewarding, especially after Æthelred dies. Although most of the characters are three dimensional there is one big exception in Ælfgifu of Northampton who is almost a cartoonish in her need for vengeance for her brothers, power though her sons and sex from whoever. Lucky she was a peripheral secondary character so is more a threat hanging over the horizon rather then actively in the story in person much so this problem doesn't affect the story loads. However as Emma's rival for Cnut there was a lot of negative reinforcement around her and positive enforcement for Emma that could get repetitive at times. I constantly was told that Ælfgifu was nothing to Emma and Cnut only like to bed her, and that she was brass to Emma's gold.

I found this to be a good book and am interested to read the next book, Harold the King. A great story that breathed realistic life into almost legendary people. I would highly recommend A Hollow Crown to fans of historical fiction.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 23 January 2012
This is a great and rewarding book, over 800 pages, telling the story of Emma, sister of Richard duke of Normandy, who is married for political reasons to Aethelred (known to history as `the Unready) king of England. Emma is only young, and her marriage to Aethelred is not happy; given that the king is of a difficult temperament, and Emma is only just finding her place in the world as a woman, it's not surprising that this political marriage never really seems to have been successful. But as Emma grows in her role as Queen, and England is torn apart by Viking raids under Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark and his followers, she finds a strength in herself, and determines to live the best life that she can for herself.

Emma's life, for any who know of her history, can be considered pivotal to the developing history of Angl-Saxon England and its becoming a Norman kingdom - sister to a Duke of Normandy, wife of King of England, and then more - I won't say more for the sake of spoilers for those who are not familiar with the story. The style of writing is engaging, and the story is clearly and chronologically laid out for the reader.

All I can say further is that this is a great, entertaining story - if it wasn't true, you really wouldn't be able to make it up! The author's book on Harold the King is also well worth getting hold of. The story continues as Edward the Confessor tries to divest his kingdom - and the struggle between Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada and William of Normany builds to its brutal conclusion.
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on 15 November 2006
For any historical novel fans this is a must. Impossible to put down & I now feel I have so much more knowledge of Saxon England. Rushing off to buy Harold!
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