on 3 October 2014
The Swan-Daughter is a lovely story. It tells the tale of Gunnhild, one of the daughters of King Harold of 1066 fame, and his first wife, Edith, known for her beauty as Edith Swanneck. Edith Swanneck’s story is told in 'The Handfasted Wife’. The Swan-Daughter is the second in the trilogy of The Daughters of Hastings.
Once again, the reader is taken back to the period of the early Normans, which is exquisitely conveyed through the attention to detail that Carol McGrath, a highly skilled researcher, has paid to the period.
The political events of the times are brought alive for the reader, and are a backdrop for a vivid depiction of the lives of the people at that time, of the castles and houses in which they lived, rich and poor, of their food, their clothes, of childbirth and medical care, of the role that religion plays in society and especially of the position of women in the Middle Ages. The constraints and obligations placed upon women at that time, particularly those born to the nobility, are graphically captured in the pages of the novel, and will be of great interest, I'm sure, to women of today.
Gunnhild was brought up in Wilton Abbey, and not surprisingly since she is an heiress of importance, the church is keen for her to stay in the nunnery. Gunnhild, however, has no desire for a religious life, nor for any sort of life within the precincts of a nunnery. She longs to escape, and she longs for love. The possibility of escape comes in the attractive form of the slightly older Count Alan of Richmond and Brittany, the red-headed knight who had once been a suitor for her mother’s hand.
Count Alan’s path crosses Gunnhild's on more than one occasion, and each time they exchange friendly banter. He then proposes that they elope. Gunnhild, feeling an attraction to him, and hearing his profession of love, sees this as her chance to escape the confines of Wilton and the unfairness of the malicious assistant prioress, Christina, and she jumps at the opportunity. Soon after, in a simple ceremony held late at night, conducted by an aged priest, Gunnhild and Alan are handfasted, and then flee to France and to Alan’s estates.
Alan proves a disappointment as a husband in many ways. But he has a brother, Niall. However, I won’t spoil the novel for you by going further into what happens in the story. Suffice it to say that beneath the vivid period detail, and the political intrigue in the background, this is a very human love story.