"A very talented writer."
Sharon Kay Penman, NYT bestselling author of Devil's Brood
England, 1044. Harold Godwineson, a young, respected Earl, falls in love with an ordinary but beautiful woman. He marries Edyth despite her lack of pedigree, pitting him against his turbulent family and his selfish King, Edward. In France, William, the bastard son of a duke, falls in love with power. Brutal and dangerously smart, William sets his sights on England, finding ambition a difficult lust to conquer.
In 1066, with the old King Edward dying, England falls vulnerable to the winds of fate--and the stubborn will of these two powerful men. In this beautifully crafted tale, Helen Hollick sets aside the propaganda of the Norman Conquest and brings to life the English version of the story of the last Saxon King, revealing his tender love, determination, and proud loyalty, all shattered by the unforgiving needs of a Kingdom. Forced to give up his wife and risk his life for England, the chosen King led his army into the great Battle of Hastings in October 1066 with all the honor and dignity that history remembers of its fallen heroes.
"A novel of enormous emotional power...Helen Hollick is a fabulous writer of historical fiction."
--Elizabeth Chadwick, author of To Defy a King
What Readers Are Saying:
"We all know the ending! But Helen Hollick's masterful and moving account of Pre-Conquest England still carries the reader along on an enthralling journey to that moment...it made me cry in all the right places. Helen Hollick is a consummate storyteller."
"An epic work, grand and sweeping. I've read many versions of the events of 1066 but this is one of the best."
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February 28, 2011
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Excerpt from I Am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick
Emma, twice married, twice widowed, Dowager Queen of England, watched her only surviving son dance, tripping and prancing with dainty steps among the boisterous twirl of men and women. With the solemnity of the coronation ritual completed, and the pomp of the banquet ended, this evening's celebration and merry-making came most welcome to the guests here within the King's Hall at Winchester. A pity that the crowned king had to be Edward.
Emma sipped at her wine to disguise the flare of contempt. Edward, her firstborn son, crowned and anointed this day as King of England. She would have to learn to accept it. She took another sip, savouring the richness of the red grape as it warmed her throat, overcoming the taste of bile that rose from her stomach. Accept it, maybe, but she would never come to like it! Edward was as weak and shallow as his incompetent father, thelred, had been. How well had the clerics who wrote the history of these things mocked that name! thelred, Noble-Counsel--and how soon into his dithering, floundering reign had that been altered to un-raed, ill-counselled
A thunder of laughter from the far end of the crowded Hall drew her attention. Godwine's two eldest sons, Swegn and Harold, stood among a group of fine-dressed young men sharing some, no doubt lewd, jest between them. For all their faults--and where the Earl and his brood were concerned, there were faults a-plenty--they were sons to be proud of. Swegn might be wild, more interested in the pursuit of enjoyment rather than the demands of decisionmaking, but these faults were outweighed by better traits. All Earl Godwine's sons were strong, courageous and manly, aye, even young Leofwine, who was but seven years of age. Where was the manliness in her son Edward
Unable to keep her thoughts to herself, Emma spoke to the man sitting beside her, his hand tapping out the merry rhythm-beat of the dance on his knee.
"I have been wife, and queen, to two men who have ruled England." Her wordsoozed contempt.
"You would have thought one of them could have sired upon me a man worthy to be called son."
"Harthacnut, your last-born--" Godwine began, but Emma irritably waved him silent.
"My second husband, Cnut, gave me a child of each sex, both of whom had the constitution and life-span of a mayfly." Briefly, an expression of regret clouded Emma's face. To be queen for over two score years, to rule as regent, survive attempts of murder and the harsh bitterness of exile: such a woman needed to shield her weaknesses from those who would, at the drop of an autumn leaf, oppose her. But Godwine knew Emma well, better perhaps than either of her husbands. Harthacnut, her youngest son, she had genuinely adored. A boy like his father, wise and disciplined, with a sense of duty and purpose; strong of body and mind. How much had she endured for that lad! And for what? For him to die of a seizure when he was but three and twenty and crowned king for less than two short years.
"The life of the wrong son was ended," she said softly. Godwine assumed she referred to Harthacnut's untimely death, winced as she murmured, "It ought have been Edward killed, not Alfred."
Godwine made no comment to that. Emma had borne two sons to thelred Edward and Alfred, and Alfred was a name that still conjured difficult memories that brought the blood stealing into Godwine's cheeks. As young men, exiled from England, the brothers had tried and failed in a pathetic attempt to claim their right of succession after Cnut's death. Captured, the boy Alfred had been placed in Godwine's care. It had not been good care for the lad had fallen into the murdering clutch of Cnut's illegitimate son, Harold Harefoot. Imprisoned and cruelly blinded, Alfred had not survived the torture. Ever since, Godwine had carried the blame for that wicked death.
But such was the fate of young men who tried to take by force a crown from the one who was already, rightly or wrongly, wearing it.
Earl Godwine's hawk-sighted blue eyes followed Emma's narrowed gaze. Edward was an elegant fine-featured man, two years short of forty years of age, tall and slender, dressed in bright-coloured, extravagant clothing.
Disdainfully, Emma snorted. "A pious weakling with neither brain nor balls." "Give him time, my Lady. He has been almost thirty years an exile. He was but eight when forced to flee to your birthplace in Normandy."
Aye, it must have been hard for the lad and his brother Alfred, when they left London, muffled by the concealing darkness of night, bundled into a boat and taken, alone and frightened, across the sea to live among those of a foreign tongue and way of life. Never knowing when they would return to their mother, and England. Knowing, later, that when she agreed marriage with their father's usurper, Cnut, that the "when" would not come until the Danish conqueror met with death. And even then, only if their place had not been superseded by other sons.
"Look at his hands! Too delicate to wield a sword," Emma announced with scorn. "I pity England if she is ever again faced with invasion. At least Alfred, for all his childhood mewling and whimpering, had the stomach for a fight once he was grown."
Godwine refrained from answering. Alfred, as king, would not have survived beyond the turn of a season, not against experienced, battle-hardened men such as Magnus of Norway or Svein Estrithson of Denmark--those two Viking seafarers had always been far too concerned with England's affairs. But at least the roving greed of their ancestral cousins, Emma's kindred the dukes of Normandy, were of no consequence to England's future. The present Duke, William, was yet a boy. He would have problems enough keeping his head attached to his shoulders. With tact, Godwine commented, "Edward is amenable. He listens to his elders and accepts the wisdom of the Witan, his council."
"He does not listen to me! I came into this world nigh on four and fifty years past. I have been Queen of England from the age of thirteen when I was wed to that weak fool thelred. I ruled as regent for Cnut, when his duties as king of Denmark and Norway took him across the seas. I guided Harthacnut through his brief but glorious reign--yet this whelp Edward, the first-born son of my womb, publicly spits on me and calls me an interfering hag!"
She glared at Godwine, but fell silent as the whirling dance finished amid laughter and excited applause. She watched as Godwine's sons were joined by a few of the breathless dancers, Harold swirling a fair-haired young girl into his arms.
His sister laughed back at him, her eyes bright with youth and excitement, her cheeks flushed pink from exertion and the heat of the crowded Hall. Edith was a resourceful girl, determined to enjoy herself whenever opportunity presented itself. Watching her, one eyebrow raised, Emma had a suspicion that she might also have high-reaching ambitions, and the shrewdness to take full advantage of those offered opportunities. Pride was as ripe in the daughter as it was in the sons. Edith would make a good wife for some power-seeking young earl.
Or...Emma sucked the inside of her cheek, then sipped again from her silvered goblet. Or perhaps Edith, only daughter of the noble lord Earl Godwine of Wessex, would marry higher.