“So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066? From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, we will trace the fortunes of the women who had a role to play before, during and after the momentous year of 1066. Throughout these tumultuous times, women played a prominent part, in support of their husbands, their sons and of their people, be they English, Norman, Danish or Norwegian. Their contributions were so much more than a supporting role, and it is time their stories were told, and the influence they had on events, was examined in detail”.
‘Examined in detail’ being the clue to this book. The above excerpt is taken from the introduction; a very in-depth and detailed intro that serves the reader a tantalising insight of the enthralling book they are about to read.
And I do not exaggerate. We have Part One – Before the Norman Conquest; the world stage on which the kings and earls defined the moments that led to 1066. Part Two – The Norman Invasion; this part really tugged at me, so much death and destruction and one can’t help but empathise with the female leads such as Edith of Wessex and Edith Swanneck, with their female fettle. And Part Three – Conquest. A grudging respect for the Conqueror grew as I read (which surprised me). And I discovered a new woman – Gundrada. Each part opens with a chapter on the politics of that time, the major players and ending with a lead into the women who, as the author Sharon Bennett Connolly says, deserve their stories to be told.
Although this is obviously a work of non-fiction, the intricacy and meticulous attention to detail adds a woven depth that brings the reader into the tumultuous times these people lived in. Sharon has concentrated on the main players of this era and explains well in the Epilogue how many other women she came across whilst researching. You may have heard of Emma of Normandy, or Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror but this book examines them as women in their own right (to name just two). Bringing to light their own familial breeding, estates and destinies which is no mean feat; it is known – and Sharon states this often in the book – that primary evidence for these women is scant. Sharon has however, managed to find resources, pull them apart, examine it all in minute detail to get to the facts that are available and explores them with aplomb in this book. There are Notes to guide you through the book so you can explore the evidence yourself if you so wish and the Bibliography is just … well, awesome! Just like Sharon’s first book, Heroines of the Medieval World, I discovered evidential sources that I didn’t realise existed, as well as learning new history about women that were, quite frankly, tough as old boots. As an author, this is an example of the level Sharon works at – professional microscopic attention to detail – and this shines through in Sharon’s writing.
Silk and the Sword shows how these amazing women were not just a trophy on a warrior’s arm, or breeding mares, or even – dare I say it, dumb. Oh no. They held their own amongst the machinations of these dangerous times; for example, Emma of Normandy is politically astute; Gytha, mother of Harold II managed to deal with so much death, yet still she attempts to rise up against the Normans AND gets her remaining family out of the country. I now have a new respect for Queen Matilda, wife of the Conqueror, who I think really wore the trousers in that relationship!
Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is a most vicarious read, be it for leisure and/or for referencing. Highly recommended.
About the Author:
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over thirty years. She has a BA Honours degree in History, Business and Law and has worked as a tour guide at historical sites. Her blog, History … the Interesting Bits, concentrates on (but is not confined to) the medieval period and the lesser-known people and events of history.
Sharon can be found at:
©2018 Louise Wyatt