Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel
We all know that women have been pushed to the rear, made part of the set dressing, and for all intents and purposes, ignored for most of history, because it has not only been written by the victors but by men. Over time there have been biographies and wonderful works of historical fiction that have brought to light some of these incredible women who have been all but lost to history, and Saxon Heroines is one of those wonderful books. The third book by Sandra Wagner-Wright in the series titled Women of Determination and Courage seeks to bring to life some of the important women in the English region of Northumbria in the seventh century.
In Saxon Heroines we get to hear from four women in the stories of their lives and the influence they had on others and on events going on at the time. The book is divided into three parts, and in the first, we are introduced to Ethelberga of Kent, who in 624 is appointed the new queen of Northumbria, and has a goal to achieve: to convert the pagan king to Christianity before it is too late, which will help convince those who are suspicious of this religion to follow in turn. In the second part, we follow in the footsteps of Ethelberga’s daughter, Enfleda, who becomes an important powerful abbess, and is instrumental in convening the Great Synod of Whitby, which served to bring Northumbria back to the Roman Church. In the third part we see the world through Elfleda, Enfleda’s daughter, as she too becomes queen and must work to forge strong political alliances to keep the kingdom whole and powerful. You will notice the closeness in the names, which was common for these Anglo-Saxon people in showing respect for their elders and those who had come before. And throughout the book, we also get to hear and learn of the life of Hildeberg, from the times when she served in King Edwin’s court, to her becoming abbess of Streoneshalh.
Wagner-Wright writes with ease that even though this is a complex word of historical fiction with a number of characters at play, the reader never becomes lost, but is able to follow the compelling story along to its conclusion. The author has clearly done her research in setting each scene within the time period yet not overloading the reader with detail, but providing enough to paint a strong picture, and in her characters based on very real people she has given life to these women who up until now have been little more than mentions and footnotes in history books.
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