When one studies English history, many people tend to focus on the year 1066 with William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest as a starting point. However, just like any great civilization, others formed the foundation of English history; they were known as the Anglo-Saxons. What we know about the Anglo-Saxons come from the records of the kings of the different kingdoms of England, which paints a picture of harsh and tumultuous times with power-struggles. However, every strong king and gentleman of the time knew that to succeed, they needed a woman that was equally strong with a bloodline that would make them untouchable. The stories of these women who helped define this era of Anglo-Saxon rulers in England have long been hidden, until now. In her latest book, “Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England”, Annie Whitehead dives deep into the archives to shed some light on the stories of the formidable women who defined an era.
I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with this period so I thought this would be a good book to dive into. This is the first book that I have read that was written by Annie Whitehead and I was thoroughly impressed with her passion for this subject.
Whitehead begins her book by explaining the rights that women had and how they could accept or deny a marriage, which seems like they had more rights than medieval women who I normally study. These women were queens, princesses, saints, regents, abbesses, a former slave, and some were accused of murder. To understand the significance of every woman, Whitehead organized her book not only in chronological order (covering several centuries worth of stories) but by the kingdoms which they called home. They had to deal with fluid family dynamics, dramatic dynastic feuds, vicious Vikings and other invaders, and monastic reform. To read most of these tales for the first time was invigorating and truly changed what I thought the lives of women were like during Anglo-Saxon England. Myths and legends circulated figures, such as Lady Godiva and Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, but Whitehead has taken the time to separate fact from fiction.
If I did have a concern with this book it would be that I did get a bit confused with family connections. The family trees at the beginning of each chapter did help a bit, but when different men and women from the same family shared the same name, it was a challenge to tell them apart. Although I did take a copious amount of notes, I did find myself rereading passages so that I could figure out the significance of the person that Whitehead was discussing in certain passages.
I think this book is intriguing as it explores women who have stood in the shadows for centuries. Whitehead’s passion and her elegant writing style bring these Anglo-Saxon women to life. I would say that if you are familiar with this time period, you might understand the significant figures and events a bit better than someone who is a novice to this era. If you want to learn more about Anglo-Saxon women, I would suggest you read, “Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England” by Annie Whitehead.