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The Handfasted Wife is the story of the Norman Conuest from the perspective of Edith Elditha Swanneck Harold's common law wife She is set aside for a political marriage when Harold becomes king in 1066 Determined to protect her children's destinies and control her economic future she is taken to William's camp when her estate is sacked on the eve of the Battle of Hastings She later identifies Harold's body on the battlefield and her youngest son becomes a Norman hostage Elditha avoids an arranged marriage with a Breton knight by which her son might or might not be given into his care She makes her own choice and sets out through strife torn England to seek help from her sons in Dublin However events again overtake her Harold's mother Gytha holds up in her city of Exeter with other aristocratic women including Elditha's eldest daughter The girl is at risk drawing Elditha back to Exeter and resistance Initially supported by Exeter's burghers the women withstand William's siege However after three horrific weeks they negotiate exile and the removal of their treasure Elditha takes sanctuary in a convent where eventually she is reunited with her hostage son This is an adventure story of love loss survival and reconciliation

10 thoughts on “The Handfasted Wife (Daughters of Hastings, #1)

  1. says:

    Edith Swan Neck first came to my notice when I read Georgette Heyer's The Conueror when I was a teenager I remember thinking 'Who was that?' I looked her up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica no Internet then and read a few terse details And that was it As Carol McGrath explains there were few details recorded about Edith She is one of the shadow women of history an intriguing figure important in late Anglo Saxon England but virtually wiped from the record But the author has remedied this and uses the few facts skilfully and intelligently to give us a very logically developed account of what Edith's life may have been like especially after the Conuest Not only that this well researched book describes through Edith's eyes and life the overthrow of the mature and pragmatic Anglo Saxon society with country rituals handfasted marriage married priests a mix of Saxon Norse Celtic and Danish communities But Conuest brings a cold and harsh new way Two themes ran through the importance or accurately the dominance of religion in the lives of people at every level incomprehensible to the modern reader and the importance of the women's creative work of exuisite needlework particularly embroidery They converged especially in the great religious houses such as WiltonAs a keen thriller and action adventure reader I can say this book has that elusive page turning uality As a historian and amateur embroiderer I relished the cleverly placed rich historical detail woven into the book's fabric This will be one of my reading treasures of 2013

  2. says:

    I enjoyed this well documented and well imagined piece of history taking place in the 11th century from the perspective of Elditha the handfasted wife of Harold king of England during a brief reign and killed during William the Bastard Conuerer’s brutal takeoverinvasion If you’re looking for soppy sappy romance this is not that book but if you like myself enjoy history while reading a compelling storyI do think youz’ll concur that the way the author fleshed out the characters was excellent 45 stars

  3. says:

    I found this an inventive read the story of King Harold's first 'wife' joined to him by the ancient handfasting ceremony whose marriage was dissolved after he became King because it had not been 'sanctified by the Church'Harold subseuently remarries and his handfasted wife Elditha then begins a life of exile from court and her husband This further disintegrates after Harold's death when her unfortunate young children are taken hostage by William the Conueror and she herself is threatened with unwilling marriage to a Norman nobleman To escape this fate Elditha decides to flee to Ireland The Handfasted Wife is the story of her many adventures and setbacks on the way to achieving this goalMostly based on historical fact though with some elements invented to fill those gaps where historians cannot follow this is a richly detailed and well researched historical readThe novel is necessarily episodic in nature with many daring escapes and desperate moments of capture with Elditha in the company of Padar her loyal and steadfast 'protector' throughout much of this book That said this is not a particularly romantic read; presumably that would have been a departure too far from what is historically known McGrath's 'handfasted wife' remains loyal to Harold even after his death and despite his cruel remarriage to a noble and respectable ladyBut this element to Elditha's character reflects the key themes of the story loyalty versus betrayal old versus new In The Handfasted Wife McGrath explores the spiritual and emotional conflicts inherent in the transition between Anglo Saxon England and the new Norman French regime She highlights the comfortable remnants of ancient pagan ways versus the cold starkness of the newly dominant Roman Church by setting the loyal consort against the new wife the settled Anglo Saxons against Norman invaders even the familiar but married village priest against the incoming fundamentalist monk with his vow of chastity and his hair shirtsChange is inevitable and not always for the better McGrath is saying But her characters cling to their integrity for in the end that is all any of us can do when faced with changes we can neither condone nor control

  4. says:

    I've read a lot of historical fiction but this is the first that had The Battle of HastingsNorman Conuest of 1066 as it's centerpiece Again I find myself expressing gratitude I was not around to be a part of this historical period I usually say that about any historical period I read about view spoilerI know I can't be mad at the author because I was disgruntled about the ending but I was still disappointed Of course logically I know history doesn't really have a lot of tidy happy endings ; hide spoiler

  5. says:

    This was a beautiful frame story a nun possibly Elditha herself narrates to a group of other nuns declaring My tale follows the fortunes of the woman whom Harold loved and who passionately loved him back; his handfasted wife Edith called Elditha in the story she of the elegant swan's neck After he became king he betrayed Elditha and sent her away But that is not the end of her story It is but a beginning This novel tells of the time of the Norman Conuest of England from the viewpoint of Edith Swanneck Harold Godwinson's wife by handfast wedding ceremony not church marriage This moving story tells of her and Harold's love and their children Battle of Hastings itself is given short shrift but a big battle scene doesn't serve the purpose of this novel This is Elditha's story and thoughts the aftermath after Harold's death searching for his dead body escaping a forced loveless marriage with a Breton knight fleeing to the Irish court to find two sons She returns to England lives through the three week long siege of Exeter and makes her final decision about the rest of her lifeExuisitely written and well paced I felt for Elditha because of the tragedies in her life how she rises above them and finally finds peace Characters were well drawn especially the women The Bayeux tapestry is commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux Elditha embroiders the scene of her burning estate In my copy that scene was shown on the cover By the embroidery she feels the Godwins will always be remembered I liked the epigraphs at each chapter head an excerpt from something written in that period eg The Anglo Saxon Chronicle; each one gave a clue as to what the chapter would be about Thank you goodreads for sending me this splendid novel in a first reads giveaway

  6. says:

    The Handfasted Wife is the story of Edith Elditha as she is called in this novel the first wife of Harold Godwinson Since this book starts with King Edward near death and Harold soon follows him the focus is on Elditha as she is forced to decide what to do as Norman invaders swarm through EnglandThe premise of this novel is certainly interesting Little is known of what happened to Harold's wives and children after his death Obviously disappearing was the best way to save their own skin so most of this novel is fictional creation loosely wrapped in factual settings My biggest problem is that I couldn't admire Elditha or even understand herThe plot followed Elditha through her wanderings and poor decisions made in an effort to escape England before King William could force her into a future she did not want Little concern seems to cross her conscious for those who risk and give their lives to protect her Her children's fate also seems to be little than an afterthought to her She doesn't seem to have any actual goal as view spoileronce she does get away she simply goes back hide spoiler

  7. says:

    An appreciation for Anglo Saxon history and a moving tale about the repercussions of Harold Godwinson’s death at Hastings are the two main elements of this novel by Carol McGrath Through the perspective of Harold’s common law wife Edith Swanneck Eldith in the story the author has created a plausible storyline of England after the Battle of Hastings the wife’s struggles to keep her and her children safe from the conueror’s intimidation and the many glaring divergence between old and new customsAn insightful take on the woman who was known in history as the one who identified King Harold’s mutilated body after the battle and who in this story was painted as caring brave and resilient and rightly so Related fictional read on Harold Godwinson—and one that I highly recommend Helen Hollick's I Am the Chosen King

  8. says:

    Carol McGrath's novel brings to life a medieval woman very few people have heard of let alone know from their history books she is Edith or Alfgytha Swannhaels Edith Swanneck the handfasted wife of Harold Godwinsson the last Anglo Saxon King of England Little is known about Edith other than what we know from the historical documents that survive the time and oral tradition Ms McGrath does an excellent job of giving us a betrayed woman who rises above her circumstance after the 'Great Battle' the Battle of Hastings in 1066 Handfasted unions were a Danish tradition of the time This allowed a nobleman to put aside his partner to marry for expediency and political gain as it often happened and marry in the Church Handfasting was not recognized by the English church and therefore Edith was considered by some but not all Harold Godwinsson's concubine The Normans certainly thought as much Never mind that Harold and she were married for twenty years before he took a Northumbrian heiress as his Christianlegitimate wife several months before the Battle of Hastings But enough of the history lessonThe author gives what I think is a three dimensional powerful portrait of Edith and all of the women portrayed in the story also the men The story begins in the winter of 1065 before Edward the Confessor's death and through to the fall of Exeter in 1068 We are shown the fear desperation and courage of the English as they rebelled against the Norman invaders We are shown Edith as she comes to terms with the death of her husband with her on the horrific evening that she was brought to identify his mutilated body apparently she was the only one who knew about 'secret marks' on his person watch as she courted by noblemen and almost forced into marriage with a Norman and stays true to the love and memory of Harold We witness the determination to survive for the sake of her children and her love for them at all costs one of them taken as hostage by William the Conueror Because there is so little documented about Edith save that she was Harold's wife and the mother of his children Ms McGrath used wonderful artistic license in filling in the blanks and makes it all plausible She did such a credible job of storytelling that I referred to my copy of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and Oderic Vitalis' chronicle to see if I missed somethingMs McGrath is planning to continue the story and I hope the books will be as spellbinding as this

  9. says:

    I have a problem reading books where I know beforehand there is no happy ever after In this particular case I know Harold and his Elditha will never experience old age seeing as he died at the battle of Hastings It makes me sort of weepy and I am ridiculously glad that as per this book they had some weeks together before the momentous events that would transform England forever Elditha Swanneck is an engaging character mild but assertive capable and wise She handles her affairs in the way any wealthy noblewoman of the times would have done she loves her children her man When Harold decides to marry – for real – she is understandably hurt made fragile and invisible by his apparent disinterest By choosing a new wife Harold is sullying their union relegating her to the role of mistress rather than mate and I think Ms McGrath has done a great job in conveying all these feelings further complicated by the fact that Elditha can’t stop loving Harold the man she has loved for than half her life She wants to be angry and send him away but misses him too much to do so when he finally comes to see her Even after he is dead Elditha will always carry this larger than life man in her heart attempting always to remain loyal to his memoryMs McGrath does an excellent job in portraying all her central characters From Elditha to Padar from Gytha to Harold himself these long dead people spring to life within the pages of her book some of them so easy to love some like ueen Edith portrayed as coldly pragmatic To these vibrant characters must be added beautiful descriptive writing pitch perfect dialogue and a vivid historical setting This author clearly knows the period she is describing so well that her details and artefacts the glimpses she offers of interior design of food and clothes never become stilted or affected She weaves harvest work and bee keeping herbal ointments and period pastimes into her text with such skill that I am no longer here but there entering bower halls where women sit and gossip as they work following Elditha into the chilly interiors of churchs or into the welcoming warmth of a merchant’s house Further to this Ms McGrath really knows how to write POV is distinct throughout Elditha uickly acuires a presence and a voice of her own and I find it uite impossible to put this book down so entranced am I by the elegant writing and the story as such Is there a happy ending? Well that is not for me to reveal but I can than warmly recommend this book and I for one hope we will not have to wait long for the next one in the trilogy to come out

  10. says:

    Opening Line Tell us a story you say Then let us sit by our frames and listen to a tale while we workYou could be forgiven I suppose for believing from the opening lines that this is a novel aimed primarily at a female market But it is not The prose is lyrical but relaxed a well paced narrative that takes us back to the Norman invasion of England in 1066 weaving just enough of the familiar background to keep us within the tapestry borders of the King Harold story his rise to the throne his dispute with William of Normandy the battles of Stamford Bridge and Senlac while superimposing the less familiar and eually interesting tale of Edith Elditha Swan Neck Harold's common law hand fasted wife I enjoyed the thumb nail references to Saxon culture and the perspectives of Carol McGrath's very credible characters their astonishment and frustration at the relative ease with which they are conuered Excellent book and enjoyed it immensely