QAB Book Review: “Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England”, by Elizabeth Norton

December 15, 2013 in QAB Book Reviews by Beth von Staats

Elfrida

Despite common misconceptions to the contrary, tenth and eleventh century Anglo-Saxons crowned and consecrated queen consorts. Ælfthryth, known more commonly in modern English as Elfrida, was the first such English Queen crowned in coronation with her husband, King Edgar the Peaceful. As the story passed down for over a millennium goes, King Edgar, already mated to two other women, learned of grand stories of Lady Elfrida’s exquisite beauty and sent one of his most trusted men, Æthewald, son of  Æthewald the Half-King, to Elfrida’s family home in Wessex to see if she was as fair as described. If so, the king intended to cast aside his mate Wulfthryth, whom he coupled with for diplomatic reasons, in favor of the beautiful Elfrida.  Æthewald went as commanded and met the fair Elfrida, and then fell in love with her himself. He returned dutifully to court, but then lied to King Edgar, telling him Elfrida’s beauty was much exaggerated.  With the King’s consent, Æthewald set out to marry Elfrida. Her family was delighted to support a match to the son of Æthewald the Half-King, and after the usual negotiations, they were wed. Eventually, King Edgar determined to lay eyes of Elfrida, as stories of her exquisite beauty continued. While the king was on route, Æthewald pleaded with Elfrida to dress plainly and downplay her beauty and poise. She refused, and when the King met her, they fell instantly in love. Irate with Æthewald, King Edgar murdered him during a hunt. A certain love match, King Edgar and Elfrida were married, and Elfrida consecrated. In an age common of multiple couplings and marriages of reigning monarchs, the pair remained true, only death separating them. Is this story, detailed as fact in multiple historical sources, true? Through rich research and common sense deduction, historian Elizabeth Norton details her thoughts and conclusions, not only for this story, but many others commonly told, most which detail Queen Elfrida as power-hungry, evil and as was coined first centuries later in describing Queen Margaret of Anjou, a “She-Wolf”.

A Victorian Era depiction of the murder of King Edward the Martyr. Note Queen Elfrida offering him refreshment.

A Victorian Era depiction of the murder of King Edward the Martyr. Note Queen Elfrida offering him refreshment.

Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England, is the first known biography of this amazing woman, a fact striking given her abundant accomplishments, enormous influence, and infamous reputation. Although most commonly known for her alleged, though as Elizabeth Norton points out unproven and unlikely involvement in the murder of her step-son King Edward the Martyr, there is much to celebrate in the life of Queen Elfrida. Intricately researched, clearly and interestingly articulated, and richly detailed, Elizabeth Norton takes the reader on Queen Elfrida’s journey, and in doing so dusts off the cobwebs of early English history. And just what do readers learn? Elizabeth Norton teaches us that Queen Elfrida was a strong and capable women, who along with her husband and good friend Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, set about to reform abbeys and monasteries throughout the realm — Queen Elfrida named “protectress” of all English nunneries. In a female world where men never tread, Queen Elfrida reigned supreme over these cloistered communities.  We are also taught of Queen Elfrida’s influence in reigning in the name of her son during the regency of King Elthelred, her influence in shaping the lives of her grandchildren, and also her long standing status of being the most powerful woman in England. As is common through World History, and even in today’s world, as a strong and capable woman with power, Queen Elfrida was painted negatively by both people in her own age and for over a millennium thereafter.  Elizabeth Norton does an outstanding job viewing Queen Elfrida’s life objectively, and in doing so confirms some long-held beliefs, while dispelling many others.  Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers very highly recommends Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England for anyone interested in learning about Anglo-Saxon history, the history of queenship or Women’s Studies.

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Elizabeth Norton is a British historian that researches and writes primarily of the women contributing to English medieval history. With a MA degrees in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a MA degree in European Archaeology from Oxford, Elizabeth certainly is multi-talented and highly gifted. Currently, Elizabeth is working on her doctoral research at King’s College, London where she is researching the Blount family of Shropshire. Recently, Elizabeth researched and released a non-fiction book focusing on the remarkable life of Elfrida, England’s first crowned queen, further broadening her expertise of England’s most remarkable female historical figures. For more information, visit Elizabeth’s website at http://www.elizabethnorton.co.uk.

To explore or purchase one of Elizabeth Norton’s excellent historical biographies, clink the links provided below.

Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England
Margaret Beaufort, Mother of the Tudor Dynasty
Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession
Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride
Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love
She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of Medieval England
Catherine Parr: Wife, Widow, Mother, Survivor, The Story of the Last Queen of Henry VIII
England’s Queens
Bessie Blount: The Story of Henry VIII’s Longtime Mistress
Anne Boleyn: In Her Own Words & the Words of Those Who Knew Her
Anne Boleyn Guide
The Boleyn Women