The Chosen Queen

Written by Joanna Courtney
Review by Tracey Warr

In 1055, Edyth Alfgarsdottir is the young daughter of a Saxon Earl at the court of King Edward, where she is befriended by Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Svana. Her father falls foul of the King and, driven into exile in Wales, Edyth marries the Welsh King Griffin. King Edward has no heir, leaving England an appealing invitation for invasion by Hardrada, King of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy. Only a reluctant Harold Godwinson stands between Saxon England and the outsiders. After Edyth’s Welsh husband dies, she returns a widow to the English court, where King Edward is dying. Harold has to step up as the only English successor to the throne. Svana is even more reluctant than Harold to become embroiled in the battle for England, and so Edyth Alfgarsdottir is chosen to support Harold as his queen.

As with many histories of these times, there is a great deal we do not know and probably never will, but Joanna Courtney creates a plausible account, placing emphasis on a sexual, emotional interpretation from Edyth’s imagined point of view. She tells the story in a direct, well-researched manner with visual, evocative writing. The language is occasionally gauche or overblown, the conversation sometimes a little too contemporary, and some of the characters tend towards caricature, but the book is an enjoyable immersion in a vivid, credible world of people making choices and leading their daily lives in a Saxon England still resonating with pagan rituals. Courtney builds well to the inevitably pacy denouement, with Hardrada’s defeat of Edyth’s brothers immediately followed by Harold’s defeat of Hardrada at Stamford Bridge in the north, and then his forced march south three days later to confront Duke William’s invasion.