To Be a Queen

Written by Annie Whitehead
Review by Helen Hollick

Everyone has heard of Alfred the Great; not everyone knows of his daughter, Æthelflæd, ‘Lady of the Mercians’. This is a shame as she was a remarkable woman, but history was written by the men and women were not regarded as important during the traumatic years when individual kingdoms were evolving into the single kingdom of England. However, Æthelflæd became the Queen of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and could not be ignored. Annie Whitehead has achieved a stirring and passionately written account of the woman who thoroughly deserves to have her story told.

Born into the royal house of Wessex during the Viking wars, Æthelflæd is sent to Mercia as a foster-child, only to return home when Viking raiding increases. In Wessex she witnesses the horror of war and the reality of being royal-born, for she is given in marriage as an alliance between Wessex and Mercia. The Mercians resent her, making it hard for her to overcome indifference towards her husband. When he falls ill she has to rule; when he dies she leads the Mercian army against the Vikings and, ultimately, her brother.

To Be Queen is well-written and researched. The historical fiction author’s task is to blend the real with the made-up, and Ms Whitehead has deftly transferred known fact into entertaining fiction. Æthelflæd’s struggle to survive, as a woman and a queen, makes her a believably strong character – one to care and root for. There is a large cast of characters with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon names to remember, but all are there for a purpose, and most were necessities for they really did exist.

I originally reviewed an early edition which was incorrectly formatted and did not have that ‘professional quality’ feel about its presentation. But full credit to Ms Whitehead for undertaking a re-print with a re-designed cover and correct text layout. The result is a remarkable novel, a book for the author to be proud of and readers to enjoy.