Ready for some fascinating 8th-Century heroines? In Saxon Heroines: Women of Determination and Courage you will meet several active during the years from 624 to 706. The first character and narrator is Hildeburg, a princess of nine, unhappy that a new queen is about to replace the recently deceased aunt she loved. Women’s issues—girls as marriage pawns in alliance networks, the risk of death in childbirth, the importance of obedience and pleasing men—surface in the first few pages.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Almost immediately the new queen Ethelberga arrives and the main plot, the queen’s mission to convert her new husband to Christianity, unfolds. Ethelberga now becomes the principal voice. The primitive life in Northumbria horrifies her but hides her reaction as a queen must. A strong woman committed to her faith with an unyielding purpose, she contrasts well with the younger, adventurous, intelligent Hildeburg. The author tells her story through the alternating use of these two voices in Part 1.
One of the basic issues of this historical era in the British Isles was the transition from traditional pre-contact beliefs, and lingering beliefs introduced by the Romans, to the Christian belief system in its various forms. The author choses as her historical themes the conversion and subsequent conflict over which form of Christian rite would prevail in England—the Columban or the Roman (i.e., that dominated by the foreign Pope in Rome).
Saxon Heroines: Women of Determination and Courage: The Book
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 covers the time from 624 to 633. Its focus is the role of Queen Ethelberga of Kent in converting King Edwin of Northumbria to Christianity. Part 2 covers the period from 642 to 664 and brings to a head the emergence of Wilfrid, protégé of Enfleda, the next important queen. He goes to Rome and on his return precipitates the conflict over the form of rite. Part 3 covers the period 670 to 706. The daughter of Enfleda, another Enfleda, dedicated to the church as a child, recounts the conflict between the next king and Wilfred who has become the Archbishop of York.
Wagner-Wright has made it easier for the reader to follow the ins and outs of events by providing:
- Cast of Primary Characters in Order of Appearance for each of the parts. This is important. First, many of the people have the same name. Second, unless you are a student of the period, the names are unfamiliar and difficult to remember.
- Genealogical charts
- Map of key places
- Really Useful Chapter Titles (that include both the date and key event.)
- Glossary of Names
- A Glossary of Terms
- Glossary of Places
A Vivid Setting & Dauntless Heroines
Saxon Heroines comes to life through its fascinating 8th-Century heroines, each a striking character in her own right. Then, the atmosphere—with its eye-watering sting of smoke in the thatch, exotic smells, warrior culture—weaves around the intrigue to keep you reading.e
I had some challenges with the book. The author includes many complex events, and we hear about the men, although the women play no part. They suffer the consequences but as readers we encounter a lot of names, we never hear about again. Even with all the tools provided, it gets confusing. The story covers a lot of time and a lot of ground. That is challenging too. It is hard to care about so many people over such a long time. Wagner-Wright does an excellent job, but she set herself a Mount Everest of a task.
My last comment is, do not let the title, Saxon Heroines: Women of Determination and Courage, discourage you. Only my compelling interest in historical fiction of the period enticed me to it. Yet I encourage you to read this book. Once I started, I read it from start to finish in just two sittings. Do read it.