Talking about the book: To Be a Queen by Annie Whitehead

Title: To Be a Queen: The Story of the Lady of the Mercians
Author: Annie Whitehead

A bit about the author

Historian, author, and accepted member of the Royal Historical Society, with a love of all things Anglo-Saxon. Annie writes wonderful posts about her research. She lives in the UK and shares beautiful photos of her walks in the countryside on her Facebook page.

The story
One family, two kingdoms, one common enemy…

This is the story of Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great of Wessex, and the only female leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Aethelflaed must win the hearts of the Mercians who despise her as a foreigner and twice make an attempt on her life. When her husband falls ill and is incapacitated, she learns to rule and lead an army in his stead. Eventually Aethelflaed must fight to save her adopted Mercia from the Vikings and, ultimately, her own brother. –condensed from the book blurb

My Review

***4.5 stars***

A beautifully written novel of a life not well-documented in the history books. Aethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians, daughter of King Alfred the Great, was a woman of her time. Her arranged marriage to a stranger cemented an alliance between Alfred’s Wessex and the kingdom of Mercia. But Aethelflaed becomes so much more than a ‘business deal’ as Ms. Whitehead leads the reader through this extraordinary life of a woman who becomes a leader, a queen in all but name.

I had originally heard of Aethelflaed through the television series, The Last Kingdom. That, too, is fiction, but based very loosely on fact. A reader craving a more accurate background will see that Ms. Whitehead has done her research. To Be A Queen immerses the reader in this era when the Vikings raided England. The details of everyday life, the struggles, and politics and wars in 9th and 10th century Britain are a highlight.

“With too many cruel memories lurking among the benign flowerbeds, she took the path to the salt-works instead. Passing by the scriptorium, she smiled at a young novice monk attending to the strips of vellum stretching on their frames. He poured cold water on them, a job which she witnessed often; when a smooth sticky surface appeared, he and his fellow novices would bring their stools out into the sunshine and shave the skins with their little half-moon knives.”

This is a very believable account of Aethelflaed, from her childhood to her marriage to Aethelred, to her growth and gaining the respect of the people of Mercia.

And bonus for me: Ms. Whitehead is just as comfortable writing compelling battle scenes as writing everyday life. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in British history.


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