The Forgotten Queen, by Haley Elizabeth Garwood, published by The Writers Block, Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, 1998. Tel: 304-379-8162. $17.95 paperback.
Throughout the centuries, there are inevitably those who history forgets. Figures who, in their day, were as monumental and significant as any whose names we are forced to memorize in World Civilizations class but who, for one reason or another have been relegated to the fine print of history, doomed to eternal obscurity.
Dr. Haley Elizabeth Garwood resurrects one of these forgotten figures in her novel The Forgotten Queen. Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England and grand-daughter of William the Conqueror, was a truly remarkable woman. Betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor at the tender age of seven, Matilda became Empress at the age of 12 and sat in judgement over her husband’s courts in Germany and Italy by the time she was 15. The book picks up just a few years after Matilda, recently widowed, has returned to England where her father, the King, is planning her future.
Matilda has just learned that her father has arranged politically advantageous marriage between her and the young Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. This alliance would give Matilda, King Henry’s only legitimate heir, the leverage she needs to ascend the throne following her father’s death. If all goes as planned, Matilda would claim an unprecedented place in history as the first woman to be crowned King of England.
Matilda is torn between the strong desire to take the place that she knows destiny has chosen for her, and the more passionate urgings of her heart. Although she agrees to marry Geoffrey, she is in love with Stephen, her first cousin, who as King Henry’s nephew, holds his own legitimate claim to the throne. With a heavy heart, Matilda chooses fate’s path and departs England to live in France with Geoffrey.
Back in England, all is calm until the death of Henry in 1135 sets off a political crisis. Urged on by his wicked and power-hungry wife, Stephen betrays Matilda and usurps the throne. Bribed by royal gold and empty promises, one by one the nobles who had sworn oaths to support Matilda turn against her and side with Stephen.
Stung by the betrayal and still grieving the death of her father, Matilda mounts a campaign to regain her kingdom. With the help of her husband, she fights Stephen’s armies, first in Normandy, where they had invaded to gain a foothold. Then, in 1139, joined by her illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester and a cadre of loyal nobles, Matilda leads a successful land invasion of the English mainland. Although her victory is short-lived, her selfless bravery does succeed in saving the crown for her son, Henry II, who ascended the throne in 1154.
The Forgotten Queen is the first book in what Garwood calls her ‘Warrior Queen’ series, in which she intends to ‘dust off the forgotten women in history’. If her engaging fictionalized account of Matilda is any indication, the rest of the series should provide a most welcome addition to the genre of the historical romance.
Leigh Ann Berry