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HFC Editorial Review of "The Beggar Queen" by Kelly Evans

Editorial Review

What kind of girl am I?.... But Mother, this is the kind of woman I need to be, not the kind of woman I want to be. And I will do everything in my power to accept this hardship, for surely it is a test from God, and which I hope will end with my redemption.”

This is truly a rags to riches story... a Cinderella story to the highest degree... and, oddly enough, a true story of a woman buried in history. How is it that so little is known of this incredible and brave woman? Bathilde is kidnapped from the quaint pastoral village in 7th century England and sold as a slave to a powerful mayor in ancient France (before it is known as France). After witnessing the brutalization of her family and their death, plus being ripped away from her first love (of whom we never hear of again), she learns quickly that either she adapts or she dies.

Remarkably, she is taken into the mayor’s household which is one of peace and kindness. She is befriended by two dear women in the kitchen, and later on, by the mayoress who sees beyond Bathilde’s station in life to see the real beauty inside – that of strength, courage, and a rare regal quality taught to her by her mother and father who were noble in their own right.

But as always, life happens and tragedy strikes hard. Again, Bathilde is forced to adapt and, for a time, is a fugitive living by herself in the forest miles away from the mayor’s palace. Hungry and desperate for forgiveness, she returns and finds the mayor has a new wife, a cruel and vindictive woman whose jealousy forces her husband to get rid of Bathilde.

Unbeknownst to the mayoress, the King has his eye on Bathilde after visiting the mayor, and to bring peace to his wife and garner favor from the King, the mayor gifts Bathilde to him. But the King’s intentions are revealed when Bathilde and her two dear friends make the journey to his palace. He treats her as an equal, lavishing her with gifts, fine clothes, jewels, and whatever her heart desires. She is no longer a slave... for he wishes for her to be his Queen.

As queen, Bathilde excels and a true romance develops between her and Clovis II, King of Neustria and Burgundy, and with the example of her former mistress, the mayoress, fixed in her mind, she devotes herself to showing modesty, humility, and charitable endeavors to enhance her husband’s rule. She founds the abbey of Chelles near Paris, and is determined to live the remainder of her years in devotion to God after seeing her three boys established in their rightful inheritance.

However, this is not an easy task for a woman in the seventh century, especially after the unexpected death of the King. Bathilde’s oldest son becomes King while still young, and she becomes Regent. Through clever and crafty manuevering, she is always one step ahead of those who seek to squash her under their feet and depose her son, the first and foremost being Ebroin, a devious and power-hungry knave who despises her rise to the throne.

This book is an interesting read into this quite unknown slice of history. Bathilde is a force for good during her time, and abolishes the slave trade, and establishes each of her three sons onto the throne as Ebroin finds a way to claw his way to the position, even at the expense of their lives.

For all of her incredible sacrifice and effort, she was canonized by Pope Nicholas I, 200 years after her death. Her bravery changed the face of France, forever.

While there is plenty for every reader in this book – murder, intrigue, politics, love, bravery, and kindness – the book, for me, only immersed me closer to the middle of the book. Bathilde’s character felt a bit flat until then, which perhaps represents her position, because once she became queen, she blossoms into an extraordinary person; a woman beyond her time. And yet, the author maintained the historical authenticity without modernizing Bathilde, which I appreciated.

That being said, this is a ‘happily ever after’ book; after all, she ends up being canonized in real life – but I almost wish there was another level depicting the intense hardship of the time period. After her rise, she is like a princess in a tower surrounded with fine clothes, jewels, and food while gazing and remembering her former life as a slave. Sometimes in the storyline, things fit together just a little too perfectly, too remarkably solved... which may have been a reality as there is very little information about her in real history; but I would have liked a little bit more intense reality besides the two horrific scenes offered us – rape and childbirth in Medieval France.

I guess overall this is a story of one woman’s rise to power and how she discovers that riches and privilege do not bring happiness. And yet, even her momentary retirement at the Abbey of Chelles, where she gives up everything, does not provide solace. What brings ultimate comfort is the contribution she makes to others, her sacrifice to change laws, using her status to free people, not the actual crown and throne, or the luxury all the riches brought. And friendship, this is a book about friendships that surpass status.

For that, and for the pleasant way Ms Evans presents the story – a book that is easily read in one sitting – the Historical Fiction Company gives The Beggar Queen four stars.

About the Author:

Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly Evans graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduation, she moved to the UK where she worked in the financial sector. While in London Kelly continued her studies in history, focussing on Medieval England.

Kelly is now back in Ontario with her husband Max and two rescue cats. Her books include The Confessor’s Wife, The Northern Queen, The Mortecarni, and Revelation (all set in Medieval Europe), Elizabeth: Path to the Throne (Tudor England), and The Strange Tale of Miss Victoria Frank (gothic novella).

When not writing, Kelly loves reading, music (she plays a pretty mean ukulele and some wicked medieval recorder), and watching really bad old horror and science fiction movies. Preferably ones with large insects or lizards. And with a LOT of popcorn. Really a lot.

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