The Abbess of Whitby : A Novel of Hild of Northumbria, Paperback Book

The Abbess of Whitby : A Novel of Hild of Northumbria Paperback

4 out of 5 (5 ratings)


Chosen as handmaid to Eostre, the Saxon goddess, Hild would spend a year serving the goddess before she was wed.

Her future was mapped out - until her father was murdered, and King Edwin claimed her as kin. Hild's first love was given a key command in Edwin's forces, and vanished from her life, wed to her elder sister.

That same day, the court was baptised, ending the people's fertility religion and Hild's role.

Life looked bleak - even more so when the husband to whom she was given was killed, along with her child. Hild resented the compulsory baptism, but became intrigued by the Iona priests, and eventually converted.

Aidan, the charismatic figure who taught, and lived, a new kind of love, persuaded Hild to help spread the new faith.

In thanks for a significant victory, King Oswy ordered her to found one of his new monasteries at Whitby.

She would see the men she trained appointed by the Pope as missionary bishops, carrying the faith across Britain.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages, Map in prelims
  • Publisher: Lion Hudson Plc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9781782641544

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

In the 7th century AD, young Hild, who attends her queen, is chosen as the handmaid of Eostre. She goes about blessing the plants and animals to insure their fertility. The handmaid serves for one year, when a new one is chosen. Hild, however, turns out to be the last handmaid, as the rulers of the land turn away from the old religions and adopt Christianity. While Hild’s king holds to the old religion of Woden and Thor, the queen is a Christian. “England” as a unified country does not exist yet. Numerous kings battle constantly over land and resources. Many marriages are made to cement peace treaties; every royal girl must expect this to happen to them. Hild did not expect this to happen to her, but it turns out she has enough royal blood to be a bargaining chip. A marriage that is loveless at first is arranged for her and she has to leave the people she grew up with. This won’t last long though; the incessant battles mean she is driven from her new home. Hild is a very resourceful woman. She knows the healing arts and is skilled in running a household. As she finds herself pushed from place to place during a hard life, she always manages to make the best of her situation; not just making things better for herself, but for those around her. She finds herself curious about this new religion, as joyous Christian brothers roam the land, spreading their faith. She learns to read and write, copying their books and memorizing them. Gradually, without really thinking about it, she finds herself the leader of a Christian community, where despite their poverty, everything is shared. Of course even they are buffeted by raids and wars. Brothers and bishops are killed. The plague wipes out a huge segment of the population. But a change as big as the baptism of the population comes when one bishop takes on the ways of Rome, insisting on gathering riches for the church, forsaking the vow of poverty, and making the accoutrements of the church and the bishop-hood of gold and silk. The book covers Hild’s life in detail from childhood to death. It vividly portrays the hardships of the era- no one, including royalty- had comfortable, easy lives. People slept on straw. Food was scarce, particularly in drought years or when raids occurred. Medicine consisted of a few herbal remedies. Every single thing had to be made from scratch. But despite the vividness of the settings and the details of everyday life, the book is slow and pretty unexciting. Hild is strong, smart, and of good heart, but she never really springs into life on the page. The book was interesting, but not really gripping. And I found the portrayal of the Old Norse religion as ‘evil’ annoying. Just because it was different doesn’t mean it was evil.

Review by

A beautiful, touching book -- the fictional life of Hild of Whitby, from her childhood experience as a Maiden of the pagan fertility goddess Eostre, through her life in the royal court of Edwin, acting as nursemaid to the royal children, her marriage and lingering death of her husband, Cerdic, through her surrender to God and godly life as abbess and founder of churches. This was compelling reading. I liked how it covered the full and satisfying life of this amazing woman.I was plunged immediately into a colorful 7th century Northumbria. Back then England was divided into separate kingdoms. Some were at war with each other: this was shown in the novel. The author's style was limpid and the story flowed easily from her pen. I felt the blurb on the back cover was inaccurate; I would have not described either Edwin or Cerdic in those terms. This book was well worth reading for the story of a strong woman, the spirituality and for learning something about early Christianity in Britain. Christianity as presented here was NOT saccharine or maudlin.Very highly recommended.I thank LT Early Reviewers for my copy in return for my honest review.

Review by

Hild, who becomes the Abbess of Whitby, grows up as a pagan. The first part of the book follows her as the maid of Eostre in the pagan spring ceremonies. She has some early contact with Christianity, and is baptized, but is not particularly moved by it, finding the priests to be somewhat cold and rigid. In part two, she is married for political alliance and moves north. She encounters more "native" priests/brothers such as Aidan, who are more interested in kindness and providing help and solace, than particular church rules and customs. She comes to Christianity through them, and finds her happiness in her new faith.In part three, when her husband dies, she is asked to found a religious community. She does such a good job, that she is asked to start two more communities. She provides advice to priests and kings alike. The Synod of Whitby is held at her suggestion to resolve the issues of differing Easter observance dates, and tonsures, (among other things), that are causing rifts in the Christian community. While she is not particularly happy about the decisions made, she does approve of the unity that it enables. Many of her students/disciples are asked to become bishops across England when it is decided that there should be more bishops in Britain. So she has quite an influence on the growth of Christianity in Britain.I enjoyed watching her development, both in character, and in faith. Despite the many sorrows of her life, such as losing her mother early, her sister marrying the man she fancies, married to an enemy for political alliance, and finally losing her husband and child, she manages to continue to share love and forgiveness to those around her. I wish the historical note at the end had a little more information about Hild's life. The notes state that not much is known about her life until age 33 when she enters religious service. Bede writes about her life about 50 year after her death, which is where most of the historical information comes from.

Review by

I have recently read several novels written by individuals highly involved in the histories of the medieval period. I have found them interesting though a bit difficult to read because of the names of the people and places. I personally like to actually involve myself a bit in researching a period in which a story is immersed to garner more information on said period and to judge the authenticity of it as well.The Abbess of whitby is staged in the 7th century of medieval Britain. It involves an actual historical individual - Hild of Northumbria. The author, Jill Dalladay, has extensively researched other author's works including the venerable Bede. I found that Hild's story parallels previous works, Edwin: High King of Britain and Oswald: Return of the King by Edoardo Albert. I found it interesting to again meet these ancient kings in Hild's story.While Hild is actually born into the royal line, her plight is not easy. Life was very rustic and hard in Northumbria in the 7th century. It was interesting to read about the life and activities of the times fleshed out by the author who based much of it on archeological finds and her own imagination. The peoples of Northumbria worshiped the ancient gods but were gradually being introduced to Christianity.I found it interesting how the transition from pagan religion to Christianity took place. How Christianity was spread and how whole clans or "countries" accepted it. Hild's story is just that - transition or transformation from pagan worship to acceptance of the Christ as Savior. It is about how Hild became a leader through her very humble servant's heart, and of the eventual establishment of a very important religious house in Northern England.I found this an easier to read than other medieval historical novels, yet still I flipped back and forth a bit to review people and places on the informational maps and lists in the front of the book. These were a big help. The author gives a short dialogue in the back on her research of the period and her reading list of helpful works.DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from Kregel Publications on behalf of Lion Fiction to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

Review by

In a time of low literacy, pagan worship and a male dominated society, Hild of Whitby was a great woman of learning and influence in the early church in England. In The Abbess of Whitby, Jill Dalladay successfully creates a story of love, grace and redemption out of a murky past. If you are looking for a novel that exemplifies the passion for the gospel combined with a riveting historical narrative, then you need to check this one out.The novel begins when 12 year old Hild, the cousin of King Edwin of Deria, has been chosen as Eoster’s maid. Fully immersed in the lore of the pagan gods who determine everthing — success in war and crops and fertility — Hild embraces the life she has been given. Life in the royal court in 7th century England is not glamorous, but consists of hard work, deprivation and constant political intrigue and war. And as a woman, Hild must fulfill her duties to king and husband. But the old ways are slowly being replaced by a new God who is personal and sacrifices Himself instead of demanding sacrifice.The Abbess of Whitby is a well-crafted historical novel. Dalladay does a wonderful job of putting the reader right in the middle of a very foreign world. Seventh century England is very different from our modern world. Just the day to day routines of life seem overwhelming without modern sanitation, medicine and technology. There is also the constant struggle for prominence and power by the leaders of the day. Alliances are built and betrayed, wars are fought, territory is traded, but life continues to go on. Hild’s character dominates the narrative. Building on the historical record, Dalladay creates a very plausible and intriguing picture of the woman who established religious houses, trained young men to the gospel work and helped to broker peace within the early church. The Abbess of Whitby is not dry and dusty, but a personal view of a woman who sought answers to the complex questions of life. And while the writing style took a bit of getting used to, and I wished there had been a glossary of Anglo-Saxon terms, I found this novel to be beautifully written and relevant to our modern day life. Yes, life in the 7th century was different, but people haven’t changed that much. Fourteen hundred years after Hild’s death, men still long for peace in a chaotic and confusing world.For those who love historical fiction, The Abbess of Whitby is a recommended read.Recommended.Audience: adults.Great for book clubs.(Thanks to Kregel and Lion Hudson for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

Also by Jill Dalladay