950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Bastard of Normandy v. the Golden Warrior (Paula Lofting)

The Bastard of Normandy Versus the Golden Warrior

Paula Lofting

Funeral of King Edward the Confessor, Scene 26, Bayeux Tapestry (By Image on web site of Ulrich Harsh. [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Funeral of King Edward the Confessor, Scene 26, Bayeux Tapestry (By Image on web site of Ulrich Harsh. [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The year of 1066 started out with three contenders for the throne. As Edward lay dying in the early days of January, William of Normandy waited to hear news from England that he was now the new king of England. But unbeknown by him, Harold Godwinson was elected by the Witan, and the third contender, the young atheling, Edgar, had been cast aside, deemed as too young and inexperienced, without the kind of support Harold possessed. Edward, delirious in his sick bed, had given his blessing (as per the Vita Edwardi), and had appointed Harold as guardian of his queen, Harold’s sister Edith, and entrusted him with his kingdom.

With Edgar out of the race, this left just two main contenders, until Harald Hardrada was persuaded by Tostig to set his sights on the English Crown. Tostig was Harold Godwinson’s brother and had been very put out by Harold’s lack of support when Harold voted in favour of his brother being ousted. So, come the summer, there were three contenders once more: William, the Bastard of Normandy, Harold, the Golden Warrior, and Harald Sigurdson, the Thunderbolt of the North.

Harald Hardrada (Image courtesy Colin Smith via Wikimedia) Colin Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
William at this time was busy making his preparations for his planned invasion. Harold had amassed the fyrd along the coast so that if William arrived, he was going to be well greeted. Tostig and Harald Sigurdson eventually arrived in the north with thousands of men and ships in September, and it was around the 20th of that month that they defeated the York armies of Earl Morcar and his brother Earl Edwin. Whilst waiting for supplies and hostages to arrive, Godwinson the Golden was marching northwards from London, calling out the fyrds on the way to augment his troops. He defeated Sigurdson’s army at Stamford Bridge and both leaders, Tostig and Harald, were killed, knocking Harald Sigurdson out of the race, leaving just two final contenders, William the Bastard, and Harold Godwinson.

So what about these two men; who were they and what were their sagas?

William of Normandy

Background

Born around 1027 in Falaise, William was the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy and Herleve, daughter of a tanner and embalmer. William was eight years old when his father died on pilgrimage, and had, just before leaving for it, made William his heir. It seems that William’s illegitimacy caused some resentment amongst his father’s relatives, who Robert had not always enjoyed good relations with.

Not only was William illegitimate, his mother had also been a low-born servant and not of noble blood at all. This gave William’s enemies the ammunition to try to have him deposed. So, William was not off to a great start. After William’s main supporter, the powerful Archbishop Robert, died, the Duchy of Normandy descended into chaos. One of his mother’s brothers, Walter, had been given a position in the duke’s household. Walter became a steadfast supporter of his nephew and he and William had some lucky hair raising escapes from would-be assassins out to rid Normandy of this boy duke. It was said that Walter was often forced to hide William in the peasant homes of his mother’s people as Orderic Vitalis, writing in the 12th century, claims.

William of Normandy (Creative Commons) (click image)
William of Normandy, as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry (See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Though young William had many supporters, one such being King Henry of France, many of William’s guardians were killed protecting him and one, who was called Osbern, was killed as he slept on the floor of William’s chamber. In 1046, when William was a youth of 19, opponents attempted to capture him but he escaped, seeking refuge with the king of France. William defeated the rebels in the next year with the aid of King Henry at the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes. Poitiers, the duke’s biographer, claimed that the battle was won because of William’s efforts. William could now return to his duchy and assume power again. This experience brought about the Truce of God, a proclamation that would limit warfare throughout his duchy by restricting days when fighting would be allowed. Battle of Val-ès-Dunes was a pivotal point for William in gaining control of his duchy; however, there was still a long road ahead to full control over his nobles and duchy. Continuous conflicts occurred in the period between 1047 – 1054. It was around then that William fell out with the King of France who joined the Norman rebels’ attempts at invading. William repelled all the incursions into his duchy. By 1060, William had more or less consolidated his position in Normandy. It was time to draw his thoughts to an event that happened nine years ago, when it was said that King Edward of England promised him the throne.

Character

William was reported to be burly and full of vigour. He was tall for a man in this era; an examination of his bones proved him to be around five feet  10 inches. He was robust and apparently had a guttural voice. He was pious, well, he had to be, mainly because he owed his victory in England to the pope, who had given his mission to conquer England his blessing and approval along with a papal banner to show his support. William appears to have been a man who, when he wanted something, would take it if it was not given freely. His wife Matilda was said not to have desired the match because William was an uncouth, low-born bastard, so, William, not taking no for an answer, burst in on her chamber and threw her over his shoulder, took her outside and threw her in the mud. She must have liked his caveman style tactics, for she changed her mind and agreed to marry him.

Matilda of Flanders as interpreted by a Victorian artist See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Matilda of Flanders as interpreted by a Victorian artist See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William does not appear to have been overly educated and there is no evidence that he supported learning or scholars. Orderic wrote that he tried to learn to read English in his later years, but couldn’t devote the time to it. William had great stamina and determination, as is proved by the resilience he showed in his long struggle as duke of a dangerous and chaotic duchy. It took him most of his youth to quell uprising after uprising before he could feel secure in his dukedom. This would have stood him in good stead, putting down English rebellions for at least five years after Hastings before he could sit safely on the English throne. The long haul in England must have seemed like a walk in the park as far as recalcitrant subjects were concerned.

William was not a soft touch by any means; he did not get where he was by treating everyone with respect and generosity, though he could be respectful and generous when the mood took him. It seems he wanted to be a good king to the English, but the damned rebels didn’t seem to like having to pay extortionately for their own lands that he himself had confiscated from them. He couldn’t understand that in English law, the king did not own all the lands. That there was such a thing called bookland, in Old English bocland, whereby the land was owned by virtue of a charter, meaning that the king’s power was removed from any influence over it.

Later medieval historians have referred to William as being avaricious and cruel. He regarded the land as belonging to himself. And although he could be patient, if someone or a group of people refused to toe the line, he could also be brutal, as when he harried the north to the point of genocide. This was the time referred to as The Harrowing.

The Norman influence in English matters was a clash of cultures. William didn’t understand the customs and laws of England prior to the conquest. He didn’t understand that kings were elected in Anglo-Saxon law, and that the crown was not immediately passed onto the choice of the precious king, or the heir to the throne, of which he had been neither the choice, nor the heir, at least not by blood. He didn’t understand that the king’s decisions were always confirmed by the Witan who had the right to vote against them. He didn’t understand that women had a certain amount of freedom, to own their own property and land, and dispose of it as they wished. Women could not be forcibly married without their consent. Women had rights in law regarding rape and sexual assault. He also used the murdrum law to ensure that if an Englishman was suspected of killing a Norman, justice would be sought robustly. But if a Norman killed an Englishman, it was not.

When William died, he died alone, deserted by his sons. His death was ignominious and his funeral even worse when, having grown so stout over the years, they had to pierce his bloated corpse to get him to fit into his coffin. Not a glorious end to a glorious career.

Harold Godwinson

Background and Family

This golden warrior, as his personal banner depicted him, was born circa 1022 to Godwin Wulfnothson, an English noble, and Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, daughter of a Danish jarl. Harold was the second eldest of their nine children, which included bad boy Swegn, Tostig, later Harold’s enemy, brothers Gyrth, Leofwin, and Wulfnoth, sisters Edith and Gunnhild, and possibly another daughter who may have been called Aelfgifu. Godwin’s rise to power came when Cnut took the whole of the kingdom after King Edmund had died. Godwin had been loyal to Edmund, and when Cnut was sorting out his administration, he rid himself of the Englishmen who had changed sides, figuring that if they could betray their own lord, then it was possible they would betray him. Godwin, on the other hand, felt a safer bet, because of his steadfast loyalty towards Edmund. It wasn’t long before Cnut made him earl of Eastern Wessex, which probably comprised Sussex, Kent and Surrey. By 1020, he was earl of all of Wessex. Godwin became the most powerful earl in England, and maintained his success throughout the reigns of Cnut, Harald Harefoot and Harthacnut. Upon the death of Harthacnut, he became an advocate of Edward the Confessor. Edward married Godwin’s daughter, Edith, and earldoms went to Godwin’s sons Swegn and Harold, and Gytha’s nephew, Beorn, the son of Cnut’s sister, Estrith. But Harold’s other brothers Tostig, Gyrth and Leofwin were not to receive earldoms until after Godwin’s death in 1053.

King Harold being crowned, from Scenes 30-31, Bayeux Tapestry (By Norman or English embroiderers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Career

It was when Harold became earl of East Anglia in 1045 that he most likely met and fell in love with the beautiful, mysterious, Edith Swanneck. The couple also, like Harold’s parents, went on to have a large family: Godwin, Gytha, Edmund, Magnus, Gunnhild and Ulf. This appears to have been a love match as opposed to an official alliance. Edith was the daughter and heiress of a wealthy landowning magnate in the eastern midlands, which meant that Harold, as her husband more danico, would have access to more wealth and supporters. It may have been a love match, but it was a prosperous one, too.

Following on from his appointment as Earl of East Anglia, Harold went on to command a fleet of ships for King Edward. He engaged in some conflicts with foreign pirates who were using European coastal regions to launch their raids. Harold’s duties did not end there. Among his many tasks, he would also have been the king’s representative in his earldom, doling out the king’s law and justice in the shire courts of his jurisdiction. He would need to collect revenue, oversee transfers of land, witness charters, and attend the king on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, Harold’s brother Swegn, now Earl of Herefordshire, was causing trouble. Earls would often find themselves up against their own thegns in conflicts of a political nature, but Swegn’s behaviour went beyond that expected of nobles. Swegn, it seems, had grown up somewhat spoilt by Godwin, and no matter what he did, no matter how bad (even murder and the abduction of an abbess was excused), his father’s loyalty never wavered. Godwin’s entreaties for his eldest son ingratiated neither Swegn nor Godwin to the king. Harold, however, along with his cousin Beorn, endeared themselves in the king’s eyes by opposing Swegn’s return and reinstatement; this seems to have worked for Harold on a grand scale, for he was to later find such favour with the king he became his right-hand man. Unfortunately, Beorn was murdered by Swegn, which stopped his career in its tracks.

In 1051, the whole of the Godwinsons were exiled, and Queen Edith put into a nunnery. Godwin and Swegn were required to give hostages. This severe punishment had something to do with Godwin’s refusal to deal harshly with the men of Dover, who were accused of attacking the Count of Boulogne on his way home. The whole event seems to have been a plot, hatched to get rid of Godwin, possibly by the Norman contingent amongst Edward’s advisers. Harold and his younger brother Leofwin went to Dublin to seek aid from the Irish, whilst the rest of the family went to the court of Count Baldwin in Flanders. Later in 1052, the family were to fight their way back home. Harold and Leofwin, with their Irish mercenaries, landed at Porlock in Somerset and a battle ensued with the thegns who had gone to oppose them on behalf of the king. They did, however, pick up loyal thegns who had been under Godwin’s service before his exile and with Harold’s father gathering support in the eastern shires of Wessex and the Isle of Wight, the family was returned to their former stations. This had been Harold’s first excursion into diplomacy, having to entreat with the Irish king for help. His former experience as a warrior sailor would have stood him in good stead, too.

It was not long before Harold was to be promoted. With Godwin’s sudden death at the Easter court, Harold was endowed with his estates and made Earl of Wessex. As East Anglia was now vacant, this went to his rival, Alfgar, son of Leofric of Mercia. Alfgar had been compelled to return the earldom to Harold when he returned from exile. Brother Swegn and cousin Beorn were now out of the picture, having both died, so their estates went to Ralph, the king’s nephew.

William gives Harold arms in Normandy, Scene 21, Bayeux Tapestry (By Image on web site of Ulrich Harsh. [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Harold would go on to improve his status by becoming Dux Anglorum, which is Latin for Very Big Chief in England. His family by this time had grown, and he and his wife were still together, and to all intents and purposes, very much in love. He would begin to take more of a leading role by managing the security of the kingdom whilst Edward sat back, prayed, hunted, prayed, hunted some more, and probably prayed again. In 1055 Earl Ralf, the nephew of King Edward, took on the might of Gruffudd of Wales, Alfgar, and a bunch of Irish/Norse mercenaries, and disgraced himself by running away. Harold went with a great army into Wales along the Golden Valley in pursuit of the army, but had to abandon the chase as the enemies seemed to have disappeared into the mountains. He returned to Hereford, or what was left of it, as Alfgar and Gruffudd had razed it to the ground, and reinforced the defences. Ralph seems to have disappeared from public eye, nursing his disgraced pride and was then after called Ralf the Timid.

The next few years were mostly filled with diplomatic tasks for Harold. It was in these years up to 1062 that Harold honed his ambassadorial skills, engaging in peace talks with King Gruffudd of Wales. Harold developed a reputation as preferring peace and compromise to war. Harold went a long way to improve relations amongst the leading earls and nobles. Civil unrest and war within Britain was a thing to be avoided. It was a far better thing that the country remained united. A united kingdom would be strong to fight off invaders from overseas. But in 1062, Harold had enough of playing the diplomat. It was time the English showed their mettle to the Welsh King Gruffudd. Alfgar, now earl of Mercia, had long been an ally to the Welsh king and had married his daughter Aldith to him. Alfgar had probably been the only thing protecting Gruffudd from Harold’s frustrations, and once Alfgar was dead, the protection he had provided to the Welsh went south. Harold made one of his lightening marches, in difficult terrain, into Wales on horseback. He burned Gruffudd’s palace at Rhuddlan. But Gruffudd escaped after a tip off. Later in 1063, Harold allied himself with his brother Tostig, now Earl of Northumbria, and they razed Wales north and south until the Welsh executed Gruffudd and sent Harold the Welsh king’s head.

Character

The Vita Edwardi was commissioned by Harold’s sister and there are some references to his character and description. According to Vita, both Harold and his brother, Tostig, were handsome, graceful, robust and courageous. Harold was taller than Tostig, and had more experience. He was also the more temperate of the brothers, more intelligent, and more likely to act with patience when another challenged him. Harold shared his plans with his loyal men, had more patience when others urged action. Tostig was said to have been secretive and overzealous in attacking wrong doers. Harold was said to aim at happiness by acting prudently, Tostig aiming solely at success by acting vigorously. More contrasts of Harold’s character were said to have been in their use of language. Tostig was said to have been ‘decent’ in his speech, but Harold somewhat ‘prodigal’ with his oaths, perhaps meaning he was not disinclined to swear now and then.

The writer of the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio accused Harold of having been promiscuous and adulterous, but there is no evidence to say that he was ever unfaithful to Edith Swanneck throughout their time together until he married Aldith of Mercia for political reasons. Even then, he was still said to have remained her lover. The Carmen was written by Pro Norman Bishop of Amiens, who most likely wanted to demonise Harold to make his patron, William, look like a saint.

Harold was known to have enjoyed leisurely pursuits and to have been interested in hawking, and this is reflected in his library of books. He is also shown on the Bayeux Tapestry holding his bird of prey with his hunting dogs racing along nearby. Harold’s ostentatious lifestyle was reflected in his banner, which was worked in gold thread and precious stones. Ian Walker mentions that it was considered an expensive enough piece of work to be sent to the Pope as a gift by William after the Battle of Hastings. Harold’s gifts to the Holy Cross Church at his estate at Waltham also indicate his wealth. A man with Harold’s stature would have been expected to show off his bling when in public or when important visitors dropped by.

Harold was also renowned for his martial character. The greater military successes seem to have occurred when he had reached his forties, with both the Welsh campaigns, and the campaigns of 1066. William of Poitiers, another writing for William of Normandy and, who may have met him when he went to visit in 1064, described Harold as ‘warlike, courageous and eager for renown’. His ‘military’ character and his diplomatic successes are very much in conflict, for as said before, Harold preferred diplomacy to war; however, when Harold’s buttons were pushed, out came the warlike Harold, who would stop at nothing to defend his kingdom. We can see how he reacted to Gruffudd and Hardrada, and how he was determined to stop the Norman invasion occurring.

Norman knights and archers By Myrabella (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Norman knights and archers, image Scene 51 from Bayeux Tapestry (by Myrabella (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By 1064, Harold was at the pinnacle of his career as Dux Anglorum. He now had time to sit back and reflect, and think about two boys, held as hostages across the sea. He was about to make the first of a series of mistakes that would see the end of Anglo Saxon England. He took a trip across the sea to Normandy in the hope that he could ingratiate Duke William into agreeing to release his brother, Wulfnoth, and his nephew, Hakon, who’d remained for many years as hostages in William’s keeping. Unfortunately, he was kept there for around three months, a psychological hostage himself. William would not have let Harold go until he’d got him to swear his allegiance to him, that he would support him when Edward died, to be his successor. Harold was not on his own turf, and if he had refused? William would most likely have had him killed. William was not above murdering even his own relatives. By the time Harold was able to return home, he knew that this journey had been a very dangerous one, and one that King Edward had warned him against.

Edith discovering the body of Harold (By uncertain ([1], from History of France by François Guizot) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons?
Edith discovering the body of Harold (By uncertain, from History of France by François Guizot) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Summary

So we have two men, one called Harold, who was by the time of 1066, important enough to have been elected king. His character was unblemished, except by the Normans in their post-conquest writings. To demonise him, they accused him of being culpable of Edward’s brother Alfred’s murder, but Harold would not have been old enough to have been involved at the time of Alfred’s death. This was a crime that had been levelled at Godwin, and for which Godwin had cleared himself on oath. They also reported him as being lascivious and there is no evidence to state that this was the case. He seems to have remained faithful to Edith Swanneck even after he married Aldith of Mercia. Edith was said to have been there at the Battle of Hastings. Aldith, on the other hand, was not mentioned, and in all likelihood, Harold had sent her somewhere safe, being heavily pregnant. She called him Harold, so perhaps they, too, had a good relationship. In the short while that Harold had been king, it was said that he had begun to make new laws that would punish wrong doers, and had been known to be fair and just. If he had won the fight for his crown and remained king, the laws that protected women and their property would most likely not disintegrated, and those men who had been forced to buy back their lands would have not been impoverished. Thousands of children and women would not have been made vulnerable, and the laws that had protected English customs would have continued to do so. English lands and offices would have remained in English hands and hopefully the kingdom would have continued to prosper.

William was the other man who vied for the throne. He hasn’t come off very well at the hands of many historians over the years who regarded him as cruel, avaricious and a totalitarian tyrant whose actions saw the deaths of over 100,000 people and the wasting of much English land. But William was many things to many people. To his wife, I am certain, he was a good, loyal husband. There is evidence to say that he was all of the above, but there is also evidence to say that he was generous to those who were loyal, patient with those who crossed him, sometimes giving them more than one chance to behave. He gave much land and wealth to his loyal followers -albeit not his to give away, but still, these qualities show a more humane side to him. It must have frustrated him that the English rebelled so often against him, but then what else could be expected? It’s a fact that if you oppress people long enough, and hard enough, they will rise up and rebel. Unfortunately, the English couldn’t unite for long enough to stay the pace.

William was a remarkable man; his achievements from an early age showed that he was a strong character with more resilience than any other king of that era. The mission to build a fleet and cross the sea to conquer a people who stood so stubbornly against him was an amazing feat. However, I cannot translate these extraordinary accomplishments into something that benefitted his English subjects in quite the same way as they may have his fellow countrymen. The castles were a fabulous new way of subjugating people, and they put to use many good English peasants who had to work on the building of them. They were seen as icons of injustice and domination, hated by the people they oppressed. The murdrum law, which was manipulated to protect the Normans, and not the English, from murder. The many women who fled to nunneries to escape being forced to wed William’s Norman barons for their lands. Personally, I think I know who I would have voted for, had I been around then. What about you? Who would you have preferred to serve you as king?

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Primary Sources

Carmen de Hastingae Proelio – Guy de Amiens, Bishop of Amiens

Gesta VVillelmi Ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum – William of Poitiers

Historia Ecclesiastica – Orderic Vitalis

Vita Edwardi – author unknown

Further Reading

Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King – Ian Walker

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About the author …

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

With the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, the award-winning Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history. Its sequel, The Wolf Banner, followed and has been reviewed in these pages.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

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Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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950 Intermission: Recording History in Film

New Year’s Eve 23:30

This time round our series “950: Remembering 1066” takes an intermission as we transition from one year to the next within a single weekend. In some strange way this seems significant, the new year breaking up a weekend as it does. It all doesn’t necessarily feel any different from Saturday to Sunday, but it does give us some down time to contemplate life and events—our own and others’—within the past and yet to come. The people of 1066 were pushed into this contemplative arena as well by forces other than calendaring, and they surely found themselves reflecting on the closing year as time marched them toward and into 1067.

What were they thinking? Worried, certainly. What would the future bring for their children as the great upheaval settled into a system they didn’t as yet know how to navigate? How dramatically would their lives change and how great the hardships? What would they experience as new events and demands began to define their lives? Would they recognize the terrorism or government interference of today as similar in any way to their new world as state-supported domination retaliated against their resistance or perceived injuries to the new regime? How would former combatants transition back into civilian life after their experiences? And what about the instances and areas in which life began to normalize and people even found success in their enterprises?

Also: did these individuals ever contemplate what this myriad of experiences would look like for those yet to come? Certainly, they were aware of the significance of their current events; did they believe people 1,000 years on would still be discussing them?

I frequently say that fondness of a tale is built into human DNA: people love to be told stories. This of course is witnessed in the yarns that stretch over millennia, tales still being passed down today as bedtime stories, books, in works of art, cinematic output and other fashion. Many, many of these accounts depict real events, directing individuals as to yet another method of recording history, in some instances preserving points of view that might otherwise be lost.

We still do this today, this recordkeeping of experience by wrapping them into narratives, events of our own time as well as others, and the public eats them up because also built into our being is the desire for continuity: discovering where we came from, how some episodes influence others and the means in which this translates into something larger. Tales of the Conquest itself satisfy this yearning as they provide a link for those who populated the era with another form of continuity in which they are assured people won’t one day forget they lived and died.

I also frequently touch on how despite the vast differences between our peoples, some things are universal in time, and therein lies a great similarity: no one wishes to be forgotten. In our own time events have occurred, subsequently to be documented for posterity, though at times I also wonder what our ancestors might make of these episodes in time and lives.

Today we take a brief, casual look at a few films that fall within the realm of this discussion. All depict significant affairs still within living history (though one increasingly not), and all have influenced society, even if on various levels and facets of how we experience life. There is no reason to believe such variety didn’t exist in 1066, even if it wouldn’t have been exactly parallel to today’s assortment of experience. The previously chronicled are few, though some brave creative types have made excursions into the past, gathered information to return with and woven it all together into a tale fit to be told a modern audience.

Indeed, what about an ancient audience?

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argo
Click image for IMDb bio page

Argo (2012) Rated R, 130 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

As Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution is revving up, a crowd of protesters, ostensibly students, breaks into the American embassy in Tehran and take captive its employees. However, six from a satellite building escape to the Canadian ambassador’s house, their launching pad to escape via a daring method in which they disguise themselves as a film scout crew to be led safely out of the country by Tony Mendez, exfil agent extraordinaire. The slightest error could reveal them, resulting in instant death at the hands of a fanatical regime bent on retaliation.

Argo is example of a film in which we know the outcome, but getting there is the real story. Ben Affleck’s brooding role as Mendez struck me in the heart before I realized who played the character. Alternating between Washington and Tehran, the movie contains a fair number of historical inaccuracies (which director Affleck openly acknowledges), though these contribute to the story and tension within as the drama lifts us up a bit beyond the rather ordinary fashion in which the real-life events occurred—that is under an umbrella of intense fear and anxiety, though by necessity internal, which would not translate well to the screen. Realistically portraying both societies in the 1970s (music, fashion, constant smoking), we also get a glimpse into operations in which lives are tossed about like chess pieces and loyalties drive some to defy authority. Emotional and captivating, Argo raises the American spirit and illustrates cooperation between nations and provides a heartfelt cinematic thank you to our Canadian neighbors.

Though visitors from 1066 might not be able to appreciate the self-deprecating jokes about Tinseltown (“So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in”), they would likely identify with our nation’s fight for our kinsmen and the lengths undertaken to restore their freedom.

The Great Escape (1963) Rated PG, 173 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 93%

IMDb Score: 8.3/10

Set in one of Germany’s World War II POW camps, a merger of their stalag and oflag, combining officers as well as NCOs and non-coms, The Great Escape tells the story of a group of repeat escapees brought under the watchful eye, from various camps, to Stalag Luft III in the Reich’s hopes the camp’s maximum security would deter the prisoners’ stated aims of harassing the enemy and making their way home. Starring such luminaries as Sir Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and James Garner, the film uses humor and drama to tell its tale as the men get underway in creating three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry, to provide their way out and via various routes, flee through Europe to get back to their bases. With varying degrees of success and some startling ups and downs, we see the largest prison breakout ever attempted through to its end and the consequences and hardships of war.

Even William the Conquerer was limited in his linguistic ability: he attempted to learn English but found the language too difficult and abandoned his endeavor. Therefore a common Englishman of 1066 might be surprised at how many languages an ordinary WWII soldier—airman, actually, though that concept would need explaining—could speak, as The Great Escape includes characters speaking English, German, Spanish and French, with a smattering of Russian. He would certainly approve of the myriad of nationalities rallying together to save the free world from Hitler’s marching forces. And their methods for cover up, tunnel construction and post-escape materials production? The average traveler from 1066 would see all that as we today still do: major masterpieces of escape-planning genius.

great-escape
Click image for IMDb bio page

The Great Escape has thrilled me from the time I was small and to this day not only does it continue to do, but its brilliance has made its mark on a new generation. As war stories go, its mastery lies in truth telling without overdoing gore, revealing the immense imagination of the historical figures it portrays as well as the actors’ repertoire of devices for portraying them. Simultaneously poignant and wry, the movie contains one of the best chase and stunt scenes put to film. From the first moment they arrive at the camp, the prisoners attempt escape, and they never stop enthralling us.

As Sedgwick (Coburn) and Danny (Bronson) attempt to blend in and plan escape from a group of Russian prisoners marching out for hard labor, Sedgwick attempts to better fit in. “Danny, do you speak Russian?” he asks.

“A little, but only one sentence.”

Well, let me have it, mate.”

“Ya vas lyublyu.”

“Ya vas ….”

“Lyublyu.”

“Lyublyu? Ya vas lyublyu. What’s it mean?”

“I love you.”

“’I love you’? What bloody good is that?”

“I dunno, I wasn’t going to use it myself.”

The Social Network (2010) Rated PG-13, 121 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

“OK, you’re probably going to become a very successful computer person. But you’re gonna go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

social-network
Click image for IMDb bio page

Real-life events of a different sort, this historical film maps out the manner in which a bored, trolling, invasive and highly intelligent Harvard student works a social network idea that later massively alters the landscape of society as individuals use it to transmit political and other information, including that withheld by the mainstream media. The Social Network, though, focuses on the beginnings of Mark Zuckerberg’s empire and the treachery manifest in its core. Moving between the Facebook co-founder’s college days and a lawsuit initiated by those who accuse him of intellectual theft, the picture progresses linearly through the litigation and unwraps details that reveal much more than many people even today know about the most utilized social network online.

Before I watched The Social Network I knew very little about the lawsuit and accusations against Zuckerberg. I was aware of his jackassery, but the script portrays it openly, and Jesse Eisenberg’s unusual voice and inflection—slightly annoying to the uninitiated—contributes to this impression. As Eisenberg’s character continues to learn loads about his trade but very little regarding how to relate to people, we develop a dislike for Zuckerberg, but also somewhat pity him, for he comes off as lonely as he morphs into the original internet troll. Containing high end drama, the script also utilizes shock value within its characters’ conflicts.


Zuckerberg: I’m not a bad guy.

Marylin Delpy: I know that. When there’s emotional testimony, I assume 85% of it is exaggeration.

Zuckerberg: And the other fifteen?

Delpy: Perjury. Creation myths need a Devil.


The passion with which the actors—particularly Andrew Garfield’s character, Eduardo—portray their roles captures in fullest full viewer attention, taking the movie beyond the technical, crafting even Zuckerberg into an individual with something to lose, despite our dislike for him. The cast expertly leads us through what might have been complicated layers of events, instead entertaining and informing us, including those of us in the audience not native to this time and therefore unfamiliar with the internet phenomenon. Our 1066 visitors would indeed issue a very large “Ah,” knowing as they would that deceit lurks within human nature and the fight to subdue it—which some fail—exists in any era. Some small technical details might escape them, though I don’t think this would lose them the story, which I do believe would quite intrigue their curiosity as to how others live, and even prompt perception of supporting characters in the roles of good and evil and the examination of moral ideals. Even as a secular performance the film would be recognizable and our travelers might be tempted to quip in reminder that “nothing is new under the sun,” though concede that cast in differing shadows it is gripping indeed.

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Written by Lisl and Turtle Zlitni

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950: Remembering 1066, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose

Welcome once more to “950: 1066 Remembered,” our series commemorating the year of the Norman Conquest, 950 years ago. This year of three kings saw King Edward the Confessor die in January, succeeded by the Witenagemot-elected Earl Harold Godwinson, styled Harold II. Harold reigned until bitterly defeated at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, following which Duke William of Normandy, leader of the invasion, fought resistance to seize the crown and ascend to the throne on this day of that fateful year in English history.

There’s no doubt 1066 was a year jam packed with events, large and small, that contributed to a year of turmoil for all involved, even long after Christmas Day, when the foreign invader was crowned at Westminster Abbey. So it is not difficult to understand how one episode, the death of William the Bastard 21 years following the invasion, impacted those of the era.

In today’s excerpt award-winning author Glynn Holloway gives us a personal view to a close encounter illustrating how William himself may have been affected by his own actions in the field and as the king he became, or rather, that he created. Especially given his historically reported words of regret, it isn’t a stretch to imagine he may have been afflicted with a doubt that hung over him until his death. Or was this really his own conscience?

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Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 37: The Normans prepare for the invasion of England. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)   

From 1066: What Fates Impose by G. K. Holloway

Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal Winner for 2014

Rouen, Normandy 1087

In his bed, the king who can never be killed lies dying. The old hag was right after all; he would not die on the battlefield. So, here he is, white haired and corpulent, waiting for fate to find him, while his courage deserts him and terror creeps through his being. He has made his confession and now makes the following pronouncement.

‘Having gained the throne of that kingdom by so many crimes I dare not leave it to anyone but God. I appoint no one as my heir to the Crown of England but leave it to the Eternal Creator, whose I am and who orders all things. For I did not attain that high honour by hereditary right but wrested it from the perjured King Harold in a desperate bloody battle.’

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Bayeux Tapestry panel depicting Duke William at the Battle of Hastings; here he lifts his helmet to show that he is not dead as his troops had feared. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

He feels none of the expected relief from the burden of guilt that weighs him down, just remorse. Long forgotten memories buried deep in his mind, revived by guilt and foreboding form familiar characters; wretches who parade mockingly through his semi-conscious. In his delirium he watches a parade of aberrations. They jeer at him waving handless arms, some hobbling about on the stubs of their legs, their feet hacked off long since. With perverse delight the miserable creatures beckon him towards them, greeting him with rotten tooth smiles. Something about their diabolical welcome is irresistible to him. He cannot help but stare. Tears flow down his face. This is his first display of emotion since his coronation twenty-one years before, when he sat newly crowned on the throne at Westminster, trembling before the eyes of God.

Still fearful, still full of dread, he lies there in his hot damp bed breathing sour air, hoping for what exactly? He does not know. He is convinced the fate he has dreaded since childhood now awaits him. He will go to hell and burn there for all eternity.

He has made amends, adhered to the Christian faith and built fine churches. What more is he supposed to do? What he needs is a sign; a sign from God to tell him all is well, that he has forgiven him his transgressions. Is it too much to ask?

With the last of his strength he raises his head to look around the room. There are his sons, his brother, the bishop and . . . ‘Oh God, oh God Almighty. No not him! Not now!’ His voice rasps in his constricted throat and his eyes bulge as he is gripped by terror. Before him, unseen by the others, stands a warrior, tall and proud as an oak. Fresh from the battlefield, his lank and sweat soaked hair hangs down his shoulders, his once handsome face made ugly by an eyeless socket. More blood runs from a wound to his throat and another to his chest. As though to steady himself he leans on his battle-axe, resting his hands on its iron head. He stares impassively at William, with his single eye, blue and deep as the ocean, a stare made all the more intense by its singularity.

William has seen him, or thought he had seen him, a number of times over the years. Glimpsed in crowds or spotted in enemy lines but never before has he seen him so clearly, so close and for so long as he does now.

‘Have you come for me?’ he asks.

A trace of a smile appears on the face of the apparition, who turns swinging his axe over his shoulder, before stepping silently out of the room.

Hopelessness descends on the king and his temperature rises. Is he like a pagan king of old to be consumed by fire?

Then all is hot, black and silent.

what-fates-impose

To see my review for 1066: What Fates Impose, click here. For an exciting excerpt detailing the Battle of Stamford Bridge, click here.

We are also so pleased to announce that there is indeed a sequel for 1066: What Fates Impose in the pipeline, and it is slated for summer release. Keep your eyes peeled!

About the author ….

I’ve always liked stories ever since I was a kid and not fussy about what format they came in; whether it be stories read out loud on the radio, TV, comics, books or films, I still get great pleasure in listening to people telling me their own stories, whether it be at a bus stop or some heart to heart conversation, whatever. When other people get bored or impatient at the supermarket checkout, I find myself picking out other customers and working out their back stories or develop a character in a novel. I just love stories, so, I suppose, it’s only natural that I tell stories as well as listen to them. The only people I didn’t listen to were teachers – unless they taught history, literature or Bible stories.

Being dyslexic, I never really read much, until, at the age of eight, I ended up in hospital with appendicitis. Lying in a hospital bed is pretty boring and as there was no TV in hospital wards in those days, I read through all the comics I could get my hands on. So my Mum brought me in a couple of books and that’s what got me into reading. In my teens I progressed through every Biggles book ever published to Penguin Modern Classics and most of what they had to offer.

After leaving school I became a compositor on a local newspaper; trained in a job that should have seen me set for life. Along came photo-film-setting and I watched as printing changed overnight and saw a machine doing the job of half a dozen men in a fraction of the time they could. I knew this was just the beginning of the end for me and decided to get myself an education and a different career. Studying O Levels and A Levels part-time at the local technical college, I went on to take a history and politics degree in Coventry.

From Coventry I went to Bristol, studied to be a Careers Officer, worked in Gloucestershire in schools, colleges and Adult Education, before becoming a Student Welfare Officer.

What made me write? My wife, Alice, bought me a book for Christmas, which I just loved. It was called Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King, by Ian W. Walker and it shone a light into the dark recesses of history I knew little about. I found the whole period so fascinating I just read more and more about it. In fact, I found the whole era so exciting I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been covered more in films, TV, books, etc. (think Tudors). ‘Somebody ought to write a novel about this,’ I thought, and decided that somebody ought to be me. Fortunately, things worked out in such a way I was able to realise my dream. The rest is historical fiction.

glynn-at-stsamford

You can sign up for Glynn Holloway’s newsletter at his blog, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.

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Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

chapel-at-gfenn-christmas-tree-2016
Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

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Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

martha-kennedy

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Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.

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950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Marching Toward 1066 (Annie Whitehead)

Today author Annie Whitehead joins us with some fascinating background into the kingdom of Mercia, following the eras in which she writes, those of King Alfred the Great and its succeeding generations with Æthelred and Æthelflæd (Lord Ethelred and Lady Aethelfaed), and Edgar, all of whom appear in her award-winning novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker. Earls Edwin and Morcar, too, spoken of below, are the focus in “A Matter of Trust,” the author’s contribution to 1066: Turned Upside Down. Though even the latest of her characters lived a century before the Conquest, Whitehead succinctly illustrates the interconnectedness of their lives to the drama and horror of the invasion and its aftermath.

In so doing they connect to us, we who look back upon those who conquered and those subject to the calamity and tragedy of these events that had their roots in episodes long before the arrival of the year 1066. As we  peer back into history, we wonder what they saw when they did the same, these individuals and groups simultaneously forced to stare into the future within events of their present. We know a bit of what they did, though of course they knew much more, most of which has been lost to us, or buried as it awaits re-discovery and the brushing off of earth, of questions triggered by connections here too, between what is known and that newly found. Today Annie Whitehead connects for us many of these puzzle pieces into a broader image that brings greater understanding of how the inhabitants of 1066, how their history mattered to them, and their personal experiences matter to us.

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Marching Toward 1066 by Annie Whitehead

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey
Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, as depicted in the chartulary of Abingdon Abbey (British Library, Online Gallery) (click image)

Mercia. Once a kingdom, now a distant memory, preserved only in certain names: The West Mercia Police, the West Mercia Primary Healthcare Trust, and although it is now slowly dying out, the dialect of the ‘Black Country’, which is based on the old Mercian language, and is widely regarded to be as close to Old English as it is now possible to get.

At its peak, it was ruled by such famous people as Offa, who was considered an equal to the Emperor Charlemagne. As readers of To Be A Queen will know, it was indispensable during Alfred the Great’s battles against the Viking invaders, when first the Lord Ethelred and then his wife, Aetheflaed, daughter of Alfred, fought the invaders, and built strategically important ‘burhs (fortified towns).

But yes, sadly they were Lord and Lady of the Mercians. Mercia had run out of kings.

It emerged, briefly, as a significant force during the middle part of the tenth century. A succession of West Saxon (Wessex) kings had died young and/or childless. In 955, when King Eadred died, the throne passed to the eldest of his two young nephews, sons of the previous king.

The first of these boys was Eadwig (Edwy) who started off his reign by rocking the nation with a scandal, having been allegedly caught in flagrante delicto on his coronation night with his wife. And her mother! For many reasons he was not a popular king, and his younger brother, who had grown up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, hankered for a kingdom.

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Detail of miniature from the New Minster Charter, 966, showing King Edgar (Wikimedia) (click image to see the king flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. Peter)

This younger brother was Edgar, and at around the age of 14, he rose up in rebellion against his brother. He had the backing of the East Anglians, and now he needed the help of the Mercians and the Northumbrians. Much as the Lord and Lady of the Mercians had fought them off, inevitably some of those invading Vikings had stayed, and settled in these midland and northern kingdoms. Edgar was canny, enlisting their support and allowing them to live according to their own laws. For two years there were two separate kingdoms, until Eadwig died suddenly, aged 19, and Edgar became king of all England. Mercia was once more relegated to being simply an earldom, albeit a powerful one. At one point Edgar made direct reference in a law code to his three leading earls, and Alvar was one of those men. Mercia and the north maintained a sense of separateness from the south, a partisan sentiment that was to mar relations even as far as 1066.

Mercians made their mark on history after the period which I wrote about in Alvar the Kingmaker. Most people have probably heard about Lady Godiva, for example. Perhaps less so the rest of her family, who found themselves, 100 years after the time of Edgar and Alvar, in direct conflict with the powerful Godwin family. Godiva’s son, Aelfgar, was twice driven into exile because of them, and Aelfgar’s daughter was widowed when Harold Godwinson caused the death of her Welsh husband. When Aelfgar’s sons, Edwin and Morcar, became earls respectively of Mercia and Northumbria, the family was in the ascendant.

“Here sits Harold King of the English” Scene 37 from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia) (click image)

In 1066 Harold Godwinson felt it necessary to ride north and ask for their support for his kingship, even taking their sister, the woman he had widowed, as his wife. Edwin and Morcar were, seemingly, unassailable.

But they lost the battle at Fulford, just outside York, when they were overpowered by the forces of Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, and got to the south too late to enjoin with Harold at Hastings. And so they needed to make their peace with a certain William of Normandy.

Was it so easy? Were they really willing to capitulate to the Conqueror?

Apparently not.

In 1068 a series of rebellions began, of which Edwin and Morcar were leading members. William had not managed to assert his royal authority in Mercia and Northumbria and it took a royal campaign into Mercia to secure a surrender. The brothers were restored to favour. But the events of 1068 were merely a ‘prologue’.

In January 1069, a Flemish appointee of William’s, Robert of Comines, was murdered in Durham, along with perhaps as many as 900 of his men. English exiles at the Scottish court came south and attacked York. William also had to deal with rebellions breaking out in other parts of the country – in Staffordshire and Shropshire in Mercia, the outlaw Eadric the Wild, along with Welsh allies and men from Chester, attacked Shrewsbury. Similar attacks in the north, and in the southwest, meant that the Norman hold on England was being severely tested. Severely, but not successfully. York was recovered, and it seems that Edwin came to an ignominious end; having played no active part in the great uprising, Edwin nevertheless fled from the court and was betrayed by his own retainers whilst trying to make his way to Scotland. (An interesting side note for me is that Edwin’s lands in his brother’s Northumbrian earldom were given to Alain Le Roux in 1071, and the district was renamed Richmondshire. Alain is said to be my family’s ancestor.)

Panel from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Duke William, and Count Robert of Mortain (Wikimedia) (click image)

Eadric the Wild was pardoned, and Morcar retreated, along with that famous man from folklore, Hereward the Wake. But Morcar fared less well than Hereward. William launched a campaign into the Fens and Morcar surrendered. He was incarcerated in Normandy, and it’s likely that he died in prison.

The brutal putting down of the English rebels came to be known as the Harrying (or Harrowing) of the North. And that was the end of Mercia.

Of course, the place itself still exists – and is rich in historical sites. Little survives of the Anglo-Saxon era, but in this it is no different from anywhere else. The Saxons favoured wooden buildings, which don’t survive. These days the medieval ruins are of the stone buildings of the conquest, built to intimidate.

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Stay tuned for my review of Alvar the Kingmaker.

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About the author …

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

whitehead-author-picHer new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia, and is available now. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Æthelred the Unready. Alvar the Kingmaker is also a recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017. She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and has three grown-up ‘children’.

You can learn more about and follow author Annie Whitehead and her work at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook and her Amazon author page. Click titles to purchase To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker and 1066: Turned Upside Down.

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To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both B.R.A.G. Medallion recipients, with Queen claiming the additional prize of Chill With a Book Award, and appearing on the long list for Historical Novel Society Indie Book of the Year, 2016.

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (With Giveaway)

Today as we look back on the events of the year 1066, author Paula Lofting again shares with us an excerpt, this time from her second novel, The Wolf Banner, set in the years leading up to the one that would change so much. My review for this amazing work can be found here. The story continues the one begun in Sons of the Wolf (updated review here), the banner itself providing one of the crucial links between the two. Lofting’s excerpt below hints at the banner’s role and import, its history being revealed in the two novels.

Thank you for joining us today for a glimpse of that world, and in remembering what is arguably the most important year in English history, and one in which so many sacrificed so much, in a fight for freedom that we still value to this day, 950 years later.

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Author Paula Lofting is so graciously gifting a Kindle copy of The Wolf Banner to one lucky winner. If it happens our winner has not read its predecessor, they will also receive a copy of Sons of the Wolf.

How might you be that winner? Simply comment below and you will be entered in our drawing! (See below for alternate commenting options.)

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From The Wolf Banner

by Paula Lofting

Standing behind the front line watching his master fight the big Norþmann, Yrmenlaf clutched Running Wolf’s shaft in his sweaty hands, the pressure of his grip increasing as the tension between Wulfhere and his opponent intensified. His task as standard bearer was not to fight, but to protect the standard and to keep it out of the enemy’s hands. Wulfhere had told him he was to rally the men to him should the lines break. It was a daunting prospect at first, being charged with such a responsibility in his first battle, but as he watched Wulfhere gain his bloody victory, he was comforted. His master had fought bravely. It was an omen – a sign that they would prevail today. And that God was on their side.

wolfieHe thrust the banner upwards and cried out in victory, his voice just one of many, lauding their champion. Then his heart leapt with fear as he saw Wulfhere struggling with Harald and the spear that the dying man would not relinquish. Harald’s sister was screaming in fury. Some of the Norse, broken out of their lines, were charging toward the pair of grappling warriors. Fearing his lord was about to come under attack, Yrmenlaf let the banner slip from his hands, hitting the man in front, as he pushed past.

On the field, it was sheer confusion. As he ran, he could hear the woman wailing, an ear-piercing, ear-shattering howl, like a wounded wælcyrie interspersed with utterings of what seemed to be an incantation. Warriors of the two sides had started to push and shout abuse at each other. Anxious that the battlefield was about to explode before either side could regroup, Yrmenlaf hurried to his lord. A man from their unit was trying to prise Wulfhere’s fingers from the spear that he just would not let go of. It protruded right the way through Harald, who was now clearly dead, on his knees, slumped forward onto the spear shaft, grotesquely, as Wulfhere hung onto it. Yrmenlaf thought him dazed, touched by the heat, and confused. He spoke softly to him, telling him that the fight was now over, he had won, and he needed to let go.

“Let’s get him away from this lot before they tear us limb from limb,” one of Wulfhere’s rescuers suggested.

“My spear,” Wulfhere kept repeating, the words coming breathlessly.

“Forget your fucking spear, Wulfhere, we can get you another!”

The men were half-carrying, half-dragging Wulfhere to the safety of their lines, his arms draped over their shoulders. Yrmenlaf followed, facing the Norse, holding his seax defensively, in case anyone tried to attack them. He saw men fighting on the battlefield in front of him, and his legs turned to jelly.

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sonsRemember to comment below OR the review (here) OR at our Facebook thread (here) to get in on the drawing for a FREE COPY of The Wolf Banner. Let us know if you haven’t yet read the B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Sons of the Wolf and the ever-generous Paula Lofting will send along a copy of that, too! Drawing extended to December 20, so keep your eyes peeled to see if you are our winner!

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About the author …

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

duckie-pooWith the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

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Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Poet Post: “Prayer to Woden” (Rob Bayliss)

In the poem “Prayer to Woden,” I imagined the narrator as being a fyrdman, perhaps a free ceorl, called up by the local thegn to join Harold’s army at Hastings in the defence of his homeland. He is a certainly not a professional warrior but is a farmer, a Christian, yet proud of his heritage, dismayed by the sight of the Papal Banner being flown by the invading army of William’s.

He therefore offers a prayer to his people’s old god of war, as it seems as if the Christian faith has abandoned him and his comrades. He is doubtful of whatever lies beyond death but will be content in showing courage, and hopes, that in some small way, he and his comrades will be remembered.—Rob Bayliss

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Scene 52 from the Bayeux Tapestry, Battle of Hastings. Anglo-Saxon forces are seen in a kite shield wall, fighting off mounted Norman soldiers. Very few of the English combatants are known to history by name, though, as indicated in “Prayer to Woden,” they would have consisted in part of free ceorls such as the poem’s narrator. The image depicts arrows flying and one can very nearly make out the fearsome chant of “Out! Out!” as the men defend their homeland. (Familypedia) (click image)

Prayer to Woden (Rob Bayliss)

Woden,

Woden, hear me.

God of battles, furious.

Beyond the light of holy rood cast, we remember you.

Over the whale road you led us here.

Blessed our fathers with this sod to gain.

I stand before you, a lesser man than my ancestors.

Not for me the sword arm, bloodied in foreign lands.

I have been house-bound, to fair wife and sweet earth.

Children we have grown and crops we have sown.

Nurtured land and home.

Now behind linden shield I stand, with ashen spear in my hand.

With others called from farm and cot.

Oaths and duty not forgot.

May you watch over us, from the high world ash. Your ravens caw.

Flesh will be yielded to beak and claw.

They come, a bastard’s army of despoilers under papal flag.

To rob, kill and burn.

Beneath his banners unfurled, our king he calls.

“Ut! Ut! Ut!” we take up the chant.

Woden.

Woden, forget us not.

Know that we stood against the storm of arrows, sword and lance.

Let children remember.

If death and defeat steals all. A foreign boot strides our halls.

We stood here, huscarl, thegn and ceorl.

If I am denied Christ’s heaven or your famed benches of gold.

May my ghost remain, a curse. A fierce wind blowing cold.

Across this ridge until sea swallows earth.

Woden.

Woden, hear me.

Lord of battles, lend me your frenzy.

That I may stand with my fathers, that they may find me worthy.

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About the poet …

51u7vqkjalRob Bayliss is a cider loving, mandolin plucking, amateur writer and reviewer who pens for his own blog, Rob’s Ramblings, as well as The Review. He is the author of Hymns of Mortality: A Collection of Short Stories and contributor to Felinity, an anthology of flash fiction. Additionally he has published, so far, books I and II in his Flint and Steel, Fire and Shadow series: The Sun Shard and The Dead Gods, with book III in the works. Titles may be purchased here. Bayliss writes of himself:

I’ve always had a love of history (and Anglo Saxon history in particular) and through the wonder of social media I found mutual aficionados of the subject. Always ravenous of books of historical fiction, I found myself guided by Facebook friends to The Review. Here, as the name suggests, books are reviewed, discussed and word of them spread far and wide amongst a supportive network of readers and writers. Through The Review I have been made aware of, and subsequently read , a wide variety of books outside my usual comfort zone of historical fiction and fantasy.

See more of Rob Bayliss’s bio and check out his works at his Amazon author page, and follow him at the above links, Facebook and Twitter.

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With many regards and kind thanks to Rob Bayliss for his permission to reprint this thoughtful and poignant poem of a patriot who indeed is remembered. 

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950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “One Crown, Four Claimants” (G.K. Holloway)

Welcome again to our continuing remembrance of the year 1066 in this 950th anniversary year of the Battle of Hastings (October 14) and start of the Norman Conquest. Today G.K. Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose, discusses the motives behind the claims of four contenders to the English throne and how they pursued these declarations. In so doing he references laws and traditions that are quite different to how they are carried out today, adding significant layers of meaning to our re-assessments of this era.

Thank you so much to Glynn Holloway for joining us today!

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Scenes 29-30-31 of the Bayeux Tapestry. Coronation of King Harold II of England, where he receives the orb and sceptre. To his left stands Archbishop Stigand. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

1066 – One Crown, Four Claimants

G.K. Holloway

In 1066 there were four claimants to the English Crown. Obviously, some of these claims had more validity than others. So, who were the claimants and by what right did they think they should be King of England?

The four men putting forward their claims were Edgar Atheling; Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway; Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex; and William, Duke of Normandy.

Edgar’s claim was probably the most legitimate, in so far as he was the only atheling, or throne worthy one, in the kingdom. He was the grandson of King Edmond Ironside, and great-grandson of Ethelred the Unready. He was therefore of royal blood and would probably have been named as king by King Edward and the Witan if he had been a few years older but because of his youth, somewhere between 14 and 16 years of age, he was considered too young and inexperienced to wear the crown in what was a time of crisis. Having said that, once Harold had been killed at the Battle of Hastings, rather than accept Duke William as king, the Witan declared Edgar king. It’s just a shame for Edgar and his people that he never had a coronation and his reign, if you can call it that, only lasted a matter of a few weeks.

Harold (Hardrada) Sigurdsson’s claim to the throne is often dismissed as sheer opportunism. Well, it might have been opportunistic, but there was still some validity to it. His right to rule dated back to before King Edward’s time. Harthacnut, King of England and Denmark, had agreed with King Magnus of Norway, that he would recognise the independence of Norway as a separate kingdom and it was also agreed in a second compact that when one of them died the other would inherit his kingdoms. A few years later, when Harthacnut died, in accordance with the agreement, Magnus claimed Denmark as his own but King Swein and the Danes had other ideas. So, Magnus set out to take his new kingdom by force. To Edward, he wrote that out of compassion for his harsh early life in exile, he would hold his claim to the English throne for Edward’s lifetime but reserved his right to claim it after his death. This agreement formed the basis for Harald Sigurdsson’s claim.

Harold Godwinson was sub regulus at the time of Edward’s death, at a period in England’s history when there were no strict rules of succession. The successor should ideally have royal blood flowing through his veins, be legitimate and of good character, be designated by the previous king, and, last but definitely not least, be elected by the Witan, or Great Council. Nothing was automatic. Harold was the king’s brother-in-law but that is not really the same as having royal blood. His claim would have needed the strong support of his predecessor and the Witan. According to The Life of King Edward by an unknown author commissioned by Queen Edith, when the king was dying he addressed Harold, saying, ‘I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection,’ which sounds almost casual but nevertheless, if these were the actual words he used, they do sound like a designation. There is also a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry of the crown being handed to Harold, which reinforces his claim. Finally, he was elected king by the Witan and became the first King of England to be crowned in Westminster Abbey. His coronation was held the day after Edward died and on the same day as his funeral. The undignified hurry was probably because Harold had to consolidate his position before members of the Witan left London for their homes in the shires and before any challengers tried to oppose him.

Finally, William, Duke of Normandy, pushed forward his claim on the basis that King Edward had promised him the Crown in 1051 when the duke was visiting the English court. Was the promise made? Did William even visit England in that or any other year before 1066? William also claimed that he was the rightful successor because as Edward had no children and no brothers, he was the heir. William was the great-nephew of Emma, Queen of England and that, he claimed, was the blood tie which, along with Edward’s promise, gave him the right to rule. Let’s look a little deeper.

The Norman rule of primogeniture dictated that the eldest legitimate male would inherit the estate from his father. William was illegitimate and was not descended from Edward but through Emma, Edward’s mother and William’s great-aunt. Therefore, William is out of luck on two counts. But what about English law? As I mentioned above, the successor would need to be appointed by the previous king, be legitimate, of royal blood, good character and appointed by the Witan. Of the aforementioned, only the promise of the crown of England to William may be true. William always said that Edward had promised him the crown. But an English king was in no position to offer the crown to anyone. Plus, Edward is on record when asked about an heir, by answering, ‘God will provide.’  I think it safe to say William wasn’t entitled to the throne but he was ambitious, ruthless and politically astute.

As the year 1066 passed by, all four claimants would appear on the battlefield to pursue his claim. Harold Godwinson met Harald Sigurdsson at Stamford Bridge and won a great victory over the biggest Viking army ever to set foot in England. Three weeks later Harold met William on Senlac Ridge and this time it was the invader who was triumphant. And finally, William met Edgar at London Bridge where Edgar won the battle. Unfortunately for Edgar his victory wasn’t decisive and when William crossed the Thames further up river, to descend on London from the north, Edgar’s support evaporated and without the forces to defeat William, the newly proclaimed king of England had to submit to the duke.

The irony is, the person with the weakest claim to the crown was the one whose claim succeeded, and it is arguable he was not legally entitled to be the Duke of Normandy.

But what did William truly believe? Did he really think he had the right to the crown or was he just a chancer who saw an opportunity? Let’s visit him at the end of his life and hear what he has to say. According to the monk, Orderic Vitalis, writing in the 12th century, these were his final words:

‘I have persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason, whether gentle or simple, I have cruelly oppressed them. Many I unjustly disinherited. Innumerable multitudes perished through me by famine or the sword. I fell on the English of the northern shires like a ravening lion. I ordered that their houses and corn, with all their implements and chattels, be burnt without distinction and great herds of cattle and beasts of burden were butchered wherever they were found. In this way I subjected a foie race of people to the calamity of cruel famine and so became the barbarous murderer of many thousands of men and women. Having gained the throne of that kingdom by so many I dare not leave it to anyone but God . . . For I did not attain that high honour by hereditary right but wrested it from the perjured King Harold in a desperate bloody battle.’

This makes great reading but as for its accuracy, that’s another matter. Orderic was born ten years after the Norman Conquest and was writing forty years after the events he described. He was not an eyewitness but for me his account has the ring of truth about it. What do you think?

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About the author ….

gk-hollowayI’ve always liked stories ever since I was a kid and not fussy about what format they came in; whether it be stories read out loud on the radio, TV, comics, books or films, I still get great pleasure in listening to people telling me their own stories, whether it be at a bus stop or some heart to heart conversation, whatever. When other people get bored or impatient at the supermarket checkout, I find myself picking out other customers and working out their back stories or develop a character in a novel. I just love stories, so, I suppose, it’s only natural that I tell stories as well as listen to them. The only people I didn’t listen to were teachers – unless they taught history, literature or Bible stories.

Being dyslexic, I never really read much, until, at the age of eight, I ended up in hospital with appendicitis. Lying in a hospital bed is pretty boring and as there was no TV in hospital wards in those days, I read through all the comics I could get my hands on. So my Mum brought me in a couple of books and that’s what got me into reading. In my teens I progressed through every Biggles book ever published to Penguin Modern Classics and most of what they had to offer.

After leaving school I became a compositor on a local newspaper; trained in a job that should have seen me set for life. Along came photo-film-setting and I watched as printing changed overnight and saw a machine doing the job of half a dozen men in a fraction of the time they could. I knew this was just the beginning of the end for me and decided to get myself an education and a different career. Studying O Levels and A Levels part-time at the local technical college, I went on to take a history and politics degree in Coventry.

From Coventry I went to Bristol, studied to be a Careers Officer, worked in Gloucestershire in schools, colleges and Adult Education, before becoming a Student Welfare Officer.

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1066: What Fates Impose is a Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal Winner for 2014. (click image)

What made me write? My wife, Alice, bought me a book for Christmas, which I just loved. It was called Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King, by Ian W. Walker and it shone a light into the dark recesses of history I knew little about. I found the whole period so fascinating I just read more and more about it. In fact, I found the whole era so exciting I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been covered more in films, TV, books, etc. (think Tudors). ‘Somebody ought to write a novel about this,’ I thought, and decided that somebody ought to be me. Fortunately, things worked out in such a way I was able to realise my dream. The rest is historical fiction.

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You can sign up for Glynn Holloway’s newsletter at his blog, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Stay tuned for a riveting excerpt from G.K. Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose in an upcoming installment of our “950: 1066 Remembered” series.

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To see my review for 1066: What Fates Impose, click here. For an exciting excerpt detailing the battle of Stamford Bridge, referenced in the above article, click here

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Book Review: The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

by Lars D. H. Hedbor

smokeOne of the things I like best about Lars D.H. Hedbor’s novels is the rotating perspectives they take on: Revolutionary stories, which I have loved hearing since childhood from my father, told from points of view history generally skips over. In The Prize Caleb, a young boy growing up in Vermont, witnesses the birth of a new nation and he plays a significant role in the struggle his region encounters. Farther south in New Jersey, Quaker settlers in The Light have some hard choices to make as their pacifist ways run afoul of the king’s mounting pressure against the colonies. The author brings his tales at various times through victory and defeat, and his characters utilize their unique perspectives, cultural understandings and individual abilities the navigate their particular wartime settings, wherever they may be in the colonies.

In The Smoke Hedbor brings us to New York, where love, loss, struggle and occasional victory also play their roles, introducing readers to the indigenous Tuscarora, members of the larger Iroquois Confederation. Caught between their tribal loyalties and war between the Colonial and British armies, various bands and tribes ally themselves with the Americans. Having been forsaken by their British allies, who made promises in exchange for attacks on colonial homesteads, they split from their confederation as those who stayed loyal to the Redcoats ultimately relocated to Ontario, with the rest remaining in what was to be United States territory.

As the battles rage on, two Tuscarora tribal members observe colonial scouts, whose presence in the forest the Natives can easily detect, while they remain hidden from Washington’s soldiers. Early on Hedbor sets up a thrilling continuity via alternating viewpoints portraying to readers events from each group’s point of view in something akin to real time. Very quickly readers realize that while the Americans discuss their plans and try to conceal signs of their camp, the Tuscarora—one of whom understands English—are listening. An anxious moment comes when discovery is threatened, but the alternating viewpoint keeps the tension hovering while maintaining clarity within point of view.

This alternating viewpoint continues through the novel as we follow the colonials as well as Natives, particularly Joseph and Ginawo, both of whom are counseled by their respective leaders as to the nature of their perceived enemy.

“Are they so difficult to spot in these woods?”

 “They are like smoke, Joseph, and they have lived in these woods for many hundreds of years, at the least, so they have learned all the ways of keeping out of sight and covering their tracks. Those who dismiss them as primitive men or mere savages do so at their peril.”

 This passages hints at the title’s deeper significance, referencing not only the resulting smoke from villages burned in retaliation for attacks, but also the Natives themselves, so often able to hover within the forest like smoke, though impossible to capture with one’s hands. This, however, does not guarantee victory for the tribes, for the Americans also have their techniques, not entirely understood by their adversaries.

“[The elders] believe that the best way to ensure that our people can find peace is to understand these pale men …in order to learn how we can make peaceful terms with the Colonials.”

 Overall the Natives and Americans maintain an uneasy alliance, one group caught up in a war that is not theirs and attempting to figure out which is the better side to support, the other understanding that the land they occupy is too big for the British, whose people back home will ultimately tire of the fighting. The Natives instinctively recognize this, and worry what will become of their own people and settlements. The Algonquin wars with the French, in the elders’ youth, had destroyed a key Native tactical advantage. King Philip’s War, an earlier conflict in the region now known as New England, had also resulted in the unraveling of a larger Native alliance and birth of a distinct American identity separate from subjects of the king. Certainly aware of these and other events, the Tuscarora know the colonials are here to stay.

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Hedbor uses his linguistic experience to effect some of this uncertainty, crafting Native dialogue smoothly when they are meant to be speaking in their own language, with rougher edges to indicate English. However, he does more than employ mere grammatical errors, instead stripping away English conventions, such as tense, and reordering it within the structure of the Tuscaroran language. The outcome is a greater sense of tension between colonial and Native when they are exposed to one another, and a more at-ease sensation when Ginawo, Tanarou or others speak amongst themselves. In this manner Hedbor’s transitions into scenes of Native life occur organically and it becomes much easier to grasp similarities and not only differences. There are memories of attraction of male to female, small children laughing at the way Joseph speaks, words of grief, pleas for longer sleep and poking fun at each other with words like “turkey.”

While Hedbor presents his audience with a need to re-examine these Revolutionary events equipped with greater understanding of Native suffering, he wisely refrains from lecturing readers, while still engaging our rapt attention. First, he openly and honestly references retaliation for violence perpetrated against innocent colonials, but also maps out dissenting views within Native politics. The consequences of these, paired with Joseph’s own experience of living his American identity and exposure to indigenous culture causes him to question much that he knows, and Hedbor guides him—and us—through his new experiences within authentic scenes that contribute to his growth—and ours.

lightOne of my favorite elements of these scenes and Hedbor’s attention to detail is that in which medical attendance—“physicking”—is described in rich prose strokes easily creating images that come alive within the narrative. Hedbor also breaks free of the confines wherein the Native perspective is given the historical “Other” treatment, or else they are portrayed as perpetual victims. While this era in history was certainly not good to them and they suffered many wrongs, they make missteps of their own while simultaneously being strong people who gallantly stand to defend what they see as theirs. Hedbor allows his Native characters greater reign to define who they are themselves, and they turn out to be every bit as complicated and complex personalities as anyone else.

As historical fiction, The Smoke is top notch, and naturally overlaps into an attraction for those interested in the Revolution, or Native Americans, even British, French or Canadian history. It is a worthy and outstanding addition to this author’s growing collection of Revolutionary stories told from unique perspectives, and serves as a portend of even better yet to come. This seems to be part of the “verdict” after each Hedbor read, as it becomes more and more difficult to decide which one we like best.

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Lars D. H. Hedbor tells a little about himself and how his novels came to be…

What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?

headshot-4_400x400These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.

I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

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You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Smoke may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBookKobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.) 

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Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

A copy of The Smoke was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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This post has been updated to correctly include the novel’s complete title in link and blog header.

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner

Welcome and thank you for joining us once more as we remember 1066 through the end of this 950th anniversary year. Today we have a peek at Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner, marvelous sequel to Sons of the Wolf. In both novels we journey through pre-Conquest England with Wulfhere of Horstede toward that fateful year. We will meet up with historical figures, the names of whom many may remember, such as King Harold Godwinson and the woman known to history as Lady Godiva. Fictional characters, too, appear, some of whom are based on documented figures, such as Wulfhere himself, whom the author discovered in The Domesday Book, waiting for his story to be told.

Where will his tale take us as we move closer to October 1066? We do not know all of these details as of yet, but as we witness the spinners spin, we become more than mere observers in the hands of Paula Lofting. We are part of the story and history itself.

Author Paula Lofting is so graciously gifting a Kindle copy of The Wolf Banner to one lucky winner. If it happens our winner has not read its predecessor, they will also receive a copy of Sons of the Wolf

How might you be that winner? Simply comment below and you will be entered in our drawing! (See below for another commenting option.)

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The Wolf Banner

(Sons of the Wolf Book II)

by Paula Lofting

We first became acquainted with Wulfhere of Horstede in Paula Lofting’s debut novel, the indie B.R.A.G. award-winning Sons of the Wolf, following the thegn as he returns from battle and gaining insight into the lives of his Anglo-Saxon family as their various trials and tribulations play themselves out in pre-1066 England. Wulfhere’s family has been embroiled in a feud with Helghi, a neighboring landholder, while his daughter becomes involved with Helghi’s son. Too young and unaware of other realities to make an informed decision, fourteen-year-old Freyda insists upon the match and Earl Harold Godwinson, to whom Wulfhere owes allegiance, agrees, believing it will end the feud.

wolfieFamilial divisions contribute to tension within the narrative and as events feed off each other, breakdown and tragedy occur. The story rounds out, but Wulfhere understands that nothing is over while Helghi still lives, leaving the door open for a sequel and readers eager to know what happens next.

The Wolf Banner picks up with Wulfhere’s aggrieved wife, Ealdgytha, as she simultaneously mourns the child recently lost and tries to keep the household running. Dealing with Freyda’s arrogant defiance wears her down and she gives in to stress and her sister-in-law, beating the girl bloody on the eve of her wedding. Thus the author brings us to a new set of tensions for the family as Wulfhere condemns the thrashing and divisions once more rent the tenuous fabric of unity that had been holding the family together.

As with Sons of the Wolf, politics comes into play, though this time we see new characters and more of them, including the Mercian Earl Aelfgar, who graduates from burning down Hereford to treason as he allies himself with the Welsh Gruffydd ap Llewelyn against King Edward the Confessor. Wulfhere’s involvement in the ensuing battle continues Lofting’s portrayal of life as tapestry, threads from each person’s days weaving with all others to complete an image, and spinners spoken of as if they were fate twilling the tale, determining the actions of all players. Indeed, as events play out, readers’ own tension can be felt in our silent urging of characters to “do the right thing,” and our anticipation as we hurry along to find out the consequences—for better or worse—of their choices.

One scene shows a portion of the humiliating aftermath of a devastating defeat, the author injecting into it the precise ingredients needed not just to like as well as dislike the vanquished, but also to experience his appearance as an onlooker, or even he himself, might have.

“I have risked my life for the king – and the earl and I will not be gunnored!”

 “You little Horningsunu! You dare to threaten a huscarle of the king’s own guard?” Furious at [the] attempted trespass, the guard on [his] left thrust his spear-shaft at [his] chest, pushing him back … he found his arms to have been grabbed from behind.

 One of the guards in front of him sniffed and said, “You’re drunk.”

 “Not quite, but I might be later, with any luck.” [He] was swaying.

 Having relaxed, [he] allowed the men to remove his belt with the sword attached to it … “That’s it!” he cried out, “take the last thing a man has apart from his diggidy; his sword. Now I am left with nothing!” He made for the doors, trying to push past the guards, and when they grabbed him again, he began lashing out, striking out at his captors blindly and uselessly. They grabbed his arms again, forcing them behind him.

 “Just let me see the king,” [he] demanded. “I have to see him. I am owed a bed of honour, don’t you understand?”

 The men began laughing at him. “A bed of honour, my lord?” one of them guffawed.

 “Come on, man, where’s your diggidy?”

We also see more of the brother Tovi and his siblings, twins Wulfric and Wulfwin, and others, all of whom have a larger voice here, significantly adding to the intrigue and gripping nature of the book. The fleshing out of characters, their circumstances and motives bring in angles not seen before, making this installment delightfully more complex, though not weighty. There are some surprises, those that make us gasp and others bringing to fruition what we might have feared.

Lofting tells the story with such easy expertise it is impossible not to be drawn into events, watching and responding to characters we have grown to care for. Wulfhere, for example, is a good man at heart, but flawed, which is what makes him more likeable: he is as stuck in and blinded to his own circumstances as we are to ours. When one of his decisions results in a cruel exacerbation of Ealdgytha’s grief, we chastise him as we simultaneously concede, “What else could he do?” Lofting is a master of perspectives, bestowing individuals with strong reasoning but allowing space for other viewpoints as well. As a result it is difficult to take sides, even when we can relate to what each person asserts.

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Sons of the Wolf is an indie B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

The author brings this to bear on religious sensibilities as well, with the title playing a key role in this aspect of the family’s story, which goes back to their “wolven forbears.” In Sons of the Wolf we witness another daughter as she discovers and examines an ancestral tapestry her mother had deemed sacrilegious. Instinctively understanding that to erase the past is to rob one’s self, she keeps it for display, also rescuing and repairing a banner her father had at one time carried into battle.

Wulfhere defends Winflaed’s admiration for her ancestors, himself retaining appreciation for the need of dual understanding. When The Wolf Banner brings us to a pruning scene—itself a theological metaphor—he listens as Father Paul speaks Christian philosophy, while musing about the upcoming Candelmœsse and its attendant rituals:

Father Paul would bless the candles and everyone would proceed around the whole village and out into the fields as the priest sprinkled holy water, and granted blessings to the earth spirits and the plough. Wulfhere knew that the bishops and abbots frowned on these ancient customs, forbidding anything to do with the old pagan ways of their forefathers. But Father Paul had told him that you could not undo hundreds of years of tradition without alienating your flock.

Lofting tells these people’s stories in a similar manner, utilizing their ancient names, sprinkling the tale with references to the wolf element within their ancestry, pointing out how very different they were to us while most often concerned with many of the same issues. The novel is written, however, to our modern sensibilities and we are entertained while also enraptured in much the same way Winflaed is, knowing that what images we see of them will determine what those yet to come will see of us.

Like lives in any era, there is tragedy and also comedy. Lofting weaves into episodes the comical and farcical, as well as the emulation of tradition that results too in the good time to be had when, as played out then, it is mostly imitation that devolves into raucous funning. These people had a sense of humor. While her entire telling brings those of this era to life, this adds to their dimensions, provides balance, makes them more relatable, especially to those of us who have never had warfare directly impact our lives, as do they. Lofting rescues them from the quick and dirty image of a people set upon by little more than war and sheer drudgery, and gives them back much of who they are, and the meaning within their lives.

Even for those without great understanding or knowledge of the watershed year of 1066 or those not yet besotted by Sons of the Wolf—after this they will want to be—The Wolf Banner isn’t simply a great read or difficult to put down. Readers will be drawn into the dialogue, the story’s fluidity and the multitude of layers. There is a certain satisfaction as pieces begin to fit together, paired with anticipation for how all this will play out. Different from some 1066 stories because we don’t, as with Harold, for example, already know what will happen, it draws us in and beckons us on, and we willingly follow. We can’t help ourselves.

As delicious and gripping a read as Sons of the Wolf—nay, even more—The Wolf Banner brings us love, lies, war, merriment, jealousy, victory, feuding, loyalty, payback both sinister and hilarious, and a glimpse into the reality of Anglo-Saxon life that will mesmerize the newly initiated as well as old hands. A story so thoughtfully woven we will hardly be able to wait and see what else the spinners have in store for Wulfhere, his family and his community. Wolf’s Bane, third in the series, is slated for 2017 release and the longing to once more meet up with this thegn has already set in.

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Remember to comment below OR at our Facebook thread (here) to get in on the drawing for a FREE COPY of The Wolf Banner. Let us know if you haven’t yet read Sons of the Wolf and the ever-generous Paula Lofting will send along a copy of that, too! Drawing scheduled for December 3, so keep your eyes peeled to see if you are our winner!

Update: Drawing extended to December 20

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About the author …

duckie-pooPaula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.

With the advent of PCs and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. At this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her debut novel, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company, Longship Books, in Kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for her writing. Paula says: “Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what others say you should; for if you don’t write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write.”

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Follow author Paula Lofting and keep up with her news, including her magnificent new blog and impressively researched and written entries about 1066, as well as the upcoming Wolf’s Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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A copy of The Wolf Banner was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review.