Book review (Updated): A Rip in the Veil

A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga series) by Anna Belfrage

This novel’s review in its original form appears here.

A Rip in the Veil is an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion recipient.

Previously having read and enjoyed The Prodigal Son, third in The Graham Saga series, I approached this first book with assurance and excitement. It is, after all, where the adventures begin, where the rip in the veil dividing time(s) occurs, at least in the case of Alex Lind. From my reading of that third in the series I knew she’d gone tail spinning through time back to the 17th century following a freak thunderstorm, though further details, of course, remained unknown to me. Reading the opening sentences of the first in the series, I was very aware of my transition into the beginning, and that enticingly soon these details would be revealed. I am quite sure anyone who has ever read Belfrage’s Saga out of order—which can be done—will understand.

ripHaving now read A Rip in the Veil for a second time it should be noted I didn’t like the book as I did before. I have grown since that reading, come to new awareness and made changes in my own life. I am different to that person who read the book last time. Through all that, I came out at the end of my second go-round with this result: I love it at least ten times more. Some of this could be attributed to a greater understanding I have toward the foreshadowing I hadn’t noticed the first time. It could also be said that having gone on to read—since The Prodigal Son—the rest of the series save its final installation, my affection for the characters has grown. All this would be accurate and surely contributes to my ongoing admiration for Anna Belfrage’s first in her timeslip series.

However, her strength as a novelist carries through more than in the ability to create strong characters with enduring appeal—an accomplishment in of itself not to be to sniffed at. Her words flow off the pages with the sort of enchantment that allows readers to recognize their beauty and rhythm, but also veils the utilitarian duties they pull on the side.

Further, true to the nature of a splendidly written book, one finds something else to adore they might not have taken in at first. In this instance one example would be phrases that capture our attention from where we stand now, not unlike the sun hitting stained glass at just the right angle or time of day. “The bright turmoil of oils,” for example, engages the imagination as it interweaves contemplation of an artist and her emotions; they unify in the moment and stir the sensations. There also is the author’s subtle sense of invitation into the story. We may share an understanding with a select character, or the author might slightly pierce the boundary between events as they occur and the observer holding the book, by acknowledging the observation.

“Jeans; everyone wears them where I come from.”

“Djeens,” he repeated, “well, you must be from very far away.”

“You could say that again,” she mumbled, hunching together.

and

[F]or an instant Alex thought she could see shame in his eyes. For an instant, mind you, and then his face hardened.

As Belfrage gets her tale going, readers also recognize what Alex herself does not, and her responses artfully contribute to the flow and continuity of the story as the author inserts detail clues for readers’ benefit; we learn ancillary information without being instructed, and the technique is used throughout the book, sparingly and subtly, also economically lending insight into players’ personalities.

The most apparent location these hints appear would be in dialogue, which also informs readers of how much each character knows about various events. In this way and others, Belfrage weaves a complex story, pleasurable and fascinating to follow—and I do mean fascinating: there were a number of occasions that gave me pause as I stopped to consider implications, how something could work, what might it mean in reality, and so on. The author’s prose lends credence to such a possibility, too: described with verbiage so on target and believable, responses and consequences so plausible, not an extra or out-of-place word, it becomes real as readers as well are drawn into the vortex with Alex, mysteriously and frighteningly into another time and, really, another place.

“Are you alright?” Matthew asked Alex.

“Yes,” she said shakily.

“Do you know him?” He cocked his head at the groaning shape.

“No.”

“Yes you do!” Two penetrating eyes fixed on her.

Alex shook her head, taking in a battered face, a dirty flannel shirt and jeans that seemed to have burnt off at calf length. He looked awful. The skin on what she could see of his legs was blistered and raw, made even worse by a large flesh wound. But he was here, an undoubtedly modern man. . . One person dropping through a time hole she could, with a gigantic stretch of mind, contemplate. Two doing it at the same time was so improbable as to be risable[. . . .]

[The man’s] eyes stuck on Matthew. . . His eyes widened, his mouth fell open, he cleared his throat and gawked some more, his Adam’s apple bobbing like a cork.

“Where the hell am I?” he said. “Where have I ended up?”

Indeed, sense of place is a strong element in Alex’s story and we see some overlap in time, eliciting more questions that contribute to an urgent sense of need-to-know. I also longed to learn how those Alex leaves behind react; here, Belfrage does not disappoint. Initially alternating with some frequency between her new/old world and the time she has left behind, gradually the narrative settles into Alex’s story within her current surroundings, only periodically bringing readers back to those seeking answers as to her whereabouts. This reflects Alex’s perspective of the experience, as she begins to make a life, her life, in this strange place she has landed. Like Alex, we acclimate to life without frequent news and knowing of her family.

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The Prodigal Son is also a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner (click image for more details)

Perhaps the most significant element Belfrage employs throughout the book, this literary reflection of a character’s reality does extra duty as it is simultaneously employed with temporal distortion—texting her father from 1658, muttered comments Alex has to explain away—and a spot of pastiche, whereby her 21st century words, ways, songs, clothing names (e.g. djeens) are imported backward in time. Alex herself often brings this distortion to readers’ attention with her questioning of her new world (which is actually old) and how she could be there, given that at this time, she has not yet been born. Nor have any of her family, so how could they be searching for her? What may be the most satisfying yet, and perhaps a little surprising, is Belfrage’s manner of writing about timeslip—writing mostly in the destination era being the largest contributor to the sense of surprise—utilizing postmodern technique to do it. Moreover, her interweaving of the various strategies is absolutely seamless.

Through the book, we get hints of Alex’s history awareness as she periodically betrays, to readers only, her knowledge of what is to come in this historical era. The temptation for an author to lean on this type of understanding must be great; fortunately for readers and characters alike, Belfrage does not rely on it. In fact, she shies away from it in most instances, as Alex determinedly seeks to make her way in this era with more natural supports—and, of course, to avoid accusations of witchcraft. When readers may expect some historical event to be referenced, Alex moves on; she has learned quickly.

As Alex learns what she needs to in order to survive—including about Matthew’s vengeful younger brother Luke, and the wife once paired with Matthew himself—she also begins to see much in Matthew, joining forces with him to live a life of integrity in the face of religious persecution and inconceivable human cruelty. Alex sees this very quickly after they meet each other, during their journey back to his home, and through their time living there. She also captures the attention of someone who believes there is more to her than she tells, bonding with her and others as she makes her way through newcomer status and the daunting awareness of not knowing what she is doing, including in the presence of those who wish her ill.

Matthew has an ally in Simon, his brother-in-law and attorney, who protects his interests and indeed, his life, counseling the newlyweds in ways small and large. In a sense, as Matthew and Alex get to know each other, their story is timeless—two people with a bond who must learn to integrate their beings into a cohesive and workable whole. On top of their own challenges, ordinary and unique, the pair must also deal with the threats that remain, for despite Matthew having made it home, Luke’s anger has not subsided, and it menaces Matthew and those he loves at every turn. The Grahams do not claim victory over every challenge, and sometimes must learn to compensate, including with each other.

“I didn’t like the ‘obey’ part,” Alex grumbled as they walked back to Simon’s office [following their wedding]. “I mean the love and to hold and all that, fine. But to obey? It makes me feel like a dog. . . . Why should I obey you?”

“Because I’m your husband,” Matthew explained with exaggerated patience. “And you’re but a mindless wife.”

Will they always be so lucky? How do they keep Luke’s hatred at bay and can they continue? What of Alex’s strange circumstances? She was brought here against her will; what if the forces that carried her here reverse themselves? Can she ever go back? How can she stay under the conditions she will be required to live? These are just a few of the top questions that will arise from readers, who certainly will reach eagerly for the next book for answers as well as more of the Grahams, for while the book’s technical brilliance impresses the intellect, its soul captures the heart and imagination.

It is understood that certain factors affect any given reading, including order of books read. Did my awareness of Alex’s future, so to speak, with Matthew affect my perspective of the first in the series? Undoubtedly. Would I have enjoyed it as much had I not read the third book first? The only truthful answer I can give is that I do not know, though I am certain I still would be clamoring for the rest, as I had been. It has not escaped me, however, that like Alex, I myself have done a bit of time travelling by learning of a future portion of her life in the 17th century before being brought to the first part of her time there. While many of my questions arising from the third are answered in the first, the readings of both remain magnificent. When first I published this review in its original form, I had added, “and I will not be satisfied until I have read them all—and even then I may still want more.”

I assure you, even after having now read them all (except the most recent), I very much still want more. I will be reading this book again and again with the knowledge that Belfrage has created the Grahams and a tale vigorous enough to journey with us through time and all of our own changes.

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Update: I have read them all by now, and I want more. 

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Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter, on her website and at her fantabulous blog, where you can learn more about the author, the Grahams, her sew series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, other projects and her world.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here.

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers. She likes to color, cook, practices calligraphy and is learning to sew.

Browsing Books: Frozen Fingers Edition

Several weeks ago I was in the midst of one of the harshest upper respiratory infections I have ever experienced–bronchitis-like symptoms that worsened after months of me trying to tell myself “it’s viral anyway” paired with wheezing and burning, wrapped into that asthmatic cough that if not controlled, makes you … sick. I mean, really sick.

The smoothies in Clean Green Eats attracted my attention, snd a further skim shows realistic looking recipes with ingredients I like to eat.
The smoothies in Clean Green Eats attracted my attention, and a further skim showed realistic looking recipes with ingredients I like to eat.

Having finally gone to the doctor ready to plead for something, anything, just not to be told, “You merely have to let it play itself out.” Well, the doctor still didn’t think it was bacterial, but sent me home with a boatload of instructions, a couple of prescriptions and a decent amount of sympathy. (I’m not normally a sympathy monger, but it was nice to know she didn’t seem to view me as yet another Petri dish on legs and then push me out once she scrawled her signature.)

I actually crawled back to work after collecting my medicine, because it was bloody cold outside and the office was closer. We’d been under the thumb of a cold snap where temperatures went down to minus 15 or so–not the coldest in the Great Land, but enough to make me feel even more sluggish and slow, icy and longing for home.

Fast forward to the end of the day when my son begged me to make a pit stop at the library to pick up his holds. “But it’s freezing out … I can’t curl my fingers!”

“I have a great idea,” he began, and I knew there was no way out.

“When you get to the library, run into the building as fast as your little legs will take you.” (Where have I heard that before?) “Go to the restroom and run your fingers under warm water, then go sit down. And then,” he said with a dramatic pause, “you can relax there for a few minutes or maybe even get a couple of books for you.”

How could I say no? This child often goes to the library and brings a backpack full of books home for me–and he’s found some treasures. He makes me tea and sets me up on the sofa with DVDs. He draws pictures to cheer me up, leaves sweet little notes around the house. Really, he’s a prince and seriously, was it really that big of a deal to make one quick stop?

It’s as if the library  had been expecting me. I didn’t find a ton of books that day–thankfully, as too many at one time can be a bit overwhelming–but did pick out a few that seemed as if they were waiting just for me.

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The chapter “Using Food as Medicine Recipes” rounds out a section that helps readers personalize a nutrition plan. I see this as crucial because it helps avoid the all-at-once approach many take to dieting, whether to lose weight or improve their health, and that often sets us up for failure.

Example: I like cookbooks, though I rarely buy them anymore because they’re a tad on the expensive side and everything seems to be on the Internet anyway. The thing is, that path works better when you know what you’re looking for. And now here I was, wanting just to be home and curl up with a book (and some easy-to-make comfort food wouldn’t hurt), when I saw The Immune System Recovery Plan, touting on its cover, “Identify and cure the causes of illness, personalize your treatment, see immediate results: With 40 recipes.” Hey, curing illness and making food, I liked that!

The book is mainly directed at those suffering from autoimmune diseases, and though I’m often tired, sick and stressed, there are other elements to consider: habitually sleeping poorly and being around children a lot last year often made me vulnerable to picking up the germies these critters tend to carry around with them. Last year had also been a super stressful one for me, and although I made some changes, such as to slow down and work mindfulness into my life, I’d slipped up and lost some control on how I respond to stress. I also think I carried the previous year’s bug into the new one, because even in the summer I was sick and the pattern of feeling better and symptoms soon returning repeated itself over and over.

So I may not be part of the target audience, but the book still seemed to have something to offer for improvement of my circumstances. In particular, the author speaks of inflammation, a problem I’d had in the past pertaining to a previous auto accident-related back injury. I’m sure you can already see that looking into all this isn’t a one-read deal, and not for the faint of heart or lazy. Because I can indeed be very lazy at times, the mindfulness program I hinted at earlier will–I hope–come in nicely as I aim also to improve my ability to focus and perform tasks with greater deliberation and patience.

A side note here: mindfulness isn’t a New Age-y kind of philosophy, and actually, as far as I know, has its roots in the Slow Movement, which itself was actually born in Italy and initially focused on food, later expanding to be applied to many or even all activities of daily life with an underlying aim of improving mental, emotional and physical health. As I wrote in one of my first blog entries here, I personally believe our culture of speed is one of the worst developments we picked up on, and has adversely affected our food, finances, attitudes, health and constructive abilities–and that’s not an exhaustive list, not by a long shot. Don’t get me wrong; elements of life such as high-speed Internet and direct deposit are fantastic and not necessarily destructive. But others, such as microwavable food and the unwillingness to work for something has helped to produce a society of people largely lacking the appreciation of a good meal–which doesn’t only include food that causes fireworks in our mouths and a joyous surprise as how delicious and tender the food is, but also the sharing aspect of it.

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Don’t be fooled by the title–the author is, simply, a hungry girl! These recipes, food descriptions and shopping tips are for the benefit of everyone. There is also a section of vegetarian recipes, some of which meat eaters might find quite yummy. I enjoy food preparation, and trying out new meals and snacks, even if developed for those with allergies or certain food preferences, is a fun way to expand my repertoire.

Mind you, I’m not unaware of the benefits of doing some things quickly, and another cookbook I was led to contains a guide with “Recipes in 15 Minutes or Less,” “No Cook Recipes” and, for a twist on how to save time while still maintaining a high standard of production, a section with slow cooker recipes. Hungry Girl Clean and Hungry: Easy All Natural Recipes for Healthy Eating in the Real World seems to me like a useful resource for that transitional phase in which one wants to begin looking into all this slow-down business, but also needs to retain a sense of reality regarding the world in which we live. Small changes, a few at a time, create positive habits and the encouragement of progress can also strengthen one’s dedication toward these new goals.

The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick brought my awareness back to other ways of treating illness, and to be sure, food is included in the book (chicken soup, detoxification, garlic, to name a few secrets). Not unlike the dental practices I researched a few years back, some of today’s health secrets, as I read in Gene Stone’s introduction, actually originated quite a long time ago. Not all are included in the work, the tips of which Stone received from ordinary people who either never get sick or are able to solidly chase away illnesses, unlike many of us who repeatedly nurse these conditions. As within the books discussed above, the author advocates reading about what other people have done to maintain their good health, and working out for ourselves what makes sense for us.

I commented earlier that engaging in the research involved in all these recipes, elimination or introduction of foods, new ways of shopping and so on isn’t for the lazy. I say that in good fun, because I know that it isn’t always laziness that prevents us from really looking into new ideas–sometimes, but not always. It can be overwhelming or intimidating. However, it does come down to a choice that we make, even if we temper or slow it to suit our abilities, needs, and understandings.

This is reflected in the title  of Raymond Francis’s Never Be Sick Again: Health Is a Choice, Learn How to Choose It. Not having read the book, I’m not entirely convinced we can choose to defeat such diseases as cancer, though the idea lingers in my mind as a strong possibility. Of course, no one wants cancer, and few wish to die from it. But some do. Why? I am hopeful I will find more answers to this and other questions, but equally hopeful that “give[ing] you the power to control your own health” will nevertheless supply a number of benefits for optimum well being. Here too, nutrition comes into play, including a sentence that included words quite similar to those I’d read in one of the other books: giving your cells the nutrients they need. In other words, going to bed hungry, the author writes, is not a problem for most Americans. But in many cases their bodies are “starved” of proper nutrients.

Since the day I went to the doctor I have been feeling better, but one thing I had to do was seriously. Slow. Down. A few weekend days I spent entirely in bed, and even reading, one of my favorite things to do in all the world, took a sharp nosedive. (It’s now mid February and so far this year I’ve read only two books.) I quit a part-time evening job I had and continued on with only my day employment. Some things simply didn’t get done and others I took on with a one-at-a-time approach. I took the time to perform some “preventative maintenance” (e.g. Neti pot, which can be time consuming and feels really weird), telling myself I don’t want in three weeks again to be feeling the way I did that day at the medical office.

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“Getting sick is harder than staying well.”–Raymond Francis

“Pick [a secret] that appeals to your strength.”–Gene Stone

 

There’s still more to do and it’s a learning process. I probably will end up having to return and check those books out from the library again, or simply buy them, but to examine them deliberately and resist the temptation to allow myself to stick them on a table and forget. I will surely be starting again to cook and freeze food, as I have in the past been in the habit of doing–even, by the way, “frozen fingers” of a different kind. Fortunately, I also already habitually use certain foods (e.g. garlic and onion) or have helpful rituals (e.g. stretching and water when I wake up), but there is always room for improvement and new knowledge, or expansion on that one already possesses.

If the way I feel today is any indicator–a vibrant sort of happy surprise that on a Saturday I’ve been to the cinema, run an errand and now am getting some writing and editing done, instead of moving about the house in a malaise, half-heartedly typing something or engaging in distracted conversation–then I’m looking forward to this. I’m not flipping through books in a frenzied research run, and that’s okay. We’re in for another cold snap, meaning more indoors time, but I’m feeling again like I can enjoy cooking with my young teenage son and the way the house smells, doing things for him without making it larger than it really is, which is a far cry from how I felt even in the days during the back and forth when I felt better. I think it is more real this time, and it’s like a lighter feeling in my mind that elicits the emotion of how good it feels to feel good.

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An upcoming blog will discuss the practice of mindfulness and some fun resources for learning more, including an absolutely gorgeous magazine I’ve discovered, and that I think you will also enjoy. 

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950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: A Dynasty Denied (Rob Bayliss)

Now 1066 has passed, as has its 950th anniversary, and we look back upon the year, in some ways not unlike how its inhabitants might have. The Christmas coronation of William, who they later called the Conquerer, has occurred, and the old year passed into a new … January becomes February, and time marches forward. 

Before, we marked our memories in a structured sort of fashion, when the new order was still getting its grips, with remarks such as, ” A week ago today …” or “One month ago.” Now the memories and longing wrap themselves around us as they strike our inner minds randomly, as the required daily tasks remind us that life plunges forward; some events remain as ordinary as before, and yet we aren’t completely sure what to expect. Promises have been made, but the outcomes are troubling. Transitional, perhaps, difficult only in this phase. Or is the foreign conquerer as fearsome as our imaginations lead us to believe? Our anxieties and uncertainties seek consolation in familiarity and affection, and it is difficult not to remember our old king, how awful it is to refer to Harold Godwinson as belonging to the past. Were his deeds all we thought they were? How all these others now talk of him with distrust, admiration, of betrayal and foolhardy leaps into the unknown? Did we really know him? What did we know? He is gone now, and we struggle to make sense of exactly who he was, this king of ours ….

“A Dynasty Denied” by Rob Bayliss

Harold Godwinsson is somewhat of an enigma. He is a hero to some and a usurper to others. He marks the last page of the Anglo-Saxon period in English history, when England truly ceased to be a nation in the Scandinavian world and was drawn deeper into the power play of continental politics. But who was this grandson of a minor thegn who rose to be King Harold II? To find out we must fully explore the world he lived in and the roots from which he grew.

Harold was born in 1022, the second child of Godwin, the Earl of Wessex, and Gytha Thorkelsdottir. It is thought that Godwin himself was the son of Wulfnoth Cild, a thegn with large estates in Sussex. During the ill-starred reign of Aethelred the Unraed (ill-counsel) Wulfnoth was outlawed and his lands confiscated. The reasons for this banishment are unclear, but it occurred during a muster of 300 ships in 1008AD to counter the Viking threat. Unknown charges were brought against Wulfnoth by Brihtric, brother of the infamous Eadric Steona.

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Coronation of King Harold Godwinson By Anonymus (The Life of King Edward the Confessor) (http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Ee.3.59/zoomer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wulfnoth fled with his twenty ships; obviously he had been a man of power and influence to command such a number. Brihtric gave chase with 80 vessels but he was obviously not the sailor that Wulfnoth was. A storm drove Brihtric’s fleet ashore whereupon Wulfnoth fell upon his hunters and burnt the 80 ships. With a third of his fleet lost the king was unable to stop the Viking invasion of Kent; Aethelred the Unread indeed.

What subsequently happened to Wulfnoth is unknown, but he died in 1014. His son Godwin served under Aethelred’s son, Aethelstan and was bequeathed a Sussex estate on the prince’s death, also in 1014.

This was time of chaos. The Dane, Sweyn Forkbeard, had invaded England after years of raiding, and driven Aethelred into exile, to be declared king. However, a mere two months into his reign, Sweyn died and Aethelred and his family returned to England. The Danes still in England declared for Cnut, Sweyn’s youngest son and a bitter time of conflict, unseen since when Alfred had fought the Great Army, fell across England. Aethelred’s eldest surviving son by his first wife, Edmund Ironside fought Cnut to a near standstill. Eventually the two made a form of peace; Cnut became king of the old Danelaw and Mercia, while Edmund retained Wessex and London.

Within weeks of the peace treaty Edmund died in November 1016, ushering in the reign of Cnut the Great, now ruler of a vast North Sea empire. Cnut married Emma of Normandy (Aethelred’s second wife and widow) and cemented his position. He had Edmund’s family sent into exile to Sweden – presumably intending them to be killed there; instead, however, they found their way to Hungary and safety.

Among Cnut’s new English followers was a certain Godwin. It seems that Godwin had followed the Ironside after Aethelstan’s demise. One thing Cnut prized above all others was loyalty and, keen to have a smooth transition of power, accepted the Sussex thegn’s oaths given to him.

Godwin’s rise under King Cnut’s patronage was rapid. By 1018 he was Earl of East Wessex but by 1020 he was Earl of all of Wessex. He accompanied Cnut on an expedition to Denmark and obviously gained Cnut’s trust and affection.

Godwin married Gytha, Cnut’s sister in law; they would go on to have 11 children, including Harold, Swegn and Tostig. Godwin also took under his wing Cnut’s nephew, Beorn Estrithson, who grew up alongside his cousins Swegn and Harold.

Cnut the Great died in 1036 and the Witan – the council of earls, bishops and chief thegns – was duly held in Oxford to decide upon the succession. There were two sons from the union of Cnut and Emma: Harold Harefoot, the eldest son and locally based in England, and Hardecnut, based in Denmark. Harefoot had his base in the Midlands and his claim was supported by Earl Leofic of Mercia and Cnut’s Danish fleet. Harefoot certainly appeared as the easier option and yet Emma and Godwin, and through him Wessex, backed Hardecnut. It would appear that the realm would be split between the two but Magnus of Norway was threatening Hardecnut in Denmark and so the promised king never came. Godwin increasingly felt threatened as Harefoot stamped his authority on the north. He had too much to lose to react to Harefoot seizing the treasury at Winchester, within Wessex itself. Real politics of the time forced Godwin towards Harefoot’s claim.

Queen Emma, now isolated, sent for her sons by Aethelred in exile in Normandy. So it was that the exiled aethlings Edward and Alfred landed in England attempting to rally support. Edward landed at Southampton, attempted to move inland to Winchester and his mother, but was driven off back to his ships. It would appear that the population, now resigned to accepting Harold Harefoot as king, had no wish to have the issue of the succession muddied further. Alfred landed at Dover with the intention of moving towards London but at Guildford Godwin apprehended Alfred and his followers.

What happened next would blight the reputation of Godwin and his family, especially in Edward’s eyes. Perhaps wishing to prove his loyalty and trustworthiness to Harold, Godwin yielded Alfred and his followers to Harefoot’s men. Alfred’s men were disposed of and the unfortunate aethling was taken to Ely where he was blinded and died of his wounds soon after. Godwin was therefore implicated in the murder and when Harefoot died and Hardecnut eventually claimed the throne in 1040, Godwin was forced to assist in the desecration of the dead king’s grave. As punishment for the support that Harefoot received, all England was subjected to a harsh taxation from Hardecnut. Godwin had to answer the charges ranged against him and swore an oath that Alfred’s cruel fate was by orders of the Harefoot alone. He gave the new king a magnificent ship, built at great expense and tried to keep his head down.

Continue reading “950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: A Dynasty Denied (Rob Bayliss)”

New Genre Library: True Crime (Murder in Greenwich)

This new series explores genres new or newish to me as part of my 2017 reading challenge, to be discussed in an upcoming post.

Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?

by Mark Fuhrman

I don’t typically include true crime on my list of preferred genres, though a couple of memories lingering in the back of my mind may have opened me up to it. In 2012 Samantha Koenig was abducted from a coffee hut close to our house and later murdered, and it was my young son’s most in-your-face introduction to the realities that life can dish out. More recently I read a beautifully-written true crime memoir, Finding Bethany, authored by an Anchorage detective whose own sister had also been murdered when he was a boy. He weaves in her story as well as that of his search for Bethany and, later, her killer.

I didn’t know either of these young women, though I recall Bethany’s case from when my son was a new baby, and Samantha’s killer was arrested when my boy had just turned nine. While our personal timeline is insignificant to the cases, the two events stood in my awareness then, like bookends. A strange coincidence occurred in Detective Klinkhart’s own timeline: Bethany Correira disappeared on his sister’s birthday, May 3.

As I type I recall another book I read years before, that of a London detective investigating the murder of a baby. His suspicions were later found to be correct but Victorian England was obsessed with the new profession of detecting, and the investigator who lends his name to the title of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher saw his career destroyed. Perhaps it set the stage for the affection and admiration I have for homicide detectives in particular, whose work takes them to the dark side, sets them amongst people who block them at every turn, whose passion for restoring some sort of justice to people they (mostly) never knew taps into a deep sense of integrity and demand that murderers pay for their crimes, no matter who they are.

Before a year or two ago, I never heard of Martha Moxley or Michael Skakel, though I vaguely recall reading about the case, perhaps when Skakel was in and out of prison on appeal for the 1975 murder of fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley of Greenwich, Connecticut. More recently his case came to national attention once more when it was determined he had indeed received a fair trial with competent counsel, and his conviction for the murder was reinstated. I saw the news piece at iOTWreport, where blogger Big Fur Hat notes retired Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman’s instrumental role in re-opening the case and the resultant conviction. Something struck a chord and I decided immediately to read the book.

murder_in_greenwich-1The late Dominick Dunne opens Detective Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich account with a foreword that straight away acknowledges the Moxley murder case never really became a national story. This struck me as odd, given its circumstance: a fabulously wealthy neighborhood, closely guarded and protected from outsiders by its own security force, a beautiful teenage girl who died right in front of her own house. That a “Kennedy cousin” lived next door and might have been involved seems like it would contribute to its national story status, though as Fuhrman discovers and relates as his investigation proceeds, Michael Skakel’s family wealth and connections actually play a role in the cover up and shielding of the suspect, even years after the crime.

Fuhrman leads us through sections in the book that outline background, his taking on of the case, evidence examination, individual profiles of participants, and a breakdown of his investigation. Each section contains attention to detail that he writes in narrative and linear form, inviting readers in as he points out and connects details, drawing conclusions or asking questions. For instance, on the night of the murder Martha was out with friends and her mother, Dorthy, was painting a room upstairs. The cold drove her to close the window despite the fumes, and at one point

she heard a commotion on the side of the house—the sound of voices so loud that she could hear them through the closed windows. She clearly heard the voices of male youths, or at least one male youth. She was accustomed to hearing kids on the property, since they often cut through her yard. But these voices didn’t sound friendly or innocent[.]

Fuhrman also reports that several neighbors noted a cacophony of dogs barking, and some even went outside to investigate. Later, in “Hypothesis of a Murder,” he utilizes forensic clues to determine that Moxley was not killed where she was found, and notes a streetlight near where she was initially struck with a golf club before being dragged to a spot under a tree and left. How could it be that when he pursued his investigation, despite advantageous views from some areas to the spot, the noises Mrs. Moxley heard and the amount of blood the crime produced, nobody saw or heard any part of the commotion outside?

Perhaps most awe inspiring is how meticulously Fuhrman traces details, follows leads, digs through years and records redacted and aged, runs up against Greenwich detectives who absolutely refuse to cooperate with him, or at least answer his questions as to why they didn’t follow certain procedures, why they allowed a dog, for example, sniffing and licking around on the ground, to literally eat evidence. The author traces the Skakel family’s earlier history and Michael’s movements through the years as he was shielded by his family from authorities who eventually began to focus on him.

As a writer Fuhrman is to the point, revealing his compassion and detecting talent as he moves forward, each step noting in layman’s terms what even seemingly insignificant details might mean to someone “reading” a crime scene. His periodic illustrations and accompanying notes lend greater understanding not just to the details of a murder and what a detective might be looking for—including what is there as well as what is not—but also what sort of procedures investigators follow, such as note taking, order of who they talk to, keeping people separated and even simple first steps, such as blocking off the crime scene. It is unfortunate, exceedingly sad even, that the Greenwich police had so little experience investigating murders that they didn’t even know to do this.

Is this the largest part of the reason why local authorities refused to help Fuhrman? Did pride get in the way as they bitterly considered the consequences of an outsider solving a case they couldn’t? Did they later come to understand the horrific series of mistakes and careless acts of their force? Or were they afraid of the Skakels and stalling on an investigation in order to protect a well-connected member of their community? Fuhrman touches upon all of this and more, at times expressing his anger at how, with so much evidence, someone could be allowed to get away with this crime, and nobody seemed interested in changing that. This he does with great feeling, though without falling into any over-emotive passages that crash and burn by the time readers finish the book.

On the contrary, this account has stayed with me, and as an outsider I saw Fuhrman’s investigation in a way he doesn’t, as someone not typically exposed to the anatomy of a murder, as he calls it, and as it includes the murder as well as its subsequent investigations. In the case of Murder in Greenwich, this entails also how one copes with an unsolved case and the incredulousness that comes with the awareness that, as Fuhrman frequently declares, someone out there knows something.

As readers and consumers of current news, we now know what the Mark Fuhrman of 1998 didn’t: Skakel faces justice in the end. Given his family’s possible appeal yet to come, the anatomy may still be forming itself, perhaps never to end, not so long as anyone remembers that a lovely, vivacious girl once lived, that despite those in-your-face realities of life that haunt our memories and bookmark our timelines, someone cared enough to stand for her and demand answers to the questions left behind.

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Thanks to BFH at iOTWreport for linking!

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Between Two Worlds (Annie Whitehead)

“Between Two Worlds” by Annie Whitehead

My name is Annie; a few years ago, on my travels as a writer, I discovered an Anglo-Saxon lady. This lady really existed, but survived only as a footnote in history, and now I’m going to visit her.

Every morning after my kids had gone off to school on the bus, I would walk along a green lane, which took me between fields. At the end of the lane there is a cluster of dwellings, and, just out of sight, an old farm. Midway along the path, the way is darkened by trees and it was at this point on my walks that I sensed a little of what some folk describe as a ‘thin place’ where the old and new worlds collide. This bucolic and slightly ethereal location became the basis for my fictional village of Ashleigh, the home of Káta, wife of Helmstan, and secretly loved by Alvar the Kingmaker, earldorman of Mercia.

upper-slaughter
Upper Slaughter, where Alvar lived, as it appears today. Do you suppose Káta might recognize it? By Charlesdrakew (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today I am stepping through, metaphorically, into that other world, back to the year of AD963. I want to talk to Káta, and I have a message for her.

I know a little about her daily chores and I think I know where to find her. She will be in the bake-house, supervising the kneading of dough for the daily loaves, or she might be in the weaving-shed, working one side of the big loom. Ashleigh means ‘the clearing in the ash grove,’ and the village is surrounded on most sides by trees. Most people live in, or near, the enclosure but some live out in the woods. The houses are all made of timber, with thatched roofs, but inside I am surprised to see that the main hall has lime-washed walls, and is insulated with embroidered hangings.

Káta, wiping her hands free from flour, comes in from the bake-house, and gestures for drinks to be brought. She obviously doesn’t stand on ceremony, having come straight from working, but she thinks I don’t hear her add, “And bring the best cups.”

She glances round, and I can see from the way her gaze sweeps from corner to corner that she is assessing whether her house is ‘presentable.’ This lady is very house-proud.

She bids me sit down, and she stares at my feet. More precisely, at my boots. I always wear thick-soled walking boots when I come down the lane. She puts out a hand as if to touch them, and I am sorry that they are so muddy. She withdraws her hand. I look down at her leather, soft-soled shoes and I realise why she is so taken with mine.

“How often do you need new shoes?” she asks. “Mine do not last long, especially not at this time of year.”

I smile. How we take these things for granted in our modern world; my shoes will last me for years, whereas hers will wear through incredibly quickly. Being a shoemaker must be a lucrative job in the tenth-century!

When we have finished our drinks (she has given me wine; it’s too sweet, and I don’t drink in the middle of the day, but I don’t wish to offend) she will take me on a tour. November was blood-month, the time when the animals grown for food are slaughtered, and much of their summer produce has been preserved for the winter. Traditionally, they hang cheeses from the rafters – a hazard for tall people! She will need to keep a check on her personal store of dried herbs and plants, which are used for medicine.

“My duties are many. As lady, I must look after the folk who dwell on our land. I must nurse them when they are ill, bring food to those who are too elderly to fetch their own…”

“Like meals on wheels,” I say.

She shakes her head. Not in rebuttal, but in confusion.

In winter, they do not do much sewing, for daylight hours are short, but she assures me that they do mend their linens. She is proud of her beeswax candles – no smelly tallow for this lady!

Other things are purchased, such as crockery, and combs carved from antler.

“I would dearly love to ride to Chester to buy some new cups,” she says. I was right when I thought that she was house-proud.

She twirls her cup in her hands, but I notice she keeps her right hand hidden from view.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I won’t tell anyone about that.” (Although readers of the book are sure to find out its significance.)

brooch
An enamelled Anglo-Saxon brooch of the period – Kata was given one similar to this by her husband, Helmstan. Image courtesy Ashmolean Museum. (AN1909.453 Jewelled cross pendant, gold and garnet, AD 600 – 700, Ixworth, Suffolk. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.) (Click image for further detail.)

She fiddles with a brooch. It is a present, she says, from her husband. It is enamelled, and she treasures it because it was a present from London, a place where she has never been.

“I have a message for you,” I tell her. Her forehead wrinkles and I add, “It is from Alaska.”

“Who is Alaska?” She holds out her hand, as if for a letter.

“Not a who. A where. Alaska is a place, across the sea. Lisl lives there. It’s a long way from here. Even the boat journey would take months.”

She shrinks down in her chair. “The longest journey I ever took was from my father’s house to this one. Have you been to this … Alaska?”

I shake my head. “No, but I would love to go one day.”

“Then you have met someone who has been there?”

I smile again. How to explain? In her world, only the written page, or word of mouth, can convey information.

Instead, I tell her, “Lisl says that in Alaska many of the folk there grow their own little patches of garden, and the homesteaders sell lots of their produce. Some of the villages there are small and really isolated and some don’t have proper roads into them.”

Káta barely raises an eyebrow. “So things are not so different in Alaska.”

“The weather is a little different. Lisl says there’s a chance you might run into a stray bear.”

Now she is horrified. “I’ve seen pictures of such things. Thank goodness we do not have bears here.”

I am rather glad that we no longer have wolves in this country, but I keep silent.

We walk past the wooden gate-house, no more than a viewing platform, really, and out onto a lane that is considerably busier in these times than it is in mine. Folk all know each other by name, and occupation, and there is much more of a sense of community than in the rural England in which I now live.

Káta says, “Is it like that in Alaska?”

I shrug and say, “I don’t know. I’ll ask…”

picea_glauca_taiga
White Spruce Taiga with the Alaska Range in the background. While we might be intimidated by traveling along some of the roads Káta would have been familiar with, she might find uneasiness in the vastness of this landscape. By L.B. Brubaker (NOAA photo [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Click here to see my review for the multiple award-winning 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.

Her 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, Discovering Diamonds Special Ward and Chill with a Book Readers’ Award.

whitehead-author-picShe 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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950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Alvar the Kingmaker

Alvar the Kingmaker by Annie Whitehead

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Recipient of a Discovering Diamonds Special Award and

Chill with a Book Readers’ Award

“My father told me that the lady of the Mercians was dead and gone before the days of the great Athelstan who was king even before Edgar’s father. Her daughter was shut away, and ever since there have only been West Saxon kings.”

 So relates Káta to husband Helmstan, simultaneously telling part of a new story as well as filling in a bit the bridge between the days of King Alfred the Great and his daughter, and their now, here in Annie Whitehead’s second novel, Alvar the Kingmaker. Her debut, To Be A Queen, is Æthelflæd’s story of loyalty, identity, the determination to act upon what is right for self and one’s people, and how those people took her as their own and called her their lady.

alvarNow, however, Mercia has been absorbed into the Wessex kingdom, and time has marched forward: new generations, new rivalries, new threads that loosely wend their way in to form new models of a society growing away from its past.

As a reader who had hungrily consumed Queen, I found myself greedy for this next book, even though I knew nearly half a century comes between the two eras, that Æthelflæd would not appear in it. Nevertheless, she does touch the story, as the Mercians, indeed the even more ancient Hwicce tribe, yearn for their centuries-old identity, past days and the rights enjoyed at that time.

Whitehead brings this to life as she introduces the warrior Alvar, who grows into his status as a statesman following a broken oath and crowning of a new king, the above-mentioned Edgar. Her tale brilliantly takes us through the years of Alvar’s close friendship with his deputy Helmstan, and the secret love he holds for the man’s wife. During these years he also must do battle with church leaders who play ungodly hardball, unafraid to bring harm to the innocent, who unwittingly wander into their sights, as they seek to destroy Alvar, seize his lands and render him irrelevant. When civil war erupts, he finds he must make his way past accusations of regicide and the future under a king whose weakness endangers the land against Danish military raids.

There is something unreal about witnessing the birth of Æthelred’s reign, knowing as we do about the choices he is to make that will link to future claims and pave the road toward the most important year in English history. Whitehead’s prose conveys these realities, though with a storytelling brilliance that captures my reader’s heart as well as the individuality of the people who actually lived this time. Utilizing historical details, the author weaves their tales, revealing their dimensions beyond mere residency, instead showing us what matters to them. Entwined within are the many ways people live and love, heartbreak that ensues and choices they make that on occasion affect many others.

Like vines creeping across brick walls, the moments within  these lives intersect and influence the scenes and events of Alvar the Kingmaker, and Whitehead’s prose is as lyrical as we have come to expect it to be. Like poetry in bloom, flowering into a prose that flourishes across her pages, it subtly wends its way in ordinary moments as well as highlights passages in a fashion that causes one to stop and read it again—best aloud.

Káta partially closed her eyes against the sun, and looked through rainbow-lashes at the brightness. Away near the woods, the incessant triple hoot of the wood pigeon announced that full summer had arrived, while beyond the mill the rising laugh of the curlew marked the way to the estuary, but, beside them, the downward slope of the riverbank offered shelter from the breeze, and the loudest noise here was the gentle chatter of the water.

As the flowering poetry-prose making its way among the pages, Whitehead carries us across the scene, visiting each small moment as we gracefully flit from point to point, exhilaratingly experiencing the beauty of the moment and the sweetness of summer as Káta encounters it as part of her world.

The author gives us glimpses and insight into much of Káta’s world, even parts of it she herself is not privy to, as we traverse time and geography to understand the linkage between the events within this time and as they will later relate to other important episodes. Alvar’s fealty to his king cannot prevent the direction of time’s march, however, and that surrealistic sensation of hovering above history, witnessing it unfold unleashes a flurry of questions and possibilities loosed by the winds of change that gust through the pages of the book, in the end reminiscent of Henry’s last leaf, clinging to the vine, an indicator of strength so long as it remains tethered to its host.

We know, for example, that Æthelred will later wed Emma of Normandy in attempt to pacify Viking raids with a unity between England and Normandy. Their son, the future King Edward the Confessor, however, will die childless, opening the way for a storm of claimants and the end of a dynasty. Is Edward the last leaf, the one torn from its root as the seasons inexorably must change? Or does his youth, largely spent in Normandy and perhaps laced with loyalty to his mother’s land, coincide with the timing as “[t]oo many things have come loose that cannot be tied together.”

Whitehead does not actually bring her story as far as Edward’s reign, though it is nearly impossible not to think about what the future beyond Alvar and Káta holds as they themselves live as part of the bridge between the days of Alfred and Edward. By their time, yes, Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd is long dead and gone, her daughter’s fate not entirely certain. Nevertheless, she is their heritage as they will one day be someone else’s. Exactly how they get there remains to be seen, however, as Alvar rises in his position as a statesman and loves not only Káta, but also another.

The road that leads this other to him, like other events, helps determine history, but we also live through more personal trials with the characters, an omniscient narrator cleanly carrying us from perspective to perspective, smooth dialogue coursing through the pages like Káta’s water as its presence fertilizes and grows the life within its words. Whitehead also makes this sharper with her habit of assigning nicknames or slightly modernized versions of Anglo-Saxon names to her characters. Perhaps the best part is that the events are based on the lives of real people, and so as we think back to Káta’s moment in the sun excerpted above, it is difficult not to be awed by the author’s ability to transport us—really making us feel as if we are there—a thousand years back to a time that determines our own, and the people who made it all move.

A poignant, sometimes humorous, masterfully-told tale of the life of a man dedicated to his country, Alvar the Kingmaker is a must-read in the growing collection of an award-winning author whose name is solidly linked to quality historical fiction and enlightening Anglo-Saxon studies.

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Stay tuned for some follow-up guest posting from multiple award-winning author Annie Whitehead.

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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, Discovering Diamonds Special Ward and Chill with a Book Readers’ Award.

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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A copy of Alvar the Kingmaker was provided to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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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 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 the child 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 takes 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 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?

bayeuxtapestryscene37
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.’

william-at-hastings
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.

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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, 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.

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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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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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