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: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated, With Giveaway)

Please see below for your chance to win one of two copies of

Sons of the Wolf

by Paula Lofting. 

Winner of the indieB.R.A.G. Medallion

In June 2013 I read and reviewed Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf, an endeavor that initially unnerved me, given my lack of study since school into Anglo-Saxon times and the seemingly endless, complex detail I imagined overwhelming and intimidating me. I was, however, to receive a marvelously splendid surprise in my response to the debut novel, which I found to be a most rewarding read. I cared about the characters and, perhaps a true test of any story’s gripping power, wanted to read more, so was pleased to learn of a planned sequel, The Wolf Banner, which has since been released and will also be discussed in these pages.

Since being beckoned into the Anglo-Saxon world I have been reading bits of history here and there, both awestruck and grieved by the real people of the time: their difficult lives and how they persevered to find joy, what they endured to carry on. I have always valued learning about the “regular” people of any given era, and this one brought me closer to them than in any other I have studied, for which I will always be grateful. They are, after all, our people, without whom we would not be.

In this 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings leading to the Norman Conquest of England, we remember those long-ago events, write and read about them, keep them alive  for future generations also to pass on in remembrance of the those who fought and lost so much. With ongoing exploration of the period, only now are we realizing the magnitude of the cultural loss suffered when the English language was suppressed in favor of the invading French. With this study, however, the loss has been at least partially reversed, as today we retain some knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon culture, rich with art, literature, language, history and more. In thankfulness and appreciation we hold that understanding for those who passed it to us, or died trying.

Please join us in remembering 1066, throughout the rest of this year, with book reviews, guest posts, interviews (you may be surprised who we chat to!) poetry and more from a group of authors whose talents and contributions are immeasurably treasured.

We begin the series today with an updated review and examination of Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf, set in the years approaching 1066.

To read the original review for Sons of the Wolf, click here.

For your chance to win an e-copy of Sons of the Wolf, simply comment below OR at Before the Second Sleep‘s Facebook page, located here. Drawing will be held in two weeks. 

Added note: Owing to some illness in the Zlitni shack, things got a bit stalled around here so the contest timeline has been extended! Huzzah!! I’ll be back with a definite date of drawing, but for now, please comment and share!

Update: Drawing November 19

Harold is coronated as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)
Harold is coronated as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

 Sons of the Wolf (Book I in the Sons of the Wolf series)

Paula Lofting

History informs us of Wulfhere, a recorded landholder of Horstede, but not much more than of his existence. Inspired by mention of him in David Howarth’s 1066: The Year of the Conquest, author Paula Lofting brings this figure and his imagined family to marvelous life as she depicts a tumultuous and eventful year in the time of this Saxon thegn.

sons
New edition cover of the B.R.A.G Medallion-winning Sons of the Wolf (click image)

That he was indeed a thegn—an aristocrat granted land by the king in exchange for military service—is guesswork on Lofting’s part, a fabulous example of how she deduces detail from historical reality and research. To be more precise, given the amount of land Domesday records Wulfhere as holding, it is quite within reason to conclude he must certainly have been a thegn. Drawing on this framework, the author creates a cast of characters and builds their world within the Anglo-Saxon era, during the years leading up to the Norman Conquest, in which the real people would have lived.

Sons of the Wolf opens as our protagonist and his right-hand man, Esegar, return from campaigning in the north, both men looking forward to routine days of family life and maintenance labor on their lands. Things soon heat up, however, when a long-running feud with Helghi of Gorde, an abusive, sordid schemer and holder of a nearby homestead, intensifies, and the guilt of abandonment draws Wulfhere back to the bed of his former mistress.

The warrior’s wife Ealdgytha, too, has much to contend with: their fourteen-year-old daughter Freyda has taken up with Helghi’s son and defies her parents, particularly her mother, at every turn. The woman whose presence in her marriage generated such anger in her had once been a close friend, and Ealdgytha was wracked with grief and guilt when Wulfhere was away on campaign.

While old wounds are opened for both husband and wife, events seem to conspire to complicate their lives, the center of them being the feuding between Wulfhere and Helghi, which the powerful Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson—to whom Wulfhere owes allegiance—had sternly advised must end. Helghi conspires to sieze Freyda’s holdings from her once she is married to his son, and Wulfhere suspects such a scheme. However, Earl Harold, in the interest of peace, effectively forces a betrothel, and there seems no way for Wulfhere to stop the destruction of his daughter once she marries into Edgar Helghison’s family.

As the author lays out this first part of the story, the characters both grow and grow on the reader. They are multi-dimensional and human, and Lofting’s skill in presenting the events of their lives brings a richness to the narrative that produces a smooth rhythm and such insight into even the smallest of details, it leaves one wondering if perhaps she isn’t a Saxon time traveler herself, simply describing details she would naturally know.

Being a reader absolutely smitten with the regular people who populate history, I loved the book the first time I read it. Lofting provides the sort of detail I hungrily consume, without ever risking ordinary overload. She gives humanity to characters and we observe them, strangely understanding that while they are very different to us, we reach through history in search of how they also are similar. This dual actuality reveals a cyclic lifestyle unfamiliar to many today, but also, that even though they lived nearly a thousand years ago, just like us, people felt the cold, wondered if they had enough food, sometimes felt lazy or uninspired, and gathered in groups.

With summer lingering a little longer than usual, the autumn winds waited patiently before scattering dying leaves over the succulent forest bed. There, in Horstede, with the days growing shorter as the evening cast its shadows over the village, life carried on much as usual despite the excitement of recent events. It was threshing time for those who worked the land; the time when grains were separated from the ears of the newly harvested sheaths and stored in barns. For Sigfrith, the domestic chores in her mistress’s household spared her from having to pick up a grain flail.

The author also allows us to see events through different perspectives, such as Tovi, who is horrifically bullied by his stronger and more aggressive brothers. Twins, the two sons of Loki, as their father calls them, provide historical significance as their diametrical opposition to Tovi’s timid nature embodies a sort of case study into personalities and what influences might lead people to greatness or obscurity. While labeled sibling rivalry on the surface, it opens the door to exploration of medieval childhood, without the author ever directing it to—their own words and actions stimulate it and, like so much else in the book, support a deeper study within a fantastic tale.

Sons of the Wolf cover for first edition
Sons of the Wolf cover for first edition

We also are privy to some more routine but exciting events in Wulfhere’s days, such as the bi-annual meeting of the Witan, the kings counsel, where rivalries and plotting hold hands, in turn triggering feuds not so different to that of Wulfhere and Helghi, but potentially more destructive. Not quite as comforting as the similarities discussed earlier, they affect society on a grander scale as allies become enemies and traditional foes utilize each other for their own gain, never truly partnering and therefore cruelly unconcerned with the widespread and devastating consequences.

With various layers of understanding and several plot lines, Lofting has written into the story both global and local conflict, each reflecting the other. She brings this to bear also on a scene in which several of the women examine the goods within a chest bequeathed to Ealdgytha. From the trove the women uncover an extraordinarily long and elaborately decorated tapestry that simultaneously anticipates and is reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry, the events depicted on which even now, as the summer of 1055 draws to a close, are being written into the book of time.

Like the famous tapestry, this one depicted in a chapter entitled “The Wolf Banner” and presumably central to the next installment of the same name, this immense work of art has been hidden away for quite some time. It lays out the story of the Wulfheresons’ ancestors in images sewn onto the cloth, metaphorically representing them as wolves crossing the sea. As with the tapestry now displayed in France, it has tatters that would be repaired, and the women point out scenes added later, in the case of this particular work, “to make it seem more Christian.”

“Look , Aunt Gunnhild, there is a scene here with a bishop and a church … and people instead of wolves.”

 “Aye, it seems that those scenes were added later, to depict the baptism of the wolf people,” Gunnhild informed her, joining her at the end.

 Here, too, Lofting replicates the local version of a larger phenomenon, complete with the human inclination toward stories, opposing interpretations and details disguised or altered to camouflage true intent or significance. An indisputably gifted storyteller, she manages her narrative with an understanding of the time so deep, readers don’t bear any of the weight, yet can recognize the pathways she takes us upon as the tale moves forward. At times these passages are even quite short yet filled with significance, such as when Aunt Gunnhild answers Ealdgytha’s derision of, for her, an unwanted representation of idolatry, her reply containing an admission and also an entire history of a people within it.

Ealdgytha shook her head dismissively. “There is something frightening about it,” she whispered gloomily. “It is like a … like a portent of doom.”

 “Nonsense,” declared Gunnhild. Nothing frightened her, thought Winflaed. “They are Brimwulfas,” she said with certainty. “The Sea Wolves. That is what the people whose land we took called our ancestors.”

It truly is impressive how many layers Lofting has woven in to Wulfhere and the others’ stories, a tapestry in itself so detailed that repeat examinations secure new understandings each time.

Indeed, having read this novel twice now, and myself possessing a greater grasp and appreciation of the eleventh century, I “recognized” many of the players more instantly and the connections were more apparent. Some of these are connections between historical figures, others between real events and characters in the story and still others between characters, all of which Lofting sews together in her masterful manner on this magnificent portrait of a family, a village and a society. Flawed and imperfect, they touch us most because this is true of ourselves as well, and their various searches in life mirror our own.

Whether readers approach Sons of the Wolf diving into the depths of significance or simply for a smashing read, they will not be disappointed. In this year, the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, or any other, this is a tremendous account of life before and behind the scenes of 1066 and the people, much like us, affected by the customs, mores, laws and relationships of the era, and given their due recognition by an author with even better yet to come.

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Stay tuned for my review of The Wolf Banner and upcoming installments in the “950: 1066 Remembered” series.

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

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

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Sons of the Wolf was was previously reviewed at Before the Second Sleep and a copy provided to facilitate review. 

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This blog was updated to reflect the giveaway in post title, extension of contest timeline, indieBRAG status as winner of the BRAG Medallion and exact date of drawing.

Book Review: Sons of the Wolf

Sons of the Wolf Book Tour Banner

I am very pleased to host today’s segment of indieBRAG’s blog tour celebrating Paula Lofting’s debut novel, Sons of the Wolf. Set in the England of King Edward the Confessor, Sons of the Wolf introduces us to the understanding that those who populate this pre-1066 era conduct lives and a society every bit as complicated and layered as our own. Moreover, they view themselves as individuals, albeit if not on the same level as do we. Their lives and loves, hurts and worries, superstitions and values, inform the directions in which they pour their energies. The modern notion that life was universally short, cheap and dirty is challenged by Lofting’s research and narrative, which details people who aim for the future and fight to retain their dreams. Picking at threads, they sometimes patched together as best they could, while other occasions show them to be the ones manipulating the strands.

Sons of the Wolf

by Paula Lofting

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Whispers in the Wind: Sons of the Wolf and Remnants of Our Past

As Wolfhere and his right-hand man, Esegar, make their way home from a victorious but devastating Scottish campaign, the reader is immediately given to understand the historical importance of their surroundings. “They’d been travelling many days along the ancient trackways which for centuries had witnessed the various comings and goings of the many different peoples of these lands.” Indeed, heritage is echoed in names–Inewulf, whose wife gives the returning warriors drink–and language–““Aye, þu airt welcumen, Lord[,” she replies]–as well as the practices governing their society. Wulfhere, as thegn, is a landowner with allegiance to the king; in this case he also serves the local earl, Harold, who soon intervenes in a thinly-veiled land dispute, which plays itself out as a generational feud. In order to promote peace, Harold orders Wulfhere to contract his daughter’s hand to that of his enemy’s son, Edgar Helghison. Young Freyda is only too happy to oblige, in love as she is with Helghi’s injured and ill-treated son.

In the course of the novel readers learn of other familial secrets, seamlessly revealed by Lofting in her characters’ dialogue–knots that smoothly reveal themselves–and sudden, dramatic actions and events. Like the tapestry depicting the lives and meanings of their ancestors’ world, Lofting skillfully portrays that of the Horstedes in scenes otherwise reminiscent of a typical day or evening, yet with so much meaning infused within. As Ealdgytha, Wulfhere’s beautiful but unhappy wife awaits his return,

[p]art of her was missing. Somewhere in her mind she had closed a door, locking inside the thoughts she did not want to think and the feelings she could not bear to feel.[. . . ] Then, at hearth time, she sat by the fire, chatting quite animatedly away to Gunnhild about her new pregnancy.

This scene sewn into a tapestry would reveal little to an examiner, for who can see into hearts embroidered onto material? Like the multitudes of others we encounter in passing each day, these people we might see, but what lives in their hearts and minds lay unknown to us even, sadly, when we blow off the dust and bring our open hearts to the examination. Or perhaps, like Ealdgytha, we see something we recognize but wish to dismiss and carelessly toss the remnants of our ancestors into coffers and chests.

Her daughter, Winflaed, however, is thrilled to learn about those who came before her, her “awesome ancestors,” led by Aelle, who brought them across the sea to the land they now inhabit. Their own tribal leader had been Wulfgar, whose name lent its prefix to the many still in use. She continues to stare at the tapestry:

Silently, she attempted to interpret the story that the embroidered images were telling her. Hills and trees on one side and on the other a coastal shoreline with a half-dozen or so richly coloured sea vessels, all possessing sails that were crested with a brown wolf’s head. In one corner of the tapestry was the summit of a hill that sloped down into woodland. Along the rising gradient, wolves appeared to be running upwards with the largest of the creatures at the hill’s pinnacle, its dark grey-blue shape howling at a perfectly round moon against a darkened sky. This was clearly the leader, Winflaed decided, for it was the largest and most clearly represented. Behind it, the others looked small and insignificant against its majesty. Interestingly, there were no images of humans. It was as if the wolves themselves had sailed and alighted ashore from the boats and were running freely across a depicted land.

It has been said that images speak to the examiner, though what the message is depends on who receives it. What is so different between what Wilflaed and her mother hear? Who depicted the newly arrived as wolves would also indicate why they were depicted as such: fearsome, frightening invaders, or noble, misunderstood creatures? What did mother and daughter hear in the echoes of the wolf leader’s cries to the night sky? As the wind carried the sound across the landscape and through time, what changes came over it and how much was left to understand? Was the recognizable stripped away, leaving only hard images that seemingly cover up all else?

Their own experiences surely color interpretations as well. The roles of mother and daughter affect how they perceive the world, but also their ages, the former having become embittered by what she has endured in life, and the latter still within the parameters of innocence. She continues to see what we overlook. While current stereotypes can be misleading, it is only too true that life in 1054 England was harsh by modern Western standards. As for Wulfhere, we find him engaged in bloody battle once more, this time having also to deal with the aftermath of battlefield abandonment and the sickening devastation wrought on the villagers following the fight.

Wulfhere is at war on the home front, as well, for his bitter disapproval of Freyda’s betrothed does nothing to waver her enthusiasm, and he seeks to engage her to another. His young children battle one another, the demanding Ealdgytha insists he make choices and his enemy Helghi’s attempted rape of his maidservant leads to a furious battle that ends in tragedy–in more ways than one. Wulfhere is determined, protective and proud, perhaps a perilous combination in a man as passionate, and sometimes selfish, as he. However, he is at least sometimes capable of recognizing the níðdraca, the monster who “thrive[s] on their lust for revenge, their need for a reckoning, and the endless waiting[,]” as well as the part he plays in weaving it to life.

Lofting has allowed us, too, to be passionate observers rather than passive ones, because she has brought to life an era shrouded in the mystery of the unknown. With such a distance as nearly a thousand years between “us” and “them,” we already sometimes echo the wretched Alfgar’s words of his own era, “What does it matter what she felt? [. . . ] as long as you are on the winning side [. . . i]n the end it is all the same.” And given the diversity of persona across the timeline, it can hardly be disputed there were some who treated even their own times thus. In diplomatic fashion, Lofting has given even such as Alfgar voice to speak to us, even at the risk he may be matted together with slave taking, “men so drunk they pissed where they stood” and “the torn body of a dead baby lying in the mud.”

Indeed, Sons of the Wolf is not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Brutal reality lives here, and to honor the lives of those we seek, we must face the tapestry and honestly examine even the uglier segments. Actual lives were lived on this dance across the arras, clues of which Lofting sifts through and unknots, thread by thread to gain understanding of personalities and motives when so little documentary evidence reveals its secrets. So do not be put off by the telling, for it needs to be so. As this reviewer frequently maintains, they are remnants of our past, these ancestors of ours, though they on their tapestries may “in time [be] just whispers on the wind,” they beckon to us and we are obliged to follow.

Publish Date: July 23, 2012
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B008OK4HF2

UPDATE: Several e-copies and a paperback up for grabs! To stand a chance of winning, e-mail author Paula Lofting at sonsofthewolf1066@hotmail.com . Go for it!!!!

Visit indieBRAG’s blog tour page to keep up with other dates and sites!

Paula Lofting

About the author: My name is Paula Lofting and I write historical fiction. My first novel is called Sons of the Wolf, set in 11thc England. I like to keep things as accurate as I can when I am writing historically and belong to a re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum that covers the period in which I write. This enables me to have some knowledge of the time I write in of the everyday things and not just the politics and events of the time. Living history is a big part of what Regia do and everything has to be well researched for authenticity.

My earliest influences in reading were Rosemary Sutcliffe, Edith Pargetter, Leon Garfield, Mary Stewart and Sharon Kay Penman. Rosemary Sutcliffe really got me into Dark Age history. I love her style and am reading Manda Scott currently whose style is heavily influenced by Sutcliffe’s.

Aside from enjoying historical fiction set in pre-conquest years, I also enjoy later medieval, ancient and anything in later periods that would interest me. I also enjoy crime, horror and thrillers. Erotica is not really for me but I appreciate the skill you must need to write in that genre.

I am a psychiatric nurse by day and writer in my spare time. I have three children and live in the beautiful county of Sussex, England, where my book is set. I am currently working on the sequel which I hope to have released in the late summer or early Autumn!

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A copy of Sons of the Wolf was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

Banner courtesy indieBRAG Medallion, LLC. Images courtesy Paula Lofting.