Image of the Month: Edward, the Black Prince

Not long ago I wrote of my determination to finally read Michael Jones’s biography, The Black Prince, which details the life of Edward of Woodstock, son of King Edward III of England. Having owned the book since 2019, I’d been really ancy to get going, and not too long ago, at last, I made a start to it.

One thought that often lingered in my mind regarded how Edward appeared, probably because I didn’t know much about him. Seeing someone, whether in real or by way of an image, gives us an idea of their personality, what they are (were) like, or at least we seem to think so. Having none of this—at the time I found only dozens and dozens of sites with images of his tomb—then pushed me toward the book, and here we are.

My copy’s cover has only a drawing of the Prince’s effigy (though I hasten to say it is beautiful), but another edition carries a painting of Edward: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1330-76, The Black Prince by Benjamin Burnell (c. 1820).

Edward looks to me like a serious man, which fits in with how I had begun to imagine him—humored, perhaps at times, with some of life’s peculiarities, though never really showing it. I thought the image was a little bit attractive, and I especially liked his nose and beard. Still, it is halved, perhaps for dramatic effect, and I really wanted to see it all. Without the entire picture, something seemed unsettled, not quite right. I found the full painting in a few pages, such as here and, for a fuller image, here (scroll down at link).

I was right to wonder about it. On Jones’s cover, the prince appears to be focused, even “contemplative,” as this blogger notes; in the full painting he looks, well, sort of steely. Oddly, this rather fits in with the divisive portrait of him within society, at least that segment of modern society that knows enough about him to ask: warrior hero or villain? According to History Extraeven Edward’s contemporaries challenged his hero status, and one of the theories as to his sobriquet lays the blame on his brutal treatment of civilians at Limoges in 1370. Victorian children’s author Meredith Jones referenced his “angry flashing eyes,” which may or may not have been influenced by Burnell’s treatment of the Prince, itself perhaps born of historian Jean Friossart’s embellished records of Edward’s career.

Ostrich-feather crest ~ Early 17th-century painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, he was said to be generous to a fault, and seemed to have well learned the lessons taught to him by his father, who endured a four-year regency overseen by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, after they drove Isabella’s husband, Edward II, off the throne, brutally executed his abusive gatekeeper and brought England dangerously close to civil war. In his own time he is also perceived as chivalric, and he famously adopts the motto of the blind Bohemian King John, whom he fights against at the battle of Crécy in 1376. It reads, Ich dien, “ I serve.”

So if we ask, “Who was Edward of Woodstock?” and are presented with the same image of opposing perspectives, it leaves us with as much mystery about who he was as when we started. A little bit of knowledge, however, could go  long way, in this case after having a look at the black armor Edward wears, and French historian Dr. Guilhem Pepin provides this in the article linked above. Black being rare in heraldry, he reasons, it then would be “completely feasible” for such a nickname as “Black Prince” to arise. After all, with so many Edwards—and so close together—to name, it also makes sense that at some point someone would have come up with something else to call him in order to avoid confusion.

For me it seems telling that Edward is said to have adopted King John’s motto, a piece of history that Jones writes of in The Black Prince. Edward defeated the blind king at Crécy, but seemed to have no barrier to speaking his admiration for John’s actions. From the small amount I have read about Edward in Jones’s book, he does indeed seem to have been contemplative by nature, however sneeringly the blogger above uses the word, and this may be his state of mind in the painting after all. Given that I’ve come across very little on Burnell thus far, it’s nearly impossible to say. What I can relate with accuracy, however, is that the Black Prince’s image gives nothing away, paving a path for further necessary investigation into this remarkable historical figure.

Previous Image of the Month: I’m Just Gonna Leave this Right Here

See also Stephanie’s Image of the Month: Proserpine (Persephone)

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Stepping Back into Saxon England: Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

I am so pleased to have been asked to host a stop within the Stepping Back into Saxon England tour from authors Annie Whitehead and Helen Hollick. Anglo-Saxon England is a fascinating place to explore, and there is never a shortage of amazing figures, events – even understandings –  to discover and wonder about.

Today Annie Whitehead focuses on Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, a mysterious individual who seemingly comes from nowhere to occupy a powerful position and secure his place in history.

Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
by Annie Whitehead

My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, whose life was extraordinary. Only one other woman in Anglo-Saxon times ruled a kingdom, and she was ousted after a year at best. So to have led a country in times of war for nearly twenty years, Æthelflæd must have been an incredible woman.

Statue of Æthelflæd, erected in 1913 to commemorate her fortification of Tamworth. She is shown with her nephew, Æthelstan.

Her husband, though, was equally interesting. And the fascinating thing is that although he was a crucial ally for Alfred the Great, no one knows for sure where he came from or how he came to be in a position of such great power. Between them this couple fired my imagination.

So who was Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians? Certainly he was someone very different from the man portrayed in The Last Kingdom. For a start, he wasn’t a king. So where did he come from, and how did he get to be ruler of a kingdom?

Tracking down pre-Conquest people isn’t easy, and we rely heavily on the charter witness lists. If an authentic record exists of a certain land grant, then we can look at the witness lists to see who was there at that particular meeting. And since the names go in strict pecking order, it’s possible to see folks – men, usually – rising up through the ranks over the years until they reach the top slot. So it should be easy enough to check Æthelred of Mercia’s progress up to the point where he became Lord of all Mercia, right? Actually, no. He simply cannot be identified on any charters.

It’s thought that he might have been associated with the Hwicce, a people whose territory sat mainly in modern-day Gloucestershire. We first hear about them from an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in the record for 628, when the king of Mercia fought the West Saxons and it’s assumed that at this point the area around Cirencester, that of the Hwicce, came under Mercian control. Whether it had hitherto been independent, or whether it just swapped one overlord for another, is hard to tell. But the Hwicce had their own kings and we know that the royal line continued into the 780s. 

It’s not certain where the name itself came from, although there might be links to the landscape around the valley between the Cotswold and Malvern Hills, and a ninth-century charter refers to woodland in the west of the region called Wychwood Forest (Huiccedwudu). They were described by one chronicler as ‘the people who live beyond the River Severn towards the west.’

So we know where they were, but can we ascertain who they were? Bede tells us that they had their own bishopric, so even if they were subordinate to, or dependent on the support of, the Mercians, they clearly had their own territory, their own diocese and their own royal house.  

We know the names of several of their kings and one, Osric, ruled in the 670s but, while in a charter relating to him he is called rex, he is acting with the consent of the king of Mercia, so already there is a sign of subjugation. Osric is associated with the founding of Gloucester Cathedral, although in those days the foundation would have been an abbey. In the eighth century, a leader of the Hwicce attested a charter of King Æthelbald of Mercia only as a subregulus. Although Æthelbald referred to the ‘not ignoble royal stock of the Hwiccian people’ it is clear that by his reign (716–757) the rulers of the Hwicce were no longer kings, but subkings of Mercia. 

Their status further diminished to that of nobleman, and in the very beginning of the ninth century we hear of an ealdorman of the Hwicce, Æthelmund, who was killed attacking the people of Wiltshire at Kempsford in 802. Æthelmund was described by King Ecgfrith of Mercia merely as a faithful princeps.

The name did not die out though. 

A charter of King Edgar’s dated 969 demonstrates an awareness of the distinction between Mercia proper and the territory of the Hwicce, and between 994 and 998 King Æthelred the ‘Unready’ had only five ealdormen witnessing his charters, and one was Leofwine of the Hwicce, although it’s likely that given the small number of ealdormen at this time, Leofwine was responsible for the whole of Mercia.

Let us go back, though, to the incident in 802 when Æthelmund ‘rode from the province of the Hwiccians across the border at Kempsford.’ He was met by an ealdorman of Wiltshire and a ‘great battle’ ensued. Why were two ealdormen fighting? Well, it coincided with the death of the king of Wessex, and may offer a glimpse of the kind of turmoil which could occur around a succession, with loyal armed men ready to defend the status quo, or perhaps even to take advantage of the uncertainty.

In Wessex, ealdormen were appointed by the king, and not necessarily given titles over their local area. In Mercia, which grew up out of a federation of various tribes such as the Hwicce, the political set up was different and it seems that the ealdormen were the chiefs, or members of the erstwhile royal families of these smaller subkingdoms. Looking over the Mercian regnal lists, we can see that sons hardly ever succeeded fathers, and if they did, they often didn’t survive for very long.

And by the height of the Viking raids, when Wessex badly needed allies, Mercia had pretty much run out of kings. Alfred’s sister was married to a Mercian king, but he had fled when the Vikings overran part of Mercia and his rival and successor had a short reign. So, seemingly out of nowhere, a man named Æthelred, with no previous record of government and no royal links, is suddenly the man to go to for an alliance and, oh, he’s deemed worthy of marrying Alfred’s firstborn daughter, too. 

Historian Barbara Yorke has suggested that he was, in fact, descended from that ealdorman who rode out at Kempsford in 802. If so, it’s likely that he was therefore one of those ‘tribal’ leaders who formed part of the witan as ealdormen. It doesn’t explain his absence from the records up to this point though, nor how he came to be leader of a kingdom. But he must have been a man of exceptional qualities to have been elected. He’s mentioned by name in the records as part of the campaign against the Vikings, fighting alongside Alfred and Alfred’s son Edward. 

Æthelred is a figure not soon forgotten.

For these reasons, I suspect that he was a lot older than his wife. He had proven himself militarily and must have had a track record for the Mercians to have elected him as leader. Some think he was Alfred’s puppet, but I think not.

In my novel, I gave him boundless energy, with a mantra of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’, but also moments of self-doubt. He was a clever strategist, giving (if we believe the Irish annals) his wife clear and detailed instructions about how to oust the Vikings from Chester, and happy to work in concert with her at a time when women, though they perhaps had more freedoms than their later medieval counterparts, still were not considered strong enough to rule. 

Deerhurst is a tiny place in the heart of the Hwicce homelands, and there is a church, St Mary’s, which retains much of its Anglo-Saxon architecture. It’s still in use, so has seen well over a thousand years of continuous worship. I set a couple of scenes there, knowing that it would have been a spiritual centre for Æthelred and when I visited, I got a real sense of the past, sitting quietly on my own knowing that there was every likelihood that my characters had actually been in the same building. If Æthelred really was associated with the Hwicce then he’d have rightly been fond of this lovely church. Whoever he was, wherever he came from, I think he was a canny military leader, and a good husband. A perfect partner for the Lady of the Mercians.

About Annie Whitehead

Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month

As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) will be published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.

Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.

Connect with Annie at ~
Amazon
Casting Light Upon the Shadow
Twitter
Annie Whitehead 
Facebook 

Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom

“Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past. Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands…”  …but there is now!
Available in paperback from 15th October or pre-order now!

Follow the tour:
joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead
and
Helen Hollick

1st October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?
Let Us Talk Of Many Things

2nd October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?
Word Wenches

3rd October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
Before the Second Sleep

4th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?
The Writing Desk

5th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England
Pam Lecky

6th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England
Dodging Arrows

7th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd’s Daughter 
Samantha Wilcoxson

8th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors
Cryssa Bazos

9th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections
Elizabeth St. John

10th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.
Judith Arnopp

11th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains – Did the Saxons Use Them?
Brook’s Scroll

12th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice
Amy Maroney

13th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical ‘Hero’ 
Books & More

14th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins…
Reads Writes Reviews

15th October: A joint post hosted by both of us
Annie – Casting Light Upon The Shadow
and 
Helen – Let Us Talk Of Many Things

We hope you will enjoy
Stepping Back Into Saxon England’ with us!

All images courtesy Annie Whitehead

Book Review: Cometh the Hour

Cometh the Hour (Tales of the Iclingas, Book I)
by Annie Whitehead

Cometh the Hour is the proud recipient of an indieBRAG Medallion, Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, Discovering Diamonds Award and was selected as a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month 

As is the case with many others, it has arisen in my reading universe that certain writers command my attention, and their names on any book guarantee I will read it. This is the case with multiple award-winning author Annie Whitehead who, with her previous work including novels To Be a Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, has established herself as a solid voice for Anglo-Saxon England.

As the first entry in a new series, Tales of the Iclingas, this third novel by necessity includes a somewhat extensive cast of characters with wide array of perspectives and motives. The author includes a dramatic personae and does an amazing job describing who from which of four kingdoms battles whom and for what, opening with a brutal attack and abduction that spreads the sway of tribal loyalties, setting off generations of internecine warfare and quest for freedom as defined by their respective leaders.

Having twice now read Cometh the Hour, it is next to impossible not to put to writing some musings on the historical and fictional characters Whitehead brings to life while transporting us to seventh-century Mercia and surrounding lands. Here we bear witness to the tangled lives and loyalties of the four kingdoms—Bernicia, Deira, Mercia and East Anglia—its rulers related in blood and marriage, as we follow them through the years of history leading to links within our own time, one in particular a very tangible tie creating sheer excitement upon recognition. The author doesn’t only tell us a fantastic tale we want to hear, but also includes us as part of it.

It perhaps would be more accurate to state that the characters describe all this via their own observations, passions positive and negative, and dialogue so masterfully composed one might believe these are historically documented utterances. While the novel is actually written in third person, its omnipotent narrator transcends mere recitation to unite reader and character in such a way that each almost has a stake in how the other fares, which in a sense, really is so, for Whitehead’s prose fully lives up to the standard she has crafted it to be. Poetic, it draws readers in as they witness characters making their own observations; we are with them as events unfold and hearts thunder at the tension that builds, compelling continued reading and signaling the care we have for what happens to the people in this world, in the immediate as well as long-term future.

At various moments we see Carinna take in scenes including Ænna the rejected younger child, assessments of wealth or reactions to perilous change, oftentimes wondering, as we move through this powerfully written account, what else any parts of them may additionally signal.

Following an instance in which young Ænna, attempting to emulate the warriors by striking a blow to Edwin’s leg with his wooden sword –

Edwin was clearly angry and although he stayed his sword, he lifted up his leg and gave Ænna the full force of his boot, felling the child who lay in the dust and snivelled.

 Carinna spoke quietly. “He was only trying to be like you.”

 “No wonder the youngling is so inept. His sot of a father will never teach him anything and I doubt he’ll ever make much of a man with all these strapping kinsmen around him. Best show him how to weave, since he’ll be more use in the sheds with the women.”

 [Carinna decided s]he would broach the matter later when he had calmed down and in the meantime she was sure that Ænna would forget all about it and would be back playing with the others again tomorrow as if it had never happened.”

 Not long after, Carinna witnesses the wrath of Queen Bertana as it develops:

“[Her] features had constricted into something more fearsome than an ordinary frown and her expression brought to Carinna’s mind the moment when liquid in a cauldron began to seethe with activity before erupting into a boil.”

 Character verbiage is as complex and intricate as that of any involved with the ins and outs of various factions’ plotting, yet the author’s management skills—as always—are so adept that we follow along easily; Whitehead has no need of dense language for the sake of elevation alone.

Subtly woven within the narrative and dialogue are absolute gems readers often detect that characters don’t, and the spark of recognition is great reward indeed. Whether by physical attribute or behavioral trait, for example, we on occasion are one step ahead of certain figures because we were previously acquainted with someone they just met, observed or heard bits and pieces about. Whitehead knows well how to use this and other techniques to generate tension and the aforementioned reluctance to put a book down as she tenders possibilities and creates the perfect riddle of circumstance. This in turn facilitates an electrifying suspense whereby we have at hand clues that inform as well as tease us, as we re-trace our reading pathways and link together previous knowledge with the question of what the future may or may not bring and events continue to usher in a thrilling sense of anticipation.

Like any others, these people also laugh and wonder and exhibit their own personal habits, and the author weaves this within and without narrated passages and dialogue alike, revealing a self-awareness the extent to which we are not always privy, but which awakens within us an understanding of how we are so like them, and that our habit of utilizing humor to blanket serious subjects is yet one in a long line of collective coping instincts.

While discussing an upcoming marriage with Penda, Derwena’s quip about relations—“I wondered if you and he are now kin? Your sister’s husband’s sister is his wife”—mirrors readers’ perceptions of how the family’s history contributes to their ties to friend and foe alike, from where the pathways begin and to where they lead. Penda later addresses this in part in his acerbic response to Derwena’s wearied statement, “I wonder where it will all end,” a return that has its roots in his family’s knotty relationships.

Cometh the Hour and two other novels by Annie Whitehead – highly recommended all. Click titles earlier in this entry for my review of each. Click image to learn more about the author and her works

In making our way through and to at least some of those answers, Whitehead stays true to her history, creating, for example, strong women without falling into the trap of engaging them in anachronistic behavior, as if they could only be “ahead of their time,” that strength, savvy and great intelligence could only come from later eras, and not their own. While a number of historical blanks have been filled in, the novel’s women characters are woven in as tightly as the men, their roles and actions so perfectly aligned with historical realities and fragmentary evidence that, again, one would be forgiven for initially believing that how the book reads is exactly how these figures’ lives played out—although it should be noted that, as Whitehead states in her notes, “There is documentary evidence for almost everything that happens in Cometh the Hour.”

Another skillful way the author has with words is within her presentation of the characters. As mentioned, there are quite a lot—given events in the series’ first, it seems likely there won’t be quite so many in subsequent installments—and Whitehead manages them so skillfully that from one appearance to the next, any given storyline to another, the transitions are nearly seamless. Part of this results from some characters appearing in multiple strands, which benefits the underlying episodes, lending them continuity rather than overcomplicating it all. Moreover, she maintains Penda’s position as the primary character while moving amongst people and perceptions, giving each a chance, so to speak, to present their case to readers. This method does require a more deft hand, to avoid the risk of an over convoluted tale, and Whitehead possesses this gift in spades. Her absolute brilliance in presentation and form keeps it even and simultaneously stunning: we tend to sympathize with Penda, but the remaining kings are not reduced to otherness, and we see clearly how events inform each other with a mixture of fate and free choice. The author wraps all this within a history we don’t realize we are being given, of the lands and their people and how geography plays a role in decisions and results.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Whitehead has released yet another novel of quality, imagination and readability, entwined with a gripping glimpse into our deep past, having patched it together from fragmentary pieces of history. And yet we marvel, perhaps because the events portrayed are so achingly long ago, its players seemingly so lost to us that to be gifted such an extended view to their lives seems as if an impossibility has been achieved. It will then please us to know the author is already hard at work on the sequel.

Cometh the Hour isn’t only for admirers of historical fiction, for within it also is told a tale or two of love—of several different sorts—the fortunes of societies and the motivations of man to demand the rights of work, family and freedom. Thought provoking in its humanity, this is a teller’s tale within which, we can hope, we see ourselves.

*********

A copy of Cometh the Hour was provided to the
blogger in order to facilitate an honest review. 

 

Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring (Plus Giveaway)

Update: Drawing referenced below will be held December 16

(see link here)

I no longer recall how it was I came into contact with Persia Woolley, though I do remember it was on Facebook we first spoke. Perhaps I messaged her with the same words of adoration she’d heard a thousand times before, something like, “I read your books when I was in school and loved them ….”

No matter; she was always gracious and friendly. In our case she had a connection to the isolated place I live in and frequently asked about my child by name. It was as if he was her own relative, and her recall of his antics gifted me with fits of laughter all over again. Knowing of my love for Richard III, she sent me a booklet and we chatted online about word etymology, reading and writing, snow, teenagers and pizza–all sorts of fun stuff, and when looking back I was surprised at how extensive our little snippets of chatter were. 

One day I picked up the phone and dialed her number, expecting that she might be too busy or politely end the call after a decently lengthy enough courtesy exchange. Instead, when she heard my name she launched straight into conversation and we talked for at least two hours. It was like a birthday present, and I marveled later not at how much smaller the world has become (or so it is said; I’m not sure I believe it), but rather that some of the people within it are just as pleased to interact as we are. Persia, though, was more than just great at making people feel special; what you said mattered. I could always see that in her responses, and I valued it greatly. I still do.

On October 4 I was surprised and saddened to receive a message early in the morning, via comment subscription at her website, that Persia had passed away. I knew she was older and she had always spoken openly of aging, for the better and worse. I guess, though, when some people are so full of life, we forget that they are subject to the same rules of eternity as everyone else. It was a harsh lesson for the day, because I loved and cherished her presence in my life, online though it mostly was, and I already missed it sorely. 

I have long wanted to write a review of Persia’s words, and so today I present this one, hoping that on this day, this wonderful lady’s birthday, it can be like a gift for her, shared with many others who perhaps will see her works for the first time and join Guinevere’s world, or those who, like me, were earlier acquainted and fall in love all over again. I’ll be re-reading the next two in the series and hope you will as well. 

In memory of Persia Woolley and as a special thank you, I would like to gift a copy of Child of the Northern Spring

Please see below for more information 

Godspeed, Persia, and until we meet again!

Child of the Northern Spring
Book I of The Guinevere Trilogy

by Persia Woolley

I first read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy when I was in high school, loved it and was sure I would again. What I didn’t realize, when I recently began re-reading Child of the Northern Spring, was exactly how much I would enjoy this book, how much more, this time around. First in a series depicting the Arthurian age from the eyes of Guinevere, Child of the Northern Spring is packed with detail: expert observations of human behavior, particulars of the natural world and idiosyncrasies of various relationships—for starters. The narrative is written as if by the hand of someone who has actually experienced life in these times, ridden the trails and watched the world of the day, then with magnificent recall tells us of the era we long to know.

Updated cover for Child of the Northern Spring. I love the visual of Guinevere!

Readers join the story as Guinevere, Celtic princess and daughter of King Leodegrance, recalls the previous night when a bit of panic had set in and she scrambled to make a getaway from the next morning, now arrived, when she would begin her journey to become High Queen, wife of the legendary King Arthur. Reminded of the strength of Celtic womanhood, Guinevere determines to make the transition and her recall opens up as she remembers the road leading to this moment.

As the measured progress of her wedding journey slowly makes its way south, readers and protagonist are taken along the pathway of the princess’s childhood, and in alternating chapters, Guinevere tells her story as she describes the drive to her new home, the two roads ultimately meeting as her destination draws near. Woolley so expertly fuses the two times while simultaneously distinguishing which events are happening when, bringing to bear on a life story the understanding that in some manner everything is linked, as far apart or disparate as it all seems to be. Guinevere, too, her sense of history—personal as well as social—merging with contemplations of those yet to come, envisages a future in which “our lives shall run together. Like a tapestry of human endeavor, woven on a god-held warp, dyed with the glories of each individual’s action[.]”

One of the elements I liked best in this Arthurian novel is likely what many others have as well—the representation of a strong female character. It is important to remember, however, that such individuals, while they surely existed in real long-ago times, are not simply more ancient versions of today’s feminism. Respecting historical women as the individuals they are entails understanding what is important to them, in their context and from their perspectives, and Woolley portrays this magnificently as her Guinevere shares seeds of success, dreams, and toil that benefit all of her people without prejudice, aware that the true test of a leader’s success is how well all of her subjects fare, not only a focus group.

Two major conflicts disturb Guinevere’s progress: loyalty to her homeland, Rheged, where she was groomed to be queen, and the new Christian church, looming large before her, raised as she was in the old ways. As we learn more of her background, she too begins to see with new eyes the childhood that led to these moments. Woolley breathes new life into the tales of this character, often depicted elsewhere as passive and perhaps a bit spoiled, and succinctly portrays why—apart from leaving the only home she has every known—Guinevere is apprehensive about departing Rheged. The links of political allegiances, relationships and past events are expertly fused and the author avoids the common trap of getting lost in the wants of various warlords. The characters’ motives are believable, and how Guinevere embraces change well-balanced: she neither acquiesces easily nor exhibits stubborn refusals.

Cover for Child of the Northern Spring’s original 1987 edition

The book has a rather wide cast of characters, and Woolley manages their appearances proficiently, often naming chapters for the focus of that moment in Guinevere’s journey, with occasional re-appearances. Many, like Morgan le Fay, are familiar, and Woolley’s realistic treatment of them adds to the refreshing nature of this book, originally published in 1987, while remaining true to their mythologies.

Morgan was on her feet and pacing by then, moving with Arthur’s sure stride from one end of the room to the other. One hand nervously twisted the black curl that hung down by her ear, and she was such a contrast to her mother’s fair composure, it seemed likely the title “le Fay” hinted at her being a changeling child. I remembered our first meeting and half-expected her to vanish in a fit of rage, with or without the magic of a Druid’s Mist.

Observing these events and all the layers within them from this different perspective enables readers to contemplate characters in a new way as well, perhaps deconstruct a bit so we might question our understanding of who they are, see their humanity. As Guinevere herself seeks to answer questions pertaining to identity, she must utilize the diplomacy lessons she was reared on to see her through, and find her place as queen to a king attempting to unite a nation.

Looking at the story in acts, readers would see that there is no true arc within, as tension bubbles throughout the story while various events unfold. Moreover, knowing this to be the first part of a trilogy, I tend to see this installment as Act I in and of itself, as most who know the legends are aware of the troubles to come, and readers will be hungry for more of Guinevere as only Persia Woolley could present her.

 

To be in on your chance to win a free copy of Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring,

please comment below OR at this blog’s Facebook thread, which can be found here.

Drawing will be held in mid-December.

The Guinevere Trilogy:
(click links)

Child of the Northern Spring (Book I)

Queen of the Summer Stars (Book II)

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn (Book III)

Book Review: Fortune’s Whelp

Fortune’s Whelp by Benerson Little

“The rencontre took place early in the evening under a storm-darkening sky, with just enough daylight remaining to preclude the accidents that plague swordplay at dusk and in darkness. The wind had risen, bringing with it the chill of river and sea; this, along with the approaching sunset, and the location on the outskirts of the city, kept witnesses where they belong, that is to say, away.”

 So starts Benerson Little’s debut work of fiction, Fortune’s Whelp, in smooth follow-up to the pirate historian’s previous works of non-fiction. Enclosed by approaching night in a violent scenario, Scotsman Edward MacNaughton plunges fast forward through land and sea adventure and into discovery of an attempt to assassinate King William III. As the Jacobite plot’s date draws nearer, MacNaughton must identify who around him conspires for their own ends or toward political gain, willing to take him down in the process—and this includes the women he finds himself involved with.

fortuneFrom the opening scene through to the conclusion of Fortune’s Whelp, Little’s narrative wraps itself around us as we are glued to the edges of our seats—miss our bus stops, lose track of bedtime, leave dinner to burn—with a tension so thick it preoccupies us even after the fearsome moments have passed.

Perhaps it is MacNaughton’s magnetic draw of intrigue, or the historical details, mundane and enthralling alike, that Little weaves through his tale—the elements of reality that haunt the reading and our tendency to read rapidly, as if fast-flipping pages might get our protagonist more swiftly away from those who track him—that amp up the tension and render this novel one not easily surrendered to the tasks of daily life. This anxiety-provoking is exacerbated by Edward himself, who frequently confirms reader suspicion with acknowledgements of perilous moments, such as when he “sensed dangerous eyes upon him.”

MacNaughton is written as a hybrid of questionable romantic hero and admirably devilish villain, and he does indeed doubt or reprimand himself as he moves about in his world as described by his creator in a fashion that brings us as close as we could get to it: this age is described so in detail, though without relying on detail description. Instead, elements stitch themselves in and around all aspects of MacNaughton’s movements, from an appearance of Spanish brandy to his mockery of a naval officer (“doubtless your mother paid for your commission”) and his progression-via-instinct through a series of streets and alleys when attempting to find while simultaneously avoid an enemy. We are given glimpses and understanding as to how the era operates, with a toss of humor here and there, for relief as well as to show another side of the time.

“I’ve seen that bugger around here before; he talks a lot but won’t pay for anything.”

 Edward gave the woman the coin. His reason suggested this was part of a trap; his instinct considered it unlikely. In either case, he was on his guard against two potential enemies.

 “Come with me.”

 “Why?”

 “You’ve just tipped me the wink, and I’ve paid, haven’t I? To Walter Lane, then to a place we’ll be safe from his eyes.”

 “If you want to dock, it’ll cost you more.”

 “Pardon me, mistress, but you’re pricing your wares a bit high, aren’t you?”

 “I’m worth every penny and shilling of a guinea,” she replied indignantly.

 “I believe you,” Edward said sincerely.

 Little’s narrative is written at such a pace that we seem at times to make haste along with MacNaughton, with a smoothness that carries us along, always wanting to keep going. Transitions are seamless and one scrape or another all are linked by events and associations, so we clearly see the story is much more than a series of adventures in the life of any man: MacNaughton has goals in mind, if only he can safely make his way to them before plots and pitfalls find him first.

MacNaughton is his own man though he is also, as the novel’s title indicates, fortune’s whelp. Bred on adventure and fed with swashbuckling plot twists, our protagonist frequently courts fate even as he faces down his enemies, be they actual persons or probing anxiety in a darkened alley. Daring, energetic and skilled, he is nevertheless written with flaws that could easily brand him as real as the historical figures who make appearances in Fortune’s Whelp.

Any reviewer would be remiss to ignore the fight scenes in this novel: thrilling and of the nail-biting variety because we know MacNaughton isn’t an always-victorious two-dimensional character, Little sets them up so expertly that upon commencement we hear the clash of weapons, smell the salt in the air, gain our footing as we establish purchase within the skirmish, right along with the characters.

Edward watched him warily; the man was surely full of tricks. He might pull a pistol, hurl dirt or snuff in his eyes, or dart his sword at him.

 “Behind you, sir! The watch!” the man shouted at Edward.

 Edward turned his head just enough to draw the man’s attack, then, as it was dark and difficult to follow a blade with the eyes, made a round parry, found the blade, and thrust swiftly. Sensing his adversary’s counter-parry, he turned his sword hand up, allow it angulate around his adversary’s parry, and, covering with his left hand as he thrust, hit his adversary just below the right collarbone.”

 The author not only provides explanations for those unfamiliar with sword fighting terminology, but also does it in a manner in which readers can choose for themselves how often to stem the flow of reading to refer to the notes, or not to at all. Following his conclusion, Little adds several sets of notes, including those on swordplay with an alphabetical listing of particular terms and their meanings (separate from the glossary, which cuts down on all-over-the-map searches). It is great fun to act out the fights, even at a slower pace, to have a greater appreciation of what MacNaughton is up against.

Many books, perhaps even most, reveal to readers more information upon subsequent reads and re-reads, and it is rewarding when we realize these small surprises. Fortune’s Whelp is one in which readers finish, close the book and know ahead of time this is in store for them. With so much history written within a novel of intrigue, and daring revealed within the history, there is an instinctive understanding that this is a book to re-read, and this reviewer answered that summons—interestingly enough even though Jacobite plotting and seventeenth-century history isn’t generally where my interests reside.

For those who love a great tale, written with engaging and realistic characters who call you to their side, for seafaring types and landlubbers alike, Fortune’s Whelp is a compelling and captivating novel whose fate it is to draw readers over and over again.

About the author …

Born in Key West, Florida, Benerson Little grew up variously on all three US coasts. Following his graduation from Tulane University, he entered the US Navy and served as an officer for eight years, most of them as a Navy SEAL. Upon completion of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1983 (BUD/S Class 121), he was assigned first to SEAL Team THREE, then to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE. After leaving the Navy in 1989, he worked as a special operations and intelligence analyst, including for the Naval Special Warfare Strategy and Tactics Group and for a private intelligence collection and analysis firm, among other professions.

He now works as a writer and consultant in several areas, with an emphasis on maritime and naval issues, including maritime threat and security, and especially maritime history. He is considered a leading expert on piracy past and present, and is a recognized expert on pirate tactics and anti-piracy operations throughout history. He has appeared in two television documentaries on piracy, has advised on others, and is the STARZ premium cable network’s historical consultant for its Black Sails series, currently filming its third season. He often advises film-makers, novelists, historians, biographers, genealogists, treasure hunters, journalists, and others.

You can learn more about author Benerson Little’s books, news, writing and more at his informative and fascinating website, Facebook, Twitter and his blog.

Author photo courtesy Benerson Little.

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A copy of Fortune’s Whelp was provided to the blogger in order to produce an honest review.

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Paula Lofting (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

Today we are joined by author Paula Lofting, whose debut work, Sons of the Wolf, recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion, is a fantastic introduction to 1066 for those unfamiliar with the year or its significance. Those more schooled in this era will see in the novel as well a story that brings to life the people and proceedings of the time in a manner that revitalizes one’s appreciation for what led to these events, and the individual experiences of those who lived them.

Award-winning debut work Sons of the Wolf (Click image for review)

Starting in September of 2016 we began a journey through memories via reviews, poetry, interviews, excerpts, even visiting with a real historical character and more. As the year drew to a close our focus pulled back and we began, much like those whose lives and changes we remember, to carry on, as it were, take in other elements of life and move forward. But they never leave our awareness, these people and events, and for many something akin to a scar in the soul remains.

Very much like our forebears, we need to make sense of the pain and what has happened, often without much of the necessary information, so we gather what we have and tell. We fill in gaps to the best of our abilities, with imagination and understanding of evidence as well as realities of the world, and pass it all on to the next generation. This is as our ancestors themselves would have done; what is different now is that it typically is transferred to media in the form of books, plays, movies, art and song–and by the many rather than the few commissioned individuals.

Paula Lofting continues this tradition, today sharing with us details about what led her to this path, educated guesses regarding missing details, and her role in carrying on the tradition of telling.

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Hello, Paula Lofting, and good day!

Hi, Lisl, thanks for having me on your fabulous blog.

Oh, it’s fantastic to see you here! So far you have published the award-winning Sons of the Wolf and then The Wolf Banner, with a third in the works. Could you tell our readers a bit about your first two novels?

Click image for my review of Lofting’s exciting sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner

Ok, so Sons of the Wolf is a series, which starts with the book of its name. I got the inspiration for Sons after reading a book by David Howarth called 1066: The Year of the Conquest. Mr. Howarth told us a story through the eyes of his own village, as it occurred 1,000 years ago. It follows the fortunes of a thegn, Wulfhere, who Howarth mentions in his book as having been the landowner back then. He owned this little village called Horstede (now called Little Horsted) and surrounding land, and owed service to the king for it.

Through Howarth’s descriptions of daily life in an 11th century homestead, I conjured up a story in my head, and just had to get it onto paper! Book I of Sons of the Wolf starts when the thegn is returning home from a battle in Scotland with his fyrdsman, and the reader is introduced to his family, of which there are plenty. We also see historical characters: Harold Godwinson and his brothers, King Edward the Confessor and Harold’s sister Edith, the queen, plus the very lovely Edith Swanneck. The premise of the book is to show the events that eventually lead to the Battle of Hastings, so there is conflict, as well as love, betrayal and a bloodfeud involved.

In the second book, The Wolf Banner, we have three threads emerging. The main one follows Wulfhere and his brood as their lives are very much changed by the bloodfeud that impinges it. We have Earl Harold, who is basically running the country for the king by now, and we see the torment he suffers in not being able to help his younger sibling and nephew, both of whom are held hostage by the duke of Normandy. The reasons being, that if Harold was to demand their release, it would open a whole jar of worms that would spell danger for England.

The third thread belongs to a character called Burghred, who was supposed to be only a minor character from the first book, but refused to be held back and stole a storyline for himself.

Sons of the Wolf starts in 1054 and by the end of The Wolf Banner, we are in 1059. The next book, Wolf’s Bane, will cover the years from 1059-63 or 64, I’m not sure yet.

Did publishing your first book tweak your process of writing? Did you make any changes to how you set about doing things?

I can’t really answer this [laughs]. I don’t have a clue.

You’ve spoken of wanting to write a book since you were a small girl. What was an early experience in which you learned that language had power?

I think perhaps in primary school. I always felt like I was not one of the in-crowd, was never chosen for anything. I wasn’t a poor student, but I wasn’t an exceptional student. I felt like a nonentity until I really got into composition lessons. Here I found my forte and the teacher would read them out, give me top marks and always complemented my writing.

Secondly, I realised in my own childish way, the power of language when I found myself spending hours at the library looking at the books and spending the whole weekend wrapped in a book—and when I say ‘in a book,’ I mean I was there, inside it. Nothing had ever excited or drawn me in like a book. Language has the power to provide an escape route, somewhere to go to when the world is all too much. Now, as I write, that power has taken it to another level.

Your bio includes mention of a few authors who influenced your imagination. Did any of their works lead you to pre-1066 as the era you wanted to write about? Had you already chosen before you came across the real Wulfhere?

Not entirely sure, possibly Rosemary Sutcliffe; however, her books are mostly post Roman, early Romano Celt. But probably there is some influence there. I remember reading the fabulous Hope Muntz story of The Golden Warrior and being immersed in that as a teenager. I’m sure that I was very much taken by Michael Wood in the early 80s; his TV programme In Search of the Dark Ages was very influential.

I also remember my father teaching me about kings and queens and going through the Anglo-Saxon ones, too. But a lot of this became consigned to the corners of my memories as my life progressed and this era wasn’t reawakened in me until my early forties, when I found myself at a Hastings reenactment and suddenly the switch went on again. Ever since, I’ve immersed myself in Harold’s story and the events of that time. I’ve found it’s almost as if I was there, or one of my ancestors was and that it could be in my DNA, as someone suggested.

How did/do you research your main character and his era?

Fortunately, there was not much to know about Wulfhere; what is recorded is just his property and land holding, and his name. I would have loved to have known more about him, but at least the not knowing means I can have free reign with him.

Now what I do have to research (it’s an ongoing task) are the events of the time, so that means I need books, as many as I can get my hands on, primary and secondary sources. It’s very important to try and get as many primary sources as possible, because there is not a lot of written work available for this period, and so one must gather what one can.

Thirdly, I have always had a strong belief that to write good historical fiction, one needs to be able to create the world as close as possible. I didn’t want to make anachronistic mistakes in regards to housing, diet and clothing, or place chimneys in stone houses when they had hearths in the middle of the floor in halls made from timber or wattle and daub. And so I joined a living history group and I think that I have a good handle on how people lived in the 11th century, and even know what it’s like to be faced with a screaming enemy running towards you as you stand in a shieldwall, shoulder to shoulder. I’ve fought with a spear and tried my hand at a sword, so I have some idea of what it was like. The best thing is being killed, sliced to death with a sword or an axe, and being able to live to tell the tale.

Do you feel you owe anything to the real people upon whom you base your characters? If so, what? If you were—whether through time travel or some other method—to meet Wulfhere of Horstede, what would you say to him? What do you think he might say to or ask of you?

In answer to your first question, I believe it’s important to get the facts as right as is possible. I wouldn’t take liberties like others have done with real characters’ lives. For example, I read a book about Hereward, where Harold’s character (a nasty black-guard) kills Edward the Confessor by smothering him on his deathbed. There was no author’s note to explain, and there is no evidence to say that he did this. It’s one thing to believe something has happened, but to defame someone’s character by accusing them of a murder there is no evidence for, is not on, in my honest opinion.

So, in looking at the sources regarding the characters in my book, I hope to have come up with a fair account of their characters. To do this I look at what were their deeds, what do the sources say about them as people and so on. In this period there isn’t a lot, but what has been written about Harold does not equate to a murdering evil git. That’s not to say he was perfect. No one is. So you have to try and get a balance when writing about a factual person. Most good people are known to do bad things once in a while and most bad people are known to have done good things once in a while.

With Wulfhere and his arch enemy, Helghi of Gorde, they are just names in the sources, so I have little to go on, but for the sake of the story I feel I can take liberties because they are only footnotes in history. And if I were to go back in time and speak with my Wulfhere, I would probably give him no end of a hard time for all the silly stupid scrapes he gets himself into. He would probably tell me it was my fault anyway, for writing the script.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Was there any scene in particular that was most difficult to write?

I don’t think I have too much of a problem writing about men. I haven’t come across anything yet where I might have had to consult a guy to find out how a man might react in a certain situation. Maybe I’m just in tune with my masculine side.

Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 4: Here Harold sails on the sea (by image on web site of Ulrich Harsh [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons). Click image and scroll to see something amazing!
As a fan of your Sons of the Wolf series, I’ve grown attached to Wulfhere and his family, and your narrative has taken us readers through their loves, losses, victories and so on. As we get closer to 1066, can you tell us anything that might be upcoming?

Cripes, how do I answer this without giving out spoilers? Hmm. Ok, let’s summarise what I have in my head:

  • Someone will fall in love with someone whose station is too far above them
  • Someone else will fall in love with the wife of someone else
  • There will be more conflict between the two families of Horstede and Gorde
  • There’s bound to be a death or two
  • Harold gets a new companion in his houseguard
  • There is a rocky road ahead for one young couple
  • And someone has a nervous breakdown

Do you have an idea how many installments you might end up with in the Sons of the Wolf series? Or is that already mapped out?

I have no idea but I can say that there could be seven altogether. I just hope that I can think of more titles with Wolf in them.

Will Harold feature more prominently in the novels as we move toward that fateful year?

Yes, he definitely will. His story must be told and he basically is 1066 personified.

What do you believe were Harold Godwinson’s strongest character traits and weakest flaws? Were these the result of individual MO or more aligned to standards of the time?

Until post-Conquest, you will not find much in the way of anything bad written about Harold. This could be because his family had so much influence in the country. I think probably his strongest trait was his skill in diplomacy. He handled two incursions by the Welsh king and his English ally, Alfgar, without causing a war and would rather use diplomacy than get heavy and call for battle. However, his reluctance to invoke a civil war on behalf of his brother, Tostig, was for the wider good of the kingdom. Paradoxically, it was to play a part in his downfall. Alienating his own brother was not good for Harold.

Probably the worst thing Harold ever did was lay waste to Wales in 1063. But Harold could not have been expected to do anything else, really. The Welsh king had been a pain in the butt for too long and now with his ally, Alfgar, dead, Harold waived his diplomatic side and stormed into Wales to devastate it. Thus, Gruffudd lost his head, and Harold gained a new wife. And this laying lands to waste was not uncommon in medieval times, but given the fact that Harold had restrained his hand on a number of occasions, I think he was less of a war monger than some other kings of the period.

If you had the power to change any historical events, such as who won at Hastings, would you? Why or why not?

I would love to be able to change this, but actually, I’m glad that I can’t. Mainly because I think that it ended how it was supposed to end. If that day had ended any differently, all of history would be changed. I’m not sure that would be a good thing. Things might have turned out worse for the world, not that it could get much worse….

As it is, Harold has left his mark in history as the ‘good guy’ and William left his mainly as the bad guy who committed atrocities against the English. If he were alive today he would have been a war criminal.

That’s important to point out. What did you feel or think when you first began to learn about 1066, and how might you have grown to feel about it, or perceive it over time?

I didn’t realise that I would be so obsessed by it. There is something about this era that really gets to me. It started out as an interest and now I live, eat, and breathe it. I was talking to Helen Hollick last year at the Historical Novel Society conference and she mentioned that she believes it could be in her DNA, that perhaps the emotion she feels around what happened on that day is embedded in her blood, passed down to her by an ancestor who was there. It kind of makes sense. Perhaps that is the only way to explain the deep, intense passion I feel every time I read about it, or learn more about it.

I must say, it’s really hard not to dislike William of Normandy, even though I have tried to be objective about the events of that year. But when I looked into the Harrowing of the North, which he caused, and in which tens of thousands were said to have perished as a direct consequence and following the devastation, I decided to let go and accept that actually, I cannot be objective about something so heinous, and it was thought of as such by his contemporaries. I’m not saying that Harold was the perfect king and a saint, but William seems to have been so authoritarian and devoid of all conscience. It was not a good time to be English and one of the lower classes.

What would you say to people who either express no interest in who won the Battle of Hastings, or those who side with William?

Read Marc Morris’ brilliant and objective account, The Norman Conquest. It gives factual evidence of his brutality without taking sides. He also points out that the English nobility could be just as brutal towards each other (bloodfeuds were rife in England at that time, especially in the north), and that the Normans rarely killed another noble. However, William didn’t mind maiming and destroying the lives of lesser men.

The other thing I would say is, the Witan chose Harold, ok there was no doubt some manipulation going on there, but if I had been around at the time, there’s no way I would want the untried boy, Edgar, inexperienced as he was, on the throne. Nor would I want William of Normandy ruling my country, giving land to his friends, and disinheriting my fellow countrymen. I would want a tough Englishman to fight for me and my rights, and at that time, Harold was the man.

William had no blood link to the throne. Nor apparently, did Harold; however, having no blood link and being English was better than having no blood link and no ties to England. Harold had spent four months with the guy in Normandy and only escaped with his life when he was forced to promise on oath to serve William as his vassal. He knew the damage William could inflict. And that’s one reason he wanted to be king, I believe. The evidence is there. William was not good for England or Englishmen.

Do you think there could have been any way William might have been less cruel to the English people? Was it his upbringing that played a role in his treatment of the conquered?

William did have a terrible childhood. He suffered many traumas, his father died, his life was in danger, his guardian was killed whilst he was asleep in the same room. He was forced to hide amongst peasants when his life was in danger. And then later, there were those who would force him out of his duchy if they could. So yes, it must have affected him. I think the experiences that William had in his youth played a profound part in his psyche and his behavior towards those who would oppose him. He had to be tough. And tough, he was. These are the reasons why he was like he was, but they are not excuses for the terrible treatment he doled out.

What would you say, if able to communicate with them, to the people who suffered under William? Do you believe it matters to them whether or not we remember the details of their experiences?

I think if I were in that situation, I would want the world to know, to remember what happened to me and my people, just the way that the people of Rwanda, for example, wanted their story to be told. The only difference is that in the 11th century the only media were the chronicles and half of these would not have realised that they existed, but I suspect they would want their story told by word of mouth, just the same. I’d like to think that they appreciate that all this time after, someone is feeling their pain.

Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 26: Here the body of King Edward is carried to the Church of Saint Peter the Apostle (by image on web site of Ulrich Harsh [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons). The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of 1066 in images from the Norman point of view. Click image and scroll to see tapestry in its entirety.
Now for some fun questions!

What are two things you cannot do without?

My ipad and computer.

What website do you visit daily?

[Laughs] Has to be FACEBOOK!

What do you do when you have to queue up?

Huff and puff and mutter obscenities under my breath.

What is your favorite store?

Cripes, I dunno. Anything with books in it. I’d love it if we had a huge Barnes & Noble like you have.

Which season do you resemble the most?

Autumn, nice and matured and full of flavor [laughs].

Paula Lofting, thank you so very much for joining us today as we look back 950 years in our remembrance of 1066 and its enormous impact on English and world history.

Thank you, Lisl, it’s been a pleasure!

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

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

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

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Coin of King Harold Godwinson By PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Note: This post has been updated to replace the previous cover of Sons of the Wolf with its updated design. 

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950: 1066 Remembered, 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.

what-fates-impose

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

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

About the author ….

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

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

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

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

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

glynn-at-stsamford

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

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

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

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

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

1066 – One Crown, Four Claimants

G.K. Holloway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (With Giveaway)

Today Glynn Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose, graces our pages with a passage from his novel–and a tense moment he shows us. In remembering the cataclysmic events of 1066 we look back at the day King Harold, having left troops guarding the English coast against invasion from the east, rushes north to stave off another one there. Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway, has defeated York and the two monarchs are about to face off. It is September 25, 1066 and as the armies are about to meet at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold also faces his brother Tostig, who has allied himself with the foreign king. He keeps his wits about him, and somewhere along the line is mentioned the promise of “six feet of English earth.” If Harold prevails, where would it take him next?

See below for your chance to win a signed copy of this gripping, thrilling novel of a year like no other. 

Congratulations to Joanne Larner, winner of a free signed copy of G.K. Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose. The author has been notified and your book shall be on its way quite shortly!  

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At Stamford Bridge

A 19th century illustration for Harold Hardrada Saga, Heimskringla by Wilhelm Wetlesen (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)
A 19th century illustration for Harold Hardraada Saga, Heimskringla by Wilhelm Wetlesen (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

In  the Viking camp by the side of the river, the Norsemen were in good heart, enjoying a glorious summer morning. The scene was bathed in a golden light that lifted the spirits. The earth was still dry and cracked, even so late in the year. Most of the men had finished breakfast and were waiting for the hostages to arrive. Some of the soldiers were playing board games, some idly chatting and exchanging banter. A small group gathered on the riverside were throwing stones at a washtub, which had jammed itself in some reeds on the far riverbank, upstream from the bridge.

‘King Harald, after we have the hostages, what do you intend to do?’ asked Tostig, chewing on the last of his bread.

‘We’ll take them to Riccal, and then we’ll go to London.’

‘When you’ve . . .’

‘What’s that,’ Harald interrupted, ‘on the ridge up there?’

Tostig looked across the river to the top of the valley. There on the skyline, underneath a cloud, he could see bright flashes and glints.

‘Does that look like ice to you, Tostig?’

By now, most of Sigurdsson’s soldiers could see what their king was looking at but none could make it out.

‘No, it’s sunlight catching on something,’ said the earl.

‘It looks like ice.’

‘It can’t be; it’s much too hot. It’s metal. It’s the sun catching on metal.’

‘That cloud is dust. That’s the dust kicked up by an army. The sun must be catching on their swords and armour. This means trouble, Tostig.’

‘Well, it might mean trouble but then again, it might not.’

‘That’s not very helpful, Tostig,’ growled Sigurdsson, glaring at him.

‘It might mean some of my kinsmen have come to welcome you. The word must be out that York fell easily into your hands; perhaps they’ve come seeking mercy and friendship.’

The Viking camp looked full of statues as everyone stopped and stared at the horizon; as they did so the vision on the ridge grew bigger.

‘King Harald,’ said Tostig, looking concerned, ‘I think that’s the English army. Why don’t we retreat to the ships at Riccal?’

Battle of Stamford bridge (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)
Battle of Stamford Bridge (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

‘I didn’t come all this way just to run away at the first sign of trouble. We can handle this lot. What we’ll do Tostig, is send three men on our fastest horses to Riccal to fetch help. It’ll be the Englishmen who’ll have the biggest surprize of the day.’

‘It’s your decision,’ Tostig said. ‘I’ve no wish to retreat, either.’

Sigurdsson gave him a cutting look, then ordered three men to ride to Riccal and a dozen more of his finest berserkers to cross to the York side of the river to defend the bridge. While his men donned their armour, Sigurdsson planned to cross the river to pay King Harold a visit.

The horses were brought up and Tostig mounted effortlessly; Sigurdsson lost his footing in the stirrup and fell to the ground with a thud. Embarrassed but unharmed, he rose to his feet and with his second attempt climbed into the saddle. With a small troop behind them, he and Tostig made their way across the bridge and rode boldly to where the English army lay poised on the ridge.

On his side of the River, Harold saw Sigurdsson fall from his horse.

‘Does anyone know who that man is, the one in the blue tunic, wearing the fancy helmet?’

‘That’s Harald Sigurdsson himself,’ answered the ealdorman.

‘He’s certainly a big man,’ said Harold, ‘but I don’t think this will be his lucky day.’

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Author Glynn Holloway is so generously gifting a signed copy of 1066: What Fates Impose to one lucky winner. For your chance to win the contest, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here, and your name will be entered into the drawing. Good luck!!!

Drawing November 15

(Please be sure to leave contact info in the event you are our winner!!)

To read the review for 1066: What Fates Impose, click here

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Author Glynn Holloway also writes …

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

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

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

what-fates-imposeFrom 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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(My favorite part of that: “That somebody ought to be me.”)

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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This post was updated to include blogger introductory corrections from final draft and date of drawing.

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: 1066: What Fates Impose

1066: What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

The Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal Winner 2014

what-fates-impose
1066: What Fates Impose is a Gold Medal winner for The Wishing Shelf Book Awards (2014) (click image)

Mention the year 1066 and most people, even if unaware of actual events, seem instinctively to know that something of great consequence happened. Having learned about it at school, I myself knew the basics but after that did not read much about it until several years ago. Still, seeing the cover of G.K. Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose stilled the moment a bit: resolutely straightforward, not unlike a steely glare, it communicates great import with such details as a Saxon shield and somber implications of a decided destiny.

The gist is this: while the new year dawns, King Edward the Confessor’s twilight looms, and being without an heir creates a considerable problem for England’s future. There is no shortage of contenders for the throne, though this decision—according to English custom and law of the time—is in the hands of the Witan, the king’s council. They choose Harold Godwinson, son of the late Earl Godwin of Wessex, and his coronation takes place on January 6, one day after Edward dies.

Across the channel in Normandy, Duke William is enraged. He claims Edward promised him the crown and that Harold pledged an oath to support his ascension. Vowing to take the throne, by force if necessary, William commences preparation for full invasion of England, further supported, though indirectly, by Norwegian King Harald Hardrada’s assertion that a treaty secures the crown, in fact, for him. Though King Harold emerges victorious in late September’s Battle of Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegian is killed, his army, distracted from forces gathering in the south, is spent. Nevertheless, they head toward William’s position, engage, and Harold falls on October 14.


In the clear black summer sky the stars and the golden moon shone brightly. On the breeze, the chords from someone’s lyre floated on the night air; the music mixed with the sound of the gentle breaking of the waves, forming a lullaby to send the warriors to sleep. 


It was no easy victory for William the Bastard. The Saxons put up a determined fight and are said to have menacingly chanted “Out! Out! Out!” at William’s forces as they faced the formidable Saxon shield wall. The duke had also had to secure support for the invasion, which came via Pope Alexander II, an endorsement that attracted forces in great number. As the year draws to a close, he ascends to the throne and is styled King William I, history later remembering him as William the Conqueror.

Though he was to face a series of rebellions in following years, 1066 covers these only in reference, albeit a powerful one. Holloway opens his novel at the end, depicting William pronouncing his deathbed confessions, owning up to ruthless slaughter of a magnitude most couldn’t imagine for its horror. Nearby stands the bloodied, battered apparition whom in life he last saw 21 years earlier, and who has haunted him ever since.

bayeuxtapestryscene52a
Battle of Hastings (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

The author then brings us back in time to 1045 and the tale moves forward in linear fashion, point of view changes allowing us a clear pathway to characters’ perceptions and motives, with Harold Godwinson as the central figure. Holloway has a sharp and succinct manner with words, couching his phrases within passages that reveal strong observation and experience with human nature and its attendant habits.

Godwin looked thoughtful and a silence descended on the room. Over the years he had learned to be on his guard at the sight of Harold’s huge grin; it was genuine enough most of the time but his son had learned how to use it to disarm any reaction to bad news.

The author also crafts his dialogue in such a way that readers get a fuller sense of what others in various scenes often are missing: a glint in the eye, ever so slightly tilted head, raised eyebrow, knowing glance or sarcastic tone. This technique brings his characters’ words into sharper focus, gasp-inducing realization coming to the reader before it does to characters, creating a suspense hanging on the imminent revelation as well as the observation of a person unaware of the situation’s full extent.

As William and his 700-strong armada make their way across the channel, the duke outpacing his support, it is

… the warm morning sun on his face that woke him; that and the sounds of activity on deck.

 ’Good morning,’ he called to his comrades, over the sound of the gulls, the sea lapping the ship’s sides and the gentle wind slapping the sail.

 ‘Good morning,’ echoed the replies.

 ‘She’s a fine craft, the Mora, isn’t she?’ the Duke said to no one in particular.

 “Very fine, my Lord,’ replied Odo, with some obvious discomfort.

 ‘I see you’re feeling seasick too.’

 ‘It’s not that, my Lord. It’s just that I feel a little uneasy.’

 ‘Why do you feel uneasy? It’s not like you.’

 ‘It’s the fleet.’

 ‘What about the fleet?’

 ‘Where is it?’

 Holloway engages us in this playing with of various characters, but also teases it out to create another effect, this time with us, and in dual fashion. This particular scene lulls us to a calm rising indicated by the soothing sounds of water against the ship, the sun’s warm rays, admiration of the wonderful vessel the duke’s party sails in. The understanding we gain just before William does jars our perception, chilling the moment.

Additionally, we know the story of the historical Harold, and that William’s approach brings the king closer to his last day on earth. As events unfold, however, Holloway provides us with glimpses such as these that cause doubt to arise—perhaps Harold can make it after all. How, we might wonder, could someone who can’t keep track of his own ships hope to conquer an entire nation? It is a testament to the author’s storytelling expertise that in his hands the entire account is more than merely a series of episodes written out. For brief moments we feel we can believe that somehow he finds a way to alter the outcome; our hearts can remain unbroken.


‘I’ll not, at any price, deliver up my country and its people as a result of an oath obtained by trickery and deceit.’


Throughout the novel, though, this impression duels with the running theme of fate and free choice in opposition, perhaps best illustrated by the circumstances of Harold’s official marriage. He plans his actions deliberately and accordingly, but is still ensnared in a condition that seemed to already have been decided. Will the forces who control his destiny continue to steer him to that awful, fateful day?

As he tells his tale, Holloway relates events in a manner that could be identified as neutral, but which also play into the sense of suspense as we speculate as to who he is gunning for. At the Easter feast in 1053, table conversation perilously turns to yet another accusation from Edward regarding Godwin’s culpability in the death of his brother Alfred. In defiance Godwin cries out that if he is guilty, God would choke him; a moment later he smashes a piece of bread into his mouth, collapses and dies several days after.

It has been asserted that this account of Godwin’s death is Norman propaganda, and its inclusion points to Holloway’s method of relating events from both the English as well as Norman perspective, continuing our journey through the year uncertain as to how we will reach the end. It is a neutrality lending the story greater grip as it manages to keep us on the edge of our seats.


What Pomeroy relished as much as violence itself was the knowledge that inside his victims’ terror lived the faint, foolish hope that complete submission might lead to their lord sparing them. How little they understood his sport.  [W]hat delighted him most was the feasting of his eyes on his victims’ faces as they realised they were about to die and the fascinating fading away of the light in their eyes as their life drained from them.


Perhaps the best part of 1066: What Fates Impose is the dialogue. Lively, morose, revealing, engaging, informative and at times waggish, it brings characters to life and links them to others as well as us. The novel covers over two decades within which a rather extensive cast of characters appear. Owing to their numbers and familial links as well as contemporary attitudes dictating responses to events and the actions of others, a great deal of information is presented, and Holloway pulls it off succinctly and in an accessible manner. It is entertaining in its robustness and I would highly recommend it to anyone, naturally, interested in the Anglo-Saxon era or this most important year in English history. I would also, however, enthusiastically name it as a dramatic saga of passion and intrigue, fear and depravity, ego and ambition that just about any reader could get hooked into.

The conclusion of 1066 implies a sequel, and though I have ideas where Holloway might go with it, one really can’t be sure, though that is, as examined above, part of what makes this book so riveting. A brilliant portrait of a fascinating era that ended nearly a thousand years ago, Holloway’s ability to bring us there is all the more wondrous, and I look forward to reading more from this author—and hopefully very soon.

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Author Glynn Holloway writes …

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

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

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

air-detectiveFrom 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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A copy of 1066: What Fates Impose was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review. 

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This post has been updated to accommodate a new image from the Bayeux Tapestry with added caption

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