950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Glynn Holloway

1066: What Fates Impose is a recipient of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medal 2014 (click image for more about the author)

Nearly a thousand years ago today—951, to be exact—a battle took place at Stamford Bridge at East Riding of Yorkshire, between the English King Harold Godwinson and Norwegian Harald Hardrada. Though the Norwegian was aided by the English king’s brother Tostig, the victory went to Harold. Icelandic historian, mythologist, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson writes that before the battle a lone man rides up to Harald and Tostig with a message that the latter could re-gain his lost earldom if he turns against Hardrada. Tostig asks what King Harald would gain from this. “Seven feet of English ground, as he is taller than other men,” comes the reply. Impressed by the now-departed rider’s fearlessness, Hardrada asks Tostig who the man was. Tostig tells him this was Harold Godwinson himself.

Harald and Tostig are both killed in battle and the Norse lose with such severity that only a couple of dozen ships out of their original fleet of some 300 are needed to transport survivors back home. Today author G.K. Holloway, who writes in 1066: What Fates Impose of King Harold in the time leading up to this fateful year, is off to re-enactment of the famous fight which, despite Harold’s win, influenced how the next battle in his struggle to save his country would turn out.

Glynn Holloway joins us today as we look back in time and discuss motivations of Harold as well as William. Why should we remember this era? What happened before and after Harold’s shipwreck? What drove William despite the law standing against him, and the others affected by all this: soldiers, civilians, families, survivors, those who came after? What did it all portend for them, for us? Holloway’s novel portrays both figures, as well as others, thoughtfully and with great care to the reality of how various events affected each other. He speaks today of Anglo-Saxon achievement and what they set out for us before their end, why they matter and how our remembrance of them gives them some justice. I posed some challenging questions, and Holloway takes them up, as in 1066: What Fates Impose, with both sensitivity and passion, the strength of his convictions shining through as he speaks for a people who can no longer do it for themselves.

Welcome, Glynn Holloway, and thanks so much for spending a bit of time again with us as we approach the end of our year-long observance of the 950th anniversary of 1066. It’s been a time of introspection, hard thought and contemplation, remembering all the people who lost their lives at the Battle of Hastings, and who survived – or didn’t – its aftermath. Your fantastic novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, really brings so much of that home for the modern reader, as well as what led up to it all.

Your bio mentions being gifted Ian W. Walker’s The Last Anglo-Saxon King, which inspired you to research and write about the time yourself. Had you learned about it before and wanted to delve deeper? Or was it a cold call, so to speak, in terms of titles?

When my wife, Alice, bought me Walker’s book I had no more idea than the average person about what was happening in England before the Norman Invasion. Walker’s book opened my eyes and made me want to know more. The more I researched the more I wanted to know. Eventually, I thought the end of the Anglo-Saxon era one of the most interesting and exciting epochs ever. I was amazed no one had made an epic film or book about the period. So, I decided to do it myself. 1066: What Fates Impose is the result.

In writing about historical figures, what cautions did you come up against, from yourself and others? What are the ethics of writing about people who really lived?

My main concern is keeping as close to what is known of the facts as I can. No one knows everything about events that led up to the Battle of Hastings. We know quite a lot, the approximate number of soldiers on each side, whose army was filled with professionals, whose was not, who had archers, who did not, etc. Where the history becomes foggy, and there’s quite a bit of fog in the eleventh century, are places like Harold’s reason for journeying to Normandy, how he became shipwrecked, what were the circumstances of his oath swearing to William. This is where the fiction comes in but even so, I tried to keep the story within the bounds of reality. Keep the story real and balanced. If your subject is genuinely exciting, you shouldn’t need to ‘spice it up’ too much. Portray the characters as accurately as possible, even the villains deserve that, and the story should be better for being more ‘real.’ And finally, on a different note, I feel that writers of historical fiction owe it to their readers to present the history as accurately as they can otherwise we’re in danger of obscuring real events and characters and if that happens, then we won’t know what really happened in the past and it follows from there that we won’t know who we are or how we got here.

Whether writing about them or not, do you feel we owe something to Harold Godwinson and the others he fought with and against?

Memorial stone & plaque commemorating the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 1066. The memorial overlooks the site of the Stamford Bridge battlefield, at the end of Whiterose Drive, a modern residential street, by Æthelred [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons (click image)
Do we owe something to Harold Godwinson? Well, he laid down his life for his kingdom and his people. A cynic would perhaps say, well, he owned a massive chunk of the country, so he was only fighting in his self-interest. For the following reasons, I don’t believe that to be true. William offered Harold his daughter’s hand in marriage, she would be Harold’s queen and their descendants would rule after them. This would mean Harold would have to betray/disinherit his family with Edith Swan-neck but he and his descendants with William’s daughter would continue his dynasty. But Harold didn’t take up the offer.

What convinces me of Harold’s sincerity, is his eagerness to get into Sussex in 1066 when William and his army arrived. He took his responsibilities as lord and protector seriously. He left London too early because he felt he’d let down the people on his estates and wanted to defend them. His brother, Gyrth, wanted to implement slash and burn tactics around Hastings to starve out the Normans. Harold would have none of it. He saw it as his duty to protect his tenants, not destroy their livelihoods. Naturally, my respect goes out to Harold’s followers but as to those he fought against, the bulk of them were just out to feather their own nests and this they did with zest.

Is there anything you think Harold could have done or not done that might have changed the outcome of the Battle of Hastings? What helped William the most?

I think Harold’s biggest mistake was not to wait a day or two longer before setting out from London. Having just travelled up to Stamford Bridge, battled against the biggest Viking army to land in England, before returning south, exhausting his forces in the process. If he had waited just that couple of days, Earls Edwin and Morcar would have marched down to Senlac with him, his men would have had a little more rest. That probably would have swung it for him.

What helped William the most? Luck. I don’t say that lightly. William’s first attempt at invading England came sometime around 12th September and ended in disaster. A storm had blown up in the Channel and blown his fleet onto the shores of Ponthieu. It could easily have been worse and his armada might have ended up at the bottom of the sea.

What I will give William credit for is his organizational skills. Putting the army together, building a navy to carry it across the sea is quite a feat, as is supplying his forces for a month while he waited in Dives for a favourable wind to come along. He also had political guile. Gaining the support of the Pope was a master stroke and helped draw additional support for his campaign from many countries north of the Alps.

Knowing Harold and William as you do, what do you think each would have thought of your portrayal of him?

I don’t think William would be too pleased. I portray him as cruel. There are some people who would tell you, this is in the medieval period, things were barbaric but for the harrying of the north alone, and by harrying, I mean genocide, he was more barbaric than any other king of England. I’d point to this for those who say William was no worse than the rest and don’t forget, his contemporaries thought him cruel, so he must have been cruel, even by the standards of the time.

Was he honest or a liar? He had no claim to the English throne. Under English law, the king had to be of royal blood, legitimately born and elected by the Witan. Under Norman law, the title was inherited by primogeniture, i.e. down the male line. William wasn’t eligible under either law, but he claimed the throne anyway. Why?

I think he may have been offered it by someone. If may have been King Edward or perhaps Archbishop Robert de Jumieges. Whoever it was, it wasn’t theirs to offer. But I think William thought he was in the right. He wouldn’t much appreciate me pointing out his error.

I think Harold might well like my depiction of him. He comes across as what he was, handsome, courageous, intelligent, a great leader of men and a good king. He is also not without faults. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he had a tendency to ‘dally and he was too liberal.’ So, not too bad then.

A king and his Witan – from the eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch [British Library] (click image) An entire system of succession and society existed long before the Normans.
If given the opportunity, would you agree to meet with Harold in life? What about William? What would you say to them, and what do you reckon they might say to you? Would you be interested in an encounter with Harold’s ghost? (I don’t think it would be at all like William’s, as portrayed in 1066: What Fates Impose!)

It would be fascinating to meet with Harold in real life. I’d ask him all those what if questions. Where he thought he went wrong. What would he do differently if he had the opportunity? As for William, I think that would be a bit scary but I’d love to know why he really thought he was entitled to the English crown.

Do you think it would matter to either one that we know their history (even long before 1066), or that we believe in the rightness of what either of them did?

I think they would both want to be seen as doing the right thing and be recognised for doing so. I think Harold would be particularly keen to know what we, 950 years after the event, thought of the oath he swore to William and if anyone thought it binding.

What about the ordinary people, combatants and non-combatants alike? Do you think it would matter to them that we know what happened and how they suffered? What considerations do you feel they are entitled to?

Nobody likes to be forgotten and to suffer and have no one know or care would be hurtful in the extreme. I think it would matter to them we know and care. It’s as close as they’ll get to justice.

Do you believe enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today? What would you say to people unconvinced that this history is worth learning about? (Or to people overwhelmed at the thought of studying this period?)

No, I don’t think enough Anglo-Saxon history is taught in schools today. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people know about Anglo-Saxon history from reading Bernard Cornwell’s novels, or TV adaptations, than anything taught in a classroom. Anglo-Saxon history, to many, is the Dark Ages. The Romans left, the lights went out, then the Normans came and switched them on again. While the lights were out the Vikings took advantage, and robbed the churches from the feeble Anglo-Saxons who did nothing much to defend themselves.

The Anglo-Saxons laid the foundations for England and established a proto-democracy with a first-rate administration to back it up. Their society was relatively wealthy and cultured. All this is passed by. You can buy wall charts in England with all the Kings of England represented, starting with William in 1066. I can’t tell you how annoying I find it.

Do any of the characters or historical figures speak to you?

No, they don’t. I can visualize them easily enough and imagine them interacting with each other quite clearly. But no, they don’t talk to me. Heaven only knows what they’d say if they did.

Do you think one could be an effective writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I think a writer is most effective when writing about what they know. So, if you don’t feel emotions strongly, it’s going to be difficult to write about them. My book is historical fiction. It’s all very well researching the history but for people to really engage they need to feel the fear, lust, love, hate, sympathy, etc. A lot of people have told me when they were reading 1066, in the final battle at Hastings, they really wanted Harold to win, even though they knew how it would end. I think that’s, in part, because I feel passionate about the era and what went on and that is conveyed in the story telling.

How do you balance being reader and writer friendly? For example, how do you know or decide how much background information to add and how, so that readers are not put off by either a perceived sense of being “spoon fed” or left hanging by lack of information?

You’ve asked me some interesting questions and this is the most difficult. All I can say is I write what I’d like to read. I can be quite certain my readers would like to know some details about the history, clothes, jewellery, weapons, etc. They wouldn’t be reading historical fiction if they felt otherwise. But where to draw the line? I try to weave things together so I’ll try and merge a scene, say, in a mead hall, with the customs, the kind of food and type of dance by presenting a single scene and not a series of mini lectures. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, while the reader learns a little about Anglo-Saxon life they’ll read an interesting scene which moves the story along.

Do you perform all your research before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were)? Or do you periodically dip back in the archives? Do you go on research trips?

I do the bulk of my research before I start typing but then I’ll come across something that I feel needs flushing out or is more interesting than I first imagined, so then I’ll research around the topic. In 1066, it was herbal medicine, horn dances, sword manufacture, falconry, Anglo-Saxon horse breeding and pagan wedding ceremonies, to name a few.

Research trips, for me, are essential. All the places I’ve written about, I’ve visited, except Norway, and that was because my wife became ill the day we were due to leave. I know they’ve changed a bit since the eleventh century but you get a feel for the places and the lie of the land, whether it be Falaise Castle in Normandy, or Bosham in Sussex.

Why did Harold go to Normandy? Had Edward promised William the throne? Was he now rescinding the offer? Was this an attempt to rescue Wolfnoth and Hakon? Scene 1 of the Bayeux Tapestry. King Edward the Confessor sends Harold Godwinson to Normandy. By Myrabella CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (click image)

What is one thing you would give up to become a better writer?

Twitter.

What does literary success look like to you?

My experience of literary success, if you can call it that, is some great reviews. Someone telling me my book is brilliant (yes, it has happened and more than once). In a word, recognition.

When not writing what do you like to read? What is your favorite underappreciated novel? Nonfiction?

I switch between novels and history books. My favourite underappreciated novel is The Boy with No Shoes, by William Horwood. It’s a beautiful evocation of a boy’s tough childhood in 1950s/60s England.

A few fun questions:

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Pies! I love them.

Are you a morning person?

These days I am but I never used to be.

What do you find difficult to throw away?

Lots of things but I have noticed I have a boundless collection of socks, most of them are full of holes.

What song would you listen to on a loop?

Van Morrison, “Have I Told You Lately?”

Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I like dogs but prefer cats.

Thanks so much, Glynn, for taking time to chat with us and I hope we will see lots more of you!

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Mark your calendar for these events with author Glynn Holloway:

Remainder 2017

Book signing at The Bookshop in East Grinstead on 30th September

Book signing at the Morley Arts Festival on 7th October (10:00 – 4:00).

2018

Hawksbury Upton Indie Lit Fest, Gloucestershire, 21 April 2018 (10:00 – 5:30).

Llangollen Red Dragon Festival, Wales, 18/20 May 2018.

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Per Glynn Holloway, Summer of 2018 should see the publication of the sequel to 1066.  You can sign up for the author’s newsletter at his blog, and keep up with new dates added to his calendar, as well as news about his upcoming sequel. Also,  follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 1066: What Fates Impose is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK. He is also a contributor to 1066: Turned Upside Down.  

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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Click here for my review of 1066: What Fates Impose, and here for links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series. Stay tuned for our closing entry coming in October.

 

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

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

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

“A Dynasty Denied” by Rob Bayliss

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

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

harold_godwinson_02
Coronation of King Harold Godwinson By Anonymus (The Life of King Edward the Confessor) (http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Ee.3.59/zoomer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wulfnoth fled with his twenty ships; obviously he had been a man of power and influence to command such a number. Brihtric gave chase with 80 vessels but he was obviously not the sailor that Wulfnoth was. A storm drove Brihtric’s fleet ashore whereupon Wulfnoth fell upon his hunters and burnt the 80 ships. With a third of his fleet lost the king was unable to stop the Viking invasion of Kent; Aethelred the Unread indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bastard of Normandy Versus the Golden Warrior

Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

William of Normandy

Background

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

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

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

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

Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold Godwinson

Background and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Primary Sources

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

Gesta VVillelmi Ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum – William of Poitiers

Historia Ecclesiastica – Orderic Vitalis

Vita Edwardi – author unknown

Further Reading

Harold: The Last Anglo Saxon King – Ian Walker

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

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

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950: 1066 Remembered, 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.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Have you come for me?’ he asks.

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

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

Then all is hot, black and silent.

what-fates-impose

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

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

About the author ….

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

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

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

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

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

glynn-at-stsamford

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

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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!

bayeux_tapestry_scene29-30-31_harold_coronation
Scenes 29-30-31 of the Bayeux Tapestry. Coronation of King Harold II of England, where he receives the orb and sceptre. To his left stands Archbishop Stigand. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

1066 – One Crown, Four Claimants

G.K. Holloway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner

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

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

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

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

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The Wolf Banner

(Sons of the Wolf Book II)

by Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Drawing extended to December 20

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

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

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