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, 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: The Wolf Banner (With Giveaway)

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

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

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

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

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From The Wolf Banner

by Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

*********

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.

*********

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.

sons
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.

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: Sons of the Wolf (With Giveaway)

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Sons of the Wolf is an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion honoree, another indicator of Paula Lofting’s superior storytelling abilities. (click image)

Today as we look back on the events of the year 1066, author Paula Lofting shares with us an excerpt from her novel Sons of the Wolf, set in the years leading up to the one that would change so much. I first read this novel several years ago and recently re-read and updated my review, which can be found here. I have always seen this particular passage as one of utmost importance, for various reasons having to do with events in the future of Wulfhere, his family and his country.

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See following the excerpt how you can claim your chance to win a copy of Paula Lofting’s magnificent story, Sons of the Wolf.

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Gunnhild was a good organiser and set about preparing the hall for the feast, delegating the work to the helpers in a precise and orderly manner. Winflaed had to agree that she did this with aplomb, unlike her mother whose anxieties about the outcome sent everyone into a state of confusion. Winflaed observed, with secret admiration, how her aunt seemed to facilitate the task with confidence and without disorder, seeming to know exactly what to do and how to do it.

When it came to the wall hanging, she commandeered some men to help them lift it and hook it onto the iron poles that projected from the walls. As she and Winflaed helped to straighten and buffet the dust off it, she told her about the Wulfcynn, who were the followers of, Aelle, leader of the Súþseaxa. More than five hundred and fifty years ago, they had followed him to these shores across the sea from the continent. Their own chieftain had been a man called Wulfgar, who was the forefather of many of the families that now lived in those parts, hence the name prefix Wulf that had traditionally remained prevalent thereabouts. Winflaed forgot her fear of her aunt and found herself entranced by the story. There was something quite exciting about hearing tales of one’s ancestors.

Once the hanging had been positioned to her aunt’s satisfaction, they stood back from the wall to study it in its entirety. Winflaed marvelled at the magnificence of the work. It stretched along most of one side of the wall. It was a little tattered in places, but nothing that could not be repaired. Winflaed’s eyes rolled over it from one side to another before they alighted on the scenes near the end.

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

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

“What is this?” Winflaed turned and saw it was her father who had come to admire the new wall hanging. “Have we acquired new décor for the hall?”

“It came from Grandmother’s treasure chest, Father,” Winflaed replied proudly.

“Yes indeed. I am surprised it has not seen the light of day for so long,” Gunnhild agreed haughtily. “Your daughter and I have saved it from your wife’s clutches. She wanted to burn it.”

Wulfhere studied it intently. “I can see why, wolves howling at the moon. Not the sort of thing that should be hanging in a Christian household.” He observed it closer. “I remember this from when I was a small child,” he said animatedly. “It once hung here in the very same place it is hung now. But Grandmother Gerda did not like it. She tried to make it seem more Christian by adding that scene at the end, but she always said it did nothing to dispel the pagan magic from it and brought them nothing but bad fortune whilst it hung there, so she made my father take it down. He did it for her, though, in truth, I believe he loved it.”

“I remember as children your father used to tell us stories of wolves and the coming of the end of days when there would be the Vargold, the Age of the Wolf. How I loved to listen to him,” Gunnhild said. There was a wistful look in her eye and momentarily, Gunnhild was once more that young girl again, recalling happier times from her past.

Wulfhere nodded. “When chaos would come to this earth, and brothers would battle to the very end, and there would be betrayal and confusion in the lands,” he reminisced. He smiled and shook his head. “But we must not talk of such things in these Christian times.”

“’Tis harmless enough. Nobody in their right minds would believe the tales anyway,” Gunnhild said.

Wulfhere cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “So, our ancestors were mad, is that what you’re implying, Gunnhild?” Then he turned to Winflaed. “What else was in this chest you spoke of, daughter?”

“I’ll show you, Papa.” They left Gunnhild to get on with her work and she took him to where the chest stood. “We had not thought to look for anything else.” Wulfhere studied it and Winflaed could tell he was admiring its beauty.

“Open it, Papa,” she said and he lifted the lid. She reached in and pulled out a small piece of folded linen. It was a much smaller piece than the wall hanging, shaped like that of a standard, the type one took into battle. It was rectangular in shape, with a long body that graded to a tip. The background colour was a shade of amber. At the centre, someone had sewn the emblem, a running wolf, its head shaded with brown and amber threads. Skilful hands had obviously produced it with loving care, but the years had not been kind to it and it was torn, battered and threadbare in places.

“Is it the wolf-king, Papa?” Winflaed questioned admiringly.

“Indeed, I do think it is,” Wulfhere agreed, fingering the broken stitching with a distant look in his eyes. “’Tis your grandfather’s old war banner. He used to ride into battle with it held high, proudly fluttering in the wind above men’s heads.”

He studied it fondly as if he were reminiscing.

“What is it for, Father?” Winflaed asked him softly, sensitive to the poignant look in his eyes.

“It is a war banner, sweeting. Something that a lord takes into battle …” He took a spear down from the wall and hooked the banner onto it, “… and raises it high so that his men will recognise it and rally to him. Just like this,” he said, raising the end of the spear above his head and waving it.

“Does Earl Harold have one?”

“Oh yes, he has the Golden Warrior.”

“And the King?”

He nodded. “The Dragon of Wessex.”

“Who makes it for them?”

“Why, most likely their womenfolk do.”

“Do you have one, Father?”

“Not anymore.”

“Why don’t you use this one?”

“It is in need of repair now.”

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Coin of King Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex when Wynflaed mentions him. Godwinson’s rise to the throne is to shape the direction of Wulfhere’s life. (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

Winflaed climbed into his lap as he slunk down onto the floor by the open chest. Around them, Gunnhild and her team of workers carried on with their jobs, whilst father and daughter were oblivious to their clamour. Winflaed held the banner in her lap. “So the Earl has a warrior, the King a dragon. What is so special about a wolf?” she asked curiously, looking up at her father, her eyes round.

“Haven’t you listened to anything your aunt told you about our ancestors being wolves?” Wulfhere said, pretending to rebuke her.

“But that is just legend, is it not, Father?” She looked up at him with her huge, innocent blue eyes.

“Legend? Good heavens, no! All of it is true! Soon you will have your own wolf hair and then you will see.”

“No, Father, I don’t believe you.” She laughed.

“You mean you have not grown your wolf hair yet?” She laughed as he took her arm and pretended to search it for hairs. “See, here look at these. They are starting to grow already!”

Playfully, she retrieved her arm. “No, they are not!” she declared. “You haven’t told me why the wolf is so important.”

“Because, of all the gods’ creatures, the wolf was considered the most fearsome of beasts,” he replied in an ominous tone. “A wolf meant slaughter was afoot, it is an eater of carrion on the battlefield. No matter who won the battle, it was always the wolf who was the true winner. You see, the wolf need not exert himself…for men show their respect by providing him with their enemies, dead, on the field, for them to feast on.”

She looked at him intently. “Such a fearsome creature!” she said with childlike awe. “Is that why men hate him so much?”

Wulfhere shook his head. “No, little Fléogenda. We do not hate the wolf. He is a creature to be feared and respected, but not hated… And they eat little girls just as easily as they would eat warriors on a field of slaughter!” He playfully attacked her, making wolf noises and nibbling at her neck. She squealed, and her girlish laughter rang out across the hall.

Suddenly she leapt into his arms and covered his face with kisses. “Oh, Father, I love you so! Please don’t ever go away and leave us again!” she begged.

“Daughter, what troubles you that you should say such a thing?” He held her back from him and studied her.

“You and Mother … you fight terribly and I fear that it is my fault.” She began to cry.

“’Tis no fault of yours, sweeting.”

“But we brought you the package, Tovi and I.”

“’Tis not your fault. You weren’t to know the mischief that package would bring. Now dry your tears. Tonight we will have fun and there will be storytelling and riddles and –”

“Father?” Wulfhere looked up. It was Tovi. “Mother wishes that you attend to her upstairs.” There was a look of jealousy in Tovi’s eyes.

Her father patted Winflaed’s back and urged her to her feet. “I will go to her,” he said awkwardly, standing up slowly, nodding at his son.

Winflaed watched their interaction. Wulfhere was attempting to make her sullen brother smile, ruffling his hair; but the boy dodged him and slunk away. Their discomfort made her feel anxious, and she felt her heart palpitate.

Her father looked at her knowing eyes and shrugged. “At least you are talking to me, little Fléogenda.” He bent down and kissed her forehead. “I must go to your mother. I have my orders!” He smiled and walked away.

“Father,” Winflaed called after him. He turned to her. “I would like to fix it for you.” She held the ruined banner up. “So you can have a banner to take into battle.”

“I should like that,” he replied.

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Author Paula Lofting has so generously offered TWO free Kindle copies of Sons of the Wolf to gift to a couple of lucky readers. Simply comment below, OR at the review (here) OR at our Facebook page (here). I’ll do a drawing for two names and will announce winners on November 19. Good luck!!!

Drawing November 19

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

*********

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 sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner, as well as the upcoming Wolf Bane, third in the Sons of the Wolf series. You can find her at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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Stay tuned for my review of The Wolf Banner!

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This post was updated to highlight drawing date

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated, With Giveaway)

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

Sons of the Wolf

by Paula Lofting. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Drawing November 19

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

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

Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author …

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

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

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

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

*********

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

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

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

Book Review: Sons of the Wolf

Sons of the Wolf Book Tour Banner

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

Sons of the Wolf

by Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paula Lofting

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

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

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

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

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

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