Lands belonging to Harold Godwineson and King Edward

January 27, 2015 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

Land belonging to Harold and Edward

Click for PDF: Lands belonging to Edward and Harold

These maps were taken from Ian Walker’s HAROLD, THE LAST ANGLO-SAXON KING. Because I read that Harold was the wealthiest landowner in England, I was particularly taken with the big difference between what he owned as Earl and Edward the Confessor’s personal wealth. How much would Harold have inherited at Edward’s death?

Walker devotes a whole chapter of his book to Harold’s lands and wealth. According to the author: “There are four principal sources of lands in this period. The first was family land inherited from relatives. The second was ‘bookland’ or land granted by diploma, most often by the king or another lord and in return for loyal service. The third was land attached to an office like that of an earl… The fourth was straightforward purchase.”

We know that Harold inherited a great deal of wealth from his father, who was granted many forfeited estates by Canute. It’s interesting to see how much land Harold owned in East Anglia after having ceded that Earldom to Gyrth. Presumably some of these lands were granted to him by local men to secure his support. Also, his wife Edith Swanneck was wealthy in her own right and many of the estates came with her. We see a heavy concentration of properties in Herefordshire, which probably came from Swegn’s forfeited estates, possibly from the murdered Beorn, and from Earl Ralf, who died in 1057.

The author gave us their relative values, calculated from the Domesday book. In 1066, Harold’s land values were £2846 plus £836 held by his men. The whole Godwine family held lands valued at £5187 plus £1428 for their men, while King Edward’s land was only valued at £3840, plus the value of his men, which was the land of every man in England! I would guess the latter uncalculated value would accrue to Harold once he became king? And what of the rest? It’s pretty mind-boggling to me.

What of Bosham? Perhaps it belonged to his mother? I have more questions than answers, but that’s history for you.

 

Map of Stamfordbridge Campaign

January 18, 2015 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine
FreemanStamfordbridge

Click for larger image

Once again I stumbled across a very helpful map in Volume 3 of Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest. In my mind I had trouble locating the relative locations of these important spots so this is very helpful to me.

The sequence of events:
1) Harald Hardrada lands at Riccall, leaving his fleet there. The small Northumbrian fleet may have withdrawn to Tadcaster.
2) Hardrada and Tostig march to Gate Fulford. Eadwine and Morkere march from York and meet them at Fulford in battle. The English were slaughtered. This happened on a Wednesday; York capitulated on Sunday Sept. 24. Supplies were promised; 150 hostages were given. Hostages from the rest of the shire were also promised, to be delivered at Stamfordbridge. Hardrada returned to Ricall.
3) That same Sunday evening, Harold Godwineson reached Tadcaster by the old Roman Road. He would have had to pass due west of Riccall. Did he know about the fleet?

4) Monday morning Hardrada went to Stamfordbridge with 2/3 of his army, leaving the rest at Riccall. Harold Godwineson marched to York, was greeted enthusiastically, and passed directly through the city toward Stamfordbridge. Apparently Hardrada only reached Stamfordbridge a short time before Godwineson.

I learned that the actual battle was probably fought a little less than 3 miles north of Stamfordbridge and a bit inland at a place called “Battle Flat”.  I’m still working on this confusing scenario!

 

Death of Edward the Confessor, Jan. 5 1066

January 5, 2015 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics
Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59

Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59

We think of King Edward as an old man by 1066, and I suppose by 11th century standards, 63 years of age was getting on there. However, his health declined so precipitously the previous month that Duke William of Normandy was caught unawares, and by the time the Normans got the news, Harold was crowned as a fait accompli.

It was thought by many that Edward’s sudden illness was caused by the revolt of the Northumbrians in October of 1065. This rebellion resulted in the enforced exile of his favorite, Tostig, and the King’s realization that his commands were ineffectual. Edward wanted to call up the fyrd and compel his rebellious subjects to capitulate and accept Tostig back. Alas, because of the lateness of the year and the general abhorrence for civil war, he couldn’t gather enough support for this course of action. Even Harold was unwilling to cooperate, and Edward was obliged to accept the Northumbrians’ terms and acknowledge Morkere as their new Earl, even though their hastily called election was illegal. It was thought that Edward was so humiliated that he suffered a number of strokes as a result.

Whether or not this was the true cause of Edward’s decline, he was noticeably ill by Christmas Eve. He managed to stumble through the next couple of days but took to his bed on the 28th of December, unable to attend the consecration of his great Westminster Abbey. For the next week, he slipped in and out of unconsciousness, but rallied enough to give a long and drawn-out account of a dream he had, predicting the fall and misery of England. It was said that Archbishop Stigand whispered to Harold that this was the babbling of an old man worn out by sickness.

More to the point, the moment had come where Edward was to declare his heir. As with just about everything else, no one knows exactly what happened. If we take the Bayeux Tapestry literally, there were only four witnesses: Queen Editha, Harold, Archbishop Stigand, and Robert the Staller, Edward’s Norman friend who held the King in his arms. It is possible (and I think probable) that there were other witnesses. Nonetheless, the King was apparently  conscious and alert by now, and he addressed the Queen, who he compared to a beloved daughter. Then, according to the Vita Aedwardi Regis, he stretched his hand to Harold and said, “I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection.” He exhorted Harold to care for her and any Normans who chose to stay, or give safe conduct to those who decided to leave. Perhaps wisely, he also commanded that they announce his death at once, so the people could pray for him. Did he fear that Harold would keep his death a secret so he could properly arrange for the succession?

Were his words really so ambiguous? It’s curious that the venerable Edward A. Freedom chose to interpret the statement as “To thee, Harold my brother, I commit my Kingdom” and justified his decision in a footnote. Edward could just as easily have been assigning the regency to Harold rather than the crown, but obviously Harold chose the latter. Interestingly enough, most contemporary documents—even those from Normandy—seem to accept that the King had declared Harold his heir.

It is possible that Harold brought the issue to the Witan that very night, since the following day saw both a funeral and a coronation at Westminster Abbey; I don’t see how there could have been time for a Witenagemot in between the two ceremonies. Without the Witan’s approval, Harold’s kingship would have been unlawful. King Edward’s wishes were secondary, and everybody knew it (except, perhaps, for Duke William). In times of trouble, the country needed a strong hand at the helm and Harold had proven himself a good administrator and a formidable warrior.

Why was King Edward called the Confessor?

January 1, 2015 by Mercedes Rochelle | 7 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

edward_ConfessorEdward the Confessor is the only King of England to be canonized, though I think many would see him as an unlikely saint. Just for the record, up until the 4th century a Confessor was seen as a holy person who was tortured and suffered for his faith but not killed, as opposed to martyrs who were killed for their faith. After that, since persecutions had mostly ceased, a Confessor was a holy person who by virtue of his writings and preachings became an object of veneration. In reality, it seems that Edward’s canonization was more politically driven, as Osbert of Clare, the prior of Westminster Abbey started a campaign in the 12th century to increase the importance (and wealth) of the Abbey.  It took 20 some-odd years, a new Pope and a new King of England (Henry II) to finally canonize Edward in 1161. Ironically, his Feast Day is Oct. 13, the day before the Battle of Hastings anniversary (actually, it had nothing to do with Hastings. That was the day he was translated-moved to his new tomb-by St. Thomas of Canterbury in Henry II’s presence).

What made Edward so holy? Well, it is conjectured that his widow Editha commissioned the Life of King Edward (Vita Ædwardi Regis) partly to glorify the deeds of her family, partly to glorify her husband, and partly to excuse her lack of children. After all, if Edward was considered a holy man who was not interested in the things of this world, his sanctity would include refraining from the marriage bed; she couldn’t be held responsible for England’s fate. Nonetheless, this was our most important source for his life and cast him in a holy light. According to Catholic.org, “By 1138, he (Osbert) had converted the Vita Ædwardi…into a conventional saint’s life.”

Here is a legend I found on the Westminster Abbey website: “Edward was riding by a church in Essex and an old man asked for alms. As the king had no money to give he drew a large ring off his finger and gave this to the beggar. A few years later two pilgrims were traveling in the Holy Land and became stranded. They were helped by an old man and when he knew they came from England he told them he was St John the Evangelist and asked them to return the ring to Edward telling him that in six months he would join him in heaven.” When his uncorrupted body was translated in 1163 the ring was removed and placed with the Abbey relics, which of course were plundered in 1540 when the monastery was dissolved. Edward’s body was moved to some obscure place, but Mary Tudor had it returned in 1557 and replaced the stolen jewels with new ones.

Edward was considered one of the Patron Saints of England until Edward III created the Order of the Garter and promoted St. George in his place, although he has remained the patron saint of the English royal family. He is the first English King to cure people suffering from scrofula, “the king’s evil” by the touch of his hand; William of Malmesbury stated that he was already known for this in Normandy while an exile.  Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of difficult marriages and separated spouses.

Many would see his ungracious treatment of Earl Godwine in 1051, not to mention his insistence that Godwine wreak havoc with the unfortunate citizens of Dover, as unsaintly behavior. But in the end, his ardor in building Westminster Cathedral seems to have overcome any earlier indiscretions.

 

Macbeth Stands Alone

December 18, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in King Canute

JohnFinchMacbethWhat is it about Macbeth that stands out from the other Shakespeare tragedies? I think it might be easier to ask: what makes Macbeth a tragedy at all? Even though his eerie meeting with the Three Witches sets him on a destructive path, his rise and fall are truly of his own making, driven by his hunger for power. We the audience don’t cry for him when he gets killed in the end; rather, we are pretty satisfied by the event. Nor do we mourn Lady Macbeth as she descends into madness and suicide. Shakespeare has other heroes destroyed by their inner demons: Othello is eaten up by jealousy; Hamlet is doomed by his own indecision; King Lear, that old fool, is humiliated by his wicked daughters. Actually, none of these seem tragic to me, but at least we get a morality play of sorts. But not with Macbeth. His is a fairly straight-forward tale of ambition led astray; the bad guy gets it in the end.

Or is it that simple? Macbeth is a pretty multi-faceted story if we take a closer look at it. First of all, there is the supernatural angle. King James I, reigning monarch and Shakespeare’s patron, was the Witch Hunter extraordinaire. Why throw in the witches who seem to get away with wreaking havoc on poor unsuspecting Macbeth (not to mention Banquo, who certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered). Perhaps this was called a tragedy because Macbeth couldn’t resist the Witches’ spells, and so he was really a victim of their evil designs?

If you look at Shakespeare’s source, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, he suggested the Witches could have been “weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie“. The word “weird” has its origins in the Saxon word wyrd meaning fate, or personal destiny.  Some even attribute the first modern use of the word “weird” to Shakespeare. If you look at the Weird Sisters from the Scandinavian point of view, the word wyrd  translates to Urðr  in Norse, namely one of the Norns of Scandinavian mythology who controlled the destiny of mankind. I favor this interpretation and used it in my novel.

Back to James I, if we remember that the King had only been on the throne for three years, there’s a good possibility that Shakespeare was introducing Scottish history to the English masses by glorifying the ancestors of their new King. Macbeth was written one year after the Gunpowder Plot, when James was nearly blown up with his Parliament. Guy Fawkes and his accomplices were horribly tortured, and it has been thought by some that the play was intended as a cautionary story for any other potential king-killers.

So it has been said that Shakespeare wrote this play specifically to please James I, which certainly makes it unique. I would be inclined to throw it in with the History Plays instead of Tragedies; after all, we have the Tragedy of Richard II and the Tragedy of Richard III grouped in with the Histories. Why is that? I see Richard II as much more a tragic figure than Macbeth. Who made this decision, anyway?

On the other hand, the historical Macbeth died two years after the Battle of Dunsinane (and not by the hand of Macduff), so I suppose the play is more imagination than history anyway.

Today is P-DAY! (Publication Day)

December 12, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

Available in Paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com:

Review of HEIR TO A PROPHECY by Nimue Brown

November 26, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics, Macbeth

I’ve read Macbeth a number of times and seen it live as well, including an amazing production in the ruins of Ludlow Castle. If you come at it just as a reader of fiction, it seems to exist in that ancient never never time of mystery and maybe was and probably wasn’t… along with figures like King Lear and King Arthur.

Only, it turns out that Macbeth is a real, historical person who existed at a period of great significance for the British and that his history would have had resonance for Shakespeare’s Jacobean audience.

Mercedes Rochelle picks up on one of the conundrums in Macbeth. For the modern reader/ audience, it’s a bit of an oddity that Macbeth is told he will be King, while his friend Banquo is told he will have heirs who are kings. This apparently drives Macbeth mad with jealousy and leads to him later murdering his friend (sorry if that was a Macbeth spoiler, but it’s where Heir to a Prophecy starts). Banquo’s son Fleance flees for his life, and disappears out of the play. If you don’t know what Shakespeare was alluding to here, then the fact that Fleance is not the chap who shows up to take the throne at the end, rather suggests Macbeth’s witches were having a bit of a laugh, and that Banquo’s bit of prophecy was not truth, but a way of getting him killed. The witches seem to be manifestation of chaos and malevolence, if you don’t know the history.

What Mercedes Rochelle does, is takes us into the history, known and mythologized, of the Stuart line. The line of Kings that led to James the 1st, the intended audience for the play. Many of the characters from Macbeth are visible in this tale. We find out what happened to Macolm, Seward, MacDuff, and others. Shakespeare took actions that lasted more than a decade and condensed them down into five acts. Mercedes puts the time scales back in, following the journey of Fleance, and then his son Walter, to unravel the threads of fate that do indeed seem to make Banquo an ancestor of kings. It is a fascinating tale, blending fiction, fact and myth into a very convincing whole.

While Macbeth murders his way to the top, one Harold Godwineson is wangling for position as the aging King Edward fails to produces a Saxon heir, and on the continent, William of Normandy looks hungrily to the north. What follows is, of course, epic, and will change the face of England forever.

Readers of historical fiction will love this book. If you tend towards fantasy then the mix of supernatural influence, castle building, backstabbing politics and epic battles could easily tempt you out of your usual genre.

On that supernatural subject, Mercedes takes the implication of the Wyrd Sisters, and runs with it. The name alone makes it clear that these three women were never meant to be a random trio of witches, but a manifestation of the three Fates, or Norms, of Norse mythology. They hark back to more Pagan times, but Britain pre-Norman conquest had not entirely forgotten its ancestral roots. The England Shakespeare wrote for, probably largely had, while James the 1st is the monarch responsible for changing the Bible’s ‘thou shall not allow a poisoner to live’ to ‘thou shall not allow a witch to live’.  He does seem to have been aware of Pagan and occult influences, and deeply troubled by them, which in turn begs some interesting questions about what Shakespeare intended in all of this.

Did Edward the Confessor give the crown to Duke William?

November 4, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 1 Comment | Filed in General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine, William the Conqueror

1066-EdwardIn my mind, this is one of the most provocative questions of the Middle Ages. In 1066, Duke William acted with the surety of someone who believed in what he was doing. To take such a big risk, he must have had good reason. William did not have a drop of royal blood in him, and his relationship to King Edward was a bit convoluted; Queen Emma, Edward’s mother, was his great-aunt.  There were closer blood-ties to the English throne than his. So his claim must have relied on Edward’s alleged promise. Interestingly, this claim comes almost exclusively from the Norman chroniclers; the English chroniclers are silent on the subject. That in itself is enough to raise some eyebrows. Or is it?

Much of the argument is based on whether Duke William crossed the Channel and visited King Edward while the Godwine clan was in exile. Florence of Worcester, writing a half century later, states that he did. Modern historians seem to conclude that this was unlikely, as William was still probably fighting to secure his own throne. Of course, this visit or non-visit would determine whether William’s claim was first-hand or second-hand. Did Edward personally declare William his heir, or did the announcement come through Archbishop Robert of Jumièges?

There is a reference that a grateful Edward, still in exile, promised William the crown in their younger days. I think we can safely discard this one, since Edward was about 25 years older than William. It has been suggested that Edward was throwing around promises of succession (kind of like Elizabeth I and promises of marriages). If Duke William did visit England in 1052, it is possible that Edward, cocky after having rid himself of the troublesome Godwines, was asserting his will. Maybe he meant it, maybe he didn’t. Surely Edward knew he didn’t have the right to give away his crown; that decision was made by the Witan.

If we accept the theory that William did not visit Edward in England, then the big promise was probably delivered by Archbishop Robert, presumably after his outlawry on the heels of Godwine’s return in 1052. There seems to be little doubt that Robert kidnapped the hostages Wulfnoth and Hakon when he unceremoniously fled from London. Whether or not this was with Edward’s connivance is uncertain, though it must have reflected unfavorably on the King since they were Edward’s hostages. If Robert did forcibly abduct the boys, this could explain why his exit was so violently resisted; perhaps there was a last-ditch effort to save Godwin’s son and grandson.

What did Robert do with the hostages? Ultimately he turned them over to Duke William. It has been suggested he told the Duke that King Edward declared William his heir with the approval of the Great Earls, and was sending the two hostages as surety. In all likelihood, William was inclined to accept this offer; why not? It all looked pretty convincing on the surface.

This leads us to Harold Godwineson’s fateful visit in 1064, which opens up another slew of questions. The Norman chroniclers asserted that he came on King Edward’s orders to affirm the promise of the crown to William. Or did he come to negotiate the release of the hostages? Or was he merely blown across the Channel by a storm? Regardless, he became an unwilling pawn in William’s grand plan. It appears that the Duke had already made up his mind to go for it! Harold wasn’t permitted to leave until he swore to support William’s claim for the English throne. Although he swore the oath under duress, breaking his vow in 1066 was destined to follow Harold until the end, and probably encouraged the Pope to throw his support behind the Norman Duke—not an insignificant factor.

Could it be that Archbishop Robert made up the whole Edward story, as a personal revenge on Godwine and England for having treated him so shabbily? If he did fabricate the whole thing, it was a revenge served up cold, because Robert died a couple of years later and never saw how far Duke William was willing to go.

 

Dining With a Saxon: Guest post by Regan Walker

October 30, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | 5 Comments | Filed in General 11th Century topics

Bayeux Tapestry, cookingWhile doing research for my medieval romance, The Red Wolf’s Prize, I discovered some interesting things about the dietary habits of those living in England at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. To my surprise, they ate quite well and, for the upper class, their diet was quite varied.

If you were to accept an invitation to dine in the manor house of a Saxon thegn, what you might be served would depend on where in England you were. Wild boar lived in the forests even to the 12th century, as did deer. Your main course could thus be roast venison or boar. There were also game fowl and other birds. If you were in sheep country, depending on the time of year, you might have roast lamb. Meat would have been served more in summer and autumn when domestic animals were killed and game was more readily available, although pigs, sheep and cattle were killed during the winter as well in order to provide fresh meat.

If your thegn lived near a river or the sea, you might be served fish or shellfish. A wide variety of fish was eaten, including herring, salmon and eel, as well as others not eaten as much today such as pike, perch and roach. It is also thought that they ate flounder, whiting, plaice, cod and brown trout. Shellfish, especially oysters, mussels and cockles formed a part of the diet for those with access to them. Fish was eaten fresh, but also preserved for less plentiful times of year. It could be salted, smoked, pickled or dried.

Since the fork was not invented then, you’d be eating your dinner with a spoon and knife. Even women had their own eating knives with sharp blades that could spear a tasty bit of venison.

Of course, there would be bread. They grew wheat, rye, oats and barley: wheat for bread, barley for brewing and oats for animal fodder and porridge. Sometimes a lord’s rent was paid in leavened bread. But even the grains varied by location. Wheat made the finest, whitest bread but it was not grown everywhere. If you were in Southern England, where the main cereal crop was wheat, your bread might be wheat or mixed grains, but in the north, where oats were grown for their weather resistance, you might be served oat-based breads and cereals at certain times. And you’d have butter on your bread. Milk, especially sheep’s and goat’s milk, was used to make butter and cheese.

Eggs from chickens, ducks and geese would also have been eaten although the fowl of the period would not have laid as those of today and the eggs might have been smaller.

Harvesting from 11th Century Anglo-Saxon CalendarYour meal would also be accompanied by vegetables grown in the kitchen garden or on the surrounding farms owned by the lord of the manor. It is known that they had carrots, but these were not the large orange vegetables that we eat today. They were closer to their wild ancestors, purplish red and small. Welsh carrots, or parsnips were also available. Cabbages were of a wild variety, with smaller tougher leaves. And they cultivated legumes such as peas and beans. So, a rich array was available.

If the meal was of the more ordinary variety, you might be served a hearty stew. Peasants ate soups and stews and used meat for flavoring. Such a stew might contain wild root vegetables such as burdock and rape, and onions and leeks, even wild garlic.

Spices were available, so your meal wouldn’t be bland. In Aelfric’s Colloquy, the merchant speaks of importing spices. Food imports were moved around the coast and up the rivers by barge and boat. Depending on your thegn’s location, among the spices used on your food might be ginger, cinnamon, cloves mace and pepper. In Bald’s Leechbook, broths of mint and carrot and ginger, peas and cumin are mentioned.

Salt was a precious, expensive commodity produced from evaporation from seawater and from salt springs in Worcestershire and Cheshire (near where The Red Wolf’s Prize is set). You may recall the Middle Ages expression “below the salt,” which refers to those lesser beings who sat below the place in the table where the salt was placed.

To drink, there would be ale, apple wine and honey mead wine served, most likely, in wooden or pottery cups and mugs, though there is no evidence of handles on these. Horns were also used. After the Conquest, if not before, you might be served wine imported from Normandy or other parts of France.

Dessert might be a healthy affair: apples, pears, quinces, cherries, grapes, peaches and berries—in season and in locations where they were grown. They did have honey as a sweetener, too, and almond cakes were popular though not served every day.

Much of Anglo-Saxon life changed with the coming of the Normans in 1066. For one thing, the new Norman lord owned all the forests and could deny access to the game. The Saxons who were once freemen became virtual serfs. With 5,000 knights to feed, William the Conqueror was quick to claim resources for himself, thereby depriving the English population of the rich diet they once had.


ReganWalker_TheRedWolf'sPrize_600x900

Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

 www.reganwalkerauthor.com

Review of “The House of Godwine” by Emma Mason

October 20, 2014 by Mercedes Rochelle | No Comments | Filed in Earl Godwine of Wessex, General 11th Century topics, The Sons of Godwine

The House of Godwine: The History of a DynastyThe House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty by Emma Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book some months ago, and today, as I was looking up a detail for more clarification, I realized that this volume was full of paper slips marking important passages. Then I realized I never reviewed this book which I keep on hand while working on my historical fiction projects. Well, I suppose this is a classic case of taking a book for granted, since I’m still actively using it.

I find “The House of Godwine” to be a clear, detailed and useful history that goes farther than merely recording pertinent details. Emma Mason skillfully puts “two and two” together and ventures to explain how certain events occurred or why people did what they did. For instance, when Harold launched his lightning attack on the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in 1062: “It has been suggested that Aelfgar died in the Christmas season, possibly while attending court, and that this opportunity was seized to attack his ally Gruffydd ap Llewelyn before he learned of the earl’s death and could reinforce his own position.” Now, I knew about the Christmas campaign for years but never thought to associate it with Aelfgar’s death. This may or may not have happened as suggested, but the explanation is compelling.

In case you are wondering, yes, Emma uses extensive Notes to support her work. In fact, out of 281 pages, the Notes and Index start on page 203. As far as I can tell, she used her sources to best describe an event (such as the Battle of Hastings), then gave references every step of the way. So at Hastings, for instance, she gave us a depiction of the battle with notes every few sentences referencing many different sources. All total the battle description was thorough and it made a lot of sense. The same technique is used throughout the book.

I would say The House of Godwine is not an ideal history for beginners. It is not light reading, but for someone versed in the basics, the details here are welcome and useful. I picked up many things I hadn’t run across before. Another for-instance: “Harold knew that Norman plans for invasion of England were now well under way. William of Poitiers wrote that he sent spies to report back with more detailed information. One of these men was captured and his cover story was blown. He was taken before the duke, but instead of condemning him William seized the opportunity to send a message intended to demoralize his rival…” That’s the kind of detail I just gobble up!

The book starts with a good overview of England’s culture and politics before and during Aethelred’s reign, and ends with how the survivors after Hastings dealt with the new regime. This is where I discovered that Count Alain le Rouge, who led the Breton contingent at Hastings, carried off Edith Swanneck’s daughter Gunhild from her exile at Wilton abbey. Since Alain held much of the land previously owned by Gunhild’s mother, the daughter’s presence presumably calmed his Anglo-Danish tenants. She stayed with him until he died then became his brother’s partner in turn. I learned this tidbit just in time to incorporate it into my debut novel. Needless to say, I was thrilled. This is one book I will have to read more than once.

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