1066: What Fates Impose, G.K. Holloway
1066: What Fates Impose, G.K. Holloway
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction.
I love history now, hated it at school but have learned so much more via books such as this one. I like to read history by way of characters telling the story, the personal touch, the day to day minutiae. Text book style history leaves me cold, but books like this, where I can feel people are real, can see events happening are perfect for me.
Of course the author has taken certain liberties in doing that, who really knows what was said, why, how things really played out but we know enough from primary source writings to at least take an educated guess as to motives etc.
King Edward comes across as a somewhat weak, peevish character, but determined never to have a child, even though he is married. It makes me wonder, what really went on in his mind, did he just not find women attractive, and that’s why he came up with this “God will provide” excuse about his heir. Was he really celibate? Was he homosexual, his friendship with Robert de Juminiers, and later with Tostig Godwinson seemed very close, but of course it could have been just that, a close friendship. Who knows?
One thing we do know is that lack of a ready heir led to lots of infighting, power struggles, people vying for the position. Frankly I often wonder why anyone wanted to be king back then, its a position that puts an immediate target into place, and was fraught with potential double dealings, not knowing if friends were genuine or just close for what that friendship could give them. Not just kings either, any high position carried those dangers, and dangers to family, with children being seen as potential threats and used as pawns.
I loved the way the story unfolded, how we see behind the scenes to whats going on ( albeit much very imagined). Harold was clearly a very intelligent man, a thinker and strategist, and for me a good man. (Although I was angry about his treatment of Edyth and his later actions, it was pretty common at the time). When he first saw Edyth, and was entranced by her, determined not to marry the lady his father had arranged for political reasons, I felt there was something special between them. Then he says he can’t have a Christian marriage with her as he needs to be free to marry for political expediency, but that he would hand-fast with her, that his parents were devoted and had been hand-fast for over twenty five years. It was the first inkling I got from Harold that though he was a well intentioned man, he was also a very, very ambitious one.
I really felt for Edyth, for all his protestations that it was unlikely ever to happen, he still wanted to leave his options open…but she really didn’t have a great deal of choice. I was angry with him for even thinking it, but it wasn’t uncommon and probably seemed reasonable to him. If she refused Harold, who she was in love with, she’d likely be married off to someone she had no choice in selecting. Even marriages were put aside for political expediency at times, with wives and children suddenly becoming illegitimate when a new wife was wanted for political or power reasons. Rock and hard place for Edyth. I really felt for her, made me think what would I have done? It was little details like that which kept me reading, brought the characters alive.
There are a huge number of characters, and at first I had some trouble with who fitted where. Its an area of history I’m not very familiar with so knew very little of the main players. Gradually they started to form groups in my mind, but even towards the end I had to stop and recall who was with whom, who was on which side, but that’s a failing on my part. The book is long, some 448 pages according to goodreads, which feel about right. It needed all of that to tell the story, to make events unfold naturally, and not feel rushed.
I skimmed the battle scenes, that’s on me, I hate the horror, the deaths and maimings, the sheer cruelty man has for man. I’m aware that all that did happen, life was fragile, cruel, with horror and danger at every step, I just can’t read it without feeling sick. Even so I got a real sense of the cruelty, of the harshness of life, of the way battles were fought without needing to read each bloody ( literally) detail.
Its a book for those like me who love history told as a story, not a set list of people and dates, battles and successions.
Stars: Five, a great read, bringing alive for me a period of history of which I knew little.
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