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Historical Writers Jolablokaflod

So the blog hoppers from the Historical Writers Forum have come together this December joined by the spirit of the Icelandic tradition of giving books away. So now its my turn and here is a little about me and my books.

Before I start, If you would like a copy of Sons of the Wolf as part of the Jolablokaflod Christmas giveaway, please pop over to Amazon via this link and download a copy for free! Get it soon, though, because it is only free for a week!

You can see the past and future blog posts if you follow this link

I am Paula Lofting and by day I am a psyche nurse and in my spare time I like to write and blog about a particular century that totally fascinates and intrigues me. I love all things historical but my period of interest is the eleventh century, in particular the epoch that saw the tide turn for the early pre-Norman Conquest English. I am also a re-enactor of what is notably referred to the Dark Ages which although a delightful hobby, I take as seriously as I can! My one biggest insistence that I carry into my books and writings is that I aim to be as accurate as I possibly can both in facts and the world in which my characters inhabit and whilst I make it my mission to ensure the narrative of the period is as factual as possible, I want my readers to feel as immersed in eleventh century England as they can be from a thousand years away.

Some years ago, but later in my life, I decided, at a time when I had gone through a lot of difficulties, that I could sit back on my laurels and wallow in my misery, or I could pick myself up and make a life for myself that was far less ordinary. I would not wait for fortune to find me, I would make of my life what I could and I went to college, then to university to study mental health nursing, and it was at this time that I rekindled my love of reading and writing, which had always been my biggest love.

To cut a long story short, and not to be boring you with drawn out details, I became inspired by a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and two books. One was written by Ms Helen Hollick called Harold the King, the other was by famous historian, David Howarth. Hollick’s book gave ne the impetus to write about this period, though not solely about Harold Godwinson, but more focussed of the period as a whole and through the eyes of a semi-fictional character named Wulfhere for whom I have created a narrative of what might have happened to a family caught up in the turmoil of the times. The idea was for the reader to get to know them, invest themselves in them emotionally and then hit them with the barbaric conquest that comes to tear their lives apart so they can experience the devastation of what happened to the English people after the invasion.

And so the first book, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the help of Silverwoods Assisted publishers in 2012, and then I decided I wanted to go it on my own and revised the cover and the contents using my own imprint, Longship Publishing, in 2016 and that was when I published the second book in the series which has since recently been also been revised and streamlined to a less drawn out tome. I did this without changing the structure of the book I might add, The Wolf Banner is still, and will always remain, the same story.

A bit about Sons of the Wolf (book 1) – which is also the name of the series.

The story begins in 1054 as Wulfhere a king’s thegn, ambles home from warring in the north with his righthand man, Esegar. King Edward sits on the throne, content to leave the running of his kingdom in the capable hands of Harold Godwinson,the Earl of Wessex, whilst he enjoys more pleasurable pursuits such as hunting, story-telling, music, and praying.
When Wulfhere’s daughter strikes up an illicit love affair with Edgar, the son of her father’s arch enemy, Helghi, it rekindles an old bloodfeud that threatens to spill over the county. In order to dispel the feud, the Earl of Wessex, orders that Wulfhere’s daughter, Freyda and her lover, Edgar, be betrothed to bring peace between the two families.
But Wulfhere, although he reluctantly agrees, fears that Freyda will suffer at the hands of his enemy and has to find away to extricate himself from the bargain without compromising his honour and loyalty to his Lord Harold.

And so, Wulfhere has to navigate the machinations and intrigues of the court and the hell of the battlefield as well as look out for the enemy at home.

Here is an excerpt from Sons of the Wolf

Wulfhere is alerted to a fire over at the steading of his enemy Helghi and reluctantly takes his men to help them put it out.

Despite his loss of vigour, Wulfhere saw that Helghi fought like a mad boar for his home that night. Everyone in the village capable of hauling a bucket full of water was there, both young and old. Wulfhere suspected, with humour, that the prospect of having their lord as a house guest was enough to inspire the villagers to do their best to save the hall. Helghi was a surly man at the best of times. At his best, even, he was a cruel drunk with a head full of resentment for anyone and anything. He would not make a pleasant guest.

Wulfhere move towards him nervously. In front of him, flames lit up the early morning sky. He paused with some distance between them. He was unsure about the response his presence would provoke, or from any of the others for that matter. So far, there had been a lot of mixed reactions. Some were stunned to see the men of Horstede there; some silently accepted their presence unquestioningly; a few others asked what had alerted them, but none had made any objections. Most likely all were relieved and too busy with the task in hand to concern themselves with their mysterious arrival.

For a moment he stood almost enthralled, as Helghi fought like a mad bull to save his hall from the fire. He summoned up the nerve to approach. Around him was chaos. Men were yelling as they ran from burning houses, salvaging what they could whilst their women chased the livestock here and there to safety. As Wulfhere edged tentatively closer to his neighbour, he was suddenly aware of a woman screaming, somewhere near to the far end of the hall. It was bloodcurdling; he had heard the like before in Dunsinane.

A dishevelled middle-aged woman, her hair uncovered, ran toward him. She grabbed him desperately. “Come help us, good sir,” she cried and then exclaimed, “Oh Lord, save us! What are you doing here, Lord Wulfhere?”

“I and my men have come to aid you,” he reassured her gently.

“Then help my lady save her child!” the woman gasped.

He followed her as she ran around the side of the hall to where a group of women were restraining a younger woman he knew to be Mildrith, wife of Helghi. She was on her knees in the grass, screaming as her women prevented her from running into the burning hut.

“My baby!” she screeched, her hands clawing her face and hair. Every time she made to break free, they held on to her fast, sobbing and begging her to cease struggling. Looking at the hut, Wulfhere assumed that some embers from the byre, fuelled by the wind, had fallen onto the roof of the building and set it aflame.

“Why did I think it would be safe to leave her in there?” Mildrith was crying. Her shoulder-length hair was matted, her face tear-streaked and dusty. “I should have known that the hut was too close to the hall.”

Wulfhere shook his head and looked at the distraught women. He knew instantly that he had to do something. If he walked away and did nothing, he would never forgive himself for leaving a child to burn. “Get me a blanket or something doused in water,” he shouted at the woman who had brought him there. “Your cloak will do!”

The woman nodded and dashed off to do his bidding. The other women looked at him, their mouths dropped open in surprise as they recognised him. Wulfhere reassured Helghi’s hysterical wife that he would get her baby for her. He grabbed her shoulders, put his face close to hers and spoke earnestly to her. She seemed to look right through him and Wulfhere realised there was great fear for her child. He glanced round at the hut and saw why. The fire had taken hold with a firm grip, and the chances of the building collapsing in on him were ominously high. Just then, the woman returned with the cloak doused in water, and he threw it over his head ready to enter the burning hut. For a moment, he marvelled that only two nights ago, he’d returned home after surviving a bloody battle with the Scots; now, here he was, risking his life to save the child of a man whose hatred for him rivalled any enemy he had ever met on the battlefield.

He said a quick Paternoster, and gazing upwards, added, “I hope you reserve a nice comfortable seat for me up there, oh Lord!” Then he kicked the door of the hut, which came away easily, and entered, gingerly.

The intensity of the heat was overpowering. His eyes streamed and stung with the smoke. He was coughing and spluttering and smoke-blind, fearing he could not go in but when he heard a baby’s whimpering, he knew he could not give up.

Flames burned on the front right side of the hut. This was the area of the little building that was nearest the hall. As he tried his best to focus, he heard the child choking from a corner of the hut somewhere behind the flames. He had to get there quickly, for the flames were growing and if she wasn’t burned to death, the smoke would fill her lungs and kill her. As he peered tentatively from underneath the protection of the cloak, he could just about see her outline; the baby was bouncing in fear, and his heart lurched. She was a little thing of no more than a year or so, same age as his Drusilda. She was pressing herself against the wall. Her piercing wails broke his heart as she cried out frantically in her cot. Within seconds, the flames had moved closer to her. Through the smoke, he tried to see another way round. Above was a loft, the floor of which had just started to burn. He hoped that the timbered base would hold out until he could get to her, for he knew they would be done for if it came down. He thought about running back out for water, but the thatch on the roof in the middle was beginning to burn and he knew there was no time.

“Stay with me, God, and help me,” he prayed. “Lord, if you let me live today, I promise to do more good deeds.” He crossed himself, kissed the little iron crucifix that hung about his neck, and lunged forward.

His outstretched hands felt for her, but he could barely see because of the flames and the smoke. Behind him, he heard something crackle and collapse, and he tried not to think of it. What mattered most at that moment was what was before him. He managed to grab the screaming infant and tucked her under his right arm. With his free hand, he drew the cloak closely over them both. When he turned to get out, he saw that the way was now blocked by the blazing thatched roof which had collapsed into the interior. He felt the heat searing toward them and the smell of burning oak was almost suffocating.  The little girl clung to him, smothered against his heart, whimpering with terror. He had to find a way to get her out.

And here are some reviews to wet your appetite!!

5.0 out of 5 stars Sons of the Wolf Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 June 2013Verified Purchase

Paula Lofting transports us back to 1054 England, to a time of political upheavel and warrior kings, religious interference and hero’s. We are introduced to the family of Wulfere, Thegn of Harold Godwineson and father of six. Through this inperfect but loyal subject, we are shown a colourful and vivid picture of life in medieval England, from struggling family life at Horstede to the clash of the political heavyweights of ancient europe. We find wonderfully real characters and family members who feel like our own, to the giants of european history both woven into a rich and vibrant story. With a deep knowledge of the time, Paula leaves no stone unturned, you can feel the atmosphere and smell the changing seasons. Clever sub plots intwined with historical knowledge and a perfectly timed splash of old English help to paint a picture thats trully believable. Having already enjoyed this book twice i find myself drawn to a third adventure whilst writing this, if only to catch up with Wulfere,s twins. i cant wait for the second installment in the series to check what mischief and mayhem Wulfric and Wulfwin will cause, bravo Paula a real gem and the nicest feeling cover i’ve ever held.

5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read…

Showing a comprehensive knowledge of pre conquest Britain, Paula Lofting has taken historical fiction to a whole new level, skilfully interweaving factual and well recorded events with the fictitious lives and loves the thegn Wulfhere and his family, neighbours and affinity. Wulfhere and his neighbour Helghi were real people who appeared in the records. Although the lives they led is unknown, Ms Lofting’s accounts of the family relationships – the marital problems, the bickering between the children, the tantrums of a teenager in love – are all so clearly described as to show a true understanding of human nature throughout the years. The book is carried smoothly by vividly realistic conversations and wonderfully picturesque descriptions which add greatly to the sense of time and place. The reader feels inside the book with the characters, living and breathing and seeing what they experienced. Ms Lofting’s knowledge of the history of the era is as comprehensive as her knowledge of the early language, yet never does the reader feel as if they are reading a lecture. I liked the personal nature of the story and its focus on Wulfhere and his family and their struggles amidst war and personal feuds. Wulfhere also takes part in actual historical events whilst in service to the King.The characters feel like real people, with complex human emotions.

The book itself is beautifully presented with a wonderfully designed eye catching cover and helpfully includes pronunciation and place names guides, as well as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, which is very helpful.

Sons of the Wolf is the first in a series of novels about the Norman conquest of England. I enjoyed this book very much and found it a delightful read. The wealth of historical detail keeps it from being a lightweight. I look forward to reading the next in the series!”

4.0 out of 5 stars A good read – and real life beats fiction. Reviewed in the United States on 3 August 2013Verified Purchase

“Set in the 11th century, a decade or so before the battle of Hastings, the Sons of the Wolf tells the story of Wulfhere, thegn of Horstede and his family. That Horstede had a thegn named Wulfhere is established fact as per the Domesday Book (a very nice touch in my opinion), but the author makes it very clear that apart from the name and the location, her Wulfhere is a fictional hero, however involved he is in the actual events of his time.

The novel has a substantial amount of cameo characters, most of them based on real people. Harold Godwinson, Edward the Confessor, Gruffyd of Wales – they all make an appearance in Ms Loftings novel, and in general I think the author does a very good job in breathing life into these long dead people. In particular, Ms Lofting has done an excellent job depicting the Godwinson brothers – and their sister, Queen Edith. The historical context is rich and well-described, and I was particularly impressed by the description of the Battle of Hereford – Ms Lofting succeeds in conveying the grime, the blood, the sheer terror of fighting hand to hand.”

 5.0 out of 5 stars Trouble at home and on the battlefieldReviewed in the United States on 11 November 2014Verified Purchase

Sons of the Wolf brings us into the turbulent eleventh century where violence is just a breath away and can come from any direction. Wulfhere, our protagonist and thegn of Harold Godwinson, has recently come back from the Battle of Dunsinane in Scotland when he faces his own battles at home. In a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance, his daughter Freyda has reawakened a generations-old feud between Wulfhere and his despicable neighbor Helghi. In an attempt to keep the peace, Earl Harold insists that the wayward lovers should marry in order to put the feud to rest. Alas, it is not so easy for Wulfhere and matters go from bad to worse as he watches his family fall apart.

At the same time, we are drawn into the troublesome quarrels between Harold and his siblings, and a new conflict arises with Earl Aelfgar, whose resentment of the Godwinson clan boils over. Aelfgar oversteps himself and is outlawed, which drives him to join forces with Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, King of Wales. Together, these new allies descend on the important border town of Hereford. Once again Wulfhere must fight for Harold, and we see the dreadful battle at Hereford where England’s first attempt at cavalry fighting comes to an inglorious end.

Paula Lofting’s historical narrative is gripping, and she effortlessly pulls the reader into the midst of the action. Her characters are well-defined and compelling, and we come out of the novel with an enhanced understanding of just how destructive a bitter feud can be.

So I hope you will avail yourself of a free download of Sons of the Wolf book 1 I can guarantee that you will be in for a real historical ride! And if you are hooked, I am giving away a paperback edition of The Wolf Banner anywhere in the UK all you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog or on the post on our Facebook Blog hopper’s page

And if you enjoy both books, coming soon, the third in the series is coming soon in the new year!

The Mallory Saga Books 1-3

Paul Bennett, author of the Mallory Books tells us about his American story

I’ve know Paul for quite some time now, firstly as a reviewer of books and then later as an author in his own right. I’m ashamed to say I have not yet picked up his books yet and thought it was about time to find out more about them, especially as I have always had an interest to know more about this exciting, harrowing, and dramatic time in history.

So without further ado, I give you Mr Paul Bennett!

The inspiration to write was, in the beginning, merely to see if I could do it.  I had written short pieces over the years but to tackle a full blown novel was a daunting prospect.  Once the seed was planted I came up with a rough idea of telling the story of three siblings living somewhere in colonial America.  Choosing that general locale was a natural fit for me as I’ve been a lifelong student of American history and I felt that if I was going to write a historical fiction novel, it might be prudent to choose a subject I knew a little about. I picked The French and Indian War as the starting point for what was now becoming a possible series of books that would follow the Mallory clan through the years.  That war intrigued me and I saw a chance to tell the story through the eyes of the Mallory family.  It also provided me with the opportunity to tell the plight of the Native Americans caught up in this conflict.  The French and Indian War paved the way for the colonies to push further west into the Ohio River area.  It also set the stage for the events of the 1770’s.  Britain incurred a huge debt winning that war and looked to the colonies for reimbursement in the form of new taxes and tariffs.  Well, we all know how those ungrateful colonists responded. 

As to the name Mallory – I have a photo hanging on my living room wall of my great grandfather, Harry Mallory.  I got to know him when I was a young boy and was always glad when we visited him.  He lived a good portion of his life in western Pennsylvania which is where much of Clash of Empires takes place.  So, as a gesture to my forebears, Mallory became the name of the family. 

Clash of Empires

In 1756, Britain and France are on a collision course for control of the North American continent that will turn into what can be described as the 1st world war, known as The Seven Year’s War in Europe and The French and Indian War in the colonies.  The Mallory family uproots from eastern PA and moves to the western frontier and find themselves in the middle of the war. It is a tale of the three Mallory siblings, Daniel. Liza and Liam and their involvement in the conflict; the emotional trauma of lost loved ones, the bravery they exhibit in battle situations.  The story focuses on historical events, such as, the two expeditions to seize Fort Duquesne from the French and the fighting around Forts Carillon and William Henry and includes the historical characters George Washington, Generals Braddock, Forbes and Amherst.  The book also includes the event known as Pontiac’s Rebellion in which the protagonists play important roles.  Clash of Empires is an exciting look at the precursor to the events of July 1776; events that will be chronicled in the second book, Paths to Freedom, as I follow the exploits and fate of the Mallory clan.

Paths to Freedom

In Paths to Freedom the children of the three Mallory siblings begin to make their presence known, especially Thomas, the oldest child of Liza and Henry Clarke (see right there, already another family line to follow), but Jack and Caleb, the twin sons of Liam and Rebecca along with Bowie, the son of Daniel and Deborah are beginning to get involved as well. The French and Indian War, the historical setting for book 1, was over, and the Mallory/Clarke clan is looking forward to settling and expanding their trading post village, Mallory Town, now that the frontier is at peace. And for a time they had peace, but the increasing discontent in the East, not so much toward the increasing rise in taxes, but the fact that Parliament was making these decisions without any input from the colonies, slowly made its way west to the frontier. Once again the Mallory/Clarke clan would be embroiled in another conflict.

Another facet of my saga is that the main characters are not always together in the same place or even the same event. In Paths my characters are spread out; some have gone East, some have gone West, some are sticking close to Mallory Town, so in effect there are three stories being told, and that means more plots, subplots, twists and surprises.

One of the aspects of the lead up to The Revolutionary War was the attempt by the British to ensure cooperation with the Native Americans, especially the Iroquois Confederation. The British had proclaimed that they would keep the colonies from encroaching on tribal lands, a strong inducement indeed. However, some tribes, like The Oneida, had established a good relationship with the colonists. I knew right away when I started book 2 that the relationship between the Mallory’s and the tribes would be part of it. Among the historical Native Americans who take part in Paths are the Shawnee Chiefs; Catecahassa (Black Hoof), Hokoleskwa (Cornstalk), Pucksinwah (father of Tecumseh), and the Mingo leader Soyechtowa (Logan).

I also realized that I needed to get someone to Boston, and the Sons of Liberty. Thomas Clarke, the eighteen year old son of Liza and Henry, was the perfect choice for the assignment (mainly because he was the only child old enough at the time). J Through him we meet the luminaries of the Boston contingent of rebels, Paul Revere, Dr. Joseph Warren, John Hancock, and the firebrand of the bunch, Sam Adams. Plenty of history fodder to be had…British raid in Salem…Tea Party…the famous midnight rides…culminating with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Oh yes, plenty of opportunities for Thomas.

An untenable situation arises in Mallory Town resulting in Liam and his two companions, Wahta and Mulhern, finding themselves on a journey to the shores of Lake Michigan and beyond. Driven by his restless buffalo spirit, Liam has his share of adventures; encountering a duplicitous British commander, meeting many new native tribes, some friendly, some not so much. A spiritual journey in a land not seen by many white men.

I ended Paths with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first shots of The Revolutionary War. The flint has been struck; the tinder has taken the spark. Soon the flames of war will engulf the land, and the Mallory clan will feel the heat in the third book, Crucible of Rebellion.

Crucible of Rebellion

The timeline for Crucible is 1775 – 1778. I decided to split the Revolutionary War into two books, mainly because there is so much more action as opposed to The French & Indian War…and because as I was writing, my characters insisted on some scenes I hadn’t previously thought of. Book 4 of the saga is in the planning stages. Tentative title – A Nation Born.

The three Mallory siblings, Daniel, Liza, and Liam play important parts in CoR, but it is their children who begin to make their marks on the saga. Their youngest son, Ethan, and their daughter Abigail, of Daniel and Deborah travel with their parents to Boonesborough, and reside there with Daniel Boone. The war reaches even this remote frontier, prompting Daniel and Deborah to move further west in search of peace. However, the banks of The Wabash River prove not to be immune to conflict.

Their eldest son, Bo accompanies Liam’s twins, Jack and Cal, first to Fort Ticonderoga, then to Boston with a load of cannon for General Washington’s siege of Boston (the Noble Train of Artillery with Colonel/General Henry Knox). In Boston they meet up with Liza and Henry’s son Thomas, who is no longer a prisoner (can’t say more than that) J, Marguerite, and Samuel Webb.

General Washington has plans for the Mallory boys…plans which see some of them in a few of the more important battles of the war… the escape from Long Island, the surprise attack at Trenton, the turning point battles at Saratoga NY, as well as taking part in numerous guerilla type skirmishes.

A long ways away from the conflict Liam, with Wahta, are living with the Crow along the Bighorn River. Liza and Henry made the trip to Boonesborough with Daniel and Deborah, but do not go with them to The Wabash….they have their own adventures.

Although I write fiction tales, the historical aspect of the saga provides the backdrop. History is often overlooked, or is taught with a certain amount of nationalistic pride, whitewashing controversial events, much to the detriment of humankind. So I hope that what I write might help broaden the reader’s horizon a bit, that what they learned in school isn’t necessarily the whole story. Two main historical topics in the story of America that frequent The Mallory Saga are slavery, and the plight of the indigenous people who have lived here since before the founding of Rome; two historical topics that linger still in America’s story. Entertainment and elucidation; lofty goals for a humble scribe telling a tale.

The Humble Scribe

I am a retired (recently) data center professional. Not that I started out thinking I would spend nearly 50 years working in mainframe computer environments. My major interests, scholastically, in high school, and college were history, and anthropology. The Cuban missile crisis, Bay of Pigs, assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, etc., were some of the events that shaped me, forming the basis for my cynical view of government. One of the results of this “hippie attitude” was that I quit school, and my job, taking a year and a half off to travel a bit, and enjoy life. During that period I began composing the odd poem or song lyric, but I knew in my heart, and from experience writing school term papers, final exams, and the like, that I was a prose writer. My favorite fantasy for my future at the time was to become a forest ranger sitting in some fire watch tower writing the great American novel. Life intervened, however, and I put that dream aside to marry, and raise a family, which meant I needed to be employed, thus decades of staring at computer screens ensued. As time went on, I began writing about the golf trips I took with my buddies. At first they were humor laced travelogues, but now they are fictional tales of my friends; the golf becoming a vehicle for creating a story. Then in 2013, I started writing book reviews, and communicating with authors about the process of writing a novel. My dream to write the great American novel returned.

Well I hope I’ve piqued your interest in American historical fiction, and in particular The Mallory Saga. If so moved, the buy links are below. Crucible of Rebellion will be out soon. Follow the progress of The Mallory Saga here:

Facebook Page

Mallory Saga WordPress Blog

Clash buy link

Kindle

Paperback

Paths buy links

Kindle

Paperback

Paperback

Paths buy links

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Paperback

My Favourite Historical Figure: Harold Godwinson

Blogtober has been a lot of fun for us at @Histwriters and I’ve met a lot of amazing new characters along the way. It wasn’t hard for me to choose my favourite character for he is at the centre of the saga I am writing, the Sons of the Wolf series.

Most of us know Harold Godwinson as being the chap who usurped the English throne, which should rightfully have gone to William the Conqueror, right? And that he was killed by an arrow that pierced his eye and then hacked down as he was dying? Well, he probably deserved it for stealing another man’s crown, didn’t he? Not only was he a usurper, but he was also a womaniser, a breaker of oaths, betrayer of brothers, and an avaricious, greedy man, who amassed his wealth through deceit. We’re told that he and his troops spent the night before battle carousing and drinking so loudly they heard it in the Norman camp all the way in Hastings! No wonder they lost. So just why am I a Haroldite? What qualities make me ignore all the negative facts about him and put him forward for my favourite character in history?

I am about to tell you.

Many people still buy into the myth that Harold was felled by the arrow in the eye, however I am not one of them. Unfortunately, we have no written account from anyone who was actually present at the battle, and even if they were, how much of the battle would they have been able to see. If we could have had several eyewitness accounts, we might have been able to put them together. As it is, we don’t, and therefore we can only rely on what we have in terms of what was considered contemporary or near contemporary. Nonetheless we can objectively make a study of the primary sources and the Bayeux Tapestry, and then subjectively piece together what we think really happened as best we can. The Bayeux Tapestry is the main contemporary source that appears to portray the arrow in the eye story but written sources tell a different story and I believe that the death of Harold, which more-or-less ended the battle, was far more gruesome than a mere arrow in the eye. Lets taken an overview of Harold’s life.

Harold felled by an arrow on the Bayeux Tapestry, but was this all that it seemed to be?

Harold was born, circa 1022, to parents Gytha Thorkelsdóttir and Godwin son of Wulfnoth. His mother (aforementioned) was of noble Danish blood and Godwin, his father, was the son of a Sussex thegn whose lineage some say might have descended from the Royal House of Cerdic. He was the second eldest of a vast brood of 6 brothers and 2 sisters, one of whom became Queen of England when she married Edward the Confessor. There was also a grandson, Hakon, said to have been the son of Swegn. Hakon plays only a small part in the tale of the Godwinson’s downfall, along with the only son to survive the destruction of his family, Wulfnoth.

Harold’s early career is not known until, like his brother Swegn, he was invested with an earldom. Swegn drew the short straw because he ended up in charge of the troublesome Welsh border lands while Harold got East Anglia which covered a swathe of lands from Norfolk southwards to Essex. Harold went on to command a fleet of ships for King Edward, and was engaged in some conflicts with foreign pirates who were using European coastal regions to launch their raids. Harold 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 collect revenue, oversee transfers of land, witness charters, and attend the king on a regular basis.

Harold with William in Normandy

It seems that around this time, he met the rich heiress, Edith Swanneck – her name was actually Eadgifu the Fair, and Edith Swanneck was a misspelling in a later chronicle. She and Harold probably married in an equivalent to a civil ceremony, known as a more danico, or handfasting. She brought Harold much wealth, land, and power and he was also gifted land by those wanting to curry favour with their earl. Land and wealth equalled power in Medieval times and Harold was no different to any other ambitious man wanting to improve his standing in life.

What was life like amongst such a huge brood of boys like back then? One can imagine the household was probably very boisterous and fraught at times. Godwin, their father would have had to have been a strong disciplinarian when at home to keep some sort of order in the household. I suspect poor Gytha was at home managing the family and household on her own quite a lot with Godwin’s responsibilities as Earl of Wessex. They may have employed a strict childemaester, because we know that Godwin and Gytha educated their children; Harold was known to be a keen reader and he and Tostig were referred to as ‘intelligent’ in the Edwardi Vita.

School tools: whale-bone writing-tablet and styluses from the middle Anglo-Saxon period

There are anecdotes about the family, though perhaps not from a reliable source, and Tostig and Harold were once chastised as boys, for fighting at the dinner table in front of the king. Tostig was said to have grabbed Harold by the hair. Ouch! Later, Harold was to find it difficult to support Swegn when he was in trouble with the king for numerous offences, including carrying off and deflowering an Abbess, and the murder of his cousin, Beorn. Harold retrieved Beorn’s body from where it had been dumped at sea and had him properly buried. Harold was not able to forgive Swegn and called for Swegn’s exile. Godwin disagreed and begged the king for mercy for his eldest, even though Swegn denied he was his father, claiming to be Cnut’s son. Godwin obviously thought the sun shone out of Swegn’s backside and I wonder how Harold felt about that! Swegn eventually died during a pilgrimage in Constantinople.

Harold and Tostig go at each other in front of the king

These insights (if accurate) into the family dynamics make them an interesting bunch, their issues so like today’s. If Swegn, the black-sheep-of-the-family with narcissistic anti-social traits, was alive today, he’d probably have been on drugs, fathered several illegitimate kids, been in prison for domestic violence, and in numerous rehabs before overdosing to death on smack.

Tostig would probably have been the jealous, resentful, secretive one, who reckoned his problems had nothing to do with himself and everything to do with Harold. He would have seen Harold as his enemy, and no amount of persuading him otherwise would have shifted him from that view in 1065 when Harold’s failure to support him against the Northerners, was seen as betrayal. He probably felt he’d long lived in Harold’s shadow, despite being his sister’s apparent favourite. Towards the end of his life, he must have despised his brother, and I can’t help but wonder what they had fought about, if true, that day at court when they were younger.

The Godwinson brothers, Leofwin and Gyrth, are depicted being killed on the Bayeux Tapestry

We know very little of Gyrth and Leofwin, though the Vita suggests they were considerably younger. There is evidence that Harold and Leofwin may have been close, as they were in Ireland together when the family were exiled in 1051/2. Godwin, Gytha, Tostig, and Gyrth fled to Flanders whilst Harold and Leofwin went to Ireland to drum up support from the Irish king. Later on, Gyrth apparently offered to lead the troops into battle at Hastings, so that Harold could wait in London for the rest of his army, which suggests that along with their differences there was also great loyalty.

Godwin must have been a huge influence on his sons, especially Harold, who stepped into Swegn’s shoes when he died in 1052, and then succeeded his father as Earl of Wessex. Godwin was a formidable administrator who had served six kings. He was loyal to Edmund Ironside, and after his death, joined Cnut’s service. Godwin had little choice but to accept the new king, as there was no real English contender. Cnut favoured Godwin over men like Streona who had switched sides and betrayed Edmund at the battle of Assandun, suggesting that Cnut valued loyalty

Cnut has Eadric beheaded

Godwin was not as loyal to the kings who followed Cnut and Edmund, his allegiance wavering between Cnut’s two sons, Harthacnut and Harold Harefoot. During Harefoot’s reign, Godwin handed over Prince Alfred, Edward the Confessor’s brother, to Harefoot’s henchmen who had him blinded. Godwin swore an oath that he did not cause his death, but when Edward the Confessor burst onto the scene in 1042 as king, Godwin for the first time, found himself at odds with a reigning monarch and the death of Alfred seems to have been an important factor in Edward’s dislike for Godwin.

In 1051, Godwin rebelled against King Edward when the monarch, his father-in-law, demanded that he punish the men of Dover for their not so friendly behaviour towards Edward’s brother-in-law, Eustace of Boulogne and his French retinue on their way home after a visit to the king. Godwin was not about to harm his own people by burning their homes and was prepared to risk the wrath of the king for their sakes. Because of this, the whole family was sent into exile. In the summer of 1052, Godwin returned to England, reunited with his sons and took back his lands and titles. The following year, Godwin died and Harold became Earl of Wessex

Attack on Dover, llustration by Edouard Zier from a History of England, 1903

Harold might have inherited Godwin’s characteristics: determined and single minded, ambitious and wily; patient, compassionate, forgiving, loyal, and honourable; but also ruthless when necessary. Orderic, the chronicler, wrote of Harold that he “was distinguished by his great size and strength of body, his polished manners, his firmness of mind and command of words, by a ready wit and a variety of excellent qualities. But what availed so many valuable gifts, when good faith, the foundation of all virtues, was wanting?” Where Orderic got his information is not known. Given that he had been born in 1075, it was not possible that he had ever met Harold, although he may have met somebody who had.

We can only glimpse historical personages, especially in preconquest England where much of what was known has been lost. The chronicles are often written as propaganda, or very subjectively. Sometimes, we can imagine what a man was like by what we know of his deeds. It seems to me that many of the negative accounts of Harold’s character come from Norman propaganda and outside of that, it is hard to judge. Harold appears to have been amiable, much liked, fair and just, although he could also be ruthless, as his actions in Wales have proven. Then again, Gruffudd, King of Wales, caused havoc in English border lands and gave harbour to recalcitrant English earls.

Harold had been involved in negotiating with the Welsh king and was very patient, even after Gruffudd broke the treaties time and time again. Eventually Harold lost his patience and made a spectacular lightning strike with mounted troops into Wales, bringing death and destruction to the countryside. It took a second, large scale two-pronged invasion along with Harold’s brother Tostig to finally defeat the Welsh, who handed over their king, minus his body.

A few years later, Harold, by then in his forties, was to repeat the impressive feat of covering territory at speed when he marched his huscarls 200 miles northwards, gathering an army on the way, to surprise Tostig and Harald Hardrada and to defeat them at Stamford Bridge. It required strength and stamina to carry out such fatigues and to then march back to fight a battle at Hastings within three weeks was remarkable, not only for Harold but for his huscarls who must have been powerful, strong, fit men. One can’t help but think of Orderic’s description of Harold’s strength of body and his singlemindedness.

Harold seems to have been Edward’s chief negotiator and a loyal servant of the crown. He was referred to as Dux Anglorum which meant that he was Edward’s number one man and the second most powerful man in England, bar the king. In fact, he appears to have had more power than even the king, and was able to influence Edward’s decisions. For example, he refused to back Tostig when the northern thegns, fed up with Tostig’s harsh rule in the north, wanted him out in favour of Morcar, brother of the Mercian earl, Edwin. Such a move was unprecedented around this time and Edward was not having it. He ordered his general to force them to cease their demands using military might. But Harold overruled the king, and Tostig, his own brother, had to go.

Was Harold jealous of his brother because he was the king’s favourite, or was he simply able to put aside brotherly love in order to avert a civil war? I cannot discount the first; Harold was human and may have been concerned for his own position, but with Hardrada and William of Normandy both watching the crown, one would not want to incite a rebellion that would divide the kingdom and make her vulnerable. Ultimately, Harold’s actions, whether those of an angry, jealous brother or not, showed that he would put the interests of the country and the people above that of family and even the king.

And what of Harold’s faithlessness which Orderic refers to? Historians are divided over the two versions of Harold’s trip to Normandy, the Norman and the English. In both versions, Harold is said to have made an oath to William that he would become his loyal vassal in England, and that upon Edward’s death, Harold would support William’s claim to the crown and ease the way for William succeeding to the throne of England. Orderic is not specific when he accuses Harold of faithlessness, but it is reasonable to assume that he was referring to this oath. Orderic, of course, was half-Norman and supported William’s claim.

Eamer, a writer of English history, states that Harold did not go to Normandy to bend the knee to William but to secure the release of the English hostages, his brother and nephew, who had been taken there by the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury in 1052. This seems much more likely than the story he had gone to offer his support to William. Why would he agree to become his vassal in England? Harold was the equivalent to a duke, a Dux Anglorum, second to the king. His status was as high as William’s. Furthermore, Harold could not be William’s vassal whilst Edward still lived.

Eadmer claims that the oath Harold made to William was made under duress, and could honourably be broken. I don’t think Harold betrayed William at all. I think William used his local power to hold Harold hostage in a strange land and to coerce Harold into making that oath. This meant Harold did nothing wrong in using Church law to break an oath that was made under fear for his life and those of his companions and relatives. William had a reputation of making people disappear. Harold was not in any position to refuse him.

Harold making his oath in Normandy to William, swearing on holy relics

Looking at the available evidence, Harold may have been one of the best kings of the era, and possibly one of England’s most promising kings, had he been given that chance. He was ambitious, like many men of his time. He was confident, wily, and not afraid to put himself forward. When Edward lay dying, he would have discussed his manifesto with the other nobles who would have weighed up all their concerns especially the threat to England from other shores. They knew that to safeguard the English people’s interests and way of life, a strong, experienced leader would be needed. Edgar, the atheling, had been Edward’s intended heir, but Edward would have known that the kingdom needed someone like Harold, not an inexperienced boy in his early teens. I believe that is why in the end, he named Harold as his successor and why the witan agreed to elect him as king.

When Harold’s star began to rise in the 1040s, it was plain to see that he was a capable, loyal, general. He did what he could to avoid conflict within the realm on Edward’s behalf as if he had the foresight to conserve what energy England had for the really big event that was to come.

Harold was not just a warrior, diplomat and a king’s administrator, he was a husband and father. He remained loyal to Edith, his first handfasted wife until he wed the sister of the northern earls to bind them to him. It was customary in the 11th century for men in power to wed unofficially, so that they could make political alliances when they needed them. If the story that Edith was on the battlefield looking for his body after Hastings is true, then they must have still remained close enough for her to be there. His other heavily pregnant wife, Ealdgyth, who had been King Gruffudd’s first wife, had been taken to Chester for her safety by her brothers.

Edith Swanneck looking for Harold’s body

Harold could have been a great king if he had lived. It was said, when he became king, that he made laws that would curb the unlawful doings of men and had been making changes in the kingdom for good. When Harold was told that William had landed on the Sussex coast and was ravaging his lands, he wanted to engage the invaders as soon as possible for it was his people’s lands that were being ravaged as well as his own. William would have known the psychological effect this would have had on Harold. William and Harold had been friends and William probably knew his weaknesses. Harold had saved men from drowning when on campaign with William in Normandy, William knew he would not stand by and watch people die.

Some people believe that in taking the throne from Edgar, Harold showed his greed and ambition, and yes. he was ambitious and to be able to make a bid for the throne, a man had to have power. Wealth was power, as I have already said. But why should Harold not be king? Why should he have just settled for regent and perhaps fought the battle for Edgar on his behalf? Over the years, he’d certainly earned it. It should have been his time and when he died at Hastings, set upon by the Normans determined to see him dead, that chance was stolen from him. He died fighting for his land, his people and to keep England free of Norman enslavement. For me that is the epitome of kingship, and that is why he is on my favourite historical character list.

To see the rest of the blog posts that came before Harold’s, just check out these sites! You can also find links to these other participants on our Historical Writers Forum Blog Hoppers Page

The above article relates to research done for my Sons of the Wolf series

Introducing the Poynings – Part II, Rebellion and Recovery

I just love anything Sussex!

Bev's Historical Yarns

Michael Poynings, Adam’s heir was first seen actively managing the Sussex lands in 1202. He secured a grant of a market in Crawley, paying King John a fine of a Norwegian hawk[1]. It is difficult to build a picture of Michael, as he is a shadowy figure in the records. He never appears in the extant de Warenne records as a witness to grants or charters. Nor does he appear to make any of his own. The evidence suggests he might have been a bit of an outsider, his loyalties shifting with the turbulent tides of John’s reign.

He married a Norfolk widow, Margaret de Cailly in 1206[2]. Whether he had a previous marriage is unknown but there are conflicting years of birth for his heir Thomas. If he was born in 1202, then Michael was married before. If Thomas arrived in 1206, then he either…

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Blog Tour: Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England by Annie Whitehead

Hello and welcome one and all to my blog as we forge ahead on the Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. If you have missed the previous stops, you will find them on the banner at the end of this post.

I am very please to be able to present to you a review of Ms Whitehead’s latest book. As an Anglo-Saxonist myself, the topic of the book is very dear to me. I can honestly say that my expectations of reading this book was very much lived up to.

First of all, I must introduce the author to those of you who are not familiar with Annie, or her works. Annie is a competent historian and historical fiction writer who has written three novels based on the lives of certain historical characters and another non-fiction, about Mercia. You can find more about Annie’s books on her website here .

So, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England.

The beauty of this work is it concisely brings together almost everything that was ever believed about the early medieval period – or the Dark Ages, and turns it on its head in the shape of its females. Annie Whitehead certainly does shine a light on the women of this era, not just a light but a huge great spotlight. Although there are many facts that cannot be possibly known about these ladies in detail, such as their character, what they liked, and who they loved, the author picks through the threads and meticulously gives us enough glimpses of their lives for us to feel some empathy and attachment. For example, Queen Edith who preferred to sit at the feet of her husband, Edward the Confessor, or the noble woman searching on a battlefield for the mutilated corpse of her husband, or the girl and her mother found in bed with a young king on his coronation celebration!

We also hear their stories as told through the chroniclers such as Bede:

We have wild tales even about those revered as pious nuns – of escape from hot ovens and down sewers, of women bringing animals and even themselves back to life, all of which seem fantastic, but were told to serve a purpose.

What I enjoy most about these books about the historical female, and with this one in particular, is the finding out that there is a lot more written about these women than previously I believed, especially by the monks in the earlier Anglo-Saxon period who seem to have been fascinated by them. And the weirder the tale, the more interested they were. A lot more seems to have been available than in the mid to later period when the monks seemed to share a dislike of women in power. Take Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Alfgred the Great’s daughter, for instance, of whom very little was recorded by the West Saxon version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, but whose achievements are lauded by Anglo-Norman Chroniclers after the conquest and only elements of the Annals of Æthelflæd are incorporated into the other chronicles.

Another pleasant surprise was that for many years I have been trying to find evidence of how the Anglo-Saxon women would have been able to see their reflections, and there on page 7, we find that a pope sends one of our ladies an ivory comb and a silver mirror to aid her personal care. Imagine how excited I was to find this little fact, as it is often believed that such items were not available to the people of this period as there is little evidence that there was. I am sure however it was a high status possession and not open to women of all classes, but nonetheless I am overjoyed at this snippet of information.

Another interesting observation I was able to gleam how much more interested the church seemed to have placed on women of religious orders rather than their secular counterparts, and it was almost as if a woman was only worthy if she had spent most of her life in chastity, for example Ælfthryth, who married King Ecgfrith of Northumbria and managed to remain a virgin, happier founding monasteries than giving her husband heirs, and became a saint because of her piety and unwillingness to give away her virginity. One wonders though, how much of this was true!

For me, as I turned the pages of this outstanding book, I found the content of the book was wholly satisfying. It covers a range of women in the period as early as the 6th century, and ending with the last prominent Anglo-Saxon women before the Norman invasion. I was pleased to see that several of the women featured were from my period of interest, the 11th century, including Emma of Normandy, Aldith, Queen to both a Welsh and an English king, Edith Godwinson, wife of Edward the Confessor, and Eadgifu the fair, handfastened wife of Harold Godwinson – or Edith Swanneck as she is commonly, though wrongly known as. (Her name seemed to change when the writer of the Waltham Chronicle, some time in the 11th century mistakenly referred to her as Edith, which is not a derivative of Eadgifu which are two different names.)

For a fellow Anglo-Saxonist, this is one of the few books written about women in the period, and it is, for me, a newly-acquired treasure. It truly brings these women to the fore and as one reviewing author emphatically states, it puts the women firmly back in the history where they should be, highlighting their true nature of what it meant to be a noble woman in these times. It describes to us of their existence, their roles, both religiously and secularly, in not just the lives of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters and children, but the lives of those who praised, castigated, and wrote about them.

It does not seek to prove the high status of them in comparison to the women of post conquest England, nor does it seek to prove that they were far more powerful than their status allowed them to be. Instead, we are treated to a rare glimpse of the opportunities women were, if in the right place at the right time, gifted with, and their importance in the eyes of those they held power over or from, or with. Their stories are endowed upon us within a variety of themes: roles as mothers, wives and consorts; nuns and abbesses. We also see what gave them their power, such as their bloodlines and the changes that the shifting sands of time wrought upon them, bringing them to and then from exultation to women condemned. And if you are anything like me, your imagination will run wild.

Annie Whitehead is an exemplary historian and writer of history who is not afraid to delve into the past head first to bring us such a jewel in this enchanting and immersing panoramic vision of historical women. It is every bit as fascinating, if not more so, as any other historical tome about the female figure of any particular time zone. The language is not laborious and it flows from one subject to the next seamlessly and what I can conclude from this is that the noble Anglo-Saxon woman was fierce and independent when she wanted to be, gentle and pious when society dictated, steadfast and loyal when needed, and as ambitious as any man of any era.

Highly recommended.

About Annie Whitehead

I am an historian and author. As an undergraduate I studied under the eminent Anglo-Saxon historian, Ann Williams, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been accepted as a member of the Royal Historical Society. I’m also a member of the HWA (Historical Writers Association). 

My passion is for all things Anglo-Saxon, and Mercian in particular. I’ve written three novels set in Mercia, featuring the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, King Edgar, and King Penda, as well as contributing a Mercian story to a fiction anthology about 1066. My non-fiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, was published by Amberley Books in September 2018. My latest non-fiction book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2020.

I’m an editor for and contributor to the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog, and a member of the HNS (Historical Novel Society) 2018 Short Story Competition judging panel. The winner of the New Writer non-fiction prize in 2012, and the recipient of two Mail on Sunday Novel-Writing awards, I was also the winner of the inaugural HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition in 2017.

My first two novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, are set in the later (9th & 10th centuries) Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. My third novel, Cometh the Hour goes back to the seventh century. A follow-up novel is in the planning stages and it’s hoped it will be released sometime in 2021.

In 2016, I collaborated with eight other authors to produce a collection of short stories, re-imagining the event of 1066. 1066 Turned Upside Down  is available as an e-book.

And don’t forget you can enjoy all of the other blog stops here below.

Women of Power is published by Pen and Sword Books. Check out their books here