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Friday, October 12, 2012

Conquest..........October 14th 1066.

I have been reading "Conquest" by Stewart Binns.
conquest
I bought it while in England at the gift shop at Battle. I have long been an admirer of King Harold. I had never been to that area before and as we wanted Jason to see some of the highlights of English history, and places I had not seen, this was high on our list. Battle Abbey is a haunting place. It is set by the field that the battle was fought. A sad place Senlac Ridge and in the Abbey grounds stand a memorial on the spot that Harold fell in battle. 800px-Harold_stone The book is about Hereward the Wake. Another hero of mine. When I was in school, against all odds I formed a love of history. A few people caught at my imagination and Hereward was one of them. Probably because not a whole lot is know about him, or so I thought. There are a few of these hero's in my list, Caractacus is another one. Anyway, this book is probably not the best as far as a historical novel goes but it did tweak my curiosity. I found myself time and again looking up to see what was a fact. I read all about Saxon warfare and learned how involved our history is with Denmark and the Danish Kings. After all the Vikings did raid, frequently and with some success. They were different though. Once they got a hold on the land, they settled, they farmed and they integrated with the locals. The Danes and Saxons and Jutes and Celts are so intertwined in our history and yet they are all different. All invaded and stayed to some extent. I remember in school we had to make a little paper Viking ship and learn all about Hengist and Horsa the Germanic Princes who came saw and mingled. One son of Hengist being the founder of Kent. I digress..............and so, Harold Godwinson was crowned King as Harold 11 when King Edward the Confessor died. Edward had at one point promised the crown to William Duke of Normandy (he had been exiled to Normandy for a time) but the English people did not want that. Harold's reign was short, but he had proven a very good and valuable leader. Crowned in January 1066 he was killed at what became known as The Battle of Hastings in October that year. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote of Harold that he "was very tall and handsome, remarkable for his physical strength, his courage and eloquence, his ready jests and acts of valour. But what were these gifts to him without honour, which is the root of all good?" During his short reign he was kept very busy as he planned and fought the battle against the Invaders at Stamford Bridge before turning back to the south to meet William at what is now Battle. Harold_dead_bayeux_tapestry William was a very cruel man, as Edward was warned that he was by Hereward. When he landed on the south shore he showed no mercy and killed men women and chidren, he wanted to put terror into the population. So it was that Harold with his already tried army fell to battle with williams fresh, and heavily armed men and cavalry. Harold almost won too ........but it was not to be. There were fresh men coming to engage the battle but arrived about an hour too late. Harold was killed and hacked to pieces. William would not give his body to his mother but did allow Harold's love Edith Swan neck to identify his body. No one else was able to but she did by a tattoo on his body that no one else knew of. They took his body and buried it in the sand near the sea,where it was supposed to remain in an unmarked grave. She was able to find it again when they went back later in the dark.They recovered and buried it in a secret location. There are a couple of different accounts of this.
Godwinson
Harold's son Ulf, along with Morcar and two others, were released from prison by King William as he lay dying in 1087. Ulf threw his lot in with Robert Curthose, who knighted him, and then disappeared from history. Two of Harold's other sons, Godwine and Edmund, invaded England in 1068 and 1069 with the aid of Diarmait mac Mail They raided Cornwall as late as 1082, but died in obscurity in Ireland. Back to the book...........it is really the story of Hereward the Wake and he being a great part of Harold's story brought me back to that. I read up on the fighting tactics and learned more about the weapons of the era. I could not believe that Hereward traveled as far as he did in the book, but I guess he really did. As far as I can tell what I read so far is true. I have got to where Harold has died and William is establishing his castles around the land. I have yet to read about the Isle of Ely and the battle for the Fens where Hereward is famously going to settle. We all know the outcome. William was never dislodged. The Saxon/Danish people who are now Englishmen fought for a couple of generations not accepting the Norman rule. We know of Robin Hood who came much later, we know the Norman Kings were harsh and even Richard 1st, The Lion Heart was not good for England. He drained the treasury and hardly set foot in England if he could avoid it. Robin was loyal to his King but had to contend with King John. The Barons came together then and made him sign the Magna Carter and after that things began to settle even though a couple of hundred years had passed. The Normans gave us French to add to our language that was yet a mix of German, Celtic, Norse and Saxon and Latin...........no wonder our language is so complicated. I have rambled a bit but its such a fascinating time in English history, to me.........that if anyone is interested in that time you may enjoy this book. As I said its not so much the literature itself but what it invoked in me as far as wanting to know more.

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