Book Review : 1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

1066 by G.K. Holloway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bricks of historic fact beautifully cemented together with just the right amount of fictitious mortar.

“1066 What Fates Impose” is a ‘slow burn’ story that builds in intensity as it tracks the building succession crisis created by Edward the Confessor over a 21 year period leading to that most eponymous and climactic of battles – The Battle of Hastings.

It’s an impressive, well researched tome rich in historical ‘faction’ as well as fiction. If you fact check the content you will find it’s spot on with the known facts and steers a careful, well thought out passage through some of the more contentious, unknown and intriguing events.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s interpretation of some of the various little mysteries in the saga: the midget Turold in the Bayeux Tapestry; an interesting take on why William might even have contemplated himself being in the running for the succession; how Harold would have been tricked into swearing fealty to William previous to the Confessor’s death; why Harold might have been in Normandy in the first place.

Looking at the events from our position in history we tend to view them as almost inevitable, the idea that any other outcome was impossible. However the beauty of this novel is that it forces you to think about and appreciate all the complex conditions and myriad number of decisions made by both sides over many years in the run up to the looming conflict – you then get a sense that there could have been any number of other outcomes : if Edward had had an heir; if he’d actively named an heir; if in the final stages of this epic story William had decided not to prosecute his claim; concluding with the final great ‘what if’ – what if Harold’s vital reinforcements had made it in time to the battle field.

My only criticisms of this novel would be that the verbal interactions between characters can seem a little stiff at times and I feel that there could have been more interpretation of their inner feelings or reactions. The book covers a long period of time with many complex changes (especially with regard to the comings and goings of different earls etc) as such it might have been of benefit to break the story into 2 or even 3 parts or even separate novels so that more detailed character interactions could be written about – this would also mean it reads less as a history book in the places where the author has felt it necessary to “back fill” the narrative with some historical background sequences.

That said it was an interesting and thought provoking read on arguably THE most pivotal events in British history. To underline this the author prefaces the novel with a most salient and thought provoking set of facts…

In 1066, England had a population of about two million people. Adults stood as tall as the English do today. By 1166 the population had halved and the average adult was three inches shorter. There had been neither famine nor plague. What happened was that half the Saxon population died at the hands of the Normans, and those who survived worked longer, paid more taxes and ate less. The English, under an apartheid-like regime, were denied access to positions of power and ownership of substantial amounts of land.

William had conquered; Norman civilisation had arrived .

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Book Synopsis

‘Official’ Book Description

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own.  There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland.

Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies who will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold.

Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?