Category Archives: Historical Fiction

STORYLINE – 1: A FACE IN THE MUD – Coin Find Near London Olympic Site Hides Political Turmoil (Historical Fiction)

STORYLINE - 1: A FACE IN THE MUD -  Coin Find Near London Olympic Site Hides Political Turmoil (Historical Fiction)

One of the few coins minted in the ten-month reign of Harold II

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William would not have wanted these to be available during his reign!

The Lost Coin

‘My Lord King we have cast your new silver penny’, Eadnoth tells the still dining Harold. Eadnoth is a balding, middle-aged fellow who owns and controls the only licensed mint in the Lea Valley. Before he died King Eadward ordered a new silver penny to be minted. After his coronation Harold had Eadnoth complete the casting for the other side with his image.

‘Can I see it?’ Harold takes the newly-minted penny from Eadnoth and scans it at arm’s length. He then holds it closer, admiring it. finally Harold hands back the coin to |Eadnoth, ‘This is fine workmanship. Your craftsmen have excelled themselves! Who carved my likeness?’

‘Wiglaf drew it onto parchment, and Earnald scored the image into the mould, my Lord King’, Eadnoth answers proudly.

Is Earnald your Flemish engraver?’

‘Aye my Lord King, recommended by Count Baldwin himself!’ Eadnoth adds, ‘Lord Tostig brought him in his own ship’.

‘So he did’, Harold sounds pained at mention of his renegade brother.

Twice this year Tostig has raided around the coast. The fyrd has had to be called out twice, taking men from watching the south coast for Duke William’s ships. Although Tostig’s men were beaten off, both times with great loss to himself, Harold did not need these diversions. He faced the possibility of invasion by a sworn enemy as well as by the opportunist King Harald Hardraada.

‘Show it to my brothers, Eadnoth’, Harold gestures to the young earls, Gyrth and Leofwin.

‘If I did not know you, Harold, looking at this I would take you for a king!’ Gyrth jokes. Unlike Harold and Leofwin, who with lighter colouring take after their mother, Gyrth resembles his father, the old Earl of Wessex.

When Harold took Godwin’s title, the younger brothers were given their earldoms. godwin’s rivals Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria took a step back, old men with ambitious sons who sought glory and resented the Godwinsons’ rise to power. Leofric and Siward are dead now. Leofric’s grandsons stand to gain by Harold’s demise, despite his marrying their sister Aeldgyth. They anticipate William’s generosity. Eadwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morkere of Northumbria watch events in the south with interest.

‘Are you hunting today, Harold?’ Leofwin asks, handing bck the penny to Eadnoth, who eagerly scoops it up and places it in the leather purse at his side. In pulling out his hand again Eadnoth inadvertently pulls out the coin with it.

The coin drops to the floor of King Harold’s hunting lodge near the River Lea. This lodge, at the edge of the hamlet of Leyton is where Harold prefers to stay when affairs of state allow.

‘Very well, Eadnoth’, Harold turns to look up at the excited old fellow and smiles, ‘proceed with minting’.

‘My Lord King’, Eadnoth bows and doffs his cap in respect. ‘I shall have the new pennies ready for distribution within the month’.

‘I thank you’, Harold smiles again and turns to his brothers. Eadnoth leaves. No-one spots the now tarnished silver penny in the broken, betrodden straw.

King William looks around in the half-darkness of the lodge. No torches have been lit here since the vanquished Harold last stayed here before the ride to Hastings.

‘Shall we prepare this lodge for you, my liege?’ Earl William fitzOsbern asks his friend the king.

‘We think not. Whoever wishes to use the lodge does so with our blessing. It is of no use to us. Tomorrow we sail for Normandy, so see to it that a tenant is found for this place’.

The Conqueror leaves the lodge and mounts his steed. A sudden gust of cold wind from the nearby marshes blows across his short, russet hair as he pulls on the reins and heads the hunting party back to Barking Abbey, leaving fitzOsbern to hand the keys to the newly-appointed coinmaker, the Fleming Earnald.

‘See that any coins here are removed and melted for the king’s new issue of silver pennies’, fitzOsbern tells Earnald. ‘He wishes to see no more coins with the image of that usurper, understand?’

‘I shall, my Lord Earl, of course!’ Earnald gladly takes the keys to his new home from the earl and casts an appreciative look about him. His new Saxon serfs can see to cleaning the floor of the lodge. The silver penny that fell from eadnoth’s purse still lies in the grubby straw that awaits the besom.

‘Dad, look what I found in the mud by the river!’ an excitable Gary Purser gingerly offers a small piece of round, flat metal to his father. Laid-off printer John takes the coin and holds it up to the light of the window,

‘Where did you find this?’

‘By the River Lea, near where they’re building the Olympics! Gary hums with excitement, trying to remember exactly where it was he saw the tarnished metal. What drew his eyes was a silver coke can he might use for his school science project. When he picked up the can, there was the coin, half buried with grass growing around it. He asks his father, ‘What’s it worth?’

‘How the hell would I know? History wasn’t my best subject’, John answers. Ring up the British Museum. They’ll tell you’.

‘Where was the coin exactly?’ Tom Wells, the coin consultant asks Gary. When the boy finishes telling him how he found the coin, the smiling consultant puts a hand on Gary’s shoulder and tells him, ‘Sit down before you fall down, Gary. This coin is rare. Few minted for King Harold were ever found. Had you found many, buried in a casket or whatever, it would be Treasure Trove, when things are buried for safe-keeping – or buried as grave goods. This was lost or abandoned. Sell it, take it to an auction – or keep it’.

He hands the coin back to Gary and laughs,

‘It’s like winning the Lottery. Lay it in flat coke for a day, and it’ll clean up like a new penny!’

(*The above, slightly re-written, was my entry into a short story competition for Newham Writing Competition with a limit of 1,000 words. It earned me ?100 for first prize. Where Earl, subseq. King Harold’s hunting lodge was situated is at Leyton, within the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF). The coin find itself could have been made within either LBWF or London Borough of Newham (LBN), one of three boroughs – including Waltham Forest and Hackney on either side of the River Lea – that hosted the 2012 London Olympics. The Olympic Park is a regeneration area based around bombed-out and derelict factory buildings. The erstwhile Stratford Locomotive Shed (30A) and former Great Eastern Railway/London & North Eastern Railway/British Railways Locomotive Building Works were also sited here until the mid-1980’s. Besides the competition zones, the area includes housing and the Westfield shopping precinct).

Images down the Lea Valley

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River Lea at Amwell – this is how the scene would have looked at the time of King Harold’s reign
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The Lea below king’s Weir, again much as King Harold would have known it
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Where the Lea enters the Thames, modern London at Bow Lock.
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Map of the 2012 London Olympic Park site
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View north along the River Lea of the 2012 London Olympic Park
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View South along the Lea towards the 2012 London Olympic Park site including Westfield at Stratford (Newham)
Stratford Loco Shed is one area redeveloped for the 2012 London Olympic competition site
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Inside one of the derelict straight sheds at 30A after closure of the steam shed
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Another part of the large 2012 Olympic site, Stratford’s ex-Great Eastern loco works

HERITAGE – 11: 1066 AND ALL THAT – there was more going on in the year of Williams invasion than a battle near Hastings

HERITAGE - 11: 1066 AND ALL THAT - there was more going on in the year of William's invasion than a battle near Hastings
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William stumbles on the strand – an ill omen, but for whom?

October 14th dawned fine, giving no inkling of the horrors to come..

Harold’s warriors struck their shields with their weapons loudly, calling out ‘Ut, ut, ut!’ at William and his allies, ‘Out, out, out!. The call was carried throughout the ranks creating a din that frightened William’s mounts

Understanding the time

Almost a thousand years have gone by since King Harold was killed on Saturday, 14th October, 1066 and Duke William was crowned on Christmas Day, 1066. The flower of English society went down with their king… Or did they?

Believe it or not only two earls were killed with Harold, his brothers Gyrth – who had fought alongside him at Stamford Bridge only a fortnight earlier – and Leofwin. Only one of his sheriffs, Godric, was killed with him. Ansgar, Harold’s sheriff of Middlesex and stallari, or steward, survived to fight again at London Bridge weeks later. As did the king’s nephew Hakon and a number of other fighting men. A number of his earls had stayed put, Eadwin of Mercia, Morkere of Northumbria and Waltheof of Middle Anglia, and fought alongside Harold’s uncrowned successor Eadgar the aetheling at London Bridge.

They defeated a force of six hundred mounted knights led by William himself, who was unhorsed again, having already lost two mounts fighting against Harold’s shieldwall near Hastings. William had offered talks before the fight, underestimating Eadgar’s resolve. The majority of the Middlesex fyrd fought under their lord Ansgar, as did the huscarls and thegns brought by the young earls – Eadwin and Morkere -from the north. Waltheof had lost men who had gone with their king, and Hakon being of the Godwinson clan no doubt had his own followers.

William was not to be put out by his setback and withdrew to Kent to nurse his injured pride. Instead of trying another head-on attack – with the prospect of losing more valuable knights – he set about destroying the crops and settlements in a wide arc around the capital to cut off Eadgar’s supporters from their food supplies. He met the Witan at Berkhamstead to take their surrender, thus isolating the young king. Fearful of losing their lands, the churchmen sought William’s assurance that their lands were secure. Archbishop Stigand was kept for the time being in his see at Canterbury, despite not having received his pallium from Rome because of his simony – he was still Bishop of Winchester when he accepted Canterbury. (He would be ousted when William’s senior churchman Lanfranc came in 1070). Archbishop Ealdred of York willingly conducted the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066, with Stigand assisting and William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux in attendance. Ealdred’s future was assured, but he was to die in 1069 when the Danes came to England to help the Northumbrians and attacked York.

So, for now William was happy enough to sit down at Barking Abbey as the abbot’s guest, go out hunting in Harold’s forests around Essex. He appointed a number of nobles to their positions, including Copsig to the earldom of Bernicia (Northern Northumbria). Copsig had been Earl Tostig’s corrupt tax collector – he was apt to taking more than his fair share of the proceeds to feather his own nest – and a Yorkshireman to boot, hardly the best choice to be an earl in a region that collectively hated him. When he was feasting at Newburn on the Tyne Gospatric and Osulf, cousins within the Bernician hierarchy, sought him out and pursued him to a small chapel nearby. Setting fire to the chapel would not have endeared them to the churchmen, cutting Copsig down as he tried to flee with some of his followers would certainly not have helped later with gaining Saint Peter’s consent to enter heaven. (Copsig’s successor, the Fleming Robert de Commines, fared no better. In 1069 he and his men were butchered by the folk of Durham when they tried to shelter in the bishop’s house).

In the summer of 1067 Eadric ‘the Wild’, thegn of Herefordshire burnt down William fitzOsbern’s wooden Norman castle at Hereford with the help of the Welsh princes Bleddyn and his younger brother Rhiwallon. Late in 1067 Exeter was closed to the Normans and King Wllliam hurried west to lay siege to the city. Harold’s family were in residence and provided incentive for the rebellion, the siege lasting eighteen days. By the time the Normans entered Exeter Harold’s mother Gytha, his common-law wife Eadgytha and her sons were gone, the women to Steepholm in the Bristol Channel, his sons to Ireland.

Over the years from 1067-1071 William faced rebellions in the north, the midlands and in the east. The Danes came twice, only to be bought off to enable William to deal with the insurgents. Eadgar was adopted as the leader of the rebellion, was chased north into Scotland to seek the help of his brother-in-law Malcolm, came south in 1069 to head the York rebellion and left again for Scotland. Leaders came and went, and the rebellions petered out after the last leader Hereward went into exile. Other leaders were imprisoned, pardoned, imprisoned again or executed. The last straw came when Eadric was taken back into the fold and helped William invade Scotland to force Malcolm into the Treaty of Abernethy, to close Scotland to English leaders using Malcolm’s hospitality as a retreat from William’s wrath.

Many Englishmen went into exile, some to the east to join Emperor Michael VII’s Varangian Guard to fight the Normans under Robert Guiscard de Hauteville. Some settled in Denmark, Hereward returned to Flanders where he settled with his new wife and sons, a noble in the pay of Count Baldwin of Flanders.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Norman cavalry in full cry

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Despite charging ceaselessly throughout the morning William made no progress up Caldbec Hill

When the slaying was done the hill ran red with gore. Men slipped and slithered, so that they were undone even in their moment of victory

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CONQUEST – 4: 1066, A YEAR OF STRUGGLE – Four battles for the kingdom. Williams first could ruin his dream,

CONQUEST - 4: 1066, A YEAR OF STRUGGLE - Four battles for the kingdom. William's first could ruin his dream,

his second very nearly did. Had news spread around William’s force of his defeat at London Bridge, who knows what could have happened.

As it was his Norman cavalry stayed tight-lipped about the fracas, ashamed of their lacklustre performance against the Middlesex fyrd led by survivors of the battle on Caldbec Hill, and a young, untried and uncrowned King Eadgar. There were many local Saxons who had not been with Harold, who fought and died in this almost unknown pitched battle against six hundred of William’s best knights. Many more lived through it and would fight again, elsewhere – perhaps in the west under Eadric ‘Cild’, otherwise known as ‘the Wild’ , or in the east under Hereward and Earl Morkere.

Read on and be ‘witness’ to the near-achievement against William…

Earl Harold was king by consent of the Witan, and William would seek redress from them, he believed, once he had defeated the ‘usurper’

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Two accomplished military commanders would stand facing one another across a narrow valley, Harold on foot surrounded by his huscarls, William on horseback…
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Hrafnsmerki or raven banner – bird of Odin – was used by two Christian leaders in 1066; Harald Sigurdsson brought Land Oda, the ‘landwaster’; and William had a raven banner too, although his mission was widely proclaimed as a crusade

Harald Sigurdsson’s victory at Gate Fulford was soon forgotten…

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… by the time of his defeat at Stamford Bridge when he and Tostig were confronted by King Harold’s army. They showed suddenly atop the ridge on the north bank of the Derwent ‘like a field of broken ice’.

1066 was a year of imagery as much as it was of four bloody battles on English soil

Imagery was as good as renown, carried before an army as a banner or standard.

It was also a pointer to the quality of the leader before whom it was borne. Harald Sigurdsson showed himself to be of the old Viking breed with his Land Oda – ‘Land-Waster’. Harold’s own banner was the Cerne Abbas giant – true, a comic sort of character, but underrate him…! William had his raven banner, he also had the Pontiff Alexander’s gold cross of Saint Peter to set the tone – and put his aims plainly – and let everyone know his purpose in England.

1066, a year of bitter struggle –

On September 20th, 1066 the first of four major battles took place at Gate Fulford, to the south-east of Eoferwic.Here was the confluence of the River Ouse and a system of drainage ditches. Defending this, the heart of his earldom was Earl Morkere and his older brother Eadwin, the earl of Mercia. Attacking was the deposed Earl Tostig, with the Norse King Harald ‘Hardraada ‘ Sigurdsson and a huge army of mixed Norse, Danes and Flemings. The Norsemen came from all over Harald Sigurdsson’s maritime empire, Orkney, Shetland, Iceland, Man, parts of Ireland, the Faeroes and not forgetting the land we now call Norway itself.

However, this battle and the subsequent struggle at Stamford Bridge should never have taken place had it not been for King Harold’s inability to come to a compromise at Northampton a year earlier. Tostig had been visiting his sister, Queen Eadgytha and brother-in-law King Eadward when he learned that the men of his household in the Earlsburh at Eoferwic had been killed to a man by rebels seeking to oust him and instal Morkere as earl of their own choosing. They followed up the attack on Tostig’s household at the Earlsburh with one on his property in Northampton. As Tostig’s brother and senior earl of the kingdom, Harold was asked by Eadgytha and Eadward to talk with the rebels and the Earl of Wessex rode to speak with Morkere, Eadwin and the Bamburgh clan to no avail. Both sides were adamant, Tostig on the return to him of his earldom, the rebels on throwing him out. Tostig was offered another earldom, but refused, insisting on keeping Northumbria. He accused Harold of not supporting him to his best ability, of complicity with his brothers-in-law (Harold had married their sister, the widow Aelfgifu not long before) and left England. He wanted outside help to regain his earldom, accused as he was of graft and plotting to murder. The charge of graft levelled at him was in respect of pocketing much of the tithes collected from reluctant Northumbrians. The collection of tithes had been entrusted to the Anglo-Danish Copsig, scion of a powerful family in Deira (southern Northumbria, between the Tees and the Humber – now Yorkshire). Copsig was hiding, out of reach and nowhere to be seen, perhaps sheltered by his kinfolk. The murder of Gospatric, scion of the house of Bamburgh and kinsman of the later earl of the same same, had been arranged by Eadgytha when the young man was in her care as hostage to his family’s good behaviour following another classic Northumbrian rift. Lawless Northumbria was, its nobles believed, beyond the rule of a mere Saxon king ruling from Winchester.

First Tostig went to Scotland for help, to the court of King Malcolm ‘Canmore’. Malcolm did not feel able to take on Harold, but afforded the loan of ships and crews. So Tostig went overseas for help to regain his earldom, first to Normandy. Duke William had his own eyes on the English throne, believing himself to be his kinsman Eadward’s heir and not Tostig’s brother, Harold. Many, even in England, believed Harold had usurped the throne on the old king’s death. Count Baldwin V of Flanders was Tostig’s brother-in-law. Bruges was he next stop along the way. Baldwin, brother of the Countess Judith, was of the same opinion as Malcolm, that he felt unable to challenge Harold, but gave Tostig men. With his surviving Anglo-Danish and Danish huscarls Tostig went on to the court of his distant kinsman Svein in Roskilde. Svein was evasive. He had survived being hunted down through his own kingdom by the giant Harald Sigurdsson, and did not feel able to take on another military giant, Harold. Besides, they were kinfolk, were they not? He drew Tostig’s attention to a treaty agreed between the now dead King Magnus, Harald Sigurdsson’s nephew, and Svein – more of a gentleman’s agreement – was that whichever one of the two should survive the other should see themselves free to claim the throne of England on the basis of descent from the mighty Knut (Canute/Cnut). As he, Svein did not feel up to invading England, Tostig should try Magnus’ successor, Harald ‘Hardraada ‘.

King Harald’s men had been accusing him behind his back of going ‘soft’. There had been no new expeditions since the last time they set foot on Danish soil, no new loot to share out. Harald was all for an expedition to claim England. Planning the expedition took little time. Ships were available, as were the men of his dominions across the seas around Britain and the broad ocean.

Meanwhile Tostig took his ships back to Flanders, set off for England and raided around the coast between Kent and the Tees before meeting up with the Norse fleet off St. Abb’s Head on the seaward side of the Firth of Forth. Tostig had lost men on his raids, the biggest losses having been suffered on the Lincolnshire coast. He was in a foul temper when his men raided the Northumbrian coast again on their way to the Humber. Skarthiburh (Scarborough) was sacked despite the people there also being of Norse descent. Another ‘blooding’ raid was launched in Holderness before the fleet turned Spurn Head into the Humber and beached at Riccall. From there they marched overland to Gate Fulford, smashing through the combined fyrd forces of Northumbria and Mercia and threatening York.

The people of York gave Harald Sigurdsson a heroes’ welcome – the same could not be said for Tostig, but he was thirsting for revenge. The city fathers were less welcoming to either of them, but had to yield to demands of hostages and gold. They would wait, Harald Sigurdsson foolishly told them, by the banks of the Derwent at Staenfordes Brycg Stamford Bridge. At that time King Harold, his younger brother Earl Gyrth as well as Earl Waltheof and other nobles were on their way north with an army. The feckless brothers, Eadwin and Morkere had not sought their own king’s help against the Norse king when they knew they were about to be attacked. He would have to upbraid them before taking on Tostig and Harald ‘Hardraada ‘ .

On the morning of September 25th. when they saw dust on the western horizon beyond the ridge, Harald and Tostig brightened, thinking it was the hostage party with their ‘pay-off’. When the dust cloud grew they knew they had erred! Before long Harold’s army was lined up atop the ridge above the wooden bridge opposite the burnt-out hamlet of Stamford Bridge and the long hill on which the main body of Harald’s men rested. Amid the body of seasoned warriors was their king’s raven banner, ‘Land-Oda’ . A troop of about a score of Harold’s men rode across the bridge past the stupefied Norsemen, still only half awake from carousing into the night after their victory. They rode up to Tostig under the watchful eyes of thousands of bemused Norsemen, Anglo-Danes, Danes and Flemings. One spoke out, asking for Tostig Godwinson. They spoke for a short time. Tostig was heard to ask why the rider offered land now, after so many men had already been slain. When asked by Tostig what Harald sigurdsson hoped to gain in land, he was told, ‘… Seven feet of ground, or as much as he is taller than other men’. Tostig haughtily told the rider he would hold with the Norse king and the party of riders left to cross back over the bridge. Not understanding English ‘Hardraada’ asked who the rider was as he rode away. On being told it was Harold the norse king said of him that although he was fairly lacking in height he stood well in his stirrups. When he asked Tostig what had been offered in return for leaving the battlefield he was told Harod’s words, according to the Icelandic scribe Snorri Sturlusson in his Saga of Harald Sigurdsson, Harald angrily retorted that he could have killed the insolent Harold.

A number of men were on the wrong side of the river and came under attack from men under Harold’s command. They fled eastward across the bridge, defended by another Norse giant armed with an axe. This giant despatched several of Harold’s more foolhardy huscarls before one ingenious fellow took a small boat under the bridge, speared the lone Norseman from below and the English stormed across. A hail of arrows came down on the surprised and poorly protected Norsemen and allies. Their shields and many weapons and mailcoats had been taken back to the ships, and they were hard-put to repel the first wave of Northumbrians, Mercians and Saxons. King Harald fell to an arrow through his windpipe early in the battle and tostig was left in command with Styrkar, one of Harald’s two stallari. When Eystein ‘Orre ‘, the elder of the gwo marshals arrived from Riccall with reinforcements many of them fainted from heatstroke after jogging six miles from the ships in chain mail, carrying shields and weapons. Eystein collapsed and died before even one arrow hit the ground near his dead body! The rest were routed and chased back to the ships. No quarter was given in revenge for the slaughter at Gate Fulford until, blood-thirst sated, a few were left alive including Harald’s sons Olaf and Magnus. When they ha given their assurance that they would never attack the kingdom again during Harold Godwinson’s lifetime they were allowed to sail, to take their grieving mother Thora home from Orkney. Only a couple of dozen ships were needed to take the survivors home, most of the rest burnt at the riverside where they had been beached.

At the victory feast in York Harold learned from a rider that Duke William had landed on the south coast and was ravaging in a wide circle around Hastings, Pevensey and Dover, destroying crops, stealing livestock to feed his men and hay for his horses. Harold now had another nine-day march back to London to call on his southern fyrdmen again.

With his both his younger brothers, Gyrth and Leofwin and their men – with more gathering to follow on – Harold moved on the south coast. He was advised that Duke William awaited him at Hastings and headed there to block the London road on the ridge of Caldbec Hill by way of the southern end of Watling Street and the tracks through the Andreds Weald. Many men met him at the Hoar Apple Tree above Hastings, the gathering place of the Saxons since before his grandfather, Thegn Wulfnoth’s time. More were coming to join them all the time. However, before he could move further down into Hastings to cut William off from the only way north off the peninsula, William’s scouts had advised their duke of the Englishmen’s proximity.

On the Saturday morning, September 14th, 1066 Duke William’s Normans, his Flemish, Breton and Frankish allies and paid men showed through the trees on Telham Hill, opposite Harold’s incompletely mustered forces. They were numerically evenly matched, but William had three advantages: firstly he had cavalry – the English, like the Normans’ forefathers and all northern armies, rode to battle but fought on foot, he had right on his side – having talked half the crowned heads of Europe that Harold had gone back on his oath to him to uphold his claim to Eadward the Confessor’s crown, and he had weapons unknown to the rest of the northern world – his cavalry carried lances, his infantry carried crossbows and ballistas for throwing bigger stones than the South Saxon slingers would have. He also had a black stallion given to him by Alfonso, king of.Asturias, and the Pontiff Alexander’s golden cross standard borne by Count Eustace of Boulogne.

Saxons yelled abuse at Normans, insults went back and forth.

‘Ut! Ut! Ut!’ the Saxon fyrdmen roared, ‘Out! Out! Out!’ The Normans sang the Song of Roland, about the ill-fated son of Charlemagne who faced the Moorish army at Roncesvalles in the Pyrennees two hundred or so years earlier. English monks sang, Normans returned with the ‘Carmen ‘ . At ‘Terce ‘, the third hour – nine o’clock in the morning – the bells of a nearby chapel chimed. Battle commenced. The Bretons were urged forward by their leader, the Breton count Alan’s cousin and namesake Alan Fergant , or Rufus. A barrage of thrown axes, rocks and arrows rained down on them. They faltered and ran, crashing into the Norman cavalry sent to bolster them. Some of the local fyrdmen chased after them behind their thegns . William watched this closely. He saw that of all Harold’s men, these were undisciplined. He himself was unhorsed twice, and the battle was almost lost to the panicking Normans, thinking him slain, until he lifted off his helmet and yelled that he was alive. They rounded on the pursuing Saxons, cutting them off and killing them all on a hillock near the foot of Caldbeck Hill were boggy ground hemmed them in, the bravest lasting only minutes longer against flails, lances and maces.And so it went on until early in the afternoon.

The English shieldwall was still very much in place, bolstered by Harold’s well-disciplined and seasoned huscarls. Earlier his brother, Earl Leofwin had been cut down by the Norman cavalry when venturing out beyond the shieldwall in daring axe attacks with his men, their heads and backs covered by men with shields and spears. Earl Gyrth fell to a crossbow arrow before a truce was called to take food and water to the thirsty, succour to the wounded and prayers for the dead.

Fighting began again. The light was still good, and the shieldwall still bore up against repeated showers of arrows, infantry and cavalry onslaughts by Normans, Franks, Bretons and mercenaries. The light was beginning to fade, William knew he must break the deadlock or lose his advantage – and perhaps his own life to his men. He remembered the rushes made by the unruly South Saxons against his retreating and fleeing men. He sought to draw them and gained the upper hand. The shieldwall was thinning, all the time nevertheless being reinforced by new arrivals. Harold was wounded in his face by a stray arrow, yet fought on after his wounds were dressed.

William’s men gained the top of the hill, a feat in itself because the grass was bloodsoaked, covered in gore and the dead and dying of both sides. Harold was beset by three of William’s knights, taunted and hacked at by them, and finally killed. His huscarls and king’s thegns stood their ground even now, killed beside their stricken king. All others fled, pursued by William’s cavalry into the darkening woods. Even now men came, although when told of Harold’s death they too fled into the gathering darkness of the Andreds Weald. Some were pursued into a ravine to the west of the hill, where they turned on the Normans, killing some. wounding others.

Harold’s nephew Hakon survived somehow, as did Ansgar, the shire reeve of Middlesex and Harold’s stallari. Taken for dead by their own men, they fled in the darkness and headed for London. The Witan elected the aetheling Eadgar as their king when news of Harold’s slaying reached London. Those earls who had not gone with King Harold to take Duke William to task now vowed to acclaim Eadgar as was his due. Eadward’s heir was not William, they said – nor had it really been Harold but although he had been a strong earl and the leading man in the kingdom, many thought he had usurped the crown. Earls Eadwin, Morkere and Waltheof readied themselves for a certain head-on collision with William.

News came that William was on his way through Kent at the head of a six-hundred strong force of mounted knights. He was coming to London to make his claim! Eadgar led the London thegns and fyrd with Ansgar and Hakon, as survivors from Caldbec Hill. Close behind the new king came the young earls, thirsting for Norman blood – as they had thirsted for Norse blood at Stamford Bridge. William showed late in the morning with his knights, tried to talk his way out of a fight, but finally had to admit that talking was pointless. His knights crashed against an unmovable shieldwall time after time with heavy losses on William’s side to arrows, slingshot, thrown axes and spears. The road ran red with Norman blood! They resorted to setting the houses of Southwark on fire, and talks at the onset of dusk again led to nothing. A final assault on Eadgar’s shieldwall lost William more men and they left, shamed, under cover of darkness. This was Eadgar’s hour of glory! He had proved himself a leader of men, had he not?

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the red dragon of Wessex, emblem of the third greatest earldom in size after Northumbria and Mercia. It owed Harold its fealty from when he was earl on his father Godwin’s death in 1053
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Harold’s own banner showed the Cerne Abbas giant, picked out in bright jewels against a light background. Unfurling the banner would have brought a wry grin from fiend and foe alike!
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At Hastings Count Eustace of Boulogne brandhishes the gold cross banner of the pontiff, Alexander II to encourage William’s men
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By dusk William’s cavalry achieved the crest of the hill and were able to attack Harold’s own shieldwall
An arrow that struck Harold in one eye did not kill him. A dressing applied by a Waltham brother probably blind-sided him and he was beset by three of William’s knights including Eustace of Boulogne who taunted, then killed and mutilated his corpse

Books By Diana Gabaldon: An Echo In The Bone By Diana Gabaldon Book Review

Books By Diana Gabaldon: An Echo In The Bone By Diana Gabaldon Book Review

Different From A Blog

Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo In the Bone definitely brings to mind the age that we live in. Her newest in the Outlander series is definitely not meant for the blog-minded! I think it weighed in at 817 pages and I just finished it. All I can say is wow!

I hear this term a lot these days – ‘chick lit’ – or ‘chick read’. It mostly annoys me because I don’t really understand what makes women’s tastes in literature so very different from men’s but that would be a whole other hub I suppose. I have to throw out the challenge though – guys get to reading this series!

When I started reading her first book in the Outlander series, I was hooked. She somehow manages to combine Scottish history intertwined with one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read that spans hundreds of years and throws in a lot of time travel (through the stones) and even manages to branch off into American history! In my humble opinion, I would think just about anyone could find something to enjoy in her books.

The only thing I would point out is that her books are not for the ‘casual’ reader or someone who wants to pick up a book and be done with it in a day or two. Her stories are so engrossing but extremely well compartmentalized so that you can read little ‘capsules’ without becoming overwhelmed but still keep the thread going. She usually has so many side stories going on at the same time that you find yourself trying to jump ahead to figure out the final outcome. Good luck with that!

I have read a lot of the reviews so far and people are complaining mostly because the WAIT for the next one in the series will be too long! That has to say something! I have just finished An Echo In the Bone; I’m dying already because there were probably 6 loose ends that needed tying and now I will just have to wait to see how they all come out!  It may kill me to wait but oh well.  I guess that is the beauty of writing and keeping someone ‘on the hook’. To be so mesmerized by a tale that you cannot wait to read more – what a gift.

Photo on Wikicommons by Captmondo

Why I Love Diana Gabaldon’s Books

Not sure if it is a testimony to ‘chick lit’ or not but I just love reading her novels – these are just some of the many ways she hooks me!

History – Scottish as well as American History brought to life intertwined with human stories of characters that are believable if not downright lovable
Time travel – She makes you believe stepping through the stones and going back in time or forward can happen
Romance – Some of the most poignant love stories are interspersed throughout all of her books but the classic is Jamie and Claire – you just have to fall in love with them as characters and as they grow and become more mature, expand their love for one another, you want it never to end
Fantasy – In a world full of realities, sometimes it is just a wonderful thing to have someone ‘take you away’ to another time, another place and another story.  Somehow she manages to lift you out of your own life and transport you to someplace else that is full of endless emotions and exposures.  You can almost see the battle of Culloden as if you were there; you can feel their pain and suffering.  You can almost see Benjamin Franklin literallly ‘in the flesh’ as she paints such a colorful picture of his personality.  You can truly feel the agony of love lost and then the joy of regaining that love.

I guess it would be obvious that I would probably give the book a 4-thumbs up review but then I have so enjoyed ALL of the Outlander series.  They are wonderful reads and well worth the time it takes to keep reading!  The Lord John series books are also wonderful and they deal with homosexuality in a time when it certainly was not fashionable.  Again, I think her insights are remarkable and the stories fascinating! 

I sincerely hope I can wait for the sequel to this one!

Lord John Series

Lord John and the Private Matter
Amazon Price: $2.93
List Price: $7.99
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Lord John Grey)
Amazon Price: $5.82
List Price: $25.00
Lord John and the Hand of Devils
Amazon Price: $9.41
List Price: $25.00

Buy The Outlander Series On Amazon

An Echo in the Bone (Outlander)
Amazon Price: $4.70
List Price: $30.00
Amazon Price: $6.26
List Price: $17.00
Voyager (Outlander)
Amazon Price: $6.91
List Price: $17.00
Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, Book 2)
Amazon Price: $8.48
List Price: $17.00
A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander)
Amazon Price: $4.09
List Price: $8.99
Drums of Autumn (Outlander)
Amazon Price: $4.62
List Price: $8.99
The Outlandish Companion
Amazon Price: $14.10
List Price: $35.00
The Fiery Cross (Outlander)
Amazon Price: $3.78
List Price: $8.99
Diana Gabaldon Official Site
Official information on Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER and LORD JOHN series, other books, tours, appearances, biographical information, FAQs, etc.

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RAVENFEAST – The Saga Leaps Ahead. Book Three OUTCAST will be out soon – BETRAYED near final editing stage

"RAVENFEAST" - The Saga Leaps Ahead. Book Three "OUTCAST" will be out soon - "BETRAYED" near final editing stage

The Norse shieldwall …

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… Breaking through the Northumbrian and Mercian fyrd at Gate Fulford in late Steptember, 1066… Is this the beginning of the end for Anglo-Saxon England?
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King Harald came mid-September, 1066 with a great fleet of over three hundred ships. After his death and defeat of his army at Staenfordes Brycg (Stamford Bridge) a score or so ships were needed to take away the survivors and their king’s corpse

Beginnings of the RAVENFEAST SAGA series:

[Seven years ago now I was thumbing through one of our national tabloids when I chanced on one story I thought could be of use to me. I had been ‘angling’ for an idea for a book or maybe even a series. What caught my eye was an interview with the singer James Blunt, in which he told the reporters Martel Maxwell and Elise Jenkins about one of his forefathers, a Danish noble of royal blood, who fought beside King Harold at Hastings. He did not specify this man’s name, but suggested his family name was ‘Blond’. That name could easily cover a majority of Danes, but I went into the family history of King Harold, unearthing many interesting facts and thus was ‘born’ Ivar Ulfsson]:

IVAR ULFSSON, a close kinsman of King Harold Godwinson, is one of the king’s most trusted huscarls – his personal bodyguards, chosen for weapon skills and social ties to their lord. Although true to his kinsman the king, he is torn through recent events by his friendship with the king’s brother, Tostig, former Earl of Northanhymbra (Northumbria).

Asked by Harold to ensure Tostig’s safety in the slaughter to come at Staenfordes Brycg (Stamford Bridge, east of York), Ivar must feign distrust in the king’s apparent unwillingness to help his brother for the sake of unity in the kingdom. After the fighting Ivar’s task is to see that Tostig leaves England for Flanders. First, however, the woman Braenda he met years before (after the defeat of Gruffyd ap Llewellyn in Gwynedd, northern Wales) seeks him out at the Earlsburh. Her bullying husband rouses them from their slumbers but Braenda eludes him.

At Richale (Riccall near Selby), when Ivar visits the king’s brother on his ship, Tostig in his rage at being duped thumps Ivar in the pit of his stomach, winding him. Nevertheless Ivar is forgiven by Tostig before he takes a fond farewell of his former earldom.

Before he can take the road south with two friends from Waltham in Essex, one of Ivar’s armed escorts, Sigurd is slain by an unknown attacker. Ivar is accused by Morkere’s huscarls who have ridden with him of the murder and must return to York with them to clear his name. Whilst in the Earlsburh, on his way to seeking out Sigurd’s widow Braenda, one of the two friends Beorhtwulf is killed by the drunkard Garwulf. In the following hours Garwulf is slain to avenge Beorhtwulf’s death and his brother Saeward is taken back to York to face the Thrijungar court. Ivar rides on south to London, hopeful of catching up with Harold with an old friend, the dispossessed outlaw Hrothulf, his woman Aethel and son Theodolf.

Thus begins the saga series RAVENFEAST. The sons of two great noble dynasties face one another across a wooded dale in the Andreds Weald, the thickly forested South Downs of the eleventh century. Only one can hope to win and the outcome decides a nation’s fate for centuries to come!

Yet even after winning on Caldbec Beorg (Caldbec Hill) this is only one step towards the coveted throne for William. At the approach to Lunden (London) with a force of five hundred knights to take the Witan’s surrender he cannot know the Witan have seen fit to appoint King Eadward’s young kinsman, the aetheling Eadgar as king. With him are survivors of the defeat at Caldbec Hill such as Ansgar the shire reeve of Middlesex and Harold’s nephew Hakon. Between them they have raised a new fyrd force to meet the Normans with a special, warm welcome on the Southwark end of London Bridge. Can the duke fulfil his dream?


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Harold’s huscarls stand below the knoll their king has adopted as his high point of command

“RAVENFEAST: Farewell to Legend”

is available through the publisher Authorhouse, and on-line from Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble in paperback (ISBN 978-1-4567-8961-9) and in e-book format (ISBN 978-1-4567-8962-6).

The paperback, at a hefty 620 pages is a lot of book for your cash, whichever way you take it, with the map of Britain in the 11th Century that you see at the base of this page, historical notes, glossary of terms and key to the names of major cities, regions and other geographical features. As well as new copies that are printed on request by Authorhouse, Amazon has on offer used copies.

*”RAVENFEAST” is also available on Kindle through Amazon.

See below about the next follow-up, “OVERTHROWN – The Dream Fades”, and about work underway on “OUTCAST – Storm in the Kingdom” –

*I shall look into having “RAVENFEAST” re-published under the New Generation umbrella with my other titles. A few changes have been made early in the book, so keep a sharp look-out. The reissue could be out later this year.

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The cover of ‘RAVENFEAST: Farewell to Legend’. The raven image is that shown on Harald Sigurdsson’s banner, Land-Oda (Land-Ravager). Duke William also had a raven banner – odd for so-called Christian leaders when you consider they were Odin’s birds!
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The Normans landing at Pefense – Pevensey. They had a pre-fabricated castle builit within the old Roman fortress of Anderida on the Saxon shore. William also had a banner from the pontiff Alexander, brought to him by Normans from the south.
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It was vital to know how to maintain the shieldwall both in attack and in defence. The solid wall could be intimidating. Equally a solid wall could put off an attacker; any ‘cracks’ or weaknesses would present prime targets to an opportunist foe.
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Harold would have addressed his men before the coming battle to raise their morale qand stiffen their resolve

William’s cavalry ready themselves for the uphill advance

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‘Terce’ – the ninth hour – had been rung on the bell of the nearby chapel. This marked the beginning of the Norman duke’s bid to gain his kinsman Edward’s crown.
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William did not just mount an invasion. This was to be a crusade against an unbeliever – Harold ‘usurped’ the crown and showed himself a perjuror by denying his oath of allegiance to the duke. Here Eustace of Bolougne carries St Peter’s banner.
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It was late in the day before William’s men finally reached the hilltop and penetrated the weakened shieldwall. He had drawn the least experienced of the Saxons in feints and was soon to reap the rewards
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The Normans and their allies had gained the hilltop and were making inroads into the depleted shieldwall…
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The injured Harold’s huscarls formed a defensive line around him

London Bridge late October, 1066

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In the Saxon Chronicle the battle at London Bridge occurred in December, 1066 when Duke William came to London with five hundred knights to take the Witan’s surrender. I don’t think he waited that long and placed it late October in RAVENFEAST

This is Britain at the time of the Conquest

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Names of burhs (towns and cities) are shown as they would have appeared in the Saxon Chronicles of the time

OVERTHROWN, the second in the RAVENFEAST series has been available through New Generation Publishing since last year under ISBN 978-1-909039-89-6 @ ?11.99 in the UK. Alternatively you can check the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Gardners and Bertrams sites for the US/Euro/Worldwide price or order through your local bookshop.

The ‘dream’ in the subtitle is for one part the wish of Eadgar ‘the aetheling’ to take the crown as is his due. It is also the wish of Ivar Ulfsson to convince Eadgar that his dream is attainable, in order to realise his own wish for land in England as a king’s thegn.

The plan begins to unravel as Earnald, the Frankish monk Ivar needs as interpreter, dies on them on the way to Hastings. Calamity follows hard on the heels of catastrophe as the mission seems doomed to failure. On reaching London again a Norman knight sent by Odo tells Ivar he is to ride back to Rochester under escort, to give himself up to William’s half-brother Bishop Odo. Otherwise one of his friends and a number of Kentish folk are to be hanged. His friend is saved from the noose, as are the other hostages but at the expense of others killed saving them. In London again Ivar rides to see Eadgar, who tells him the Witan have ‘sold out’ to William and that he is no longer king. Absolving Ivar from his oath of loyalty, Eadgar also aids his escape from the young Norman noble Gilbert de Warenne who follows him to the old burh. Ivar is able to elude him. Back at the ‘Eel Trap’ inn Ivar meets one of Harold’s sons, Eadmund, who takes him and his few remaining friends to meet his brothers Godwin and Magnus at Leagatun (Leyton).

Against the better judgement of those around him, before Christmas Ivar announces he wishes to spy on William’s coronation at the West Mynster, to see which of the nobles give their oath to the new king. Ably assisted by three of his friends, Saeward, Oslac and Cyneweard, Ivar evades capture again after the coronation. He meets his love, Braenda – this time in the guise of an innkeeper near Ceolsey (Chelsea) – .and spends the night with her. Ivar learns from a passing stranger, Hereward, that the inn has lain derelict for years, and that the old servant who took care of their horses had been dead for as long. In skirting London they meet an old fellow near the heath at Hamstede (Hampstead) who offers them hospitality and drugs their ale… They wake to find themselves captive of Gilbert de Warenne, and, bound to their horses are escorted through the city to Ealdgata (Aldgate). There’s a map in the book on page 12 with the main ‘burh’ names in the original spelling, taken from the Saxon Chronicles. There are the historical notes and glossary of terms as well as explanations of place names at the back of the book. More later…

Work is almost complete on the editing stage for book four, “BETRAYED – The Net Tightens”, over 700 m/s pages.In the introduction, ‘Heretofore’ the tale recaps on ‘OUTCAST’ before launching into the main story, beginning with Ivar being wounded during William’s siege of Exeter in the winter of 1067. Ivar and Saeward venture out in the dark over the walls to spy out the king’s camp for Harold’s eldest son Godwin. With them is Father Eadwig who knows the Norman tongue, having studied at Caen with the king’s half-brother Odo. Saeward is there to help the priest, whilst Ivar must play a mute Brother, tonsured, shaven-faced again. There are surprises in store, a few twists and a mention of Hunding (Hrothulfsson) as his ‘uncle’ somewhere in the middle chapter(s) when Ivar beings the seriously wounded Magnus Haroldson to Bosanham, (this is where Ivar first came to stay with his aunt Gytha, Earl Godwin and his sons, Svein, Harold and Tostig.

‘OUTCAST – Storm in the Kingdom’ –

Soon to be published is the third volume, ‘OUTCAST – Storm in the Kingdom’. where under pressure from his priest, Godwin Haroldson sends Ivar away because Ivar will not repudiate his lover, the witch Braenda. ‘OUTCAST’ will be available very shortly. I shall keep you posted with a ‘Stop Press’ on the headline.

Ivar is not alone. Oslac and Cyneweard ride west with him, soon to be joined by Theodolf and Saeward. Read their adventures as the three are captured by Ivar’s nemesis Gilbert de Warenne with his posse of Norman cavalry and a weasly Oxford thegn. Freed again, Ivar punishes the grasping innkeeper Bruning and sends de Warenne and his ally packing back to Oxford.

Further west Ivar and his friends take friend Thegn Osgod’s Northumbrians to be Normans until a troop of Normans shows from the west,. With the weight of numbers against them, the Normans pull back and the newly reunited friends Osgod and Ivar ride on west with their friends and followers to join Eadric ‘Cild’ in Wales. A summer of raiding on Norman strongholds beckons. On learning his old enemy Copsig has been made up to Earl of Northumbria north of the Tees, Ivar browbeats Harding, one of Osgod’s friends into taking him, despite the likely threat to his own life from Gospatric and his kinsman Osulf. As kinsman of Tostig he would be targeted, as much an enemy as the Normans, and his Danish background does not help.

Follow the background tapestry to this saga on the Northworld Saga Site. Look up the page titled ‘Sunset’, which takes you from the time of Knut/Canute’s successors by way of Edward II, ‘the Confessor’ to Harold and the aetheling Eadgar, the last of the Saxon royal blood-line. Click on the link for Northworld Saga Site There is a Bookshelf/Contact page where you can follow Ivar’s progress, use a link to the Amazon site for ordering and read a shortened Profile about the author.

Watch this space…

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Cover design of “OVERTHROWN – The Dream Fades”, book two in the RAVENFEAST series. Details will be available within weeks
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Harold adopted the Norman style of shield for his men shortly before William’s invasion. A huscarl was expected to fall by his king in battle. Had Ivar not been knocked out, he too would have fallen with Harold