The Last Anglo-Saxon King and A Successful Invasion: Brutality, Beauty, and The Workings of Fate in Our Lives – in 1066
A Review of 1066 – What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway
I love to read a lively account of English history, and often draw principles from it that are relevant to our own lives. So when author G.K. Holloway contacted me recently to ask if I’d agree to read and review his book 1066 – What Fates Impose, I was happy to do so. The author had previously enjoyed my review of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. And having agreed to read and review the book I felt strongly enough about it to post the review on my blog.
Throughout English history, the ordinary people have never had the luxury of much to play around with by way of fate and destiny; other than the destiny they inherited to struggle day by day to live short, desperate and brutish lives. And unless you study social history, you learn only about the great “movers and shakers” rather than ordinary people.
And so it is with the events surrounding 1066, which we probably all learned about in primary school. But read this book and you will feel close up to those dramatic and fateful events.
After a stunning opening scene, showing a remorseful William the Conqueror on his deathbed, I found the next few chapters of the book slow-going because they present a confusing array of names, with all the details of Earl Godwin and his sons, and a fickle and rather weak Edward the Confessor dishing out earldoms as it suits him, and a mix of rebellious sons, betrayal, poisonous royal advisers and ruthless conniving archbishops.
But when the stakes are high, and huge power and wealth is the prize, and the outcome will have major repercussions on history, then questions of fate and destiny become fascinating and intensely real.
The book picked up narrative pace as it moved on towards the events of 1066. In particular, the battle description at the end is brilliant, with several flashes of rich detail, engaging all the senses, together with poignant and moving touches that made me feel I was there at the thick of the battle of Hastings.
After much detailed description of carnage, brutality and sadistic violence, the end of the book came unexpectedly with a poetic beauty that I found truly moving. I was so immersed in the events that I even found myself thinking ‘I hope Harold wins’ even though I then thought ‘Of course he won’t. William wins’.
And there is one character whose sadistic murder of a mother and child whilst pillaging along the south east coast of England is so scrupulously examined I longed for him to get his come-uppance. But he doesn’t. Instead, he wins glory, royal gratitude, a large parcel of land in Devonshire and a wife and two sons. So much for ‘the way of the wicked’ perishing.
A fantastic evocation of a period of history that can seem very dry in our early school lives. But this book engages us emotionally in these events, bringing us up very close, refreshing our sense of perspective, causing us to reflect on the workings of irony in our own lives, when all our expectations are defeated and we face the reality of the least likely outcome.