Kevin's Reviews > 1066

1066 by Frank McLynn
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Feb 21, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-non-fiction
Read from February 21 to March 23, 2012

There are very few sources regarding Hastings and Harold Godwinesons defeat. Most was written by the victors, by French Bishops. However modern analyses points out some errors, mainly that of the scene in the Bayeaux Tapestry that depicts two things; one, the arrow in the eye and second, of a Saxon being ridden down by Norman Knights. These two embroidered scenes are underneath the Latin quote saying Harold Rex (Harold King) dies. The arrow in the eye is actually not really written about in the early histories, it only came up later, which leads historians to believe that possibly Harold was the second figure, and the fact that he was singled out and ridden down from a hand picked group of Knights. He was also mutilated, and it was Harold's wife, Edith Swan-Neck that had the unfortunate task of identifying his body from marks she knew. Its an interesting 'revisionist' alternative viewpoint of Hastings, but due to the fact that Harold lost his Brothers at Hastings, his family line ended up in diaspora, there was no one left to counter the official Norman version of 1066.

Frank McLynns book details the main figures of this pivotal year, starting from Edward the Confessor, Earl Godwin, Harald Hardrada, William of Normandy and Harold Godwineson. He studies all these historical figures, putting a character onto them all, their pasts (the past of Harald Hardrada is the most interesting) and how they all became interlinked in 1066. He then analyses 1066 and the three main battles of that year; Fulford, Stamford Bridge (and just how lucky Harold Godwineson was to pull off Stamford Bridge which saw the total route of the Vikings as well as loosing their King Hardrada), but unfortunately, either through poor generalship or whatnot, he ends up rushing too fast down south to take on William, leaving most of his levies behind and the ones he takes were all exhausted from the fast long march from York. It is worth noting that Hastings was such a close run battle, the Saxons were actually winning throughout the day, and maybe could well have won if Harold had not died and managed to muster and rally his forces.

So, the question the book poses is that was it the 'arrow in the eye' that slayed Harold, or was he singled out by hand selected Norman Knights who smashed through his housecarls and butchered him? The 'arrow in the eye' story only came up later on, maybe being mis-interpreted because Harald Hardrada apparently died from an arrow to his neck, but there will always be conjecture and I doubt if we will ever know. Good History.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Kevin Things I got wrong here; McLynn states that apparently Harold managed to raise new levies and that he was not that exhausted from travelling from York, although he did leave a lot of his Fyrd behind (levies). So what I said about poor generalship and exhausted troops is not mentioned in his book, I got this from another source I was reading which probably mixed up what I was trying to say. Regardless, he did not fight with the same force as he had with Stamford Bridge. Or at least not the Fyrd. But he had his Housecarls.


message 2: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Not thought about this period of history since I learned about it in school. Looks like it is worth a revisit!


message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark wow. You are certainly getting through the Harold and Hastings bookshelf this year. Another fascinating read from the sound of your excellent review


Kevin I blame the Channel 4 two part drama called 1066. Watched it recently and it piqued my interest somewhat. Thanks for your comments.


Szplug Great stuff, Kevin—just what was needed, in fact, to confirm this beautifully-designed book as being perfectly suited for the tail-end of November slot in non-fictional forays...


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