1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth

Publisher: Penguin August 1981
Genre: Non-fiction, 1066, Norman Conquest, King Harold, William the Conqueror, Medieval England
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Library copy.

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When I think about the year 1066, I become anxious all of a sudden. Yes, I know the date was over 900 years ago, but thinking about a foreign country invading the land of England, I feel a sense of foreboding, as if I should pack a small bag and run, runaway fast. Of course the right thing to do would be to defend my country and my land.
When the year 1066 began, King Edward, also known as Edward, the Confessor, was near death. An heir had not been decided. There were claimants to the throne, but Edward had not chosen one. His death came during the night of January 4th, or early morning hours of the 5th. The Witan (Anglo-Saxon council) decided to pass the crown to Harold Godwin or Godwine. The Witan were in agreement they did not want a foreign king. When William of Normandy, found out Harold had been crowned king of England he was enraged. William had been under the impression he was Edward's heir. On October 14, 1066, in a field near Hastings, East Sussex, England, King Harold and his army, met William of Normandy and his army, in defense of England. The battle lasted from dawn to dusk, by the end of the day, a gruesome scene of stripped and hacked dead men lay in a bloody field, and England had a new king, a foreign king, and not one of their own choosing.

My Thoughts:
This is an amazing book. In 208 pages I learned more than in some books that hold 300 or more pages.
From the introduction, pages 7-8.
"Immediately after 1066, there were naturally three different versions of what had happened, Norman, English and Scandinavian. The rather later writers added new stories, either from earlier versions which are lost or from oral traditions, and these already had the quality of legends when they were written. Moreover, most of the writers were monks who felt bound to draw moral conclusions, and some were writing for patrons who expected their own opinions to be confirmed. So any modern historian has to use his own judgement pretty freely. When he finds contradictory stories, he has to decide which is most probable, which writer had the best reason to know the truth - or which, on the other hand, had reason to distort it; and if he cannot decide, he has to tell all the versions. On the whole, all the early writers were more likely to be right about things in their own country, and were sometimes obviously wrong about things in other countries...I think it is fair to say that Normans were the least reliable, because they felt they had to make excuses for their invasion, and their writers were sometimes deceived by their own propaganda." 
Serious history readers expect historical fact in their non-fiction reading material, many want only minor fill-in information for historical fiction. I was glad David Howarth was honest in his intentions of the book.
1066: The Year of the Conquest, begins New Year's Day, and follows through the year with significant dates through to New Year's Eve.
The sources used for the book is listed in brief with dates and authorship and title. Examples from the list are: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Vita Aedwardi Regis, Bayeaux Tapestry, Domesday Book.
A battle between King Harold, and his brother Tostig who'd joined with King Harald Hardrada of Norway, happened in September 1066, at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, England. Before King Harold's army had time to rest, they were told of William of Normandy's arrival on the south coast of England.  
Both the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, and the Battle of Hastings, is written about in detail, gruesome as they were, it gave me the magnitude of the battles. Battle weaponry, organization of men, fighting style, training, are all explored.
David Howarth, has a relaxed and easy to read writing style; in addition, I enjoyed reading his analysis of the personalities of Harold and William.
One simple map is given on the Battle of Hastings.
One lineage chart is given of the "genealogy of the early Kings of England and Denmark, and the Dukes of Normandy."


  1. I read a fantastic biography of William decades ago, time to look at the topic again, thanks to your recommendation

  2. I absolutely love books like this and it sounds well worth the read. I know how you feel about the sense of foreboding when you see a date like 1066.

    >David Howarth, has a relaxed and easy to read writing style; in addition, I enjoyed reading his analysis of the personalities of Harold and William.

    This is really whetting my appetite--the compare and contrast of personalities from 900 years ago :)


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