Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings

Chris Priestley
Nonfiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic Children’s Books (UK), 2003   ISBN: 978-0439982412

The years preceding the 1066 Norman invasion of England were tumultuous ones with the most powerful families in England fighting one another for power and favour. In fact there was an astonishing amount of fighting going on between family members; brother trying to oust brother; cousin killing cousin. All in all, from this distance in time, the situation resembles a free-for-all spiced with hate, jealousy, and a wish for revenge.

In 1042 Edward the Confessor became the king succeeding his father King Ethelred the Unready. England at this time was divided up into large earldoms. One of these, Wessex, was in the control of the Godwinson brothers. Edward had married into the family to secure his position and many of the bothers worked for him. Harold Godwinson was particularly close to the king, and served him in many capacities. The marriage to Edith was a happy but childless one. Thus it was that Edward had no son to succeed him. On his deathbed in January of 1066 Edward told Harold Godwinson that he gave Harold "the kingdom to your protection."

Harold was crowned king soon after Edward died and he had the full support of the witangemot (a kind of governing council). There was however someone else who felt that the crown of England belonged to him. William "the Bastard" of Normandy claimed that he had been promised the crown. Furthermore he went to some trouble to get the Pope to sanction his claim. William was a ruthless, determined man who always got what he wanted and if it was not given to him he would take it. This is what he planned to do with England, and soon he was making arrangements to invade the island kingdom.

In England Harold did his best to prepare for a possible invasion though he had great difficulty keeping soldiers on hand. To add to his problems several of his own relatives continued to stir up trouble against him. One of them, his brother Tostig, went so far as to ‘invite’ the Viking king Harald Hardrada to invade northern England. Harold was able to fight and defeat the Vikings but at a great cost for he lost many men. He also was far to the north when William and his invasion force landed in southern England.

The situation is truly one which makes one wonder "what if?" What if Harold had not been cursed with such dangerous relatives? What if Harold had not needed to fight the Vikings and if he had been ready and waiting for William at Hastings? It is very likely that the battle would have had a very different outcome. But, because of ill luck Harold was under manned, exhausted, and he lost the battle against William of Normandy.

The author of this superbly researched book gives his readers not only a gripping account of the battle of Hastings. He also provides substantive background information about the principal characters in the story, and he shows us how luck, or ill luck, had a role in its outcome. Finally, the author has created ‘pictures’ of Harold and William in their settings which help the reader see what it must have been like to be there, in those times and with those people. For example the author gives us a front seat view of a feast which Harold attends and of William’s very difficult channel crossing.

This is one of the excellent "Double Take: Two sides of One Story" series published by Scholastic Children’s Books in the UK.