Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest

The day has finally arrived!

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from today.

The momentous events of 1066, the story of invasion, battle and conquest, are well known. But what of the women?

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swanneck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s Duchess, Matilda of Flanders, had supposedly only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?

These are not peripheral figures. Emma of Normandy was a Norman married to both a Saxon and a Dane ‒ and the mother of a king from each. Wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, the fact that, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, she had control of the treasury at the end of the reigns of both Cnut and Harthacnut suggests the extent of Emma’s influence over these two kings –and the country itself.

Then there is Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great, and the less well known but still influential Gundrada de Warenne, the wife of one of William the Conqueror’s most loyal knights, and one of the few men who it is known beyond doubt was with the Duke at the Battle of Hastings.

These are lives full of drama, pathos and sometimes mystery: Edith and Gytha searching the battlefield of Hastings for the body of Harold, his lover and mother united in their grief for the fallen king. Who was Ælfgyva, the lady of the Bayeux Tapestry, portrayed with a naked man at her feet?

Silk and the Sword traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play during the Norman Conquest – wives, lovers, sisters, mothers, leaders.

 

Two years ago, in 1016, the story of the Norman Conquest was all over the news – it was the 950th anniversary of the fateful year, when Halley’s Comet was seen in the skies, three kings died on English soil (2 in battle), one invasion was repelled and a second succeeded. I remember watching the progress of the English Heritage re-enactors, who marched from Stamford Bridge near York to Hastings in Sussex. They were following in the footsteps of King Harold II himself, marching from victory at Stamford Bridge to defeat and death at Hastings.

And I remember thinking, what about the women?

The focus was always on the men, the soldiers and kings. However, men didn’t do this alone.

No, the women didn’t fight, and it is often hard to discern their presence and influence on events; but they were there and so I determined to discover their stories and place them in the context of the events of, not only, 1066, but of the 11th century as a whole.

Reviews

And the first reviews are already in. Thanks to the Tony Riches, S.J.A. Turney and Louise Wyatt their wonderful assessments of Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest:

From Tony Riches: “the central theme of Silk and the Sword, … is how little is known about the women involved in the build-up to the Norman Conquest. It has taken much detective work to sort out the few known facts from the many myths. It hasn’t helped that even the names of these women are debated and records of the time (including the famous tapestry) focus on the men.”

From S.J.A. Turney: “Once more a refreshing and unique look at the women of British history, this book offers a perspective you’ll not find in any other work on the events of 1066….Silk and the Sword is a valuable addition to any reference library on the Medieval world and simply a very good read.”

From Louise Wyatt: “Although this is obviously a work of non-fiction, the intricacy and meticulous attention to detail adds a woven depth that brings the reader into the tumultuous times these people lived in….this is an example of the level Sharon works at – professional microscopic attention to detail – and this shines through in Sharon’s writing….Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is a most vicarious read, be it for leisure and/or for referencing. Highly recommended.

From Annie Whitehead: “Great care has been taken to skilfully extract these women from the general narrative and talk about them in isolation, whilst keeping the facts of their lives in context….This was an ambitious project, beautifully executed…..This book is a light, easy read, but it’s also full of depth.”

Guest Blog Posts

Read about Emma of Normandy, twice-crowned Queen of England over at Myths, Legeneds, Books & Coffee Pots.

Thank Yous

I owe a huge thank you to everyone in the Facebook community, to Amberley Publishing, to my friends and family and the incredible readers of this blog, who have shown nothing but encouragement and support. THANK YOU!

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Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will is available in the UK ffrom today and is available for order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository. It will be published in the USA on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Warriors and Kings by Martin Wall

For centuries, the Celtic peoples of Britain stood fast against invasion and oppression. Theirs is a fascinating and exciting story that includes the deeds of some of the most tenacious and heroic leaders in history – from Caratacus and Boudicca to William Wallace, Owain Glyndwr and the legendary King Arthur. What was it that gave first the Britons, and then the Welsh, this fanatical will to hold out against overwhelming odds through so many centuries?

Martin Wall explores the mythology and psychology of this unyielding and insular people; their devotion to charismatic leaders they believed to be sent from God, and their stubborn determination ‘ne’er to yield’ to oppression and injustice, whether Roman, Saxon, Norman, Viking, or later, the ravages of industrialisation. This fascinating book explores Celtic Britain from before the onslaught of the Roman Empire, through rebellion and open war, to the Act of Union passed under the Tudors and on to the Victorian era.

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain is a treasure trove of information on the history  of the Celts. Charting their progress, trials and tribulations from the time of the Romans, it provides a unique, in-depth biography of the race that once occupied Britain.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons by John Opie.

Opening with the first Roman invasion of Britain, Martin Wall takes the reader on a journey through England through the eyes of the Celts, providing a detailed and interesting analysis of their way of life, their culture and beliefs and the key points in the history of the Celtic peoples and – by extension – Britain itself. Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain gives us insight into the key characters of Celtic Britain, the heroes and the villains.

Using and analysing contemporary sources Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain tells the fascinating story of Boudicca’s – ultimately doomed – rebellion. The book also discusses the existence – or not – of King Arthur, offering theories and ideas as to his identity; while leaving the reader to decide for themselves who he may have been.

The real problem which has bedevilled researchers into a ‘factual’ Arthur is that his rise to power coincided with the collapse of Roman Britain and the re-emergence or revival of Celtic culture – combined with a barbarian onslaught of unprecedented intensity from the Saxons. In times so troubled few contemporary records were kept up, but a little later, after the events but close enough to them to be reliably informed, Gildas wrote his De Excidio et conquestu Britanniae, his ‘complaining book’, about the ‘ruination of Britain’

Martin Wall has produced a book that is both enjoyable and informative, providing balanced argument and analysis of all the major events and figures of Celtic Britain. Making good use of contemporary and near-contemporary literature and archaeology, the story is re-told in a fascinating chronological narrative. Drawing on historians from earliest times, such as Tacitus and Gildas, all the way to the most recent studies, Martin Wall pulls everything together in order to tell the story.

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain charts the 1500-year-long struggle for supremacy over the island of Britain, showing how the Celts have been faced with one invasion after another. Using the battles, conflicts and invasions, we follow the fate of the Celts from the Romans, through the Dark Ages and in to the reign of King Alfred. The wonderful Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, and her struggle with the Vikings leads into the Norman Conquest and further erosion of Celtic traditions, with the invaders pushing inexorably westwards. There are some fascinating insights into Celtic culture and history; for example, did you know that small enclaves of Celts existed in Mercia during the 5th and 6th centuries?

By the late 570s it was clear that several powerful Anglo-Saxon kings were poised ready to move westwards. In the north, King Aethelric of Deira commenced hostilities with Rheged. A bold Anglian attack thrust right over the Pennines and at Argoed Llyfein, the forest of Leven in Cumbria, Aethelric, nicknamed the ‘Flame-bearer’ by the Celtic bards (perhaps his army had marched through the mountain passes in a night attack), was confronted on a bleak Saturday morning by the mighty Urien. The Angles were soundly beaten and Urien became a legendary Brythonic hero. This did not end the war, but intensified it until it became an epic conflict – truly worthy of poetry and legend, a contest between ‘Dark Age’ super-powers.

King Arthur and his Knights have a vision of the Holy Grail a by Evrard d’Espinques

 

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain demonstrates that, despite its name, ‘Dark Age’ Britain is anything but the unknown entity as previously thought. We have a wealth of information on people and events and Martin Wall has brought all the disparate sources – legends, chronicles and poems – together to recreate and enlighten a hitherto underexposed era of British history.

The author’s analysis is clear, concise and informative. He makes it clear where his own theories and those of other historians either agree or digress, while always being respectful. There are no footnotes, but references are included as part of the text, with a bibliography at the back of the book. The sources are assessed on an individual basis, with Martin Wall giving clear views on their veracity, bias and – sometimes – exaggeration.

For fans of Bernard Cornwell, Matthew Harffy and Annie Whitehead, this book gives the historical background to their fabulous novels, explaining the origins and times of Uhtred, Beobrand and Aethelflaed (even if Uhtred and Beobrand are fictional).

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain examines every aspect of Celitc history; their language, literature, religion and, even, warfare. It charts their story through the centuries and provides some explanation of how they disappeared into legend, their enclaves getting smaller and smaller as other tribes grew in power and influence over Britain. The book is a pleasure to read and a useful addition to any book shelf – be it a fan of King Arthur, a lover of Boudicca or a general history lover.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain by Martin Wall is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly