© Elizabeth Alder.
They say history is written by the winners, and it’s probably so. Perhaps the most famous year in British history is 1066 when, as every British schoolchild is taught, William the Conqueror of Normandy defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, ushering in the Norman conquest of England and the beginning of regularly recorded history there. I’d never read much about Harold, but what I recall made him sound an ineffective and perhaps bad ruler. This novel written for children brings a different and refreshing perspective.
It begins in 1063, when a teenage boy in what’s now Wales is forced from his home and flees east into the realm of Wessex, ruled by Earl Harold. There he is taken into the household of Lady Ealdgyth, consort of Harold, and shown much kindness. They even send him to a monastery where he is taught to read and write. Eventually he becomes a squire to Harold, who is struggling to keep England, managed by him and his brothers for the aging King Edward the Confessor, from splintering into separate factions. In this book, Harold is shown as a fine man, a courageous warrior, and a wise ruler, who happens to ascend to the throne at a time when events conspire against him.
I began the book a bit put off by what happens to the boy, Evyn, early on, when his tongue is cut out by a villainous Welsh lordling, making him mute throughout the story. This makes for some awkward storytelling in places, as Evyn must constantly be placed with people who are talkers, willing to explain things to him even though he can’t reply. As the book went on, though, that became less important, especially when Evyn learns to read and write, and so can express himself a bit more.
The real center of the story is Harold, and what happens to him in the years 1063-1066 makes for engaging reading, made all the more poignant because I knew where it would end. This is a good read and a vauable addition to the stories I know about British history. Recommended.