Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I Am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick
Published March 2011
Trade paperback, 592 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
The Battle of Hastings, also known as the Norman invasion of Britain or the Norman Conquest, is familiar terrain to history buffs. I Am the Chosen King is essentially the lead-up to it as the book covers the years from 1043 to 1066 A.D. Viking raids still occur and Edward the Confessor, of Westminster Abbey fame, sits on the throne of England.
I found the narrative quite long. Although this is an account about Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England (the chosen king) there is an equal amount of space, it seemed to me, devoted to William of Normandy.
Slowly, slowly the story moves forward as the author describes the life of the each of the two protagonists. Harold is 21 years old and already an earl with lands and wealth. He offers a “hand-fast” marriage (read concubinage) to Edyth with whom he eventually has 7 children. William of Normandy is betrothed to Matilda when she is 11 years old, marries her some time later and they produce several children also. Right from the outset, Harold is portrayed as the good guy. He is variously described as loving, conscientious, just, even-tempered, determined, and loyal. William, on the other hand, is ruthless, cruel, cold, ambitious, lusting after the throne of England. Everything in his life is secondary to his ambition, including his wife.
The overwhelming theme of the book concerns the power struggles both in England and Normandy during the twenty years prior to 1066 and the author describes them in detail. Both Harold and William are involved in these disputes and battles, though not always against each other. Upon the death of his father, Harold becomes Earl of Wessex, second only in power and importance to the king. The narrative then takes on a more urgent tone as ambition starts to infect Harold. Why shouldn’t he rule England? Upon the death of King Edward, William is chosen by the Witan, the Council of advisors, to be the next king of England. Upon learning this, William of Normandy is enraged because Harold has already sworn fealty to him and agreed to support William’s own claim to the throne. William judges Harold’s acceptance of the crown as treachery against him and the stage is thus set for the fateful Battle of Hastings.
William invades England. Harold moves his army towards Hastings. The bloody carnage takes place on October 15, 1066. Harold is savagely murdered, then hacked to pieces – a dishonourable death to both English and Norman sensibilities. William, Duke of Normandy becomes King of England. And the rest is history, as the saying goes.
I found some of the language coarse and vulgar, perhaps with the view to making the story authentic. The description of the battles was bloody and too detailed for me. In the final analysis, the recounting of this history offers further proof to me that “man has dominated man to his injury.”
Disclosure: Thanks to Beth Pehlke from Sourcebooks for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.