Sunday, 30 October 2016

Diana talks to - Manda Scott


It was a true privilege to have heard Manda Scott  talk at HNS16, when she spoke on a panel with Rory Clements and Antonia Hodgson about Writing the Historical Thriller: Methods and Approaches. It was an even greater privilege that she agreed to answering a few (?) questions for me.

Thank you Manda.

1: If your latest book INTO THE FIRE was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

I do have this in development for television but have not got near the casting.  The lead would have to play in both the contemporary thread as Captain Inès Picaut and in the historical thread as The Maid.  I’ve always thought that Archie Panjabi would be excellent in both roles, but I barely watch television, so I’m probably not the best person to decide that. That is amazinglygood news for the many, many fans of this TV genre!

2: If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I do but I’m pitching it to my publisher just now and can’t talk about it. I’ve always written in an effort to move the great ship of society/culture.  Writing history was a chance to do this - the Boudica: Dreaming series were based on the premise that ‘this is who we were, this is who we could be’ (‘We’ being the peoples of the British Isles) but I am beginning to realise that the world is not about to drop 2 millennia of Roman thinking and return to something more sustainable. So I may look forwards instead. Exciting!

3: Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I have a very set routine. I wake and do a morning ceremony which is a bit like Tai Chi and then walk/run with the dog in the local hills/woodlands where I can practice a mindful/contemplative kind of walking on the way out and think about the book on the return journey.  I have my desk set up with ergonomic keyboard/mouse (Microsoft split keyboard and Evoluent left handed mouse, for those that are interested. I’m not left handed, but I do mouse with my left). I take endless breaks. I try not to read too much else that is fiction while I’m writing but read a lot in the evenings.  I write from mid-day to about 8 pm unless there’s a reason to stop sooner.  

4: Marmite: love it or hate it?
Love it, but can’t eat it - it brings me out in a bizarre rash. 

5: Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Chancellor of the Exchequer. I’m currently taking a 6 month sabbatical to do an MA in Economics for Transition (to a sustainable way of living) and would love to be able to implement it. If not that, I’d be a journalist on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

6: Coffee or tea? Red or white?
None of these. I don’t do any of... tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate or sugar. 
Total respect!

7: If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I genuinely have no idea. Whatever one is most readable. I’d ask my partner, who is a graphic designer. 

8:  Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? The full works of Tacitus. 

9: Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Not so far.  I would like *not* to have had to see Boudica die at the end of the four books, but history is what it is… 
As a devoted reader of those four books, I would also have liked her *not* to die!

10:   Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this ?
Not knowingly. The point (for me) is to work with the known facts and discover how and (more importantly) why they arose
11. Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
I’m not sure any of us knows ‘facts’.  

12:   Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I love a lot of my characters.  The one I identify with most is Bàn, who becomes Valerius, though I was surprised the extent to which I really connected with a half Gaullish spy by the name of Sebastos Pantera. 

13: What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I love it I read mountains of non fiction. I particularly enjoy books on ciphers and coding.  In fiction terms, I read anything that’s good.  Really, really good.  Hilary Mantel, Andrew Taylor, Antonia Hodgeson, Imogen Robertson.  There’s so much that’s outstanding.  I recently fell in love with a series of spy novels by Adam Brookes, a former BBC correspondent.  NIGHT HERON is outstanding. 

14: What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Skullcap tea.  It’s my current favourite drink and is amazingly uplifting, but you have to keep to small doses. One mug a day. 

15: Favourite historical author.
Tthat’s hard.  Actually, that’s really, really hard. For a long time, it would have been Mary Renault: her ‘Fire from Heaven’ was my Desert Island Book.  But then Wolf Hall came along. And then Andrew Taylor wrote The Ashes of London which is just a delight.  So… any of those, really. 
Author, columnist and screenwriter, Manda Scott has written thirteen novels beginning with contemporary thrillers. Her first, Hen's Teeth; was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, No Good Deed was nominated for an Edgar Award in the 'Best Thriller' category.

Having served her writing apprenticeship, she went back in time to write the four novels of the bestselling Boudica:Dreaming series, followed by their direct sequels, the Rome series (as MC Scott), featuring the spy Sebastos Pantera.

Into the Fire was published in 2015: "A Masterclass in writing Historical fiction"

Both Into the Fire and the Boudica series have been optioned for television and are under development.

She is Founder and former Chair of the Historical Writers' Association. She writes reviews and columns for the Independent, the Express, the Telegraph and the (Glasgow) Herald. She writes television scripts, blogs and is working on two non-fiction books.
© Diana Milne July 2016 © Manda Scott September 2016

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Diana talks to ... Catherine Kullmann


Catherine Kullmann—Short Biography


I was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, I moved to Germany where I lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. I have worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. My husband and I have been married for over forty years. We have three adult sons and two grandchildren.

I have a keen sense of history and of connection with the past which so often determines the present. I am fascinated by people. I love a good story, especially when characters come to life in a book.

I have always enjoyed writing, I love the fall of words, the shaping of an expressive phrase, the satisfaction when a sentence conveys my meaning exactly. I enjoy plotting and revel in the challenge of evoking a historic era for characters who behave authentically in their period while making their actions and decisions plausible and sympathetic to a modern reader. In addition, I am fanatical about language, especially using the right language as it would have been used during the period about which I am writing. But rewarding as all this craft is, there is nothing to match the moment when a book takes flight, when your characters suddenly determine the route of their journey.




Catherine, I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

If your latest book The Murmur of Masks  was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead roles?

Kate Beckinsale and Aidan Turner

(Note from Diana: I know a lot of laydees who will watch if Mr Turner is involved!!!)

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

Before the HNS Oxford Conference I would have said no, but after Christian Courtney’s and Anna Belfrage’s inspiring presentation I am tempted by the idea of timeslip. It is very early days yet, however.

(Note from Diana: Yes. It was totally amazing and inspiring.)


Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I need silence and regular cups of tea. I start by reading and editing what I wrote the previous day and follow on from there.


What is the worse book you have ever read? The Da Vinci Code

What made it unreadable for you? Too much superfluous content, including endless, tedious descriptions of place.


Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

There is no other. I have retired from my day job and hope to continue writing until I keel over at my desk.


Coffee or tea? One large coffee in the afternoon, otherwise tea.


Red or white? Whatever matches what I’m eating. Frequently it is a chilled Rosé as we love Mediterranean food. (Note from Diana: Me too! For me The Med is about the food!)


If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

Fairfield, which is an old-style serif typeface designed by Rudolph Ruzicka and released in 1940. I have one book set in it; it is very elegant and makes for a very pleasant read. I also love the uneven page edges you get in some American hardbacks and decorated hardback covers instead of a dust jacket.

(Note from Diana: My business and consequently full time job, is selling vintage printing equipment. That is a totally wonderful choice and I applaud your excellent taste.)


Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

A complete bound set of La Belle Assemblée for the period 1810 to 1820.

(Note from Diana: Wow! Yes! If you can, may I read it, please???)


Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

This is not an issue for me. While real people sometimes have walk-on parts, for example Lord Byron and Colonel Colborne in The Murmur of Masks, my characters and their stories are pure fiction.


Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

No. I enjoy the challenge of having my characters live in a real world shaped by known events and the constraints imposed by society in that time. I think that this sinking into the past is partly what attracts readers to historical fiction.


Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Of course, especially when you insert your character into a major event such as the Battle of Waterloo. Unless you are writing alternative history, it is important to remain as true to the original as possible.


Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

No. I try to understand them and sometimes think I am too nice—I have had to go back and make my baddies more unpleasant.


What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

As I am immersed in the Regency world when writing or researching, I tend not to read novels set in that period although I love Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. I like historical fiction set in almost all periods and also futuristic/paranormal/alternative history but not straight science fiction.


What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

A glass of dry Madeira.


Last but not least... favourite historical author?

This was so difficult to answer. I have picked three favourites whom I hope will write more books; Gillian Bradshaw—I love her novels set in the ancient world, Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series—I hope her daughter, who finished the last one, will continue with them, and Jill Paton Walsh’s splendid resumption of Dorothy L Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey books.


Thank you, Catherine. I really enjoyed this.



© Diana Milne July 2016 © Catherine Kullmann September 2016







Tuesday, 18 October 2016

When the earth moves under your feet, a blog post by Richard Abbott

In Britain, we're used to history - and historical fiction books - where the terrain is basically the same as today. The human presence on the surface might well change, so that towns and cities grow, old buildings turn to ruins, rough tracks turn into railway lines, and so on. Or we might alter the clothing of vegetation - marshes are drained, forests felled, or fertile land turns to peaty bog. But we generally feel here in England that the bones of the landscape itself remain the same on a human timescale. We expect the land to change form only over geological timescales.

Mt St Helens before and after (USGS images)
Other people though, in other parts of the world, have a different expectation. Earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis can not only cause loss of life or damage to property, but can reshape the terrain. Mount St Helens was reckoned to be one of the most attractive of the Pacific Rim volcanic cones until May 18th 1980, when the eruption removed over 1/8 of the volume of the former cone. Iceland gained a new island in November 1963, when Surtsey emerged from the waves as a result of subterranean action.

But often we Brits think of that as something which happens in other lands. But actually there are signs of change in counties like Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Near to Cromer, several villages named in the Domesday Book or other more recent records are now up to half a kilometre out to sea. There is evidence that the Lincolnshire coast was, until the 13th century, protected by a chain of offshore barrier islands. The demise of these in a series of storm surges drastically altered the coastline and its vulnerability to the sea. But despite these signs here in our own land that our not-so-distant ancestors walked across a different landscape, it takes a bit of adjustment.

The geology is quite straightforward. During the last ice age, a little over 10000 years ago, a hugely heavy layer of ice pressed the land downwards, to a greater degree in the colder north than the warmer south. When the ice melted, two things happened. The sea level rose because of extra water. But also the land shifted. The land in places where the ice had been heaviest started to lift up. Outside that, further south, it started to sink down. Try placing a heavy book on a soft cushion and you'll see the effect in action.

Now, 8000 BC is not all that long ago, really - the Neolithic Age, and so the beginnings of recognisably complex society started not all that much later, around 5000 BC. And although the vertical movement of land in any one year is tiny - perhaps a few millimetres - over the course of a century it adds up. Our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors in some parts of the country experienced quite different terrain.

Aerial view of the Scilly Isles (Wiki)
In the north, where the land has lifted, we find settlements which used to be on the coast now stranded well above the waterline. Stone circles at the southern end of Coniston Water, in Cumbria, used to be close to an arm of the sea reaching in from Morecambe Bay, but are now over five miles from the coast.

But in the far south, in the Scilly Isles, we see an even more dramatic change as the land sinks down. During the Bronze Age, when many of the prehistoric monuments were being built, there was basically a single large island. Around that, especially to the west, there were a few scattered outposts including what we now call St Agnes, Annet, and the Western Isles. The whole central area, now a submerged area in which quite large vessels can anchor if they find the deep patches, was then a fertile plain supporting crops and animals.

Tidally submerged field wall, Samson, Scilly Isles
All that has gone - perhaps spawning tales of Lyonesse or Atlantis - but its passing has been recorded in history. Even now, low tide allows careful explorers to go well beyond the shoreline, disturbing herons and other wading birds browsing what has been left in the seaweed and rock pools. You pass by the remains of stone walls which presumably served as boundary markers, but are now submerged much of the time. At especially low spring and autumn tides, tall people can still cross between most of the islands without swimming - so long as you know where the sand bars and shallow patches are.

As well as simply projecting backwards the change in sea level, at a rate of 30 centimetres per century, we can look back at history. We know that in 1127, Tresco and Bryher were still a single island, with the two names referring simply to internal parish divisions. By 1600 they were separate, and the Grimsby Sound between them had become a sheltered haven for ships. The transition did not take many generations, and you have to wonder what the occupants made of the stories of their ancestors.The central area between St Mary's and the northern cluster of islands probably flooded around 6-700AD. On the other side of the country, ship burials were happening at Sutton Hoo.

But a change of 30 centimetres per century disguises the more dramatic way in which these events unfolded. This figure comes into perspective when you remember that the tidal range in a big spring tide on Scilly is around six metres. During a winter storm, waves coming across the Atlantic sometimes break over the top of the Bishop Rock lighthouse, some fifty metres high. The changes to separate island from island have not always been the result of a steady trickle of rising water; some will have been dramatic, cataclysmic events.

Samson, Scilly Isles - still one island at present...
This continues to happen today. It used to be reckoned that there were 146 islands in the archipelago, where an island is defined as a body of land separated at high tide and able to support vegetation of some kind. A few winters ago, this became 147, when a severe storm broke through a thin land bridge at Rushy Bay, Bryher, and converted a peninsula into an island. You look at some places as you walk around, and wonder how long they will remain attached.

From a fictional point of view, these kinds of gradual changes to the land itself offer a new storytelling dimension. Authors have explored - and I hope will continue to explore - sudden changes like the eruption of Vesuvius, or various earthquakes. Gradual change has not, I think, been used nearly so often. It could perhaps make for an interesting historical plot based on prehistoric Doggerland, in today's North Sea. Or a speculative fiction story where diminishing land serves as a variation on resource failure. It's worth remembering that the terrain we see today is not eternally fixed - even in this green and pleasant land - and has its own changing history.

About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed LandScenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. and Timing. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+GoodreadsFacebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Diana talks to ... Pam Lecky

I was luck enough to be able to chat with the lovely Pam Lecky. Pam had just had some fantastic news. Her book, The Bowes Inheritance, had just been shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016 for Independent Authors.

All of us here at The Review and all of our followers wish you the very, very best for this, Pam and really hope you do well.
Hi Pam. I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!
If your latest book, The Bowes Inheritance, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

Wouldn’t that be lovely! If I could have a say in the casting it would be James McAvoy to play the male protagonist Nicholas Maxwell – I think he could do the slightly tortured and brooding scenes very well indeed. As the heroine Louisa Campbell is Irish, I would love to see an Irish actress in the role. Sarah Greene has the right look and would be perfect for the independent and feisty Louisa.
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I adore crime novels and one of my current projects is in that genre. I’m a huge fan of Anne Perry, Deanna Raybourn, M.R.C. Kasasian – who all write Victorian crime and I grew up on P.D. James, Dorothy L Sayers, Ruth Rendell, and Elizabeth George.
I am finding the genre very challenging and the writing has taken on a different style, purely because that type of story demands it. My WIP is called The Carver Affair and is set in 1894 Dublin. It is the story of a Detective Inspector whose career is on the rise when he takes on what appears to be a very clear-cut case. But the murder takes him on an unexpected journey and forces him to face up to the ghosts of his past. Solving the case almost destroys his career.
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I have to be able to visualise a scene before I can write it and there is nothing better than the right type of music to help you do that.  It would be generally classical music I would listen to when writing. Music also helps me when I get stuck, mainly because it helps me relax and the ideas start to flow again. I also have a tendency to come up with plot/dialogue either just as I’m nodding off to sleep or waking up – not very convenient I have to confess.
Apart from that, and it’s my biggest downfall, I tend to drink a lot (and I mean a LOT) of … tea. (Ah, but there is a such a thing as 'too much tea' ??? Hang on. I need to get the kettle on!)
What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I’m not going to name it and I’ll tell you why. Now that I am an author I know how much goes into writing a book – the time, (the pain!) and often neglecting other areas of your life. You sacrifice a lot. I don’t post reviews for books I don’t like for that reason. You have to give the author the benefit of the doubt and maybe it’s just not my thing and others will really enjoy it.
However, if a book is badly written or is clearly an editor-free-zone, I will post a review - but it will be as constructive as I can make it. Too many Indie authors think that editing isn’t essential. Frankly, this baffles me. Recently I have been quite shocked to read traditionally published books that look as though an editor hadn’t been near them either. As an Indie author I know the cost of editing is high but I feel very strongly that if you are going to compete, you need your ‘product’ to be of a high standard and let’s face it; your reader deserves value for money too. Now, my rant is over J.
(I fully understand and empathise with everything that you say.)
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

I would probably pursue a career in horticulture which I studied with the RHS. I designed and built a show garden a few years ago in Bloom, the Irish equivalent of Chelsea.
Coffee or tea? Red or white?

I think I have already answered the first one above! As for wine – neither just to be awkward – I prefer rosé.
If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

As I’m Indie, I do have the choice. I generally use Garamond or Times New Roman in my POD books as they are easy to read. I use Times New Roman for Kindle as it doesn’t matter too much which font you use – the newer Kindles/Kindle apps let the reader choose the font they want. (As a seller of vintage type, this excited me so much when I first came across it!! A brilliant move forward!)
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
I actually did. My great grandfather’s shop and home were destroyed in the fires and looting in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916. I found his insurance claim to the Government in the National Archives. It was very detailed and gave a wonderful insight, both into his business and how they lived. It even included the very poignant item, ‘daughter’s trousseau’, listed as destroyed. The great aunt in question married a year later, hopefully with a new trousseau. Thankfully, the family was unharmed but it must have been a terrifying experience.  (Gosh!!!)
Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
That didn’t arise in The Bowes Inheritance as all the characters were fictional. Some were based on real characters and real events drove the plot to some degree. I had to keep a balance between the politics and events of the time and the main thread of the story. It was important that the historical details didn’t swamp the main storyline which was a young woman’s struggle to be accepted in a new community that was predisposed to be suspicious of her.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

I try not to. In The Bowes Inheritance I had to move one incident (time and place) to make the timeline work but everything else that happened was true to history.  I include the proviso at the beginning of the book that ‘Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously’.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

So far that hasn’t been an issue for me as my characters tend to be fictitious with a background of real events. I have yet to include a real historical character in my work, other than in passing.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
In one of my unpublished stories (that may one day see the light of day!) one character I conjured up was quite wicked but his back story was such that he could not have turned out any other way. He was enormous fun to write but I had to kill him off. It was such a difficult decision. I couldn’t write that chapter for about a week and when I did, I think I actually grieved for him. I moped for days afterwards – I was genuinely upset! (I understand. I never was able to carry on with one MS as I knew Piet had to die, but I could not bring myself to be the one to kill him.)
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I tend to read a lot of historical fiction – crime and romance – that is when I have the time. Unfortunately, trying to write and working part-time, means I don’t have as much reading time as I’d like.
I also read a lot for research – either history in some form or other (books/blogs, etc.) or fiction of the time. For instance, I have just finished reading James Plunkett’s Strumpet City (an incredible book, by the way) to get a feel for Dublin in 1913 during the Lock-Out.
What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

Curl up on a window seat with the wind and rain lashing against the window, a roaring fire in the grate and a nice (large) glass of Baileys close at hand!
Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Georgette Heyer – she is unsurpassed for characterisation, attention to detail and humour. She is my writing hero.
This has been wonderful, Pam. Thank you very much. Shall we have that cup of tea now???
Biography: Pam Lecky originally hails from Clontarf, Dublin, and now lives in north County Dublin. A working mum with three children, a dog and two cats, her life is hectic. Pam studied horticulture with the RHS, loves music and photography, and has been an avid reader from an early age. A huge fan of historical fiction and crime, particularly when combined, she finally decided to set free the stories battling for release in her head. She has a particular fascination with all things 19th century, from food and clothes to architecture and social history. If there was time travel, she’d be the first to sign up and there are no prizes for guessing what time period she’d travel to.
The Bowes Inheritance is her debut novel, and is available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon. It has been shortlisted for The Carousel Aware Prize 2016 and was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016.
You can learn more about Pam, her book and follow her blog at Pam Lecky or follow her on Twitter @pamlecky.


© Diana Milne July 2016 © Pam Lecky September 2016

Friday, 14 October 2016

Hastings 950 - The Battle by Rob Bayliss

On Monday 25th September, just five days after their victory  at the Battle of Fulford Gate, King Harald III of Norway and his English ally Tostig Godwinsson were relaxed, camped eight miles east of York at Stamford Bridge. A cloud of dust was seen approaching on the road from the city. Harald and Tostig took it to be a delegation from the defeated Earls Edwin and Morcar bearing tribute and hostages. But the keen eyed among the host saw the tell-tale glint of mail and spear points.  King Harold II, brother of Tostig had arrived with the royal army from his watch over the English Channel.

A forced march of 180 miles in four days by Harold and his standing army of huscarls, collecting fyrd (militiamen) on the way, had caught Harald, the famed ex-commander of the Varangian Guard completely by surprise. Harald’s army would fight bravely, but the English victory over the Norse invader was utterly decisive. Harold had said that would only yield Harald “six feet of English earth or seven as he is so tall”. From a fleet of 300 ships only 24 were needed to ferry the defeated survivors home. Both Tostig and Harald lay slain.

The blood of the slaughter had barely soaked into the ground when word arrived to Harold’s ears that the much feared invasion from Normandy had taken place. Duke William had landed at Pevensey on the 28th while Harold and his forces had been in the north. It is thought that Harold was informed of this event during his march back south, which would account for the lack of Edwin and Morcar’s forces at the subsequent battle. Harold hurried back south to London and made his preparations for the most crucial and decisive of battles; the Battle of Hastings that took place on Saturday 14th October 1066.

The Normans land and establish their bridgehead - Bayeux Tapestry

The two armies that faced each other that momentous day would look similar but fought using different tactics.

Huscarl - Regia Anglorum
Although still a heroic society the English army had evolved from the days of warlords having retinues of hearth troops, although it retained an aspect of this tradition. The great lords of the day such as King Harold and the earls had their huscarls; the heavy infantry of the day, perhaps on a par with the famed Varangian guard in Byzantium. The huscarls had been introduced some 50 years earlier during Cnut’s reign. These were experienced professional warriors, possibly some of the best soldiers to be found in Europe at the time. They had taken the ancient tactics of the shieldwall and
developed them. Each huscarl would have a long hauberks of mail with a coif and conical helm with a nasal guard. They carried long kite shields and, as well as being armed with swords and throwing spears, they also were adept with the dreaded Danish axe. This was a fearsome weapon, it was able to break shields, lop off limbs and even decapitate a horse in a single blow.

Around this core were the fyrd. The fyrd system dated from King Alfred’s time. These were territorials who were bound to give two months service a year. They were raised on the basis on one man for every 5 hides of land. This raised around twenty shillings which would pay for the warrior’s weapons, armour and food. These warriors would probably have the more traditional round shields. In theory a king could call upon up to 20,000 fyrd, but such a number could never be raised at once due to the practicalities of communication and logistics at this time. As well as these semi-professionals Harold could also call on all freemen to his banners in a time of national emergency. Such men would have grabbed any weapon to hand, whether spear or scythe.

There are further factors effecting numbers available to Harold; the Southern Fyrd had been on duty all summer in expectation of the Norman invasion and had been disbanded due to the approach of harvest time. The pitched battle of Stamford Bridge would have caused great loss both to the huscarls and the fyrd who answered the call. Normally Harold would have had around 3000 huscarls, perhaps Stamford Bridge would have reduced this to 2000. Harold’s brothers Earls Gyrth and Leofwin would have approx. 1000 huscarls each. Perhaps the recalled fyrd that gathered at Hastings would be around 5000. So Harold would field around 9000 men, similar to the numbers William commanded.

The Norman army, despite their Scandinavian heritage had a more continental way of war. Norman society was feudal and at the core of their army were knights. The knights were granted lands with which to support themselves, and were required to serve their lord.  Like the Huscarls they would have long hauberks of mail, conical helmets with nasal guards and kite shields. However these were mounted heavy cavalry; the shock troops of the time, armed with lances, it is thought that William had around 2500 of these mounted warriors in total. As well as the knights the Normans fielded infantry, professional men-at-arms that weren’t landed knights and would probably be armed in similar fashion to the English Fyrd, these would be the bulk of the army, numbering perhaps 4500.  The Normans also had around 1500 dedicated archers using short bows to soften up an enemy prior to sword play.
Norman soldiers - Image from model-

The army was divided into three; William’s Normans in the centre supported either side by his subject allies, Eustace of Bologne and his Flemish forces on the eastern wing and Count Alain and his Bretons on the western.

The invasion itself was a marvel of medieval logistics. William had to gather around 500-700 ships to carry men, horses, equipment , and even a wooden castle in kit form, over the Channel. Encouraging his underlings and allies to help finance this operation speaks volumes for William’s reputation and powers of persuasion. He had to remind them of the terms of their tenure, but also convince then that such an operation was even feasible. True there was the promise of lands and plunder but due to the efforts of his advisor Bishop Lanfranc, William had managed to get a Gonfanon – a papal banner –  so the enterprise now had the blessing of Rome. This was no mere invasion, this was a crusade.
The invasion fleet had to wait almost a month until the tides and winds were favourable, it’s recorded that William only lost 2 ships during the crossing. Ironically one of these carried the Duke’s soothsayer; never underestimate the fickle finger of fate, or its sense of humour!

The papal Banner - Bayeux Tapestry

Moving hesitantly inland from the landing site at Pevensey, William built a fortification at Hastings. From here his forces raided the surrounding countryside both for supplies, with an eye to his extended supply lines, and also knowing full well the area were part of the Godwinsson lands. William needed a decisive victory as soon as possible. Likewise, Harold, no doubt buoyed by his victory in the north, and angered by the Norman pillaging, wished to grab destiny with both hands.

 Arriving in London on the 6th October Harold gave himself a week to gather his forces. True Duke William had been campaigning most of his life, but Harold was also a seasoned warrior and very able commander, and he gathered intelligence of the Norman position. On the 11th October, yet with only half his available forces he advanced across the Weald toward William. On Friday 13th the English gathered at the edge of the forest between the villages Whatlington and Crowhurst . The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  lists the assembly point as the “hoary apple tree” . It has been suggested that Harold initially planned a swift forced march at night to launch a surprise attack against the Norman camp the next day, but his scouts would have reported that William knew of his presence and was advancing towards him. Even with the advantage of surprise lost, Harold had chosen an excellent defensive position, below Caldbec Hill. At  9am on 14th October the battle began at Senlac Ridge, as the Normans organised in the valley Harold’s shield wall took shape across the ridge, their ranks 700 yards long. In the centre Harold unfurled his standards , the wyvern of Wessex and his personal banner of the fighting man.

Map of the battle from

Under William’s papal banner the Normans advanced. The archers got within range and emptied their quivers at the English line. But this volley had little effect. They were shooting uphill so most arrows either were impaled on shields or passed over the English lines. Following this the Norman infantry struggled up the slope. The rise was some 50 feet from the brook in the valley bottom and they were met with a hail of missiles from the English, including spears, throwing axes and even rocks. William threw his knights forward, alarmed at the lack of progress achieved by the first wave.

The Norman first wave attacks the English  shieldwall -

It was on the shallow western end of the ridge that the Bretons arrived at the English lines before the Normans and Flemish. It was an uncoordinated effort that met an intact English line. They were met with missiles and were unable to get close to the English without risking their mounts. The Breton wing fell back leaving the Norman left flank exposed to missiles. The Norman and Flemish wings met the same dreadful site of intact English lines after struggling up the slope through hurled spears and rocks. The whole Norman line now waivered, on the verge of a general retreat. William's half brother Bishop Odo desperately tried to rally the fleeing Bretons.

On the western edge of the Ridge the English fyrdmen saw the Bretons in full retreat, from their perspective the whole Norman line looked on the verge of defeat; breaking ranks, they set off down the hill in pursuit. In the centre William saw the unfolding events, he had to act fast to stem the rout. He took his Norman cavalry and attacked the advancing English. How quickly in the fog of battle are the tables turned. The English fyrdmen now found themselves stranded in the open, unable to get back up the hill, and made a last desperate stand on a small hillock near the valley floor. The event is shown in the Bayeaux Tapestry. That they aren’t huscarls is shown by the lack of hauberks. The Bretons rallied and the stranded warriors in the hillock were slaughtered to a man. In the space of an hour and a half, with a momentary lack of discipline, Harold’s advantage and seemingly early victory had been snatched away from him. Harold’s previously impregnable line had to stretch thinner to compensate for his losses. Both sides paused to regroup.
The fyrd trapped on the hillock - Bayeux tapestry

Duke William shows his men he's alive - Bayeux tapestry
With the archers restocked with arrows the Norman second wave began. Learning from the previous failure William urged a slower advance so the infantry and cavalry could support each other. This second attack went on for 2 blood-soaked hours as the attack against the shield wall became a series of smaller battles along its length.  By 1pm the dead would be piled on both sides yet the shield wall held true. Both the Flemish and Bretons were sent back reeling in disarray. Again English Fyrdmen foolishly gave chase to be caught in the open. Norman chroniclers say these were feigned retreats but with the discipline (or lack of) at the time this is highly unlikely. With the low morale of these troops a feigned retreat could easily become a rout. It is said that William himself fought in this second phase and had 3 horses killed under him. he had to show his face when a rumour began among his men that he had been slain.

Again the Normans withdrew and took stock. William must have been becoming increasingly desperate; the English shield wall held and his men would be exhausted. The slopes would be churned up by hooves and slick with blood. He knew his men had one more attack in them. Defeat and retreat would almost certainly cost William his life. The next attack had to succeed. A different tack was required. He had to combine his archers and his knights and foot soldiers more effectively with his whole force attacking the ridge at the same time.

Bishop Odo in action against the shield wall - notice his weapon is a club so as not to sinfully draw blood - from

At 3 o’clock The Normans advanced slowly with horse and foot solders together, the archers in the rear.  The Norman advance drew out the usual English volley, but it was impatient and launched at a longer, less effective distance. As the Normans closed with the English the archers fired upwards, high into the air so the arrows would fall on the English line and draw their  shields up. With the shower of arrows causing a distraction the hand to hand combat began. An hour into the third wave and the turning point was being achieved. Gaps began to appear in the English line and the Normans forced themselves in, breaking the shield wall into sections.  With both English flanks now weakened and the whole ridge no longer defensible, William ordered the Flemish and Bretons to attack from both sides. They broke through, shattering the English position that had held solid across the ridge all day.

For Harold now the battle was lost, it was all about now life, death and honour. There was fighting
Harold is slain - Bayeux Tapestry
along the whole ridge. It was at this point that Harold’s brothers Leofwine and Gyrth fell, defending their king and brother judging by their proximity to Harold. The fyrd attempted to escape and melt into the forest but the huscarls, true to their oaths, remained fighting around Harold and his standards. As the light faded around 5.30pm Harold fell, probably not by an arrow to the eye, as interrupted in error from the tapestry, but from a sword blow and then “covered in deadly wounds”, according to William of Jumieges. Fired by the events of the day and their sense of religious righteousness Flemish knights hacked at the fallen king, grievously mutilating him. It was said only Harold's handfast wife, Edith Swanneck, could recognise her lover's body, so terrible were the wounds inflicted on the slain Harold.

The last stand -  from

With the King and his brothers slain there was nothing more to fight for, a few remaining huscarls fought doggedly to the last while others fled to the forest  pursued by the vengeful Norman cavalry to prevent any regrouping. It might well have been the case that there were still late arrivals of fyrdmen appearing on the battle’s periphery. That some English still had the spirit to fight was shown when a band of Norman knights were ambushed and slaughtered at a place called Malfosse (evil ditch), named as such after the event. Yet despite the valour of the defenders at Malfosse the battle was over, and decisively so; England would never be the same again, of the three contenders for the throne only the Norman Duke William remained.

Harold's bones are lost to history, there would be no shrine to the fallen king. It was said that he was either buried without ceremony on unconsecrated ground (as he was ex communicated), or was perhaps thrown into the sea. Another tale reports him as being buried under a cairn on a headland, as if ironically watching for invaders. William refused the pleading of Harold's mother, Gytha Thorkilsdottir, to yield to her the slain kings remains, even in exchange for Harold's weight in gold. Even in death perhaps, he revealed the precariousness of William's position, that of an invader, a foreign usurper. Yet a new regime would now held sway, and history would be written by them, as victors are wont to do.


The Battle of Hastings - Peter Poyntz Wright - (1986)
The Bayeux Tapestry
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
William of Jumieges - Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans
Frank Barlow - The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 (1988)

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and fantasy author. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.