In this short but well written narrative, Howarth paints moving portraits of King Edward the Confessor, Harold of England, William of Normandy, Earl Tostig, King Harald Hardrada, the people of England and other players in the Norman conquest. Howarth does not conceal his views, admitting at the outset that he "would have liked King Harold, heartily disliked King Edward the Confessor, felt sorry for Earl Tostig and terrified of Duke William, and found nothing whatever to say to King Harald Hardrada of Norway." This is history with a bit of passion, which makes it all the more enjoyable for the reader.
"1066" will also make you appreciate how hard it is to know anything about a time like the Middle Ages, when very few people could read and write and those who could were invariably working for whoever won the latest battle. It will also give a sense of how contingent history is, of how the world might have become a very different place if a few events had happened in a different order. As it was, William the Conqueror arrived at exactly the right time, while King Harold was at the other end of England crushing King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. What would have happened if William's fleet had been destroyed in a storm, or if he had arrived in England in the summer of 1066, when King Harold was ready and able to meet him? We'll never know--King Harold and his army arrived at Hastings exhausted and depleted, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Howarth approaches 1066 as if it were the stuff of a novel, and he has been criticized for doing so. I don't know whether Howarth is perfectly accurate, or whether his "spin" on the story is correct--but the same can be said of the most boring and heavily footnoted history that anyone cares to name. For those who enjoy history but also prize elegant and engaging storytelling, this book is a joy to read.
If you like "1066," you will want to consider two other books: James Reston's "The Last Apocalpyse," a vivid description of life and strife in Europe at the turn of the first millennium; and Lacey and Danziger's "The Year 1000," which explains what life may have been like for a person living in England in that distant time.
on April 25, 2002
To put it simply, Howarth's book "1066, The Year of the Conquest" is a biased, factually-based, historical account of the year 1066 in England, encompassing both the plights of the royals AND the common people of the island, along with the English's neighbors to the south and east. If you are looking for the play-by-play of the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror's reign in England, you've come to the wrong book, my friend.
Howarth examines just that profound year in English history, and does not go in full detail about what happened before or after 1066.
Like other reviewers, I did notice Howarth's unabashed bias to the English in this work, but his non-objective feelings don't overwhelm the text. A jovial example is that not once, is the Norman king referred to as "William the Conqueror;" in fact, he is introduced to the reader as "William the Bastard."
That aside, I had a splendid time reading this short work (only 200 pages). Howarth's writing style keeps the reader engrossed and he has a gift of turning the historical facts into a readable and impassioned story. One thing I really liked was the absence of footnotes. In the text, Howarth will cite the text he is using, what biases it may have, and how accurate it might be with regards to first-person accounts, years after 1066 it was written, etc. This citation style works extremely well in the text and I wish more authors would use it.
The best part of the book might be the first chapter where Howarth chooses a random village and takes a Howard Zinn approach at it by explaining what the common folk did at that time, what they ate, where they lived, etc. It really gives a reader a better understanding of the Middle Ages, after all, not everyone got to live in a castle. Another nice feature of the book is the friendly maps. Although there are only six maps, they are easy to read, they include all the places Howarth is writing about, and show the routes of the invasions.
I would recommend this to any casual history reader or to anyone who has viewed the Bayeux Tapestry. Instead of trying to decipher the pictures of the tapestry, by reading this book you will get the full story and it will make it easier in seeing what the tapestry is trying to depict.
on September 6, 1999
I first read this book back in the late 1970s when it was first published and since then I've read nearly every book by David Howarth. He is the consumate popular historian, who makes history really come alive for the reader.
1066 is probably his best book and is certainly my favourite book of history. He takes the reader through the main events of that year, introduces the major players in the story he is unfolding, and speculates about their motives and on the way history has dealt with the story (ie history comes down to us as told by the winners).
He makes people like King Harold, William the Bastard and the amazing Harald Hardrada of Norway real for the reader. At the end you are left wondering how English history might have been if just one of the events he descibes had turned out differently.
A truly wonderful book - history at its very best.
on April 2, 2005
There were several strong features of David Howarth's book 1066.
First, there was excellent characterization. King Harold and Duke William were fully protrayed in all their strengths and weaknesses. They are both drawn as humans with a mixture of assets and contradictions. William was a military prodigy since age 19 whereas Harold was a strong self-made man trying to cobble England back together after the rule of Edward the Confessor. The story is full of heroes and villians. King Edward the Confessor was a problematic ruler who set the stage for the conflict, supposedly promising the crownof England to William, which was against English law. Harold's cruel sadistic traitor brother, Tostig, caused much ruin and destruction of the English nation. There are many other characters, including the wild Norseman Harold Hardrada who invaded England independently but simultaneously with Duke William the Conqueror. Harold could probably have defeated one invasion but not two. Your heart sinks when Harold learns during the victory feast over his defeat of Harold Hardrada' army, that William has invaded and is marching inland.
Second, there is excellent explanations about the technology of farming, law and courts, social structures, and warfare at the time. Howarth contrast the Norman knights, their code of chivalry, their use of horses in warfare, with the English footsoldier with his Norse two handed axe. Howarth is no fan of chivalry which he argues is a destructive social structure that diverts the male children of the aristocracy into warlike activiees starting at age 8 and that creates professional warriors who disdain work and their fellow citizens while they seek and glorify violence and warfare. I found it very interesting that archers were not used in the Battle of Hastings because archery was a priviledge sport used to kill deer that belonged bo the aristocracy. The common soldier would not have access to this art reserved for the nobility. The use of ships to transport soldiers nad horses was also well told.
Third, the context and times were well explained, including the corrrupt papacy which had never been elected by the Cardinals until right prior to the battle. Most interesting was the rule of law practiced in England priro to the invasion which was destoryed by the invasion and the dictatorship of the Normans over the Anglo-Saxons. This resulted in 300,000 Anglo-Saxon deaths from starvation while 200,000 Frenchmen relocated to England, changing the language and customes forever.
Fourth,the final battle was well described in terms of strategy, human limitations, and bloody gore. Full of facts, well told, and briefly presented, this little book gets 5 stars.
on January 10, 2002
1066: The Year of the Conquest is not a bad book, but it's not a very good one either. Howarth compiles a lot of reasonably well known facts and then constructs an almost novelistic narrative around them. While to my knowledge he did not misstate any points of fact, he does infuse his book with a healthy does of personal opinion not based in fact. This is fine if you're writing a 1066-based novel, but Howarth really does at times try to present his work as history.
1066: The Year of the Conquest is not a bad book to get your feet wet and introduce yourself to the people and events of 1066. However, if you're more interested in actual, historical scholarship on Hastings and the events surrounding it I would recommend "1066: The Year of The Three Battles" by Frank McLynn over at Amazon UK.
on December 21, 2011
This is a poor piece of historical writing. With very little justification, Howarth writes on whim alone. He ignores major works of history, such as Douglas' "William the Conqueror - the Norman Impact upon England. ." Douglas goes through all the major arguments and shows just how little foundation there is but bias in interpretations favored by Howarth. Harold and his family spent most of a generation trying to undermine major Saxon leaders and families to enrich their own. They were not particularly loyal to the Saxon cause because they owed their rise in power to the Danes not to the Saxons. They did all they could to compromise the leading heirs to the throne, probably even killing a sitting king and clearly killed the most obvious heir, Edward's brother. It is no wonder other Saxon leaders failed to rush to Harold's aid. It is no wonder Edward tried to bring counterveiling power to keep Harold's family under control Howarth overstates the actual flexibility the Earls had in denying the throne to William, and so ignores the evidence that Harold simply seized the throne because he could get away with it, with all other legitimate heirs away.
Howarth makes quite a show of including in his bibliography only the primary (approximately contemporary) sources, but even with those fails to follow historical rules of evidence to cite support for his most risky opinions. You never know in this book what, if any, sources he uses for his opinions. In several cases he relies firmly on "evidence" that has been convincingly challenged by other historians, but provides no solid(evidence-based) support for his whims. When a theory is known to have been demolished by another historian, he at least owes us a cogent argument that shows he understands the other point of view but then counters with the reasons he believes his view is stronger. Instead, he just states his opinion with slanted or sparce support. What he has instead are rationales and conjectures that seem to be based on what Howarth would have done had HE been the historical figure.
Howarth even fails to show the numerous military mistakes Harold made before and during the battle of Hastings.
on February 16, 2000
I have read this book for sheer pleasure at least four times since I came across it a few years ago. David Howarth writes extremely well and does an excellent job of engaging the reader in the times, the events, and the characters, making the presented facts much more memorable than they would be in a "scholarly" work. I would recommend this book to anyone as a valuable introduction to the history of the Norman Conquest, or just as an enjoyable book.
on May 31, 2005
"So any modern historian has to use his own judgement pretty freely. When he finds contradictory stories, he has to decide which is most probable...."
"..every sentence in a story nine centuries old should include the word perhaps: nothing is perfectly certain"
These two sentences, along with a few others in the introduction, alert the reader to the fact that in order to write about the year 1066 some assumptions have to be made, and some conclusions have to be drawn.
As Howarth writes later on in the book, to explain part of the reason for the lack of eyewitness accounts, .."stories of battles are usually told by the winners, and the winners at ..... were losers a few days later".
Many 'historical' books are written based on nothing but conjecture. The author speculates some new theory, feeds the reader one crumb of evidence that somehow supports this theory, all the while ignoring the mountain of evidence that proves his theory wrong.
What is so great about this book, is that while Howarth does indeed speculate about certain things, he backs up all of his theories. He lays out the different versions of the story before giving the reader his theory on how and why things happened. Do you have to necessarily agree with everything Howarth says? No.. But at least you are given enough information to draw your own conclusions...
Especially enlightening to me was Howarth's theory on why Harold acted the way he did at Hastings. Will everyone agree? NO, but his theory IS plausible especially if the reader is familiar with Papal Bulls.
A GREAT BOOK.
on March 1, 1999
Anyone who has taken any European History classes can tell you that 1)the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066, 2) Herald, King of England, was killed there by an arrow that struck him in the eye, and 3)because of William the Conqueror, French words entered the English vocabulary. David Howarth provides you with the rest of the story.This is not a book about the Battle of Hastings. Howarth covers that in less than 15 pages. Howarth tries to tell the story of court intrigue and how England was organized, governed and how the common man lived in the eleventh century. There are no more that 20 works that any writer of this period can refer to and Howarth is not reluctant to draw his own interpretations of the facts. His ability to draw convincing conclusions fills in the holes that 900 years have made and makes the book a pleasure to read.There are two things that Howarth exposes in this book that are surprising to anyone who is not a student of the 1100's. First, Herald was an effective, enlightended and energetic King of England. His father, Godwin, came from a mysterious origin but made himself indispensable as a kind of prime minister to a series of weak English monarchs. When Godwin died his son Herald assumed his role. Herald served King Edward wisely and upon the death of the childless Edward was named King. Here is where the trouble begins because William, Duke of Normandy and a certain Harald Hadrata of Norway both believe that they have a more natural claim to the throne than Herald. Herald defeats Hadrata and then turns to face William.The second surprising fact is just how lucky William was. The Normans were not a seafaring people and his effort to cross the English Channel with horses and knights was more of a miracle than a prodigious feat of arms. His timing could not have been more perfect because Herold, who had been watching the coast all summer for William, was in York defeating the army of Hadrata. If William nad landed a month earlier he would have faced opposition almost immediately from a large and confident English fyrd, or conscripted army.William's most impressive weapon, however, was not a shield or sword but an endorsement from the Pope that his cause was just. He obtained this endorsement rather dubiously but to the devoted minds of eleventh-century warriors a blessing from God offered immortality. Howarth concludes that Herald's lethargy on the day of Hastings was due to the William's papal standard among his battle flags. Howarth admits that we can never know if this was the case or not--maybe that's the best thing about writing about events that occured 900 years ago. But these conclusions make this story more than justa history. Howarth, like most good writers, puts the reader smack dab in the middle of Herald's battle line on that October day.
on February 11, 2016
An excellent narrative of a pivotal year in English history, beginning with the burial of King Edward in Westminster Abbey on January 6th and ending on Christmas Day in the same place with the coronation of William the Conqueror. The author describes English village life as a life of endless labour but one that was rewarded with plenty to eat and drink and plenty of virgin forest to clear and cultivate. For two generations the land had been at peace. It was said that a woman with a baby could travel safely alone the length and breadth of England. Taxes had been reduced.The great events of the time were written down by monks. At the bottom of the village social structure were serfs or slaves; next cottagers or cottars; then villeins, who farmed as much as perhaps as fifty acres; then thanes, who drew rents from the villeins; then earls, each ruling one of the six great earldoms, and above all, the King. The author draws upon three historical points of view, English, Norman, and Scandinavian, attempting to tease fact from fiction. In describing the decisive Battle of Hastings, the author says the English should have won it, but they made major strategic errors. The King did not tactically lead his army. Normally, when a line repels an attack, that line goes forward to slaughter the retreating army. But it goes forward WITH ALL THE OTHER LINES to prevent being outflanked. This did not happen. One English line repelled an attack, and then went forward to slaughter the enemy. But it was outflanked and beaten. Thus, the Battle of Hastings was won by William the Conqueror, who then became King of England, though not popular with the people. David Howarth is one of my favorite history writers.