Though the subject of this book may seem a bit daunting and even boring, I promise you that Frank Barlow has done a fabulous job. He has brought to life the enigmatic and somewhat obscure lives of the most important Englishmen of the late 11th century: Edward the Confessor, Earl Godwin, Edith Godwin's daughter, King Harold II, Swegn Godwinson, and Tostig Godwinson. A must-read.
Barlow's Edward is no saint, despite what he was later made out to be. He was a man who knew what power was and he went after it, often not well. Barlow reconstructs a man whose reign and whose character were very mixed but whose position in the chronology of English history is critical. Barlow documents all the major events in Edward's life. Edward spent his youth in exile waiting, so to speak, while the Viking kings ruled England. He was in his late 30's when he came to the throne and went through a difficult power struggle with his mother Emma while keeping one eye on the Scandinavians for another potential invasion. He spent much of his reign in an on and off struggle with the House of Godwin, a family raised to great heights by Danish King Cnut. This would make a great movie or novel but that is not Barlow's goal. I would not call the book "dry." It has a lot of details but Barlow is working to flesh out a man about whom the sources are scattered and limited. The details pull the sources together. It is much easier to write "exciting" history when the writer has lots of anecdotes and stories to go on. We just don't have those for Edward and I think it is to Barlow's credit that he is able to keep the book so well-focussed in spite of the scattered and often biased sources. Part of Edward's claim to fame is what he said or did not say about who should follow him. Harold Godwinson eventually succeeds him but William the Conqueror always claimed that Edward had promised the kingdom to him. Barlow analyzes this in some detail and the evidence is thin. Edward is an important king and, with the exception of Harold's short reign, his was the last extended reign of an Anglo-Saxon monarch. The book has helpful maps but they are at the end; they would be better located at appropriate places in the text. The book as a whole is a clear and thorough biogaphy and definitely worth a read for those interested in the history of the monarchy.
Wow - this man knows his history! If you are a serious historian interested in Edward the Confessor - this is your Bible! The reading is extremely dry - don't think you'll find more here than the facts, but there are facts galore! Barlow begins with an indepth look at Edward's background and the background of the political situation in England. He ends with the impact of Edward during the reign of Henry III and covers literally EVERYTHING in between. Then for good measure, he adds nearly another 100 pages of appendicies, time lines, maps, tables and illustrations. I'm very impressed with the author's knowledge of the subject. I only hold back that last "star" because I regret that the author didn't make it a bit more "friendly" to read. It is dry and moves slowly and is not probably a book that would generate interest in Edward the Confessor so much as it is a book to verify facts for those already interested. I personally prefer history and historical fiction that can introduce a reader to a subject and make them want to read more. I'm afraid that his work will be too daunting to many and makes Edward sound extremely dull - which he truly was not.
The pivotal king of Britain just before the Norman Invasion, he has the distinction of being caught between two very ambitious warlords, William the Bastard and Harold Godwin. It seems What is called England today was being pulled in two major directions, one-the old Viking kingdoms of the north from which Harold seems more at home with, and from due east of the British lands, the main European continent where William is more comfortable. It seems like William and his alliances had an advantage here being much closer to England right across the channel, while the Godwin's alliances were more scattered to the Northern areas like Denmark,etc. Edward the Confessor seems like an "old school" ruler in that he realizes the limitations of his rule and doesn't really wish to expand but to maintain and govern his finite lands and estates in England. He is a strong king in this respect, Although he seems deeply religious he is not a saint as he is sometimes portrayed, he rules with a firm hand and one could easily imagine him stepping on some toes (or maybe chopping them as well.) He carries the "mystique" aura about him because he supposedly never had any children(or none that could be positively proved to be his offspring.) In this book I visualize him as an old Viking style converted Christian king but no so religious as to seem impractical. The book devotes a lot of space to his wife Edith who is a close relative of the Godwin's and to Edwards balancing act to keep the Godwin family from taking over and Edward relegated to ruling only in name. Edward does seem a strong king however although his view of "kingship" is rather limited, that is administering to the best of his ability the spaces he is in charge of. The squabble over who should inherit the throne after Edward is covered pretty good as well. The best quote that I ever heard in regard to whom Edward believed should be his successor is totally in keeping with the character of Ed ward represented in this book. Edward quotes,"The Strongest"!(which proved later to be William the Conqueror!.)