cover image Battle for the Island Kingdom: England’s Destiny, 1000–1066

Battle for the Island Kingdom: England’s Destiny, 1000–1066

Don Hollway. Osprey, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-472-85893-1

Historian Hollway (The Last Viking) chronicles in this brisk study the 66 tumultuous years culminating in the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE. In the Middle Ages, the island now comprising England, Scotland, and Wales proved tempting to the Scandinavians and the French, Hollway explains; frequent invasions resulted in violent altercations, a rapid turnover in rulers, and the decimation of villages. The luckless Anglo-Saxon king Aethelred the Unready (better translated as “Ill-Advised,” according to Hollway) massacred Danes living under his rule—including the Danish king’s daughter, Gunhilde—on St. Brice’s Day in 1002 CE. Her brother, Svein Forkbeard, retaliated by sacking Essex. While the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings battled for control of the island, William the Bastard’s martial adeptness earned “great respect” from the Norman nobles and paved the way for him to inherit his father’s duchy in France. In 1066, Anglo-Saxon king Harold warded off a Viking incursion in the north co-led by his own disgruntled brother, Tostig. William’s appearance in the south cut celebrations short for Harold and his battle-worn army. Despite the outcome being well-known, Hollway’s suspenseful buildup during William’s rise as a credible threat to Harold pays off in his recounting of the epic battle. Throughout, Hollway explains frankly when source material may be questionable, and his footnotes clarify the path leading to the Norman Conquest. The result is an accessible and vibrant portrait of a turning point in world history. (Nov.)