BOND OF HONOUR by Catherine Todd


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A sober but fairly inventive reconstruction of the diplomatic, military, and intra-familial underpinnings of William of Normandy's conquest in 1066. Told in part by Lanfranc, Prior of Le Bec, Todd's account untangles and simplifies the early skirmishes, power plays, and general nastiness among the French provinces--often orchestrated by William's erstwhile helpful liege lord, King Henry. The bulk of the story, however, has to do with William's confrontation and defeat of Harold Godwinsson, whose family has, from time to time, stage-managed the English king's reign. And now that irritatingly saintly King Edward is expiring, Harold has an eye on the throne. But Edward expects to enthrone William, his cousin, and he sends Harold to France to deliver the news! And, during the visit, Harold in fact softens (there's an eerily atmospheric excursion to a burial mound which, to the Saxon's mind, is laden with the threat of doom); William bargains shrewdly; and Harold even swears an oath to support William's kingship. But then there's the blessing of a new Pope (brought about by virtuoso diplomacy engineered by Lanfranc) and Harold's oath-breaking once he is home in England, where he's crowned king: outright war is inevitable. So hardworking William signs up knights and raises money. (""I hope this is all worth it,"" he sighs.) And the war as reported by Todd is an eye-opener for those who assumed that William simply breezed into Hastings. (Harold's forces diverted from the north by those of Harold of Norway, while William on the French shore anxiously waits out a storm.) Finally, then, with Norway and the Godwin brother killed at York, a weary Harold Godwin meets William and defeat; the Conqueror heads for London. Todd has taken great pains with historical complexities; her characters, including pragmatic William, are convincing; the battles are crisply reported; and the horse-tradings among kings, conquerors, and gifted emissaries are appropriately labryinthian. All in all--good, solid, if not heart-racing, popular history.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's