Rule of the Anglo-Saxons has just passed from a childless pederast to the ""refreshingly normal"" King Harold, and as 1066 begins Harold faces two imposing challengers: first Hardrada of Norway, whose ""Berserkers"" he speedily rebuffs; then William of Normandy, who puts an end to English sovereignty by Christmas. Howarth, the author of eleven previous books on chiefly military subjects, writes from Sussex Woods, close by the Norman invasion spot. With special regret he describes the conquest of the isolated, illiterate, but tranquil and prosperous village of Horstede in the first decisive Anglo-French battle. The Normans' superior weaponry is given its due. What made the difference, Howarth thinks, was Harold's fatigue and mood of resignation. For his part, the Norman invader was ""full of wounded pride,"" having expected a peaceful accession to the English crown. Unlike other chroniclers, Howarth plays down William's sponsorship by the enlightened Pope Hildebrand; instead he stresses the autocracy imposed to resettle Normans at the expense of thousands of English natives. Its nostalgia for roughshod feudalism gives the book a decided slant, but also endows the contested shires with new life, if not importantly new scholarship.