Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Conquest by Stewart Binns

Rating: 4. Worth a read
Read before: New read
Author: English
Published: 2000s

Conquest reads like an old Norse epic, told over countless wintry days when the snow and short days kept people indoors—and the Norse were great story tellers.

And not only does the introduction to the story adopt this attack but the characters are also larger than life: Hereward of Bourne is a demonstrably large character not only in size but early on in his fierceness and lack of control, but later his determination to achieve justice for the “little people”, his wife Torfida’s loyalty and purpose fall into this pattern—and so it continues with all the characters.

This wasn’t a character driven story but one focussed on the history and what a history Binns conquered for me: battle: Hastings, the protagonists; William the Bastard and Harold Godwinson, the winner William the Conqueror. How different would the world be if William the Conqueror not won and remained William the Bastard?

What I got from the story was the people (originally Danes, Celts, Saxons etc) melded together into a society with the underpinning principles of freedom and justice, the interest in maintaining the decentralised powers of the smaller Saxon based society over the strongly centralised control exercised by the feudal Norman structure; and how at the end the struggle was about retaining the underpinning freedom and justice of England at that time within the feudal Norman structure. That was a huge undertaking and one that resonated with me.

And I got to learn a little about a character I’d never heard of before—Hereward of Bourne—and the role he played in history. I never realised that the close run between Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror was in large part due to the Hereward’s skills (the Normans won by only a few short hours because help did arrive from the north only it was too late to be of any use). I also never understood that the conquering of England wasn’t the end of the resistance as the English continued to overthrow William’s rule—a sort of William Wallace of the English.

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