Book Review: “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty” by Michael John Key

52652202When we think of the past, especially those close to a thousand years past our current time, we tend to think about kings and conquerors who transformed the political landscape of certain countries. However, kings and conquerors would be nothing more than mere men if it was not for advisors and allies that stood by their sides or against them. For example, for nearly a century, the men and women of the House of Godwin were at the center of Anglo-Saxon politics and helped or hindered the path of those who wished to sit on the throne of England. The House of Godwin might not be a familiar family for those who are not familiar with Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. Still, Michael John Key takes on the challenge to tell their story in his book, “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard of the House of Godwin, but I only knew about some family members, like Earl Godwin and Harold Godwinson, who would become King Harold II. I wanted to learn more about this family and what kind of influence they held before and after the Norman Conquest.

Key begins by showing his readers how Godwin became Earl Godwin through the reigns of Swein Forkbeard, Edmund the Confessor, and King Cnut. Godwin married a Danish noblewoman named Gytha, and they would go on to have at least eight children, the eldest being a son named Swegn; Swegn was seen as the black sheep of the family and caused quite a few headaches for his father. When Cnut died, Earl Godwin helped navigate the succession squabble to get Harold Harefoot to the throne to become King Harold I.

After Harold I’s death, Godwin decided to take matters into his own hands as he proposed a marriage between Edward the Confessor and his daughter Edith. Under Edward’s reign, we see the rise of the eldest sons of Godwin, Harold, and Tostig, but we also see the Godwinson family in exile. Godwin would win his earldom back, but when news reached him that his eldest son Swegn died, he died soon afterward. Harold would become the head of the family, the chief advisor to Edward the Confessor, and eventually the king’s heir.

Since the events of Edward’s succession and Harold’s reign were the catalyst for the Norman invasion, Key spends a few chapters looking into the events that led to the monumental year of 1066. He also looks at critical battles, especially the Battle of Hastings and how they allowed William the Conqueror to become King of England. Key also examines the relationship between Harold and Tostig, which would help bring the Godwinsons crashing down.

I think Key does a decent job of diving deep into the archives as he tries to find the truth of the 11th century. There were points where it was a bit dry for me, but I did appreciate the charts and maps that he included to help illustrate the wealth and land holdings of the Godwinsons. Overall, I think it was a solid yet complex introduction to the Godwinsons and their legacy. Suppose you want to learn more about Anglo-Saxon England and one of the most influential families of that period in history. In that case, I recommend you read “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty” by Michael John Key.

Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.