Until recently I had read very little about England in the centuries before the Plantagenet era began, but I am now developing an interest in the history of England before, during and just after the Norman Conquest. On this page I’ll be listing the books I have read that are set in that period. Feel free to add any more recommendations in the comment section!
Set in 7th century Britain – an island divided by warring kings, where the old pagan religions are under threat from the advance of Christianity – this is the story of Hild, the girl who would later become St Hilda of Whitby. Nicola Griffith’s writing is beautiful and poetic; this was a challenging read but one that I loved. The first in a planned trilogy.
This first volume of the Northumbrian Thrones trilogy is a fictional account of the life of Edwin, King of Northumbria. An entertaining novel filled with battles and duels, feasts and feuds, and lots of political intrigue; there was always something interesting happening or something new to learn and I was never bored.
Edoardo Albert’s second Northumbrian Thrones novel tells the story of Oswald, who returns from exile on the island of Iona to reclaim the throne of Northumbria.
Another book set in Northumbria in the 7th century. This one follows the story of a fictional character, Beobrand, who becomes a warrior and sets out to avenge his brother’s death. It’s the first in a series – The Bernicia Chronicles – but I’m not sure whether I’ll be reading the other books as this one was good but not really to my taste.
11th Century and the Norman Conquest
The first in Valerie Anand’s Norman series follows the adventures of Brand Woodcutter, a servant in the household of Godwin, Earl of Essex. This first volume concentrates on the events surrounding the betrayal and death of Alfred Atheling in the town of Gildenford. I loved this book – it really brings Anglo-Saxon England to life.
The novel closely follows the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest, taking us through some key events of the period including the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold’s handfast marriage to Edyth Swan-neck, the threats from the Welsh and the Vikings, and the fates of Harold’s brothers Sweyn and Tostig Godwinson. A well-researched novel packed with historical facts; my only problem was that I struggled to connect with the characters.
This novel tells the story of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, and his remarkable rise to become one of the most powerful men in England. I liked Godwine as a character and particularly enjoyed the portrayal of his relationship with Gytha, his wife.
The second of Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy is narrated by Godwine’s sons, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth.
The final book in the trilogy takes us right through to the Battle of Hastings and its aftermath, exploring the rivalry between Harold Godwinson – Harold II of England – and his brother Tostig.
This beautifully written novel covers the early life of Emma of Normandy, who comes to England in 1002 as the wife of King Aethelred II. Emma is portrayed sympathetically as she struggles with loneliness, her unhappy marriage, the hostility of her stepsons and the scheming of her jealous rival, Elgiva. The first in a trilogy.
The first in the Queens of the Conquest trilogy, this is the story of Edyth of Mercia. Edyth is the wife of two kings – first Griffin, King of Wales, and then Harold Godwinson, King of England. This was a light but gripping and emotional read. However, I was disappointed with the author’s decision to modernise the names of the characters and this stopped me from becoming fully immersed in the time period.
This is the first book in Tracey Warr’s Conquest trilogy which tells the story of Nest ferch Rhys, a Welsh princess whose father was the last king of Deheubarth. Captured when Normans invade her home in Wales in 1093, Nest grows up under the guardianship of the powerful Montgommery family. This first novel deals with the question of Nest’s marriage – will she marry Arnulf de Montgommery, her Welsh betrothed Prince Owain, or someone else? I enjoyed getting to know a historical woman whose story was completely new to me!
12th Century – the House of Normandy
Set during the period of civil war known as the Anarchy, this is the story of the Empress Matilda, daughter and heir of Henry I, who faces a battle with her cousin Stephen for the throne of England. Matilda’s son, Henry, will become the first Plantagenet king of England. We also follow the story of Matilda’s stepmother, Adeliza, another fascinating medieval woman.
Again set during the Anarchy, this is an entertaining and atmospheric novel begun by Ariana Franklin before her death and completed by her daughter, Samantha Norman. With a plot involving besieged castles, evil monks, secret messages and displays of archery, this was a fun book to read.
This book follows the story of Fulk, Earl of Stafford, as he fights for Prince Henry against King Stephen. Even as he leads his men in battle, besieges castles and competes in tournaments, Fulk’s biggest problems come in the form of his own family: his scheming uncle Thierry and his own son Rannulf. An atmospheric but unemotional novel with an interesting and complex protagonist.
The first book in Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mystery series. In 1137, Cadfael and a small party of monks from Shrewsbury Abbey travel into Wales to bring back the bones of St Winifred but meet with opposition from the local people. When one of the villagers is found murdered in the woods, Cadfael must try to find the killer before an innocent man is made to take the blame. A great start to the series!
First in a series telling the stories of England’s medieval queens, this volume looks at the lives of Matilda of Flanders, Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Maud.