History? Um, we know the ending...

Alison Morton looks at writing the 'backstory' to events, what we now called history...

 ... We know what happened in the past. We know who won, and lost.

 Look back at 1066. Much as we may dream/speculate about a Saxon England beyond that date (see 1066 Turned Upside Down), it didn’t happen. So when Helen Hollick wrote Harold the King, she couldn’t alter the outcome. But I was so caught up by the writing and characters, I was as optimistic as any Saxon that they would prevail. But in my logical brain I knew the outcome – it was probably the first date I learnt in school. However, it didn’t stop me enjoying the story.

Carry on reading...

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIOPERFIDITAS,SUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The fifth in the series, INSURRECTIO, was published in April 2016. Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Revolutionising 1066

1066 is the most known year in English history, and the most intriguing. Whether you support Saxon Harold or Norman William, it represents a key turning point: a year in which England’s historical story could have gone any number of ways – a year of ‘what ifs’. Turning the outcome of the Battle of Hastings on its head and considering other outcomes would be a revolution indeed.

Alison Morton explores some of the possible alternative outcomes in her guest post on Unusual Historicals...

The trouble with time travel (and writing about it).

The trouble with time travel (and writing about it).

By Richard Dee.

I'm ploughing a lonely furrow here, a Science Fiction writer surrounded by Historical Fiction of sumptuous quality. I chose to write Sci-fi for two reasons, first because it's always fascinated me and second because, being inherently lazy, I thought that it would need less research. After all, how can you research the future? I was wrong but that's another story.

Which brings me to time travel, now there’s a subject to set you thinking. Whether it’s Back to The Future, The Terminator or The Time Travellers Wife we all love the idea of time travel. After all, there are bound to be things in all our pasts that we would secretly love to change? 

There must be something you wish you had done differently; if you only had a chance. If you could invent some kind of machinery to transport you, or discover the knack, even better if you were born with the ability. And the possibility of actually observing history would get a lot of people excited. I suspect that a lot of textbooks would also need to be re-written.

The Time Machine (1960), H.G.Wells.

But would it be as simple as all that? Surely there must be rules to follow to stop you unwittingly destroying civilisation as we know it?

Everyone knows you can’t kill your grandparents before they became your parent’s parents and that anything that you might change can cause all sorts of things that you never expected. Watch The Butterfly Effect to see what I mean.

So care would be advisable if you actually could travel back in time. Things might not work out like you expect.

And how about writing about time travel, is it just another job for your average writer or is there more to it than that? 

If you want to know more; on my website I've written a longer article on the subject. As a bonus, there's another time travel short story available at the end of the post. Just click this link to go straight there.

Find out more about Richard Dee at richarddeescifi.co.uk

Read one of Richard's stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down available NOW as an e-book! Click here to be redirected to an Amazon near you CLICK HERE
(also available for other e-readers) 


Let's raise a virtual glass of champagne 
and give three hearty cheers for 

1066 Turned Upside Down
released as an e-book today!

eleven 'what if' stories for the year 1066 
what more needs to be said?
your copy is waiting for you!

(also available on other e-readers)  
$2.99  £1.99

we hope you enjoy our stories

Historical Novel Society Review
click here

longlisted, but exempt from the award

Who was Edith Swan-Neck? By Carol McGrath

We really do not know much about Edith Swan-Neck except that she was the handfasted wife of Harold II, set aside during the year he was crowned king. After all, women are the footnotes of history especially the history of the eleventh century. Edith Swan-Neck's sister-in-law, Edith Godwin, was famously married to King Edward whose death in January of that year caused all the trouble in 1066. He died childless. Edith Swan-Neck's mother-in-law, Countess Gytha of Wessex, will be remembered to history since she lost four sons in the year 1066 and, moreover, she withstood William throughout the three week siege of Exeter. Countess Gytha refused to pay King William's tax but after a ghastly siege the citizens made a deal with William by which he allowed the Godwin women and the ladies, who gathered around them, to depart into exile in Flanders.

Harold loved to hunt.

Although King Harold is described in The Vita Edwardii, commissioned by Edith Godwin, as tall, intelligent, experienced in campaign, prodigal with oaths and was accused by foreign writers of promiscuity and adultery, there are no descriptions of Edith Swan-Neck. She was romanticised in the nineteenth century because after the Napoleonic Wars the English sought a pre Norman identity.

Imagined Edith the Fair

Edward Bulwer Lytton, English poet, playwright and politician was very popular during the Victorian era with the reading public. He made a fortune with best-selling novels such as Harold, the Last of the Saxons. He made Edith King Harold's only love and suggested that the couple were handfasted as they were related in the fifth degree. In fact, Their marriage was a legitimate Danish marriage that took place around 1045 after Harold was created Earl of East Anglia.


Handfasting was legal and involved exchange of property. The ceremony is said to have taken place in the Hall by the whetstone. However, this form of marriage more danico was not recognised by the 11th century Gregorian reformed Church. Many nobles, married this way in their youth, later married a second wife in a church ceremony. Harold did this too but most likely for political reasons when he married the King of Wales' widow, Aldgyth of Mercia, to bring her brothers, the Northern Earls, closer to his cause, that of taking England's kingship and protecting the country from invaders-so he hoped.  At the time of their marriage, Edith was probably in her teens.

Lytton also suggested that she was raised by her grandmother, a witch and that she was a god-daughter of Harold's sister Edith, the Queen. The Victorians, especially the Pre-Raphaelite movement, held a passion for a nostalgic purchase on the past, harking back to a romantic and gothic medieval atmosphere.


Edith Swan-Neck, in truth, was most likely a Norfolk noble-woman. She was probably Edith the Fair/ Edith the Rich of The Domesday Book. Her singular mark of beauty was a long neck with pure white skin, like a swan. She was the daughter of a woman called Wulgyth who made a will in 1046 which reveals that she held lands in Hertfordshire, Bucks., Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire. Wulgyth left her daughter a huge endowment. Edith Swan-Neck inherited 280 hides and 450 acres of land. A hide is around 120 acres. These lands do tally with those attributed to Edith the Fair in the Domesday Book. They passed to Alan the Red of Richmond after the Conquest, another interesting story. In addition, Edith owned four houses in Canterbury and property in Kent.

The Burning House

Edith was of Scandinavian descent and five of their six living children had Scandinavian names. There was Godwin, the eldest, Edmund, Magnus, Gytha, Gunnhild and Ulf. It is possible that Ulf is the child on The Bayeux Tapestry in flight before the Battle of Hastings. Ulf was later taken as a child hostage into Normandy and not released until after King William's death. It is thought that The Bayeux Tapestry was designed by men but was stitched in abbey embroidery schools by women. Wilton Abbey, in particular, was a centre for needlework and Queen Edith was its patron. An aside here- Edith Swan-Neck was benefactress of St Benet's in Norfolk and could be the 1062 'Lady of Walsingham', as described in a late 15th century ballad. Walsingham is close by. These Norfolk lands at one time belonged to Harold.

Ulf and Edith?

I suspect that The Burning House vignette shown on The Bayeux Tapestry, depicting in realistic appearing embroidery a mother and child in flight, could represent Edith Swan-Neck and her youngest son Ulf just before the Battle of Hastings. Two women depicted earlier on the embroidery, which famously tells the story of 1066, are possibly identifiable as two of Harold's sisters, Queen Edith and Aelgiva (the abbess who died at Wilton before The Norman Conquest).

It is argued by Carola Hicks in her book about The Bayeux Tapestry that Dowager Queen Edith was involved in creating the embroidery. It is suggested by Andrew Bridgeford in his book The Secrets of The Bayeux Tapestry that the Burning House vignette indeed shows Edith and Ulf. The Tapestry is a many layered masterpiece shot through with the English point of view. It is tempting to see the woman and child as standing for actual people rather than simply representational images. She wears aristocratic clothes and the house is two storey. These were important figures.

Harold's Death

We hear from The Waltham Chronicle that two named monks, who followed Harold south from Waltham, fetched Edith to the battlefield to identify the king's broken body by marks only known to her. She did own properties in Kent! The image of Harold struck in the eye is one of the most enduring in history but it is not universally accepted as the correct reading. He may be the figure struck in the thigh below the words Interfectus Est- Was Killed. The Carmen, the Song of Hastings, composed for King William and written in 1068 suggests a named knight hacked off Harold's thigh and that another named knight removed his head. It suggests he was buried secretly overlooking the sea. The monks claim he was taken to Waltham Abbey and buried there. It is a mystery.

Edith Identifies Harold's Body

Still, if we believe the Chronicle, Edith Swan-Neck may have performed the last acts of love and it was her sons who led armies against William in the West. As for what happened later to Edith Swan-Neck, she may have fled to Ireland or travelled with Countess Gytha to Exeter and later into exile. There is no record of this though there are records for her daughter, Gytha/Gita, and another sister of Harold who ended her days at St Omer and for Countess Gytha herself.  My own feeling is that, like many heiresses at the time of Conquest, King Harold's beautiful handfasted wife ended her days in a monastery either in Canterbury or Hereford.

Statue of Edith and Harold at Hastings 

I write about Edith Swan-Neck and her daughters Gunnhild and Gita in a trilogy The Daughters of Hastings published by Accent Press and available in bookshops and for e readers.

Anglo-Saxons and their horses

by Helen Hollick

Until recently, it was widely accepted that Anglo-Saxon armies consisted solely of infantry formation, and horses being used only for transportation. But as Ann Hyland points out, "...this seems a complete waste of potential energy and resources" suggesting that while it is unthinkable that entire armies were mounted, wealthier men were more than capable of undertaking mounted fighting and of utilising the horse in a variety of offensive tactics, as circumstances of battle, terrain etc., dictated.

Mounted warfare during the Anglo-Saxon period is shown in sculpture and referred to in manuscripts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 937 is a record of Aethelstan's triumph over the Scots - the corresponding Croyland Chronicle on this campaign is very clear: "... and Singin unhorsed the Scottish king."

Exmoor Pony
The Native British pony (the present-day breeds of Welsh, Fell, Dales, Exmoor etc.,) were enhanced during the Roman occupation by the cross breeding of new stock and bloodlines, introduced into Britain through cavalry regiments raised from countries holding established equestrian cultures and known for breeds of superior quality. The most priced war horses being the Frisian, Burgundian and Thuringian. These Roman imports would have rapidly improved British stock by adding height, bulk and speed to the already established stamina, intelligence and ability to survive a poor winter climate and sparse food. Britain had - and still has - a rich wealth of these strong and hardy ponies, some around the 12 - 13 h.h. (hands high) mark, others reaching 14.2 h.h. It is significant that the modern day Fell and Dales breeds resemble the modern Frisian, a breed of horse that was much valued in antiquity and remained highly prized in later Medieval times.

want to read more? The full article is on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog - where you'll also find lots of other interesting historical articles!

Part One Anglo-Saxons and Their Horses

Part Two  Harold II's Horses...

It seems likely that horses were used at Harold's victorious battle prior to Hastings at Stamford Bridge in September 1066. Although sagas cannot always be relied upon, the Saga of Snorri Sturleson, The Heimskringla, is accurate in its main points. The saga states that the English had cavalry and were not an infantry force.

   "Then, as a sign of victory, Hrothgar, son of Healfdene
     Presented to Beowulf ....
     Eight war-horses
     With glancing bridles, one with a saddle
     Studded with stones - battle seat of the Danes."