Review/Interview: Elizabeth St John, author of the Lydiard Chronicles

For those who don't know, the Lydiard Chronicles are set in the seventeenth century and concern the real life St John family, who were r...

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Review & Giveaway: Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connolly

What an ingenious concept: to examine the lives of and the roles played by the women related to the more familiar, male, characters involved in the events immediately before and after the Norman Conquest.



Silk and the Sword sensibly begins with events which far preceded those of 1066, giving the reader an introduction to the main families involved, and some background information which shows that we cannot take the events of 1066 in isolation.

This earlier history - of the powerful families of Mercia, Lady Godiva, the Godwines, and Queen Emma and both her husbands - is very familiar to me and if I'm honest there were times when I knew that there was more behind certain parts of the story, but that's me, that's not most folk. I have just had a history of Mercia published, so all my research is still very fresh in my mind. For those who are new to this period, or even those who aren't, there is plenty of meat on the bones of the story. 


Harald's wife Elisiv of Kiev,
daughter of Yaroslav the Wise
Does this mean though that there were no surprises in the book for me and nothing new to learn? Far from it. All the well-known women are here, as one would expect - Emma, Edith of Wessex, Edith 'Swanneck' - but so too are the wives of Harald Hardrada. I knew nothing about these women and I thoroughly enjoyed being whisked across the sea to learn about those close to the man described here as 'the wild card in the events of 1066'. It's easy to forget, because of his ultimate defeat, that he was a powerful ruler whose success in England, had it come, would have seen England absorbed into a Scandinavian empire. I had little idea about his royal pedigree (stretching back through his mother's line to the first king of Norway) nor, indeed, that Harald was married to two women at the same time! 

With the inclusion of Matilda of Flanders even the most ardently pro-Saxon reader will be forced to look at things from a different perspective and Gundrada de Warenne, someone I've not read about more than in passing, is given a chapter of her own and the stories behind her alleged parentage fully explored.

What I do know, because of the book that I'm currently writing, is that it is very difficult to format a book like this. Great care has been taken to skilfully extract these women from the general narrative and talk about them in isolation, whilst keeping the facts of their lives in context. 

Inevitably there is crossover, but rather than repeating herself, the author simply signposts where we are, and that we've been here before, but now we're with a different woman and we're looking at things from a different woman's perspective.

The author is keen for us to share her knowledge and interest in all the women, although I suspect she might have her favourites. Whilst she gives sympathetic and even-handed treatment to them all, I felt that there was added affection when it came to the poignancy of Edith Swanneck's tale and of Gytha, mother of the Godwine brood.

This was an ambitious project, beautifully executed and yes, as I've said, much of it very familiar to me. But the genius touch was to incorporate the stories of women from other countries because actually, it's completely logical. If you're telling the story of the women of 1066 then of course we need to know about the wives of Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy. This is where I was on less familiar ground and fascinating it was, too.

This book is a light, easy read, but it's also full of depth. Whether you are reading about these events for the first time or with a working knowledge of them, the lead-up to and the aftermath of the Conquest, with chapters entitled, for example, 'Grief and Sufferings', give an altogether different viewpoint on proceedings.

I was privileged to receive a pre-publication copy of Silk and the Sword but one lucky winner can also receive a free copy. Sharon is giving away a hardback copy of the book to readers worldwide. Simply leave a comment below - Please don't forget to leave your contact details! - and one name will be chosen at random at 7pm GMT Wednesday 21st November 2018


18 comments:

  1. This book sounds fascinating and is going on my list. bluecrabfla at comcast dot net

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  2. This sounds like a terrific book! Love the cover and topic. jman1985@yahoo.com

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  3. Definitely on my list to be read. It sounds wonderful. vquinn001@yahoo.com

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  4. This is going on my to-read list. I am sure I will like it. lizarieL999@hotmail.com

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  5. Love these women!!! Cannot wait!!!

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  6. I hope Santa is going to bring me this book, but just in case ;) libby@millardfamily.co.uk

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  7. I am so looking forward to this book. Many of the women in the book are my ancestors and I am so proud to have descended from them! Strong women were alive and well in the Medieval world!!

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  8. Sounds so interesting and intriguing. I love historicals that dive deeper into the lives of women throughout the Medieval Ages, giving them a voice. I am so excited about this book and can't wait to get a chance to read Silk and the Sword. cgaines7893@gmail.com

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  9. I love everthing related to the role played by women in history because they are the strong supporters of every revolution, war, treat of peace which their opinions and influence was decisive.

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  10. This book sounds wonderful, well-researched and interesting. Behind every king was a strong woman!

    Barb Kurr Joyce

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  11. My most favorite cat of my entire life was named Harald Hardrada.

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  12. I've been waiting for this book for a long time, finally it's out! I may be Swedish, but I still love British history, so I would love a copy!

    //lindahlin@gmail.com

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  13. There's always more to learn! I'd love to read it.

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  14. I've had the pleasure of reading Sharon Bennett Connolly's intriguing blog posts and fascinating commentary. This book looks to be an enormous treat, and I'm excited to read it.

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  15. You’ve done it again, Sharon. Another cracker. Roll on the next one. Xx

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  16. This giveaway is now closed and the winner will be contacted by Sharon very soon. Thanks everyone for entering.

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