Character Interview: Noor d'Outremer via Anna Belfrage

All this week  I'm interviewing potential new recruits for my imaginary company. I've invited several authors to send along some sui...

Monday, 11 October 2021

Stepping Back into Saxon England: What If? by Helen Hollick


Stepping Back into Saxon England
What If?
By Helen Hollick

WHAT IF...? by Helen Hollick

1066 Turned Upside Down, is a short  story collection of alternative stories for the events of that year – the year of King Harold II’s coronation, the year of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England.

Written by nine different authors – including myself and co-blog-tourist Annie Whitehead – these stories explore what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings, if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his crown. 1066 Turned Upside Down explores a variety of ways in which that momentous year could have played out very differently.

But what if things had been different before 1066? How far back do we go to alter the course of history to erase the Norman Conquest? What if history was different after 1066?

Where to start!

Things might have been different if Boudica had beaten Rome during her great rebellion in AD 60 or 61, although I suspect that Rome would have come back in greater force. What if there had not been the Anglo-Saxon migration in the early sixth century? (Contrary to ‘old fashioned’ thinking, these Germanic tribes did not come in hoards to rape, pillage and drive the local Brits into Wales... settlement took several generations of mostly peaceful integration between the two populations.) What if they ‘went south’ instead? To what is now France and Spain? (Much better weather than England!) Again, though, it is probable that they would have still come, maybe 100 years or so later, and perhaps already converted to Christianity.

Ah, there’s another one! What if the Romans/Britons/ Saxons/Vikings had not converted to Christianity? What if the Faith hadn’t spread, had fizzled out before it even got started? Apart from a lot of hungry lions, we would not have our grand cathedrals – nor our Western way of life (no divorce entanglements for Henry VIII!) Would the dominant religion now be Pagan, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi...? No Christianity = no Crusades. No glory for Richard the Lionheart ... ah, but if there had not been a Norman Conquest, there would have been no Plantagenets anyway.

Tomb of Richard I

What if the Vikings had not happened, or they had not thought this little, often very wet Isle, worth bothering with? If there had been no Christianity, and no churches, this is entirely feasible. The Vikings came for the plunder. The gold and riches in our churches. (Although, perhaps alternative faiths still had the riches – so they might still have come.)

What if - assuming, so far that history had not changed and Duke William had seized England for himself - what if Mathilda, daughter of Henry I had been crowned as Queen? No civil war between her and Stephen. But then Henry II, her son, would still have become King.

the spread of the Black Death

What if there had been no Black Death in 1348/49? (The term ‘Black Death’ was not used until the late 17th century.) As Wikipedia states: "The most immediate consequence was a halt to the campaigns of the Hundred Years' War. In the long term, the decrease in population caused a shortage of labour, with subsequent rise in wages, resisted by the landowners, which caused deep resentment among the lower classes. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 was largely a result of this resentment, and even though the rebellion was suppressed, in the long term serfdom was ended in England. The Black Death also affected artistic and cultural efforts, and may have helped advance the use of the vernacular.

So thus ended the consequence of the Norman Conquest, and the rise of English used instead of French and Latin among the higher classes, government and the church. But there probably would have been another plague... (as we well know 2020 - Covid 19!)

No Wars of the Roses maybe? Richard III won at Bosworth, so no Tudors – one main result being England would have remained Catholic. Or Katherine of Aragon had borne a healthy son? Meaning no reign of Mary Tudor or  Elizabeth I. (A lot of people would have stayed alive with no burnings and beheadings of Catholics or Protestants.) Spain might have triumphed with their Armada, so no Stuarts on the English throne. I reckon the Protestants wouldn’t have fared so well, though.

In turn, no English Civil Wars. Charles I reigned to a ripe old age, no Oliver Cromwell (although his ideas didn’t survive anyway, so maybe we can discount that era of history). Charles II might have had a son, so exit William and Mary. (I was talking to a young friend, also called William, about these two. We decided that as William was William of Orange, Mary must have been Mary of Marmalade.)

Or perhaps the Duke of Monmouth would have won at Sedgemoor in 1685. If any one of Queen Anne’s children had survived – no George of Hanover.

James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth

Ah, no George III! No war of Independence with those Colonials across the Atlantic! Maybe Britain and the United States would still be conjoined? America's monarch would be Elizabeth II? There again, slavery would still have happened because of tobacco, sugar, cotton... the Industrial revolution continued to roll... but maybe no Queen Victoria? No Albert... no Albert Hall in London. Would we still have Christmas trees?

"That pretty German toy, a Christmas tree" (1848),
The Illustrated London News

I’ll stop there, but I find it interesting that we would probably still have Queen Elizabeth II as our monarch. Let’s assume Edward VIII had not abdicated in 1936, had still married Wallis Simpson.

In ‘real’ life they had no children, so when he died in 1972 his successor would have been ... Elizabeth II.

 What other 'what if's' - feel free to leave a comment and share your ideas!

Buy the book
from Amazon
now also available in paperback

(images from Wikipedia)

About Helen:

Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write... 


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Twitter: @HelenHollick


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  1. Replies
    1. Always a pleasure to host you Helen! Another What If concerning Charles II is that if he'd had a legitimate son there'd have been no Culloden...

    2. and noSedgemoor ... no Judge Jeffries... (no Lorna Doone?)

  2. Great thought piece! My favourite is what if Alexander the Great had met the Romans? The latter were busy fighting the Samnites and the Latin League at the time, but wouldn't that have been fascinating? Later, Pompey, Julius Caesar and many Roman emperors down the ages admired Alexander.
    YOu might find Erik Durschmied's "The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History" an interesting read (

    1. Thanks Alison ... if Caesar hadn't crossed the Rubicon... if ... it's endless really isn't it? :-)