A Conqueror from Across the Sea
Senlac: Novels of the Norman Conquest of England
Julian de la Motte
Senlac is a two-part historical novel that brings to life the turbulent period leading to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. A bloody war fought at close hand and on horseback with sword and battle-ax, with the English pitted on different fronts against the Normans and the Vikings, the results of this invasion would dramatically change the course of Medieval history and beyond.
Senlac opens during Christmas of the year 1065, a time of grave national crisis and disquieting omens, when the aged King Edward the Confessor, the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, dies in the Palace of Westminster in London. He leaves behind no heir.
To fill the void, Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold, the Earl of Wessex and the greatest warrior in England, is hurriedly elected king by popular acclaim. Harold desperately seeks to unify a kingdom ravaged by the Danish occupation, and by unrest on both the Scottish and Welsh borders.
In order to ensure military support in the north, Harold must turn his back on his beloved common-law wife, Edith the Fair—also known as Edith Swanneck, for the graceful length of her neck—and their children to marry Aeldyth, the sister of both the Earl of Northumbria and the Earl of Mercia. Meanwhile, Harold’s mercurial younger brother, Tostig, is bitterly plotting a return from exile and revenge against the King.
Across the North Sea, the King of Norway, the aging and psychotic Harald Hardraada, who was said to be a full seven feet tall, dreams of a new Viking Empire on English soil, and strikes an alliance with Tosig. Likewise, across the English Channel, William, Duke of Normandy—the leader of a powerful yet unstable military state—plans his own attack, determined to avenge Harold’s broken promise to make England his.
Carefully researched and re-imagined by Londoner and first-time novelist Julian del la Motte, Senlac turns the dust of history into living flesh and emotion. “It might just be the best historical fiction you’ll ever read,” says Charles McNair, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, Land O’ Goshen.
Ever since they had come to this land, for far more
years in the past than the ordinary man could
possibly hope to fathom, the tribal Chiefs and Earls,
the independent Kings and then, in their turn, the
Kings of all the English had made their various exits from
the world in a number of different ways. There had been
very public deaths and those shrouded in mystery, never
to be explained. There were deaths prolonged and deaths
abrupt. There were deaths noble and deaths ignominious.
Edmund of East Anglia, for an example, was tied to a stake
and, famously, transfixed and martyred and taken to Heaven
by the arrows of the northmen. An obscure King of East
Anglia, on the other hand, had brained himself on a low
lying beam when leaving a latrine.
Edward, the uncle of the man now dying here, had
been murdered by the followers of his own infant brother.
Edmund, of course, was now with God, as was proven by
the miraculous qualities of his shrine, to which the faithful
travelled to worship and to petition in great numbers. Great
cures and miracles had been seen to take place and had been
duly recorded by the Chroniclers.
More recently, the two sons of Danish Cnut had, in their
turn, died of drink and gluttony, with Harthacnut pitching
spectacularly into the baked meats at a wedding feast. Edgar,
called ‘the Peaceable,’ had died a long and gentle death
surrounded by devoted family and friends upon whom he
bestowed blessings, bequests and very sensible advice. Further
back in time were those whose ends were not known and
had thus become subject to the folklore of their descendants,
yielding up a vivid and entertaining crop of legends.
The generally favoured death, the stuff of songs, was death
in battle, and with all wounds to the front, fighting against
impossible odds and surrounded by loyal comrades.
The line of Cerdic had endured for over five hundred
years. In that time, of course, Kings of England had died at
all ages. Harald Harefoot had been only twenty-one, others
even younger. Alfred, called ‘the Great’ had, against all expectations,
seen fifty summers. Edward, the last of his line, had so
far outlived Alfred by ten years. On this Twelfth night of the
Christmas Feast and in his personal chamber in the Palace of
Westminster Edward was now approaching his own end after
a prolonged and extremely public illness.
In ordinary circumstances Edward and Edith his wife had
always found the chamber much too large for their personal
liking. It lay directly above the hall and to either side beyond
the curtained entranceways there was a short and narrow
corridor with small and Spartan cubicles for the servants. At
both ends of the chamber wooden steps led to the hall below.
To walk from one entrance of the chamber to the other was
a matter of forty paces, between the two walls, twenty. The
timber joists of the ceiling offered good headroom and not
even the tallest of men would ever strike his head. Again,
in ordinary circumstances, the room was of an impressive
size. Both Edward and Edith shared intensely aesthetic and
unworldly habits, largely unimpressed by the false glitter of
the material things of the world. One of the richest Kings
in Christendom, Edward’s furniture and visible possessions
were more in keeping with those of a rather prosperous city
merchant or a provincial nobleman with pretensions. More
worldly visitors, princes of the Church and earls, sneered,
though were at pains to never do so openly.
The royal bed, upon which Edward now lay, however, was
impressive enough. To either side of it there were two large
chests of finely carved oak, banded with iron and locked to
keep prying eyes away from the more intimate possessions of
the royal couple. Against the wall opposite the bed and placed
between the two large, unglazed and curtained windows
was a very large open cupboard containing possessions and
trophies deemed appropriate for public view. There was silver
and pewter plate and ornately hideous gifts wrought in fine
iron and studded with gems that clashed and sparkled in the
candlelight. There were objects of ivory and fine woods from
monarchs and visiting dignitaries. Edward had never cared
for any of them, either the gifts or their donors.
Julian de la Motte Harrison is a born and bred Londoner and a first time writer with a passion for historical fiction and research. He obtained a B.A. in Medieval History from Saint David's University College, University of Wales and an M.A. in Medieval Art from the University of York. He lived three years in Italy and subsequently travelled extensively teacher training and International marketing of English as a Foreign Language. Writing under the pen name of Julian de la Motte, he is currently researching and writing a book on the First Crusade.