Book Review: In the Shadows of Castles, by G.K. Holloway
It’s the 1060s, and William of Normandy is establishing a new and brutal regime in England, but there are those who would defy him. As Norman soldiers spread like a plague across the land, resistance builds, but will it be enough to topple William and restore the rightful king to his throne? The English have the courage to fight, but the Normans, already victorious at Hastings, now build castles seeking to secure their tenuous foothold in these lands.
And what of the people caught up in these catastrophic events? Dispossessed but not defeated, their lives ripped apart, the English struggle for freedom from tyranny; amongst them, caught up in the turmoil, are a soldier, a thane and two sisters. As events unfold, their destinies become intertwined, bringing drastic changes that alter their lives forever.
Firmly embedded in the history of the Conquest, ‘In the Shadows of Castles’ is ultimately a story of love, hope and survival in a time of war.
This book is Holloway’s follow up to 1066: What Fates Impose. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England. He then established Norman rule over the country, and implemented feudalism as the dominant social and economic system. This led to significant changes in the English political and cultural landscape, including the construction of castles and the establishment of Norman nobles as the ruling class.
William distributed Anglo-Saxon lands and titles among his Norman followers as rewards for their loyalty and support. The Anglo-Saxon nobles were stripped of their power and property, and many were exiled or forced to flee. One of the more intriguing elements of William’s policies in this regard included the keeping of Anglo-Saxon hostages in Normandy as a means of ensuring their loyalty and cooperation. This was a common practice in medieval times, and it was used to prevent uprisings or rebellions by keeping members of the local nobility as collateral. By holding the children of prominent Anglo-Saxon families as hostages, William was able to secure the loyalty of the Anglo-Saxon lords and maintain control over the country. This allowed him to focus on consolidating his power and building a stable Norman-led kingdom in England, without having to worry about unrest or opposition from the Anglo-Saxon nobility
Another strategy for controlling the Anglo-Saxons involved building a network of castles throughout the country. These castles provided secure military strongholds from which Norman troops could be stationed, enabling William to quickly respond to any rebellions or uprisings. They also served as symbols of Norman power and dominance, showcasing the strength of the Norman army and the control they held over the country.
In the Shadows of Castles takes these known historical events but examines them from a very personal perspective, putting flesh and bone on the facts. How does each policy of William actually impact specific people? How did the surviving Anglo-Saxon nobles manage in the new era? What compromises did they make to secure a new future? My favorite character is Bondi, one of Harold’s housecarls. I think his character is the most fascinating, because he demonstrates how someone could (or couldn’t) transition from loyalty, to a traumatic event, to finding a new life and navigating the dangers of a hostile world. Following his story post-Battle of Hastings was the most rewarding for me because of his progression.
There is a very large cast of characters, and it’s easy to get lost. I definitely recommend reading the first book before venturing into this one or you will be confused–not just because of the history but because of its cast. The main criticism I have of the book is that the tone of the characters seems flat and monotone, with little variety of characterization between them. But if you are interested in the history of what happened after the Battle of Hastings, this book is a worthy follow-up to 1066: What Fates Impose. It’s also a story that’s not told nearly as often as what came before the big battle.