Wednesday 12 October 2011

GUEST BLOG: James Wilde - In the Shadow of Hastings; Tostig Godwinson

Hail Mighy Readers,
In honour of the Historical Novel Societies In the Shadow of Hasting's Blog Tour, we've been lucky enough to receive James Wilde's (author of Hereward which we reviewed here) contribution about Tostig Godwinson, brother to King Harold and hope that you enjoy it, in addition to this if you go the HNS' site you can enter a competition to win £50 in Amazon vouchers.

Now with our further ado, James' piece:

With the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings looming on October 14, James Wilde, author of Hereward, examines one of the players in the events of 1066.

In the tumult of the mid-eleventh century, one lesser known figure has always intrigued me: Tostig, the brother of King Harold. We could argue that a large part of the reason for William of Normandy’s victory at Hastings may be laid at the feet of this younger Godwin.

Carve through the meat of the big events of history and you’ll find a sticky mess of humanity: jealousy, ambition, greed, lust and love, weakness of character and emotion, the true if often petty causes of those moments that shake society. Nowhere is this more evident than in 1066.

Peering between the cracks of what little evidence we have from that era, we see a picture of two brothers groomed from an early age to seek power. Harold was always the more capable of the two, celebrated by the English; cunning, courageous, trusted. We glimpse hints that Tostig must have lived all his life in the shadow of this reputation, jealous, perhaps, bitter that his own skills were not recognized, yet in awe of this charismatic elder brother with, perhaps, a touch of conflicted hero-worship. In this familiar tale of sibling rivalry, lay the seeds for the collapse of Harold’s ambitions, and eventually Anglo-Saxon England.

While Harold schemed for the throne, Tostig was dispatched to become Earl of Northumbria. Clearly designed to secure the Godwin clan’s grip on power, Tostig was not up to the demands of his new role. Inexperienced, he ruled badly, and began to damage the Godwin name with his cruelty and injustice. He was eventually deposed by a popular uprising. Yet in Tostig’s hour of need, Harold refused to stand by him. King Edward called a great council at Britford, near Salisbury. Harold persuaded the king to agree to the rebel demands and, amid Tostig’s accusations that his brother had fomented the rebellion, Tostig was made outlaw.

Abandoned, hurt, and seething at this treatment by Harold, Tostig fled to Flanders. He wanted revenge and he didn’t care what catastrophe he caused in the process. After ravaging the English coast with his navy, he either encouraged the seasoned adventurer Harold Hardrada of Norway to accompany him on a joint venture or joined forces with the viking’s army once the attack had been launched.

Though his attention was on the rapidly increasing threat from Normandy, Harold was forced to engage these combined forces at Stamford Bridge, just outside York. He won, but at a high cost. Tostig was killed in the fighting, yet the English army was devastated. In the confused aftermath of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, William of Normandy invaded. With no time to amass a new army, a long march south, and with many warriors exhausted by the previous campaign, Harold was ill-equipped for the coming struggle against a better-organised and better-armed foe.

If the two brothers had not fallen out so spectacularly, would Harold and his army have been strong enough to repel the Norman invaders? Perhaps the outcome would have been the same. Yet one of our major sources for this period, the Vita, certainly regards the quarrel between Harold and Tostig responsible for the collapse of the Godwin family’s fortunes, and with that died the hopes of the English.

To follow James join his Twitter Account.


Carol McGrath said...

James, this is really well written and comprehensive. I've often wondered if Tostig and William were more involved together than has been revealed. He was married to Judith, Matilda's sister. So many links but....

James Wilde said...

Thanks, Carol. It's an interesting area for speculation, certainly. I'm sure there are plenty of backroom contacts that haven't come down to us..

Liz Harris said...

That was a most comprehensive and interesting account. Thank you for it.