The Last English King Paperback – 3 Aug 1998
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A rattling good story and with a plot which is gripping...superb, unforgettable (SPECTATOR)
Rathbone is a very clever writer.. scenes of such solidity no reader will easily forget them (TIMES)
A triumph... if there are echoes of I, CLAUDIUS that is a high compliment (INDEPENDENT)
A magnificent historical novel to stand alongside Rose Tremain's RESTORATION ('One of the very best story-tellers around')
*A magnificent and rich historical novel set around the events leading up to the Norman invasion.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is told from several perspectives - the main one being that of King Harold's most trusted bodyguards - a man whose duty it was to sacrifice his own life if need be to protect his King, but who failed at the last to do so, in the hope that, in living, he could return to his lovely wife and community. Alas, as the reader finds out, he loses both his dignity as a soldier and his community too. There is a touch of magic about the telling of this story, which weaves together characters and events both historically real and fictitious, often through flashbacks. I found myself dreading the end - we all know the outcome of the Battle of Hastings - as Harold is presented as the humorous, passionate, heroic defender of the Anglo-Saxon way of life, with its easy relationship between feudal lord and serf, its relative plenty, and the far better status enjoyed by women than in the less colourful Norman society. The bodyguard, Walt, spends the years after the battle undergoing a difficult rehabilitation as he wanders through Turkey and Syria with a group of new companions, some of whom were also intimately involved with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings.
History, it is generally said, is a story written by the winning side and the historical view of William the Conqueror is that he was a great warrior and administrator. This book presents the view that, while 'the Norman Bastard' may have been a fearless fighter, he was bad-tempered, psychopathic, hysterical, obsessed by order, and rather inhumane. Whatever the truth is about him and about Harold Godwinson, this is a really good novel.
The characterisation of Harold is a most impressive achievment, and the reader who does not feel sympathetic towards him has a heart of stone. It also highlighted areas of Saxon history that I was unaware of, I had never heard, for example,of Edith Swan Neck - but she has perhaps the most beautiful name I have ever encountered.
Read this, you will not be disappointed.
Several parts of the book are laugh out loud funny. The characters are exceptionally three dimensional so you feel as if you know them personally. Despite the comic nature of the book, one feels a certain amount of sadness as the historical events familiar to all English people of 1066, draw to their conclusion. It certainly helps you appreciate that English history took on a radically different texture after the conquest.
In all, an entertaining, slightly educational book that led me to read several other of the authors novels.
The Normans turned the country upside down by introducing the feudal system into England and changing political, legal and religious language, but eventually came to see themselves as English. The English masses did not become Norman. The identity and the language we have today still originates with the Anglo-Saxons. That is why we call it "English", not "Norman", "Breton" or "Roman". That England became more outward-looking and imperialistic under Norman overlordship does not mean that the Anglo-Saxons were not English. They were just more obviously Germanic. In fact, one could argue that it is we who are not the real English today. What is "English"? Isn't it just a feeling of belonging to that land between the Channel and Scotland?
The novel is very entertaining. Many details have already been mentioned by different reviewers, but what does it for me is Rathbone's evocation of the English desire for independence, a defiance of European meddling in a sovereign land, something to be found in today's "English". Rathbone demonstrates what a disaster Edward the Confessor was for his country (was he really "English"?) and Harold Godwinson's desperate and ultimately vain attempts to prevent the Normans from taking England.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this many moons ago.
It's a very enjoyable read. Julian is an excellent writer, who develops his characters well and who weaves a vivid, gripping narrative... Read more
What a superb little book! It made me laugh it brought a tear to the eye! and some of it showed me that nothing has really changed in 948 years!Published on 8 Jan. 2014 by j d austin
Ordered for a history student and it has fulfilled her requirements adequately . Apparently it is very accurate and informative.Published on 13 Nov. 2013 by Mr. R. A. Clarke
I've read lots of Bernard Cornwell and other historical fiction since I encountered this book but nothing has provoked the emotion and thirst for more knowledge this read did. Read morePublished on 5 Feb. 2013 by brumychap
The story of 1066 is well known and has been quasi-fictionalised by many authors. While Rathbone's version contains some fairly unique and somewhat idealised aspects of pre-Norman... Read morePublished on 22 Feb. 2012 by Maurice Halton
I've tried to read this author once before, some years ago. In this book I got as far as about 20 pages and kept having to re-read passages over and over and over again. Read morePublished on 25 Jan. 2012 by Flo-Bun
Although Saxon history is not an area I knew a great deal about before reading this book, from the reading I have done since it would appear that the majority of the events in the... Read morePublished on 18 Nov. 2009 by Feasel 81