– This is the first in a series of notes/book reviews I will be adding to the site –
Sometimes I take the dog for a walk where the River Sow meanders close to the old windmill and the train station. Now and again there’s someone stumbling home with a bottle or maybe kids having a row in the skate park, but nothing like the scenes I’d have witnessed in 1070.
‘…the corpses of men and their horses lay in their dozens and their scores and their hundreds, with the shreds of banners and pennons lying blood-stained in the dirt beside them…’
The Battle of Broad Eye took place close to Stafford town centre and is one of the key scenes in James Aitcheson’s gripping book, The Splintered Kingdom.
I’d heard of Eadric the Wild, a Shropshire Saxon who stirred up rebellion against the new Norman rulers, and often wondered why more isn’t written about him. It’s true we don’t know much but that hasn’t harmed the creative industry that has grown up around another Midland outlaw. The hooded one gets ballads and Disney, Russell Crowe and Errol Flynn, while poor Eadric doesn’t even get a plaque on a bench.
Hopefully this book will begin to change that. So much historical fiction seems to take place in London, Bath, York or Edinburgh and these are marketable tourism spots, but there are plenty of stories to be told elsewhere. The Welsh Marches, chosen for this James Aitcheson’s second novel (following on from Sworn Sword) are a great choice.
Constantly under threat from Welsh invaders at a time when the country had not yet been secured under Norman rule the Lords became merciless in defence of their turbulent realm.
The story follows Tancred, a Breton knight living in a fictional manor in south Shropshire. Tancred is bound to his Lord, but also has the heavy responsibility of defending his villagers. The fragile new kingdom comes under siege from all sides with rumours of Danes in the east, the would-be Saxon king Edgar in Northumbria and the marauding Welsh.
The Welsh are a particular threat having struck allegiances with the English dispossessed after Hastings. Tancred is chosen to lead a band of men to take the fight to the Welsh, deep within the mountains, before they become too strong. The book is a real page-turner and packed with vivid battle scenes. There is plenty of research but it is worn lightly, giving detail of the armour worn by the Normans and the importance of their lightning cavalry strikes.
Tancred is a warrior and has to put men to death and give no quarter, but he is a man trying to do his best for those dependent on him in a turbulent era. It’s about time Stafford Borough Council commemorated this battle so perhaps I’ll lend them the book. I look forward to reading more of this series.