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Capable and ambitious – a combo that made Godwine a power-broker in Anglo Saxon England

Today, I am hosting Mercedes Rochelle on my blog. She is presently doing a Coffee Pot Book Club tour named The Last Great Saxon Earls. Who these earls were? Well, Ms Rochelle concentrates on one family, the Godwines, which essentially means we’re talking about the last Anglo Saxon king of England. But events were set in motion long before Harold Godwinson hit the dust at Hastings in 1066, and Ms Rochelle starts things off in the second decade of the 11th century, when a very young Godwine steps out of the historical mists.

I’ve read these books before, but decided I needed to refresh my memory before writing a review of Godwine Kingmaker. You’ll find it further down.

But first, the blurb:

They showed so much promise. What happened to the Godwines? How did they lose their grip? Who was this Godwine anyway, first Earl of Wessex and known as the Kingmaker? Was he an unscrupulous schemer, using King and Witan to gain power? Or was he the greatest of all Saxon Earls, protector of the English against the hated Normans? The answer depends on who you ask.

He was befriended by the Danes, raised up by Canute the Great, given an Earldom and a wife from the highest Danish ranks. He sired nine children, among them four Earls, a Queen and a future King. Along with his power came a struggle to keep his enemies at bay, and Godwine’s best efforts were brought down by the misdeeds of his eldest son Swegn.

Although he became father-in-law to a reluctant Edward the Confessor, his fortunes dwindled as the Normans gained prominence at court. Driven into exile, Godwine regathered his forces and came back even stronger, only to discover that his second son Harold was destined to surpass him in renown and glory.

My review:

Everyone has heard of Harold Godwinson, the brave last Saxon king of England. And yes, most people can work out that his father was Godwine. Some will even know Godwine was a mighty Saxon earl, but few will actually know his story. This is something Ms Rochelle has done her best to remediate in Godwine Kingmaker, the first in a trilogy depicting the decades leading up to the Norman conquest.

Godwine Kingmaker opens when a young Godwine stumbles across a lost Dane in the woods. Something sparks between the older Danish jarl and the young man, presently without much of a future due to his disgraced father, Wulfnoth. And so Godwine sets out on an adventure that is to carry him right to the top, the most trusted counsellor of King Canute.

Ms Rochelle paints an engaging picture of a youth on the cusp of manhood. Godwine is intelligent, honest and determined to better himself. As Jarl Ulf’s protegé, he gains access to the young king Knut—oops, sorry, Canute, but as a Scandinavian, I cringe every time at Canute which makes me think of canoes rather than kings :)
Godwine is also welcomed by Ulf’s family, among which is the proud Gytha, Ulf’s sister. He falls in love. She does not—or rather, she does not allow herself to do so, what with Godwine being the son of a mere thegn.

Ultimately, Godwine wins his Gytha—although not in a way that endears him to her, not initially. Their first son is born under the murky cloud of disharmony, and I rather like how Ms Rochelle has spun this story, giving us an explanation for just why Swegn Godwineson grew up to become as twisted as he did.

That Ms Rochelle has done her research is evident. Yes, there’s an occasion or two when she slips up in the rather extensive family trees she is working with (Svein Estridssen is Canute’s nephew, not his grandson) but all in all, the historical background is well-executed. Godwine is a character that grows on you—far more capable and honourable than all of the men that ascend the throne after Canute, he is justified in his frustration at having to bend knee to the waste of space(s) that is Harold Harefoot, Harthacanute and Edward. Godwine finds it difficult to warm to any of these kings, and perhaps especially to Edward. I suspect Ms Rochelle is no major fan of Edward the Confessor, this very devout man who was so easily led by his nose by his favourites.

All in all, Godwine Kingmaker is an enjoyable and educational read. Yes, there’s quite some head-hopping which I find detracts from the overall reading experience, but this is to a large extent compensated by Ms Rochelle’s evident passion for and knowledge of the period.

Godwine rose to be the mightiest earl in England. His son was to strive even higher, maybe to some extent due to his fatger’s disenchantment with King Edward. Whatever the case, Godwine and his sons reached for the sun. In Godwine’s case, he did not burn and die. In his son’s case, however . . . But that, dear peeps, is a story for another day – like Ms Rochelle’s third book in her series, Fatal Rivalry!

Buy Links:

This series is available on Kindle Unlimited

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Author Bio: Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: to explore the history behind the story.

Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended!

Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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3 thoughts on “Capable and ambitious – a combo that made Godwine a power-broker in Anglo Saxon England”

  1. Thank you so much for hosting Mercedes Rochelle today, and for your wonderful review of Godwine Kingmaker. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    Cathie Dunn
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

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