The true story of the bastard son who made himself a king and The woman who melted his heart. The stirring history of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who invaded england and became the King. His victory, concluded at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Is known as the Norman Conquest. Known for her exhaustive research and ability to bring past eras to life, bestselling author Georgette Heyer tells the story of William the Conqueror, who became King of england in 1066, and his queen Matilda, The high-born noblewoman who at first scornfully spurned him. William was an illegitimate child of a nobleman, who won his dukedom through force of will, and went on to bring European feudalism to England, along with a program of building and fortification that included the building of the Tower of London. The historical novel includes Heyer's brilliant period language and her perfect grasp of the details of the day - clothing, armor, weapons, and food - making for a fascinating and blood-stirring read. Bonus reading group guide available inside. "From the moment when the infant grasped his father's sword with a strength unusual in one so young, William showed himself a leader among men. The Conqueror grew out of an incredible amount of historical research into the way of life, The way of speech, The way of thought, and feeling, and praying in the Eleventh Century. Without sacrificing the flow of her plot, Miss Heyer conveys an understanding of this period, more authentic as well as more colorful than many historical tomes. it is obvious in reading this novel that Georgette Heyer is indeed a mistress of her craft." - Best Sellers "Perfect craftsmanship." - the New York Times Book Review "Georgette Heyer achieves what the rest of us only aspire to." - Katie Fforde "My favourite historical novelist." - Margaret Drabble
Books N' Border Collies Lezlie Gits
The extended tag line for The Conqueror: A Novel of William the Conqueror reads, "The bastard son who overpowered a kingdom and the woman who melted his heart." Don't let that fool you. While Georgette Heyer is known for her fabulous regency romances, The Conqueror is no romance. And I mean that in a good way!
This is the story of William the Conqueror, but his relationship with his wife, Matilda of Flanders, is only a minor part of the saga and disappears into the background once they are wed. William's rise from bastardy to King of England is experienced by two men -- Raoul de Harcourt, a Norman and William's favorite, and Edgar of Marwell, a Saxon hostage held by William, who is devoted to the cause of putting Earl Harold Godwineson on the throne. The unlikely friendship that develops between Raoul and Edgar is the heart of this book, and when the ambitions of William and Harold finally pit the two on opposite sides of the bloody Battle of Hastings, the reader will experience the horror of war, the sometimes painful cost of loyalty, and the majesty of true friendship.
Interesting sidenote: When William sails off to England, his wife, Matilda, stands on the shore envisioning the creation of a grand tapestry depicting William's conquests. This dream is, of course, the famous Bayeux tapestry, the subject of Sarah Bower's book, The Needle in the Blood. Now I'm all anxious to get to that one!
BookLoons Hilary Williamson
Georgette Heyer, justifiably renowned for her witty Regency romances, also wrote several mainstream historical novels, including Royal Escape, The Spanish Bride, My Lord John and An Infamous Army. In The Conqueror (my favorite of her historicals along with An Infamous Army), she tells the stories of two very different couples against the backdrop of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 (a date drilled into the minds of all British schoolchildren).
Those who have studied the history of the time know that William was born in Falaise, Normandy, the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy and Herleva, a tanner's daughter. Though Robert named William his heir, he had to survive many plots against him, from a young age. William married Matilda of Flanders in 1053. After the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England and William, who also laid claim to England, invaded, won the Battle of Hastings, and claimed the throne. The Conqueror bookcover calls the story 'A novel of William the Conqueror, the bastard son who overpowered a kingdom and the woman who melted his heart'. But it's much more.
Heyer portrays William as a charismatic leader but also a proud, driven man, deeply hurt by his bastardy and reacting viciously to any slur on his origins. She paints Matilda as fiery and high-spirited, their marriage a loving but volatile one. Heyer contrasts these historical figures with a fictional couple, developing a romance between William's close friend and follower, Raoul de Harcourt (a soft-hearted dreamer by the standards of his day) and Elfrida, a sweet Anglo-Saxon lady and sister to Edgar, who becomes Raoul's close friend. Raoul joins William when they are both in their teens, seeing in him a hope for law and justice in the land. He saves William's life when the young Duke's survival is on a knife edge.
William no sooner sees the widowed Matilda than he decides to make her his Duchess. He woos her harshly. In the meantime, Raoul befriends a hostage at William's court, Edgar, who owes allegiance to Harold Godwinson. When Harold is shipwrecked in France and rescued by William, Raoul loses his heart instantly to Elfrida (who accompanied Harold). But knowing William's long-term plans for England, Raoul fears coming to Elfrida 'as a blood-stained conqueror, a hated foe.' Heyer masterfully develops their love story against a detailed backdrop of the times, rich in authentic historical detail. Like all of Georgette Heyer's excellent historicals, I have read and re-read The Conqueror, enjoying it anew each time.
Passages to the Past Amy Bruno
The Conqueror is one of six historical novels written by Georgette Heyer, who is best known for her Regency Romances, and if this is an indication of the other five - then sign me up!
Heyer brings us back to 11th Century Normandy and introduces us to William, Duke of Normandy, (a.k.a. William the Bastard) through the eyes of Raoul de Harcourt - a knight in Duke William's retinue.
Raoul began his service to the Duke as a young knight and he quickly rose to be one of William's most trusted friends. Loyalty is a running theme throughout the novel - loyalty from a knight to his lord. Raoul may not have agreed with a lot of the tactics used by William, but he trusted and respected his lord enough to comply. Don't get me wrong, Raoul was no pushover - he voiced his opinions when it was warranted, but in the end he knew his role and played the part.
Duke William was a very intriguing man - ambitious would be putting it lightly. He valued brain over braun and cunning over might. Once he saw something he wanted, he got it. Doesn't matter how, but he got it. Which leads me into a great scene with William and his future wife, Mathilda....but I'll leave that for you to read! Let's just say it's not a good idea to call William a bastard!
One aspect of why I love historical fiction is the educational factor. I know I'm a total dork, but it's true - I've learned so much history through all the historical fiction novels I have read. I take some of it with a grain of salt cause it's historical fiction after all, but for the most part I know a lot more than I did a few years ago. While reading The Conqueror I learned a great deal more about the difference between an Englishman (or Saxon) and a Norman and the Battle of Hastings scene was not put-down-able!
I enthusiastically recommend this novel! Heyer's writing is impeccable and her research is without a doubt one of the best. Character development is awesome and dialogue excellent. The Conqueror keeps you enthralled during and wanting more when you're done...which is how every good book should be!
Amy says: 5 / 5
Jane Austen's World Vic Sandborn
The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer has arrived just in time for the holidays. This historical saga of William, Duke of Normandy, who defeated the Saxons in The Battle of Hastings in 1066, is told vividly, accurately, and with mastery by an author who was able to do her research using the rare resources in the London Library.* The story covers William from his infancy until his victory. Although this book is mostly historical, it wouldn't be a Georgette Heyer novel without some romance. The proud Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, balks at her betrothal to the baseborn William, which sets up an interesting tension...
As with Simon the Coldheart, Georgette employs a more old-fashioned writing style for this early era in both language and detail. This makes the book harder to read than her regencies, but also more realistic in tone. She also writes the tale through Raoul de Harcourt's eyes, a fictional character, so that we never quite get into William's mind or understand his motives. However, for those who cannot get enough of historical biographies, this newly reissued Georgette Heyer history is a must read! Order the book at Amazon or at Sourcebooks.
Jane Austen Today Vic Sandborn
With the story of William the Conqueror, Georgette Heyer tackles history on a grand scale and, in doing so, she provides her readers with a larger-than-life hero. While (atypically) Heyer does not provide specific references for The Conqueror, it is clear that this thoroughly-researched novel draws from a gamut of historical sources, including The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the details of the Bayeaux Tapestry, contemporary and near-contemporary accounts, and modern analyses. In his own time, William was already a legend, and Heyer chooses to incorporate these legends into her account. Thus, we first meet William on the day of his birth, his mother, a burgher's daughter, having dreamed of a great tree stretching from Normandy across the Channel to England. When visited by his nobleman father, newborn William stretches out his hands to grasp his sword.
Alongside the myth, however, Heyer presents a William who owes much of his success to practical and military innovations, including quick troop mobilisation and trained archers. She emphasizes the struggles he faces as a bastard son in a hierarchical medieval society, including repeated assassination attempts from his own courtiers. William's dreams (whether you describe them as nationalist, imperialist, or simply ambitious) are big, but he is able to accomplish them with careful strategy, execution, and, yes, a certain ruthlessness.
If any aspect of the novel strains the reader's credulity, it is the haughty heroine rather than the singular hero. Heyer may be anachronistic in giving Lady Matilda the freedom to choose or reject William's proposal though, as a widow who has already done her familial duty and a favorite of her indulgent father, Matilda enjoys considerably more latitude than her female contemporaries. Even if Matilda's ability to chart her own nuptial course, unswayed by mere political concerns (such as William's station or his direct petition to the Pope), is accepted, her obsession with William's violent potential ultimately comes across as silly:
She lifted her arm and observed a bruise like a shadow on the flesh. Her fingers touched it. Jesu, the man knew not his own strength! She shook her head at it, frowned in an assumption of anger, but ended by thinking no worse of him for his rough handling. If she kindled him to a blaze and was herself scorched she would not blame him for that. His fingers had crushed her soft flesh so that she had to stifle a cry of pain. She knew herself at his mercy, and could not be sure that he dealt in so gentle a virtue. Yet she could be calm before his brute strength; what fear she nursed she kept for the intangible power he held over her. It crept up to set her shivering in the fastness of her chamber, and stalked beside her even when he was furthest away. If she was already both wife and widow she had still borne a virgin heart until Normandy strode up her father's audience-hall, and bent his hard stare upon her."
Fortunately, The Conqueror at its heart is more of a buddy story than a romance, for the novel also tells the story of fictional Raoul de Harcourt, an idealistic young nobleman who believes William will bring stability and social justice to Normandy. As Raoul faithfully accompanies William in a series of adventures that leads ever-closer to a climactic account of the Battle of Hastings, we observe magnanimity and deliberate cruelty, political blackmail coupled with a reverence for the feudal codes of fealty, apparently devout prayer followed by wily manipulations of clergy, and friendship at war with ambition. It is through the lens of Raoul's (fairly modern) sensibilities that we readers view William, a device that allows us to come to our own conclusions regarding William's motivations and merits and encourages us to take a stance on some intricate and messy ethical issues. Even in its most unlikely depictions, The Conqueror delivers an enjoyable read, but in its best moments, it challenges us to examine our own allegiances in a time that may be just as volatile and uncertain as Heyer's eleventh century.
We Be Reading Kristen Metson
The subtitle of Georgette Heyer's The Conqueror is "A Novel of William the Conqueror, the Bastard Son Who Overpowered a Kingdom and the Woman Who Melted His Heart". Somehow, that title, as long as it is, doesn't do this book justice. Heyer has written an excellent historical fiction that brings alive a time period that I didn't know much about before reading this book.
At the heart of the story is the political unrest in Western Europe almost 1000 years ago. This book briefly tells of William's birth but this is essentially the story from a point during his tenure as Duke of Normandy (1047) to the Battle of Hastings where he defeats Earl Harold Godwinson to become the conqueror King of England (1066) which he ruled for almost 21 years. This was a short time period in which to become a very powerful man -- he was 38 when was declared King. The story also includes his marriage to Matilda of Flanders and some of the doings of his children.
I like this type of book because, assuming a certain level of fictionalizing of events to make for a better story, I am always inspired to do some research after the book to see what was true and what facts were embellished. While Heyer's main character, Raoul de Harcourt, appears to be fictional, her depicition of William and of the political strife of the time seems quite accurate.
While this book wasn't a page-turner, it definitely held my interest and was well-written. I wouldn't mind reading another historical fiction about William the Conqueror in the near future to get another perspective on this amazing man. Heyer continues to amaze me with the versatility of her writing through different genres. I would love to read one of her mysteries next.
S. Krishna's Books Swapna Krishna
The story of William the Conqueror is a fascinating one - the story of a bastard son of Normandy who managed to become the king of England. Unfortunately it hasn't gotten the royal treatment that more popular eras in English history have; The Conqueror is the first historical fiction novel I've read about the famous king.
The novel itself is a hefty one. At almost 500 pages, The Conqueror is definitely a commitment. Heyer gives the period very detailed historical treatment, full of nuances and particularities that create great atmosphere for the novel. It is clear that she did very meticulous research in order to learn about the various battles and political intrigue required for William's eventual conquering of England to take place. She also weaves more personal storylines throughout the book in order to put faces on the people she is writing about, but mostly the book is a biography of William.
The problem is that the book almost reads like a textbook; it is slow going and often plods along. There are rich historical details, true, but this is a book that is much more for people who enjoy strategy and battles than for fans of Georgette Heyer's regency romances.
The best part of The Conqueror is the relationship between William and Matilda. These two characters are passionate, tempestuous, and very much in love with one another. Heyer's real strength at writing wonderful romances really shines through in this part of the novel. Unfortunately, despite the subtitle, Matilda is very much relegated to the background of the book, as it focuses much more on William and his fights and battles.
Still, Heyer's descriptions and historical details make this book worth reading. Others might enjoy this book more than I did, especially if you are really interested in William the Conqueror. If you are, I very much encourage you to give The Conqueror a try!
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September 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Conqueror by Georgette Heyer
The Rough Wooing
'He must be a man of great courage and high daring who could venture to come and beat me in my own father's palace.'
Saying of Matilda of Flanders
As the long ship heaved on the waves one of the hostages gave a whimper, and curled his body closer, with his knees drawn up. Raoul was standing by the bulwarks, looking out over the sea. A pale moonlight turned the water coldly silver, shimmering under a night-blue sky; now and again flecks of foam glistened as though a star had dropped into the sea. From the masthead lanterns hung as beacons to show the other vessels where the Duke's ship rode. A small cabin built in the stern had a leathern curtain across the opening, and where this fell away from the doorpost a crack of yellow light shone. Amidships an awning sheltered the hostages. A lantern was secured to one of the supports; its glow illumined the faces of the three who crouched there on fur skins. Overhead a fitful wind bellied the sails, and from time to time the canvas slapped in the breeze, and the ropes creaked and whined.
Again the youngest of the hostages whimpered, and buried his face in the mantle of the man who held him. Raoul looked over his shoulder with a faint smile. The boy was so young and so unhappy. As he looked, the man holding the child raised his head, and his eyes, which were of a cold northern blue, encountered Raoul's. After a moment of grave regard he lowered them again to the fair head upon his knee.
Raoul hesitated for a while, but presently picked his way over the men who lay sleeping in their cloaks, and came into the light of the lantern under the awning. The blue-eyed man looked up at him, but his expression did not change.
Raoul, who had been charged with the comfort of the hostages, tried in a few halting Saxon words to speak to him. The hostage interrupted with a slight smile, and said in Norman: 'I can speak your tongue. My mother was a Norman out of Caux. What is it that you want of me?'
'I am glad,' Raoul said. 'I have wished to be able to speak to you, but you see how ill I am learned in your Saxon tongue.' He looked down at the youngest hostage. 'The boy is sick, isn't he? Shall I bring some wine for him? Would he drink it?'
'It would be kind,' Edgar replied, with an aloof courtesy that was rather chilling. He bent over the boy, and spoke to him in Saxon. The child - Hakon, son of Swegn, grandson of Godwine - only moaned, and lifted a pallid woebegone face.
'My lord has not before been upon the sea,' Edgar said in stiff explanation of Hakon's tears.
The third hostage, Godwine's youngest-born, Wlnoth, a boy hardly older than Hakon, woke from an uneasy sleep, and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Edgar said something to him; he looked curiously at Raoul, and smiled with a semi-royal graciousness.
When Raoul came back with the wine Hakon seemed to be exhausted from yet another spasm of sickness. When the drinking-horn was put to his lips he sipped a little between sobs, and raised a pair of tear-drowned eyes to Raoul's face. Raoul smiled at him, but he drew further back into Edgar's hold, as though he were shy, or perhaps hostile. But he seemed better after the wine, and inclined to sleep. Edgar drew the furs more closely round him, and said curtly: 'My thanks, Norman.'
'My name is Raoul de Harcourt,' Raoul said, determined to persevere in his friendly advances. He glanced down at Hakon. 'The boy is over-young to leave his home. He will be happier in a day or two.'
Edgar made no reply to this. His silence was rather a natural taciturnity than a studied rudeness, but there seemed to be no luring him from it. After a moment Raoul rose up from his knee. 'Maybe he will sleep now. Call on me for your needs.'
Edgar slightly inclined his head. As Raoul moved away Wlnoth said: 'Who is he, Edgar? What did he say?'
'He is the man we marked to ride beside Duke William,'
Edgar replied. 'He says that he is called Raoul de Harcourt.'
'I liked him,' said Wlnoth decidedly. 'He spoke kindly to Hakon. Hakon is a little fool to cry because he is sick.'
'He cries because he does not want to go to Normandy,' Edgar said rather grimly.
'He is a nithing.' Wlnoth gave a small sniff. 'I am very well pleased to go. Duke William has promised me a noble destrier and honourable entertainment. I shall ride in the lists, and shoot deer in the forest of Qu�villy, and Duke William will dub me a knight.' Then, as Edgar made no response, he said tauntingly: 'I think you like it as ill as Hakon does. Perhaps you would rather have been outlawed with my brother?'
Edgar looked out across the silvered water as though he would pierce the darkness that shrouded the receding coast of England, but he still said nothing. With a hunch of his shoulders Wlnoth turned away from him, and disposed himself to sleep again.
Edgar stayed awake, nursing Hakon's head on his knee. Wlnoth's last words had bitten near the bone of the matter. He would far rather be in Ireland now with Earl Harold, than handed over like so much lumber to Duke William of Normandy. When King Edward had told him with his benign smile that he was to go to Normandy he had known all at once that he hated the silly King. He would have been at Harold's side then only that his father had forbidden it. He thought, now, bitterly, that a short exile with the Earl would have been preferable to his father than this far longer exile which might last for God knew how many dreary years.
The Duke had journeyed to England a few weeks ago, and his arrival had followed hard upon a commotion set up by yet another foreigner. This was no Norman, but Count Eustace of Boulogne, who had created a disturbance at Dover. He had also come to visit King Edward, and upon his departure some men of his had fallen foul of the inhabitants of Dover. This had resulted in a skirmish, and some blood-letting; Count Eustace had journeyed secretly back to London with a complaint for the King's ear.
A scowl darkened Edgar's brow as he thought of this. King Edward's subjects, and especially those of Earl Godwine's south country, had hoped that he would send the obnoxious Count away with a flea in his ear. Edgar supposed that they should have known their ruler better than to expect him to take sides against the foreigners he loved so dearly. But it still made him clench his hand when he considered how King Edward had promised Eustace redress.