Battle for the Island Kingdom, by Don Hollway

Andrew Rollo

A new history on England and the 11th century is great for both scholar and amateur.
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This engrossing title is Don Hollway’s third non-fiction book, and his second on the 11th century. Like the previous two books, it is a narrative history, and draws on a wide range of primary sources to create a balanced account of events. The book is focused on England, but also covers events in Denmark, Norway, and Normandy, which allows readers to understand why these countries were drawn into English affairs. The structure is also similar to his previous , with the text divided into sections which begin and end with major events. This allows Hollway to set the scene before building up to the conclusion.

Hollway aims to be a neutral narrator, pointing out biases in the primary sources as he proceeds, and saying what happened as the sources tell us they did. When there are conflicting accounts, he chooses the one which best fits his overall narrative. Hollway is honest about the limitations in our knowledge of events, and that there are many things which we cannot be certain about. This is a very sensible approach to take, particularly when dealing with the Norman Conquest because there are no balanced narrative accounts written by contemporary authors for that period of English history.

The strongest aspect is that it is a great narrative of the events, weaving together numerous plot threads to form an accurate and coherent account that keeps the reader interested throughout. Hollway has an extensive knowledge of the period and demonstrates this by inserting details which allows readers who already know the basics to learn more. He also includes numerous anecdotes, which force the reader to engage with the story and consider alternative motivations for the choices made by the characters at key moments.

Battle for the Island Kingdom is supported by a good set of illustrations, a map of England and northern France, and a list of all the main characters. It could be strengthened though with additional maps, as well as genealogical charts to support the character list. There are also some continuity errors with regards to names, but these are minor and do not detract from what is a well written history of the events.

This is not an academic history, but is aimed squarely at the popular history market. It has no footnotes or references, but it does have a bibliography at the end which readers can use to explore the topic further. Hollway writes in a clear style which makes it easy for readers to understand his arguments. The result is a great book both for those exploring the story behind the Norman Conquest for the first time, and for more knowledgeable readers who want to read a fresh account of it.

Battle for the Island Kingdom: England’s Destiny 1000-1066 by Don Hollway is out now and published by Osprey.