Berwick Coates was educated at Kingston Grammar School and Christ`s College, Cambridge. Since then he has been, at various times, an Army officer, writer, artist, lecturer, careers adviser, games coach, and teacher of History, English, Latin, General Studies, and Swahili. He is the author of nine works of non-fiction, and lives in the West country where he works as a school archivist.
Click here to read an interview with Berwick Coates from the Historical Novel Society.
Stamford Bridge. Two armies. One kingdom. Only one will win the greatest prize - the jewel of England.
England, September 1066. With the death of Edward the Confessor, newly crowned King Harold Godwinson – capable, brave, charismatic – sits nonetheless uneasily on his throne. Rival claimants eye England from all sides; William in Normandy, Count Baldwin in Flanders and from the north threatens the greatest warrior of Christendom, Harald Sigurdson “Hardrada”, King of Norway. Add to the mix the King’s renegade brother Tostig, recently cast-down from his earldom and exiled from the country. Tostig is on the loose in Europe seeking aid from one of these rivals – any of these rivals – to invade England and restore his fortunes. The future of the country hangs in the balance.
Meanwhile Harold’s spies work tirelessly, his ruthlessly efficient network tracking a hydra of threats. His standing army of handpicked housecarls must move ceaselessly up and down the country travelling hundreds of miles, leading the levied fyrd to wherever the enemy seems likely to strike first. But the fyrd is exhausted, ill-armed and restless – summer is over and the harvest must be brought in.
With one eye on William of Normandy in the south, and the other on Hardrada in the north, England is certain of only one thing – an invasion will surely come, but from where? The giant Hardrada seems most determined to take his chance and reclaim the country for the Northmen who ruled it once. King Harold will not let that happen without a fight; he’s determined to make Hardrada the last Viking in England.
And so the bloodiest battle yet fought on English soil is about to begin. At stake is sovereignty, freedom and honour.
THE LAST VIKING is a stunning evocation of one of the most crucial moments of Europe’s history. With consummate skill Berwick Coates tells his story through the eyes and hearts and minds of both Kings and noblemen, and lowly foot-soldiers, peasants and townspeople. As a companion novel to 2013’s THE LAST CONQUEST, it is the work of a novelist at the height of his powers.
Sussex, October 1066. Gilbert of Avranches, a scout in the invading army of Duke William of Normandy, is looking for more than the enemy. He seeks the man who violated his wife during the visit of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex to Normandy two summers before. A dishonour must be avenged.
His master, the Duke, is seeking a reckoning with the man who that same summer of 1064 had sworn an oath not to stand in William’s path to the throne of England. Harold is a perjurer, a usurper, and will pay for his falsehood with his throne.
Baldwin de Clair, William Fitzosbern – the Duke’s left and right hands – are ready to hazard all for the prize of a lifetime, like all their noble fellow-vassals; Bishop Geoffrey de Montbrai, Walter Giffard, Roger de Montgomery. Second sons and younger brothers, they seek what Normandy can’t offer them; land, wealth and power beyond their continental dreams. Others are simply here for the money: Fulk Bloodeye, bored Captain of Mercenaries; Sandor Magyar, chief horse-handler; Capra and Pomeroy, freebooters prepared to do the dirtiest of work to enrich themselves. And here are not just Normans, but Flemings, Bretons, Angevins – all have thrown in their lot with the Duke in his massive gamble.
Taillefer, the minstrel, is waiting to be summoned to tell the army the tale of Roland, nephew of the mighty Charlemagne. The stirring story of bravery, falseness, and triumphant revenge will drive away the fears of many young soldiers, in a chilly camp outside Hastings, miles away from their homes and families, engaged on a hazard so immense that it makes the blood run cold to think of it; waiting, wondering...
As for King Harold and his army, the fyrd – no-one, especially not the Normans, knows where he is; he’s last been seen heading north of London at a forced March with almost his entire army. And barely a couple of miles away from the Norman force is the Sussex homestead of Gorm, the widowed miller, unaware of just how close they are to the invader’s war machine, and the site of the coming battle – they only know that come it no doubt will. Their tenant Edwin, houndsman to King Harold, longs for glory too, fighting beside his king. Godric, Gorm’s foster, wants only to be left in peace to the mill and Rowena, Gorm’s eldest Daughter. Gorm himself – drunk and fearful – will do anything to make the whole thing go away, for the sake of his precious son Sweyn. They are ignorant, defenceless, and terrified; they have no idea of when a detachment of soldiers – from either side – will burst in on their world, bringing theft, pillage, dishonor, even death itself; waiting, wondering...
The mill itself sits at the foot of a hill topped with an old mildewed apple tree (“aet haran apuldran”, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has it) – other than for the view it commands of the peaceful Sussex Down-land, no one really gives their corner of England much of a second thought.
This remarkable novel tells the story of just one week, a chapter per day. It tells the story of that week as experienced in just a few square miles of territory around Senlac Ridge and the field of the momentous battle. It tells the story of that week not just as experienced by the magnates and the noblemen, but by the small people too – a miller, his bondsman, a lowly tyro scout in the Norman army, a frightened young Breton swordsman, a quartermaster who sees battle only as a problem of supply. Through all their eyes we see love, fear, lust, greed, jealousy, ignorance, loneliness and despair, but also, loyalty, duty, pride – all the emotions and motives of the human heart.
The fact that the Battle of Hastings, and William’s victory, are the best-known events of English medieval history tends to obscure the truth that the outcome was anything but a foregone conclusion. The stakes were huge, the anticipation exhausting, the tension and uncertainty almost unbearable on both sides. William and Harold – the finest field commanders in Christendom – have the hugest burden of command; have they got it right? How do their methods of command and leadership differ? Is either more likely to win?
With masterful control, Berwick Coates lays out the build-up from 7 to 14 October and the Battle, as the characters (noble and common, Saxon and Norman, man and woman) are inexorably sucked into the great stream of the unfolding drama. This drama is a story before it becomes history, as it sweeps up towards the hilltop barely half a dozen miles from Hastings, where Harold will plant his standard of the Fighting Man, and hang his crown from the branches of the decaying trunk of an old apple tree.
Praise for THE LAST CONQUEST:
“THE LAST CONQUEST is lovingly written, brilliantly researched, with a sure eye and heart for the characters and the time. These aren’t strangers; they are real people battling with real events.” Robert Low