England’s Epic

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First published in 1948, Hope Muntz’s The Golden Warrior was reprinted three times in its first year and twice more before its reissue in paperback in 1966. Its all-too-brief bestsellerdom was the result of fortunate timing and virtues which G. M. Trevelyan, the doyen of British historians, celebrated in his Foreword:

I regard it as an honour to be asked to introduce to the public this remarkable book. The author . . . has a deep knowledge and love of the island she has twice seen threatened with invasion. This is the story of the successful invasion of England long ago.

It is not an ordinary historical novel, for the historical novel usually avoids the great personages and the famous scenes, and fills its canvas with imaginary characters. But this book is a Saga of Harold and William. The other personages, English and European, are historical portraits; they are subordinate to the two protagonists, but each of them stands as a clear-cut figure in the tapestry.

The Golden Warrior is not ‘an ordinary historical novel’ in any sense. These, and even extraordinary historical novels like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, tend to be written by novelists who have done their research. Hope Muntz (1897–1981), however, was a historian, Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society, and co-editor of a volume in the Oxford Mediaeval Texts. Having lived more than half her imaginative life with Earl Harold Godwinson and Duke William the Bastard, she astonished those expecting a scholarly monograph by producing a magnificent novel.

When Trevelyan speaks of the book’s ‘historical portraits’, each standing ‘as a clear-cut figure in the tapestry’, his metaphor is at once accurate, suggestive in its allusion to the Bayeux tapestry, and at the same time misleading. Nothing could be further from the immobility of a portrait or the two-dimensional comic/tragic strip of a mediaeval tapestry

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About the contributor

Jon Stallworthy is Acting President of Wolfson College, Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems, two biographies, Wilfrid Owen and Louis MacNeice, and Singing School, a fragment of autobiography.

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