Cover image for The last English king
The last English king
Rathbone, Julian, 1935-2008.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xvii, 381 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

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On September 27, 1066, Duke William of Normandy sailed for England with hundreds of ships and over 8,000 men. King Harold of England, weakened by a ferocious Viking invasion from the north, could muster little defense. At the Battle of Hastings of October 14, he was outflanked, quickly defeated, and killed by William's superior troops. The course of English history was altered forever.

Three years later, Walt, King Harold's only surviving bodyguard, is still emotionally and physically scarred by the loss of his king and his country. Wandering through Asia Minor, headed vaguely for the Holy Land, he meets Quint, a renegade monk with a healthy line of skepticism and a hearty appetite for knowledge. It is he who persuades Walt, little by little, to tell his extraordinary story.

And so begins a roller-coaster ride into an era of enduring fascination. Weaving fiction round fact, Julian Rathbone brings to vibrant, exciting, and often amusing life the shadowy figures and events that preceded the Norman Conquest. We see Edward, confessing far more than he ever did in the history books. We meet the warring nobles of Mercia and Wessex; Harold and his unruly clan; Canute's descendants with their delusions of grandeur; predatory men, pushy women, subdued Scots , and wily Welsh. And we meet William of Normandy, a psychotic thug with interesting plans for the "racial sanitation" of the Euroskepics across the water.

Peppered with discussions on philosophy. dentistry, democracy, devils, alcohol, illusions, and hygiene, The Last English King raises issues, both daring and delightful, that question the nature of history itself. Where are the lines between fact, interpretation, and re-creation? Did the French really stop for a two-hour lunch during the Battle of Hastings?

Author Notes

Writer Julian Rathbone was born in London, England on February 10, 1935. He graduated from Magdaline College, Cambridge, England, in 1958.

He taught from 1959 until 1973, first in Turkey, then in England.

He has written thrillers, historical novels, screenplays, short stories and poetry. King Fisher Lives (1976) and Joseph: The Life of Joseph Bosham, Self-Styled Third Viscount of Bosham, Covering the Years from 1970 to 1813 (1979) were both nominated for the Booker Prize. He has also received the Crime Writers of America Silver Dagger for Best Short Story for 'Some Sunny Day" (1993). He died on February 28, 2008.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and three years later Walt, one of Harold's personal guards, is wandering continental Europe as a broken man. He encounters Quint, an ex-monk, and together they decide to travel to the Holy Land. On their journey, Walt finally begins to heal by telling his story to Quint, who, in turn, invents some very modern psychological terms to describe Walt's condition while he relates this testosterone-driven narrative. Walt was taken from his home as a child and trained to serve his king, and his entire life revolved around Harold. He was an eyewitness to Harold's and William's machinations to usurp power from each other, and he is now overwhelmed by guilt because he survived while his hero was killed in battle. With this personal account of the rivalry of two great leaders, Rathbone presents an intimate perspective on key historical events, offers a portrait of Harold as a compassionate leader, and paints a vivid picture of medieval life. --Patty Engelmann

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though better known for his political thrillers, British writer Rathbone is also the author of several mainstream novels, two of which (Joseph and King Fisher Lives) were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This richly detailed historical novel tells the story of the great Norman-Saxon battle of Hastings in 1066, as remembered by Walt Edwinson, or the Wanderer, one of King Harold Godwinson's bodyguards. Battle scarred and numb, Walt is plagued with guilt for merely losing his hand and not his life when Harold is killed at Hastings. Instead of returning to the wife and child who desperately need him in Norman-ruled England, Walt condemns himself to wander, since his desire to live and return to his wife and home are what caused him to fail his King. In Byzantium, Walt encounters a traveling ex-monk and scholar, Quint ("nothing more, nothing less"), and together they embark on a vividly described journey through the medieval eastern end of the Mediterranean. Quint's impressive knowledge of religion and philosophy and his anachronistic grasp of the tenets of modern psychology help fill in the blanks of the story that Walt recounts: of the reign of King Edward, the ascent of William the Bastard and King Harold and the historic battle for the throne of England. The story suggests that Walt at last finds redemption through the retelling, despite the novel's tragic ending (revealed in the book's first chapter), but Walt's friendship with Quint also provides important consolation. Rathbone takes considerable historical liberties, writing in contemporary vernacular modern prose and painting King Edward as a man more interested in Harold's fetching brother Tostig than in the sister, whom he is slated to marry. However, Rathbone defends his decisions convincingly in an author's note, and his narrative presents an interesting interpretation of a tumultuous period in English history. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For over 25 years, Rathbone has been producing political thrillers and was nominated for the Booker Prize twice. In his new novel, he takes us to England at a time when "the civilization of the English reached its zenithÄit turned its back on the savagery of war and embraced hedonistic willingness to live as well as one can." After losing his honor and his hands at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 while attempting to defend King Harold II of England against the invader, William of Normandy, Walt sets out on a personal pilgrimage across Europe. Joined in his self-imposed exile by Quint, a renegade, apostate monk, he tells his story of politics, intrigue, and battle as seen through the eyes of a king's bodyguard. Rathbone's spare style aptly expresses the horror of war and its aftermath. Anachronisms abound in this work and were deliberately included by the author. Some readers may be amused; others will find them a distraction. For larger historical fiction collections.ÄJane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.