The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
There is a lot of romanticizing of the myth of King Arthur: a sword from a stone, a lady in a lake, a chivalric Round Table. If Arthur ever really did exist, though, it wouldn’t have been anything like that. It is estimated that he would have lived in 5th or 6th century Britain, which probably wasn’t a bastion of courtly manners.
Helen Hollick does not romanticize Arthur. Instead, in “The Kingmaking” we follow Arthur and Gwenhwyfar from the death of Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father through his attempt to gain power in an attempt to regain the kingship of Britain. Arthur is no perfect knight, he fights under a king he detests, a king who killed his father, in order to amass power for himself; he makes a marriage of political convenience and treats his wife horridly. We was simply a warlord, trying to gain personal power and keep the Saxons from England.
This was really an epic book. You’d never think that 500 pages wouldn’t even cover any of Arthur’s reign, but Hollick keeps things moving. All of the back story and politics of Arthur’s attempt to regain power is fascinating. There were parts that really made me cringe, though. Misogyny ran rampant, women frequently being called ‘bitch,’ rapes or something very close to them happened multiple times. Uncomfortable as it was, this lent “The Kingmaking” an air of authenticity with the rough warloads who considered women little more than chattel.
Regardless of the way women were treated, I did very much enjoy this book. Whether or not Arthur really existed, this was a fascinating look at 5th century Britain after the Romans left, when the island’s inhabitants were trying to stave off the encroaching Saxon hordes. And, if Arthur really did exist, it seems reasonable that his rise to power might have gone something like this.