The Sparrow and the Hall: Love and Betrayal in Anglo-Saxon England

The Sparrow and the Hall: Love and Betrayal in Anglo-Saxon England

By Donald Mace Williams
2015 | 192 pp. | 978-0-86698-807-0 | Paperback 5.5 x 8.5 in
$12.95 |

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Edgar, the central figure of The Sparrow and the Hall, is a churl, working and raising his family on a small farm in extreme northeastern England during the seventh century. Though he can barely afford even a metal tip for his wooden plowshare, he looks upon life much as a typical modern American farmer does: with determination, acceptance, and good humor. He loves his wife and children, helps his neighbors, and, above all, is unswervingly loyal to Keelwolf, the heroic, elegant thane who virtually rules this part of Northumbria. This loyalty persists even though Edgar suspects for years that his bride, Gwenda, was seduced by Keelwolf. Along the way, Edgar goes through battles, a plague, loss of loved ones, and an ordeal by boiling water. Like everyone around him, he also undergoes the confusion caused by the changes of official religion — from Christianity to paganism and back to Christianity — ordered by a succession of kings. It is a turbulent time in Northumbria, but Edgar tends to his plowing and cocks an appreciative ear to the songs of the birds — until circumstances put a knife in his hand and murder in his heart.


The Sparrow and the Hall is wonderful — it is meticulously researched, full of the detail of daily life and the politics of the time, but also written with deep humanity. The feel for the landscape and the passing of the seasons gives the book a powerful authenticity, and makes the story of Edgar and Gwenda all the more touching.
—Dr. John-Henry Clay, Lecturer in History, Durham University