By Marc Morris
Pegasus Books, 2013
Publisher’s Description: An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom.An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought. This new history explains why the Norman Conquest was the most significant cultural and military episode in English history.
Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror’s attack; why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge; how William’s hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unraveled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions, and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors.This is a tale of powerful drama, repression, and seismic social change: the Battle of Hastings itself; the sudden introduction of castles and the massive rebuilding of every major church; the total destruction of an ancient ruling class. Language, law, architecture, and even attitudes toward life itself were altered forever by the coming of the Normans.
Book Review: Marc Morris, a medieval historian with already a few books to his credit, has taken on the challenge of writing about the Norman Conquest on England and giving it a fresh angle. Beginning with the upheavals within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Morris discusses the main players in the drama of 1066: William the Bastard (who would soon acquire a new nickname) and Harold Godwineson, the newly crowned king of England.
Readers will quickly notice that Morris is thorough in examining the sources and pointing out where one chronicle contradicts and has a different story from another. It is pleasing for this reviewer to see that we know that he is referring to William of Poiters here, or Orderic Vitalis there, giving these contemporary observers their due. Those readers who are coming to the story of the Norman Conquest for the first time with this book will soon realize how much about these events we don’t really know and what kinds of debates historians have on these issues.
One way this book stands out among the many others that deal with the Norman Conquest is that it does not concentrate on the Battle of Hastings itself – the battle is already fought and over around the halfway point of this book. Morris uses the second half of the book to give a much fuller account of what happened in the years after 1066, to show how the Norman Conquest was not just one battle, but a long campaign. We read about revolts throughout the country, how the newly arrived Normans tried to impose their form of government on the Anglo-Saxon people, and how William the Conqueror had to deal with many problems in running his empire, even from his own family.
I think many readers will enjoy this book – it offers a comprehensive introduction to the Norman Conquest and guides the reader into many of the historical issues about what happened back in the eleventh century. Experts in this field won’t see too much new information for them to consider, but should be pleased that Morris has done an admirable job of using primary and secondary sources. ~ Peter Konieczny