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on 2 December 2013
Marc Morris writes in an engaging and articulate way that makes the book easy to dive into. Very good read.
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on 26 May 2012
Marc Morris writes fluently and well on this complex subject. His analysis of the contemporary sources that every historian must base his conclusions on seems thorough and is lucidly argued and, to me, persuasive. If you want the facts along with the probabilities, this is for you. In all my reading about this fascinating time in our history, I have never read a more entertaining and satisfying book.
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on 7 June 2012
Brilliantly written, absorbing factual, not speculative. The author presents the facts in a clear concise manner. When there is conflicting evidence he presents both options and suggests which option is most likely to be true and, more importantly, why.

If only my school history teacher had been half as interesting.............
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on 12 May 2013
Marc Morris is a wonderful writer: he successfully combines erudition and wit to produce a fantastically readable account of the Norman period. I learned a great deal from this narrative, and found Mr Morris' text was not only compelling and informative, but also delightfully droll. A great history book, very worthwhile reading.
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on 6 December 2012
I had heard many good things about this author who had written 3 other historical non-fiction books so I was very much looking forward to reading this,hoping that it would give a balanced view of both sides of the conquest, the English and the Norman. I am very much down with the English as far as the Conquest of 1066 is concerned and have read books in order to find a discerning view of the events of the invasion and the years that followed so I can at least attempt to empathise with the Normans even if only in a small way. Some of the books I have read have strived to show the facts without appearing to be biased one way or another, but no matter how dryly the evidence is presented,they struggle to show the Norman's in anything but a bad light. This book was no different. The Normans were indeed the Nasty Normans, confirming once and for all that my sympathies fall completely on the right side.
The opening pages of this book show useful maps of England and Normandy at the time of the Conquest and there are also family trees to assist the reader in knowing who is who. In his introduction there are a few things that I would not agree with, especially his reasoning about the status of women in pre-conquest England, however opinions about this often vary and I was not going to get too stuck on one little thing. He does state that he has tried to be as balanced and fair as he possibly can. He himself states that he has no particular fondness for either side, choosing to describe the Normans as coming across as "arrogant, warlike, inordinately pleased with themselves and holier than thou." He also calls the 11th Century English as binge drinking slavers and political murderers. These are very sweeping judgemental statements and I was not happy to read the last one in particular, thinking that I was not going to enjoy this book after all.
However I was wrong. Marc Morris's analyses of the events during and after the conquest were fair and just and considering what the Normans did to the conquering English, he appears to remain impartial without becoming emotive. I found it difficult however not to be moved especially when reading about the plight of the Northerners who were left with nothing to feed themselves after William's harrying of the North. If anyone had thought highly of William and his avaricious Normans, I challenge them not to be affected by the evidence. Despite what other historians have had us believe, Morris porves that the Harrying of the North DID happen.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to read more about this exciting, emotional period of history.
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on 14 September 2013
Light of touch, well paced yet the scholarship that's gone into the work is obvious.

If you think you know enough already about the Conquest there is still much to enjoy;if you don't then there is no better place to start.
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on 17 August 2014
Really enjoyed this book, extremely informative and easy to read and brings the period to life. I will be reading other titles by Marc Morris based on my experience of reading "The Norman Conquest"
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on 12 July 2014
Utterly fascinating history book, lucidly written and covers not only the Norman Conquest itself but the events leading up to it and its ramifications afterwards. 10/10 and totally recommended
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on 1 June 2015
Tom Holland's appraisal sums this book up - shrewd, engaging and readable. Pace the (mostly pro-Anglo-Saxon) partisan viewers, this is a very good book for those with a more neutral standpoint. Marc Morris makes some salient observations (for example in his comparison between the pre-and post-Cnut leadership structure in England) and he rightly concentrates less on the three battles of 1066 and more on the wider story, both before and after the fateful year. He may be seen as taking a bit of a punt on Edward nominating William as his heir in 1051, but this could be quite conceivable given Edward's upbringing in Normandy, his visceral dislike of the Godwineson clan and the as yet non-appearance of Edgar Aetheling as a potential "in-house" heir.

He posits the start of Harold's reign as in effect a usurpation (highlighting the very unusual speed of the coronation), given that Edgar Aetheling was the heir presumptive (allowing for the elected aspect of Anglo-Saxon kingship and disregarding any Norman claims), but also pays tribute to the fact that Harold was an effective de facto leader not just in 1066 but also prior to this, in his Welsh campaigns and not least of all in his politics at the time of Tostig's downfall. He however also comes back to the Achilles heel of the English leadership structure, in that the linkages and ties which had existed before 1016 had been lost, leading to rivalries amongst the great landowners with a resident king who had no real power-base of his own.

In effect, it's arguable that, while Harold contributed in some part to his own downfall by moving too quickly to contain William in Sussex, the complete surprise of the Norwegian attack (directly attributed by Marc Morris to Tostig's manoeuvring) was a major cause of the overall defeat, as leaders usually only fought one battle to decide an issue and the English fyrd was (with the exception of the Huscarls) largely scratch-built for a specific campaign. Harold was moreover extremely fortunate at Stamford Bridge in that the Norwegians had left their body armour on board their ships, otherwise Harold's name could have been mentioned in the same vein as Brihtnoth at Malden...

Marc Morris also highlights the post-Hastings period, where the lack of a coherent response to (at the time) the winner of a local victory - albeit having killed the Godwine trio - ensured that William could set himself up as the successor to Edward. He also doesn't mince his words when describing the catastrophic consequences to the English of their period of resistance until 1070 and beyond; he evidences the loss of political control of almost all of the pre-1066 thegn class and also shows how (in Melvyn Bragg's words) "English became the 3rd language in its own country". He does however retain an objective balance when describing for example the Norman approach towards political killings and slavery, a staple of Anglo-Saxon life.

Marc Morris in my opinion makes judicious use of the contemporary sources, tending to dismiss the most egregious pro-Norman sources in favour of the English ones and he tends to mirror the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Vitalus in his nuanced and generally balanced evaluation. Little snippets of information such as the origins of Pontefract helped in the book's engaging tone. I have read a number of books on this period; this in my opinion is the best and most impartial general introduction, whatever one's sympathies re the involved parties.
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The Norman Conquest is one of those seminal moments in English history - the BC:AD of English history, one might almost say. Everything that came before 1066 is almost another country, another England, as if the country we know as England only really came into being with the Conquest. You only have to look at the number of English history books that skate over the pre-1066 years in a few pages and only really begin to focus in with William the Conqueror - 'dinosaurs, cave men, flint arrows, wearing furs, Romans, Vikings, Saxons, Conquest....ah, now we're getting somewhere'!

So Marc Morris' book is a real revelation. He doesn't just start in 1066 but goes back many decades, setting the scene in both England and Normandy, with the unrest in England that began with the Vikings invasions. The Conquest was, after all, not the first time England had been invaded by a foreign power and its throne and aristocracy taken over. Indeed, one could argue that it was precisely that Danish invasion, with King Cnut (or Canute, of tidal fame) that led inexorably to the Norman invasion - with the king who would be Edward the Confessor fleeing to Normandy, the home of his mother, and establishing the connections that would lead to him supposedly promising the throne to his Norman cousin, then known more infamously as William the Bastard.

It was a complex and confusing time, and the amount of documentary evidence historians so often rely scarce, contradictory and open to bias, but Morris lays it out so clearly and succinctly that the narrative in this book is never confusing, even when alternating between events in England and Normandy. I found the chapters focusing on the years after 1066 particularly interesting - years when the native English aristocracy and middle classes slowly vanished, replaced almost wholesale by Norman imports. By the time of the Conqueror's death, the upper levels of English society were almost exclusively Norman - Norman earls, Norman knights, Norman bishops, Norman abbots - the the native English 'middle classes' had slowly slipped into peasantry and slavery, dispossessed of their lands and taxed into penury. 'Englishness' only really survived at the lowest levels of society, which only furthered the divide between conquerors and conquered, as to be English was to be seen as base and degraded.

It's a fascinating look at perhaps the most important event in our history, and it's a shame it's an event that most people know so little about. That it happened is about the extent of most people's knowledge, I would imagine - and that is a real real shame. Our country deserves better than that, given the birth pains it went through to get to this point!
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