Most helpful positive review
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A real mythbuster about the Norman Conquest!
on 24 April 2014
Prior to purchasing this book, my knowledge on the Norman Conquest was based purely on what was rammed down my throat at school during the 1980s. My orthodox view of 1066 and beyond has never really been challenged and nor had I any interest in changing my understanding or appreciation. I remember thumbing through this book in Waterstones on a cold April afternoon in 2013 and what piqued my interest in this book was one of the plates showing the Norman castle in my home town of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Next to nothing is known about this castle even locally. I remember that during my "indoctrination" about Norman history at school, Pickering Castle was supposedly a place of internment for Charles I (rather than correctly Richard II according to Arthur Bryant)! Whatever, that one image was enough to me to add this book to my Amazon wish list, and I'm glad I did.
I particularly enjoyed the build up to the Conquest regarding the tangled web of competing Saxon claims to the English throne offset against those made by the Danes under the spectre of frequent invasion from a whole host of European factions. Morris skilfully teases out the causal chain that led to William and Harold Goodwinson both asserting their rights to the crown as promised by Edward the Confessor. The evidence presented tends to support the rather surprising conclusion – to me at least - that Harold was the usurper (again something not taught in school). The Norman invasion, as presented by Morris, also departs from the orthodoxy by rightly suggestion that the victory at Hastings did not immediately yield up the English Kingdom to William. There was far more fighting to be done against a rearguard of proud Englishmen led by the surviving remnants of the Saxon aristocracy. Between 1066 and William’s death in 1087, the Conqueror rarely enjoyed any peace in either England or the Duchy of Normandy as he sought to consolidate his power. This was particularly marked by the progression of castles stretching from the south to the north of England (including the one in Pickering). I rather enjoyed the description of how, at first, the Norman colonists displaced the English and then assimilated with them to forge a unique Anglo-Norman culture (something which our 18th and 19th century descendents failed to do when embarking on colonisation) and is clearly displayed in today’s British culture. Morris’ discussion on the Doomday process and the book that resulted from the survey was fascinating and again his narrative blew away the preconceptions I had formed from my schooling (or lack thereof). Finally the book ends with a brief survey of the Conqueror’s progeny which links to the civil war between Matilda, granddaughter of Conqueror, and Stephen of Blois which is a period that my father is interested in.
Morris’ book is well researched and the narrative is paced about right. As for historical inaccuracies, a number of other reviewers have picked up one or two but on this topic I cannot comment given that this was my first foray into this period. However the entire story of the Conquest does seems to be based on only a handful of primary sources written in Old English and Latin which increases the propensity to misinterpret key facts and clues about the past. Be that as it may, I believe that Marc Morris has done a wonderful job in bringing to life this fascinating period in British history. This book is truly an action packed history lesson that makes a true mockery of the three years or so of high school history classes. Highly recommended!