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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will not win!, 27 April 2012
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This review is from: The Norman Conquest (Hardcover)
If ever a king reigned with his butt in the saddle and a sword in his hand, it was William the Bastard - The Conqueror.

From the moment he came of age practically 'til the day he died, he moved from one massive fight scene to another to protect and acquire what was his. Using calculated brutality he subdued dissension in his duchy; growing so powerful that the King of France, whose vassal he was, became concerned that he may break out and extend his borders. Making a pact with Geoffrey Martel to destroy William, they tried to over-run his duchy and were repelled. At their final encounter in 1057, at the ford at Varaville, the slaughter was so brutal and conclusive, the terrified french king left william's duchy at top speed never to return again.

Meanwhile, Edward the Confessor decided to leave William the English crown. English politics being what they were, upon Edward's death a certain Harold Godwineson usurped it. Big mistake! Marc Morris attributes Harold's death to direct action by William (not an arrow in the eye) and a few of his most trusted men. By the end of the book I came to the conclusion Morris has it right.

The book is about the Norman Conquest and how it changed England forever, but the nature of William leaps from the pages. Calculatingly violent, religious, a faithful husband, rotten father - love him or loathe him, you could never ignore him, and to cross him after he had offered terms for peace meant your destruction.

If you love reading history, and in particular well written history, you will want this book. No review can do it justice. Those readers who enjoyed a Great and Terrible King will be familiar with Marc Morris' style, but this book is better because of the subject and the implacable anti-hero whose will (and sword arm) brought it all to birth.

ps The one assertion Morris makes (and which I've given a lot of thought to because Morris makes it) is the notion that the Normans were chivalrous! Surely in the loosest sense of the word as some of Duke William's calculated acts of violence horrified his contemporaries - the breaking of Alencon for instance. And that's before he crosses the Channel and subdues the English - consider the Harrying of the North. As Morris points out, for Norman read Norseman and their penchant for mutilating those who crossed them remained at least until the reign of Henry I. If anyone was deserving of the epithet 'chivalrous' I would say that that belongs to the French.

In fact the whole notion of chivalry engenders serious debate: after all Henry VIII loved the romance and whole notion of chivalry yet became a tyrant king and a killer of queens. Does that mean that chivalry was a mere concept, a flirtation with the concept of a better self, to be shelved under the necessity of realpolitik and expediency?

I imagine this is why I enjoy reading Marc Morris's books, it is impossible to be a passive reader.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Oct 2012 15:53:41 BDT
'Meanwhile, Edward the Confessor decided to leave William the English crown. English politics being what they were, upon Edward's death a certain Harold Godwineson usurped it. Big mistake! Marc Morris attributes Harold's death to direct action by William (not an arrow in the eye) and a few of his most trusted men. By the end of the book I came to the conclusion Morris has it right.'

If Morris is claiming Edward made William his successor that it very very dubious as a claim. Will still enjoy the read though

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Oct 2012 20:31:00 BDT
JANEITE says:
Yes, he introduces this at page 69, going on to admit that this claim needs to be hedged about with 'almost certainly'; 'probably': as no English source written at the time admits that it happened. He then puts forward a compelling case to back his assertion. I am currently reading backward from the Tudor dynasty, so am a novice about the period; but, as another reviewer has pointed out, Morris is an exacting scholar, not one to deal in speculation.

I hope you do enjoy the read, and thank you for your gracious post.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2012 09:38:17 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Oct 2012 11:39:07 BDT
I also see that you mention that his describes the Normans as chivalrous. I find this surprising also as they ran what can only be described as a Reign of Terror in the 20 years or so after 1066. On the flip side I found his book on Edward I excellent so this is clearly going to be a thought provoking read.

Virtually every other eminent scholar I had read on 1066 has stated that Williams claim he was anointed the successor has no substainable proof.

As I say I'll read with interest

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2012 12:20:58 BDT
JANEITE says:
I have just finished reading Marjorie Chibnall's book on the Empress Matilda, and the same ruthlessness in gaining ends was very evident. I noticed that at first she was determined to claim the throne on her own behalf, it was the counsel of her bastard half-brother Robert of Gloucester which caused her to change her policy and represent herself as fighting on behalf of her young son - much more acceptable and understandable to the magnates she wished to win over. An emissary of Thomas Becket describes her as being 'of the stock of tyrants'. It strikes me that any indication, even in principle, conveyed to William by Robert of Jumieges, Edward's Archbishop of Canterbury, that the crown would be willed to him would be enough to launch the subsequent invasion and occupation. The stock of tyrants indeed.

Enjoy the read.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Nov 2012 22:47:32 GMT
Edward had no clear successor when he died.
Military strongmen competed for the kingship.
Harold, along with two younger brothers, died at the Battle of Hastings.
How Harold died, and who killed him, cannot now be known.
As he fell at the height of a ferocious hand to hand battle, it may not have been possible to say on the day it happened.
William was the last warlord standing, and so became king.
No doubt post facto, justifications were invented, and William was portrayed as being involved in the slaying of his rival.
This we call spin.
Really, apart from the bare bones I have outlined, we do not and can not know anything about the circumstances of the Conquest

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2012 17:51:51 GMT
JANEITE says:
Surely this is an over-simplification of events? It would not be the first time a death squad had been assembled on the battlefield to ensure the death of a feared rival. And the aims and achievements of the Conquest are a matter of record. That William was capable of a sustained campaign of violence is not an issue, but that it was unthinking and without an intelligence driving it is to do him a gross injustice.

Personally, I like to read about the past especially in the hands of someone like Marc Morris who does not 'pad' out his books or engage in futile speculation. He is most definitely not a brat pack historian of the sort who has made me very careful about what sort of books I spend my money on.

Finally, I read a history written by A.F. Pollard recently which made the remark that in a democratic society historians feel that they need to apologize for the past. William was reacting to the realpolitik of his day (as was Harold) and I can only say this book fascinated me as to how this period of history affected our Island Race with echoes reaching into our society today.

Thank you for expressing your opinion graciously.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Nov 2012 08:38:25 GMT
Thank you very kindly Janette for addressing the points I made.
I do not think that either William or Harold were unthinking men, or unintelligent.
Indeed, it would not be impossible that a special death squad was assembled to kill Harold.
Neither was impossible that he was hit in the eye by an arrow, or killed by an anonymous Norman infantryman.
Of course, if some relatively humble archer or other soldier did kill Harold, It is certainly probable that William's publicists would claim the credit for him.
I first became interested in the Norman Conquest when I was nine (I am now sixty five) and have read extensively on the subject.
The precise manner of Harold's death is not important, and can never be known, I think.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2012 18:36:54 GMT
JANEITE says:
I started reading about the conquest at about the same age: Knight's Fee by Rosemary Sutcliff, which remains in my possession to this day - though I cannot aspire to your venerable age :D. I hope you add Marc Morris's book to the ones you have read - you are in for a real treat if you do.

Thank you for your gracious post.
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