3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An excellent look at perhaps the most important event in our history...,
This review is from: The Norman Conquest (Paperback)
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!