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Excellent history of the period
on 29 March 2014
This is an excellent account of this most pivotal event in English history, told in a very readable and engaging way, while never sacrificing a proper critical use of the primary sources, drawing on the works of the contemporary or near-contemporary chroniclers from England and Normandy, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and (of course) the Bayeux Tapestry. In fact it is really a political and military history of the whole eleventh century from the Viking raids on Ethelred's England until the death of the Conqueror in France in 1087. It certainly was a turbulent and extremely colourful period, of which the Norman Conquest and, more specifically, the Battle of Hastings, is undoubtedly the best known event, but which must be understood in the context of its time, with Normandy as a fairly recently emerged duchy, and England having its large Danish influence. The artefacts that are so well known, i.e. the Tapestry and the Domesday Book, are unique survivals of their kind, without which our knowledge of the period would be much poorer. In his introduction, the author laments the paucity of sources for the 11th century compared to those present just two centuries later which he used in his previous book on Edward I, A Great and Terrible King; for example thanks to surviving documents, we know where Edward I was for almost every day of his reign, but very rarely exactly where William was. Paradoxically, I think the fact that so much has to be squeezed out of so few sources makes this book a much smoother read than his book on Edward I; that, and to some extent, my greater familiarity with the detailed course of events. Thoroughly recommended.