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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 30 July 2012
This is an old book - it was first published in 1964 under the title "William the Conqueror - the Norman impact upon England" - but it has stood the test of time. Since its publication, there have been numerous biographies of William the Conqueror in both English and French. Many of these are very good. Some are excellent. This one is outstanding and all of the following books on William have been inspired by it to some extent.

There are several elements that make this book outstanding.

The first is the depiction of William's character and outstanding personality. This exceptional warlord was both unsympathetic and "unlovable", as Douglas puts it so well. He was arrogant, brutal and cruel, possibly even more than the average warrior and warlord of his time. He was also very talented, hugely energetic and had a will of iron forged during his early years when he had to fight so hard for his survival.

The second point is that, however unlovable he might have been, his achievements are astonishing. These include not only the Conquest itself, but also his survival against both his unruly and warlike vassals (and kin) and against the king of France before the Conquest and the more than twenty years that he spent defending his Duchy of Normandy and putting down rebellions in his Kingdom of England. Douglas also shows that William was a very capable - if harsh - ruler, in addition to being a very competent soldier. The ways, means and efficiency that he used and displayed to govern England are also one of his achievements, as Douglas shows so well by making use of all the available documentary sources.

The third major strongpoint that underpins the whole book is the top quality of David Douglas' research blended with a fantastic story that is told soberly. This is a scholarly book of the highest calibre but it is neither dull nor convoluted, despite its size (over 400 pages when counting the annexes).

Another huge quality of this book is to acknowledge that the transformation that occurred "cannot be referred simply to a single personality." Although this might have become obvious by 2012, it was not necessarily the case in 1964. Moreover, the consequences that Douglas has drawn from this statement have been far reaching. Whole fields of studies have been opened up by a couple of generations of historians inspired by this book.

One of these is the study of Normandy and of England before 1066. Another has been the series of biographies on William's lieutenants (including his wife Mathilda and Lanfranc) and contemporaries. A third, related to the books published by David Douglas on the Norman Achievement, has been the study of "Norman Identity", and what happened to it. A fourth has been the rediscovery of the years that followed 1066 in England, through another host of books. A fifth field has focused on the means and ways through which the Norman warrior aristocracy established its domination, including numerous studies on Norman warfare and Norman castles. There are probably others as well that I have not mentioned.

With all this going for it, and although this book is almost half a century old, there is little wonder that it remains THE reference and the starting point for most areas of Anglo-Norman studies. Needless to say, it is still very much worth five stars.
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on 8 April 2007
Recently there has been an abundance of popular history books concerning 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England. Even so, "William the Conqueror" by David C. Douglas remains the standard text on this medieval ruler and on the years which spanned the Conquest, despite being first published almost 40 years ago. Though large (it weighs in at over 450 pages) this is by no means simply a dry academic work. Douglas' easy and fluid style of writing makes this ideal both for the student and for the more casual reader.

Douglas begins in the Prologue by detailing the questions surrounding the Conqueror's achievements and the sources available to the historian. He then goes on to set the scene, describing the historical geography of Normandy and then the history of the duchy from its creation in AD 911 up to William's birth in 1027, before launching into his biography of the famous Duke himself. While this biography is broadly chronological, following William's career through his minority and then over his various campaigns, it is also divided into themes. In separate chapters Douglas explores the nature of William's rule and administration, pre-Conquest relations between Normandy and England, and his revival of the Church, among other topics. In this way he provides a very comprehensive study.

The extensive index is extremely useful, as is the timeline of the Conqueror's life. Two maps of England and Normandy provide context, and the six Appendices add further depth, covering a variety of topics - from chronologies of William's campaigns, including 1066, to the use of poisoning as a political weapon in eleventh-century Normandy! Unfortunately for the interested reader looking to follow up on material in this book, the bibliography doesn't lists any works later than 1964, the date of this book's original publication. This makes it quite difficult to get a handle on the more recent historiography being conducted in this large subject. For more up-to-date treatments of the Conquest the reader might therefore prefer David R. Bates' book of the same title or Brian Golding's "Conquest and Colonisation". At the same time a very useful counterpart to Douglas is Frank Barlow's "The Godwins", providing the English perspective on the years leading up to 1066.

Nonetheless, Douglas' work is a tremendously useful first port-of-call for anyone interested in the Norman Conquest.
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VINE VOICEon 23 June 2007
A very well researched book, which not only focuses on the life of its subject, but also examines the military, administrative and ecclesiastical changes in Normandy and England under his rule. It does get a bit dry in places as it analyses some of these themes, but this is undoubtedly an impressive piece of objective scholarship.
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on 19 April 2012
David C Douglas, an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bristol, has written several books and articles about the Normans. His work is well researched and his writing style is like the mind of an investigative reporter. He examines the contemporary evidence as well as recent scholarship. He points out that which can be confirmed as most probable and what is inaccurate as well as what should be considered with apprehension. Douglas documents his sources well, sometimes even including the citations in the author's native language when translations to modern language can take more than one form.

Douglas explores the somewhat mysterious beginnings of Duke William, the bastard son of Duke Robert I of Normandy. He also briefly gives a background on the founding of the Duchy of Normandy under Rolf the Viking and his line. Douglas discusses the administrative structure on the Norman realm emphasizing the roots from Roman and Carolingian times. He talks about establishment of viscounts and counts in the realm and their relationship with the ducal family.

Douglas tells the story of Duke William's ascension, the anarchy of his minority, and his struggle to take control of the realm, and defend it from Count Geoffrey Martel of Anjou and King Henry I of France. Douglas also explains how Duke William unified his realm by rewarding the new aristocracy. The reestablishment of the Christian Church and monasteries under the Normans is discussed as well as the evolution of the ducal court. Douglas then explores the background of the conquest of England. Duke William's association with King Edward the Confessor and his selection as heir to the throne are discussed as well as the other claimants Harold Godwineson and Harold Hardraada. The Norman Conquest of England is examined. Then Douglas talks about the almost continuous warfare required to maintain William's new realm. The collusion of the various enemies is discussed with fighting occurring on all fronts in Normandy, Maine, the Vexin, and England. William the Conqueror's endurance through all these contests will cause awe. Douglas looks at the Normanization instituted by William of the English aristocratic and ecclesiastic offices. He discusses William's use of existing English administration (Earls, Sheriffs, Hundreds, and Shires) and adaption of the system to more resemble the Norman administration with counts and viscounts. William's last acts as king are described including the division of the realm amongst his sons. The most probable reasons are explored.

Douglas also explores more abstract topics like the rise of the military feudalism and the knight in England and the controversy over the foundations of this institution. He talks about William's infusion into English judicial issues by sending personal representatives to adjudicate and William's efforts to stem abuses of power by his officials. Douglas explores William's influence on the church by promoting reforms sponsored by the pontiffs, but at the same time resisting efforts of the pope to remove the power of the king to appoint candidates to ecclesiastic offices. Norman policy on slavery is discussed and how the English use of slavery was extensively reduced under William. The Domesday Survey, instigated by William, is discussed including its purpose, scope, lasting significance, and reaction by contemporaries.

Douglas breaks out specific topics in the appendixes where he explores difficult subjects in greater detail. I like the way he does this so the flow of the main book is not broken. There are also genealogies for some the main characters. I like the way he puts some information in them and dates where available. These are not just a list of names with lines connecting them. There are only two maps, but they have a lot of detail. I was able to find all the places he talked about.

I highly recommended this book to anyone with interest on the subject. The background provided by Douglas allows even a beginner to have full understanding of William. But, as you can see from my review this work covers more than just a narrative history of William's reign. It dives into the impact of William on Norman and English society and may be too much for some readers.
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on 16 June 2015
One of the most comprehensive and balanced and well written works on the Conqueror written. Remains a masterpiece.
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on 20 June 2016
I believe this book, which I obtained second hand, is one of the better books on this subject.
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on 13 August 2012
Reading this book was a long hard slog. There's lots and lots of information in it, no doubt well researched, but one can say the same for the telephone directory. There are pages of just-a-name endowed the monastery of obscure-place-in-Normandy, repeat, repeat, repeat, which caused me to finally get to the end of the section having forgotten what the basic point was. Two one page maps are provided and they are very poor. Several potentially interesting incidental events in the lives of characters around William are just alluded to but not described; methodical single individual biography to the point of obsession. There are some livlier sections, but they are few and far between. Bear in mind that this book was first published in 1964, so it is VERY old fashioned in terms of style - there was not much competition around in those days for a historical readership. If you're someone doing a postgraduate degree, you'd probably have to use this book for its source material, but anyone reading for pleasure, or who doesn't want to risk being put off history, ought to avoid it. Can't fault the scholarship, but Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
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on 17 July 2009
One of the better books about Willy boy. Very good service from the supplier, prompt delivery.
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