This excellent series is not just a history of the Norman conquest of England; it's scope is much wider. It is presented by Professor Robert Bartlett.
Each one-hour episode of the three-part series can be split into two distinct halves. Episode one, MEN FROM THE NORTH, shows how a band of Viking pirates became a major political force in its first half; whilst the second focuses on the conquest of England up to and including the Battle of Hastings. (I would have preferred the former to have occupied a while episode, since it is so vital as to what followed later.) The second hour, CONQUEST, whilst beginning with the death of William, actually addresses the resulting conquest of England in the first half - a conquest of culture as much as by force - and the differing later conquests of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in the second. NORMANS OF THE SOUTH is the title of the third episode, where Bartlett explores their legacy in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The first half looks at southern Italy and Sicily; the second at the First Crusade.
Bartlett has a neat turn of phrase. For example: "They came, they saw, they conquered. Then they married the locals, learned the language, and assimilated themselves out of existence." Not only well-written and well-presented, the series is also beautifully shot. On the latter, I particularly enjoyed the instance of the blades of a modern windfarm in Normandy being used as a metaphor of the blades of swords in battle. The series's music is also worthy of note; though, alas, uncredited, it has an epic cinematic quality that perfectly matches the story to be told.
Thankfully, the series engages only minimal attempts at dramatic reconstruction; it is no docudrama (though is that the facial features of Bartlett himself on the dead body of William the Conqueror?). Bartlett skilfully employs the words of contemporary chroniclers and other documents in his argument. He also alludes to other means of communication - such as art, architecture, and archaeology (for example coins) - in trying to understand the Norman mind; and, of course, there is the Bayeux Tapestry.
All this praise is not to say that there are no problems. For instance, the Vikings were not and are not renowned for being especially proficient with the horse or for building in stone, yet Bartlett provides no explanation as to why the Normans became great cavalrymen whilst those in England's Danelaw (for example) did not, or whence the Normans obtained their love of motte and bailey castles. There are, too, some anachronisms; when Bartlett talks of the Domesday Book, I spotted a quick sight of the Luttrell Psalter, and we witness gothic arches on screen when Bartlett refers to the cathedral-building of the Normans.
In the series Bartlett argues that the compilation of Domesday Book was a direct result of King William's need for more money. Dr Stephen Baxter, though, in the hour-long `extra' episode on this disc, sees Domesday as being more in the mould of providing security of title, whilst at the same time confirming William as the legal heir to Edward the Confessor and all landholders being dependent on him. Maybe, but why did William need this? I think Baxter's argument against Domesday being a tax document, whilst interesting, is flawed.
The prerogative of the young, Baxter is brasher than Bartlett. He clearly knows his stuff but is less magisterial. There are problems too: Gloucester Cathedral was not such in 1085, and the Domesday inventory was not "down to the last pig". (This is hype and Baxter knows this.) Nevertheless, this is a good detailed look at Domesday. Along the way we learn, for example, how parchment is made.
There is no book to accompany Bartlett's series, but for those wishing to explore the Norman world of England in print, Bartlett's contributory volume to the New Oxford History of England is also worth five stars.