Thursday, 8 May 2014


"An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom. An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought. This riveting book explains why the Norman Conquest was the single most important event in English history. Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror's attack. Why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge. How William's hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unravelled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors. This is a tale of powerful drama, repression and seismic social change: the Battle of Hastings itself and the violent 'Harrying of the North'; the sudden introduction of castles and the wholesale rebuilding of every major church; the total destruction of an ancient ruling class. Language, law, architecture, even attitudes towards life itself were altered forever by the coming of the Normans. 
Marc Morris, author of the bestselling biography of Edward I, A Great and Terrible King, approaches the Conquest with the same passion, verve and scrupulous concern for historical accuracy. This is the definitive account for our times of an extraordinary story, a pivotal moment in the shaping of the English nation."

I had heard many good things about this author who had written three other historical non-fiction books so I was very much looking forward to reading this and hoping that it would give a balanced view of both sides of the conquest, the English and the Norman. Everyone who knows me his aware that I am very much down with the English as far as the Conquest of 1066 is concerned and have read many versions in order to find a discerning view of the invasion and the years that followed so I can at least attempt to empathise with the Normans, even if only in a small way. Some of the books I have read have strived to show the facts without appearing to be biased one way or another, but no matter how dryly the evidence is presented, they struggle to show the Normans in anything but a bad light. Faced with the evidence as it is, even in this book, the Normans were indeed the "Nasty Normans", confirming once and for all that my sympathies fall completely on the right side, though I am sure that was not what the author intended.

The opening pages of this book show useful maps of England and Normandy at the time of the Conquest and there are also family trees to assist the reader in knowing who is who. Mr Morris shows no preference for either side, in his introduction he states that he has tried to be as balanced and fair as he possibly can. He himself states that he has no particular fondness for either side, choosing to describe the Normans as coming across as "arrogant, warlike, inordinately pleased with themselves and holier than thou." He also calls the 11th century English as binge drinking slavers and political murderers.

Binge drinking English

Marc Morris's analysis of the events during and after the Conquest is a balanced view that can be trusted. He examines all the evidence of the time and explains the pros and cons of what is available, weighing up the strengths and the weaknesses in the evidence and its supporting evidences and leaves the reader to make their own minds up. As a historian, Mr Morris must remain impartial to give a balanced view and he does this despite  what the Normans did to the conquering English, without become emotive. I found it difficult, however, not to be moved especially when reading about the plight of the Northerners who were left with no means of feeding themselves after William's Harrying of the North. I felt angry at the displacing of English land owners and the insensitivity of the Norman clergy toward their English counterparts and the insulting attitude the Normans had to the English culture. If anyone had thought highly of William and his avaricious Normans, I challenge them not to be affected by the evidence. Despite what other historians have had us believe, Morris proves that the Harrying of the North DID happen and was not an exaggeration by any means. The Norman Conquest was the wholesale oppression of a subjugated people and although William did not start out with the intention to degrade and enslave a nation, it certainly ended that way by the end of his reign.
Arrogant and Warlike Normans

If you asked me what I like most about this book, it would be that Mr Morris leaves no stone unturned in his investigation and picks apart the primary sources piecemeal and provides intelligent answers. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to read more about this exciting, and pivotal period of history.


  1. Sounds like a really good account - one to look out for

  2. Without sounding too partisan... Out! Out! Out! (Bangs sword hilt against shield)