The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole

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The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The Norman Conquest in 1066 has long been seen as a relatively isolated event as well as the start of a new era in English history, but the full story was inevitably more complex. Although her main focus is on 'the year of the three Kings', Teresa Cole has gone back some way prior to the twelve months in question, from the coming of the Angles and Saxons around the fifth century. This is a very comprehensive volume for scholars and general readers alike.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445649221

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Long regarded as the most pivotal date in English history, not least to generations of us familiar with the 1930s Sellar and Yeatman spoof history '1066 And All That', the year of the Norman Conquest has long been seen as a relatively isolated event as well as the start of a new era for our island story. The full picture was inevitably more complex.

In this book, Teresa Cole has gone back a considerable way before the twelve months in question, in order to put all the personalities and issues into their full context. She takes as her starting point the coming of the Angles and Saxons around the fifth century and the Heptarchy of seven kingdoms, the coronation of Edgar as first King of the English in 973, and then the Viking invasions during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. Two chapters look in some detail at the first forty years of the turbulent eleventh century, prior to the reign of Edward the Confessor. Once the threat from the Vikings had receded, then came the predatory eye across the Channel of the Normans under William, commonly known during his early life as 'William the Bastard'.

The basic story is familiar enough. 1066 was a year of three Kings, with the death of Edward the Confessor, the Norman invasion, defeat and death of Harold at the battle of Hastings, and the seizing of his throne by William, henceforth known to posterity as 'the Conqueror'. A closer examination suggests that many assumptions have been made, and time-honoured facts cannot be taken for granted. Ms Cole suggests that the traditional image of Edward as a weak and aged man whose death was long anticipated is not strictly true. Thanks largely to the Bayeux Tapestry, we have generally believed or assumed that Harold was killed on the battlefield when an arrow pierced him in the eye. He may alternatively been struck down when a lance was run through his body, possibly wielded by his foe William in person. Alternatively, he might have been wounded, left for dead, carried away secretly to recover, and lived to a comfortable old age at the hermitage of Chester, where others suspected they knew his real identity but agreed to let him maintain his privacy.

We have also been told that the conflict took place a few miles from Hastings at Battle, the town which grew up around the Abbey built by William. Recent research suggests that it may have been somewhere different altogether, perhaps on the site now occupied by the village of Crowhurst.

However, some facts are more or less beyond dispute. It is accepted, and difficult to disprove, that William was a firm and decisive but cruel and greedy ruler. In the last chapter, 'A personal view' of the winners and losers of 1066, he is seen as the man who insisted that he was no conqueror but the rightful King of England, a man who ruthlessly pursued a lifelong vision and succeeded. Over the years a coat of whitewash was applied to his reputation and his reign, and in Victorian times he was hailed as the real founder of England's greatness, a strong and wise leader, a firm ruler and a faithful husband. England, so a primer of the early twentieth century stated, had good reason to be grateful to William in spite of his faults, and to regret him when he died in 1087. A later school of thought maintains that the Normans' plundering of English resources during his reign was comparable to that of the Nazis throughout much of Europe during the Second World War.

There will surely be many more books on the subject in years to come, but this is a very sound and comprehensive volume which will probably take a good deal of bettering, unless further revelations come to light and demand another round of evaluation and revisionism. Ms Cole has gone a long way to put some flesh and blood on the figures involved, no mean feat when writing about people who lived so long ago, and her explanation of the often involved sequence of events is comprehensive. The result is a fine book for scholars and general reader alike.

For a slightly different account, The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris can be recommended, as can two biographies, William the Conqueror: The Bastard of Normandy by Peter Rex, and Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, first Queen of England by Tracy Borman

Buy The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England by Teresa Cole at Amazon.com.

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