Book Review: “The Norman Conquest” by Marc Morris

Norman Conquest Book Cover

I have several books written by Marc Morris on my “to read” shelf and hadn’t managed to read any of them until now. In my quest to read French history this summer I picked up this book. The subject is all the more interesting because it combines French history with English history and what could be better than that? Another reason I was interested is I’ve always wondered how William Duke of Normandy prepared for the conquest. What actually went into the planning of the expedition?

I have to start out by saying Morris’ writing style is really tremendous. His prose is fluid and easily understandable. He has closely studied all the conflicting sources and made comparisons to arrive at this own conclusions. This is historical detective work at its best.

The early chapters cover the period of Anglo-Saxon history before William arrives. Here we meet Aethelred the Unready, Queen of Emma of Normandy, King Cnut, Harthacnut and Harold Harefoot, Edward the Confessor, Queen Edith of Wessex and the powerful Earl Godwine and King Harold. These historical characters are so compelling I just can’t read enough about them. Morris sets up the scene here for the big battle.

My search for William’s preparation plans has been fulfilled. Morris goes into great detail on how William persuaded the Pope to back his mission, how he gathered an army of followers with promises of great rewards, his search for a naval flotilla to take the army to England and how he provisioned the troops. Morris also describes how King Harold kept vigil awaiting the invasion, then stood down only being forced to gather his army again to fight against an invasion by King Harald Hardrada of Norway and his own brother Tostig Godwineson. Three weeks later William invaded and King Harold was defeated at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066.

Based on what little information there is on Hastings, Morris does an excellent job of describing the battle itself. The rest of the book recounts the reign of the Conqueror and how it affected England on a political and social level. Morris tells of the rebellions William had to suppress in England and in Normandy along with the dysfunctional dynamics of his own family. Morris is very fair in describing the good points and the bad points of William’s personality and style of medieval government and how devastating and transformative his conquest was on Anglo-Saxon England.

I really enjoyed the description of how William ordered the Domesday Survey in England, how writing it was accomplished and what the purpose of the survey entailed. This was new information for me and very informative. I cannot recommend this book enough. And now I must read more of Morris’ work!

5 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Norman Conquest” by Marc Morris

  1. Fascinating persons, intricate relationships, high drama, loyalty, treachery, sudden changes of fortune, astonishing feats of courage, prowess and endurance, set against a background of prolonged cultural exchange among many nations. What more could one want from a great moment in history?

    Better contemporary records would have been nice. Why, for example, do the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles describe some events at length, while passing over others? Why did even the triumphant Normans produce so few accounts of this period? The 12th century monk Orderic Vitalis twice implied that a great deal more was widely known than he committed to paper, so perhaps important sources have been lost during the intervening centuries.

    In this situation, historians have to dig deep for information, or at least hints, to fill the vast empty spaces of the timeworn canvas. I dearly hope that funding continues for their valiant efforts to illuminate the past.

    Stephen Morillo, an editor of the Battle Conferences, wrote an article proposing that at first the English had the initiative. In an assault on the Norman front line that was initially effective, Earls Gyrth and Leofwine perished (as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry). With the loss of his most senior commanders, Harold was restricted to a static defence.

    Combining this evidence with entries in the Domesday book concerning Gyrth’s former properties, we can take a guess at who was involved in this crucial turning point. As King, William took a big slice of Gyrth’s manors (as of almost everyone’s) but significantly the most valuable manor went to William de Braose, suggesting that it was he who slew Gyrth.

    Interestingly, Count Alan received as many of Gyrth’s manors as the King did. Wace, writing in the 1100s, asserted that Alan and his men “did the English great damage”; evidently this included a big role in Gyrth’s demise and thus in dashing Harold’s hopes of winning the battle with a knockout blow.


  2. Hi Susan, I am reading a book name : A Great and Terrible King : Edward I and the Forging of Britain, and is a great biography, I like this author, this book is very detail, I am enjoying every page, the author Marc Morris is a great writer !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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