The story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England is hardly new, but the situations that prompted it on both sides of the English Channel have never been told in so much depth.
A historian who specializes in the Middle Ages, especially that period’s monarchies and aristocracy, Morris (Kings and Castle, 2012, etc.) takes thoroughness to new heights as he compares all the available sources in this valuable text. The French relied on the writings of William of Jumièges, chaplain to William; the Bayeux Tapestry commissioned by William’s half brother, Bishop Odo; and the work of Orderic Vitalis, an Anglo-Norman born in 1075. The English viewpoint comes from the anonymously penned Life of King Edward and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. The difficulty with the Chronicles is that it was copied by different monasteries, each skewing facts to fit their particular patron’s viewpoint. There is no doubt that King Edward the Confessor was king in name only; Earl Godwin’s family was effectively ruling England during Edward’s reign. His daughter married Edward, and his sons, including Harold (he of the arrow in the eye), held all England save Mercia. No wonder they felt the crown was rightfully theirs. William’s abilities and the Vikings' support of brother Tostig’s greed proved them wrong. The most important source for the actual invasion is Song of the Battle of Hastings, a contemporary epic poem only discovered in the early-19th century. The English rebelled against foreign rule, new language and customs for five more years before a semblance of order was established. The author includes useful maps, an expansive genealogical tree and extensive notes.
A thoroughly enjoyable book from a historian’s historian who can write for the masses.