Review: The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest
The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At one point in The Norman Conquest, writing about the Bayeux Tapestry, Marc Morris says; “No other source takes us so immediately and so vividly back to that lost time.”

I’ll say exactly the same about this book.

It really is an astoundingly well written and well put together book. Easily the Norman period’s equivalent of Max Hastings’ All Hell Let Loose and Antony Beevor’s The Second World War. For what it’s worth, for me, that’s the highest praise I can come up with. As with those two, this really deserves at least 6 stars.

You know what happened don’t you? Normans come over, beat Harold at Hastings, conquered us, spoke French, tormented Robin Hood, etc, etc. But wait. Do you really know what happened, or why, or where?

The Norman Conquest is packed full of stuff you didn’t know. Or thought you knew, but as you will soon find out, had wrong. For one (and I’m not giving anything away as if you read the first few pages in a bookshop while deciding about getting it, you’ll come across this); The Bayeux Tapestry. Not a tapestry. Not made in Bayeux. And once that has finished rocking your Norman world, you’re ready to read on.

Marc Morris has an open, inviting and encouragingly readable style. He’s very honest and critical when discussing the few sources we have for events of this period in an excellent ‘down-to-earth’, matter of fact style. He’s very good at cutting through the reams of ancient hype and he’s perfect at reading between the medieval lines of 1,000-year old press releases and spin doctors’ erm…spin. History written by the victors and by the losers (sometimes for the victors), has been simmered down and when the mists have cleared, we have Marc Morris’ The Norman Conquest.

This is surely how to write a modern non-fiction history book and I thought the back-cover quote from someone reviewing it in ‘The Times’ had it about right: “Compelling…Morris sorts embroidery from evidence and provides a much needed, modern account of the Normans in England that respects past events more than present ideologies.”

If you have even a passing interesting in reading Justin Hill’s Shieldwall, James Wilde’s Hereward series, Angus Donald‘s Outlaw series, or James Aitcheson‘s Conquest series, or even if you have read one, more, or all of the above – think of this as a companion piece. Read The Norman Conquest and you’ll get even more enjoyment out of them. Even in retrospect.

View all my reviews

You should of course, buy The Norman Conquest at your local, bricks and mortar bookshop. However, if that really isn’t possible, you can get it at (amongst other places) these fine purveyors of on-line bookery:

Abe Books
Book Depository

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