Brief History of The Normans – The Conquests
that Changed the Face of Europe by Francois
I was interested in reading this book because, of late, I have become increasingly interested in European and especially British history and seem, for an unaccountable reason, to have developed a fascination with the events leading up to (and the ramifications of) the defining Battle of Hastings in 1066.
As you might expect the majority of this book does not indeed deal with 1066 but with the centuries before that pivotal event. The Normans, or North Men, were originally of Scandinavian origin who settled in the area of what is now called
after earlier raiding the French coasts with their Viking compatriots. Normandy was given to
them by the French King on the understanding that they would protect the
hinterland from future attacks. This they did, very successfully, but they also
carried out their own raids further inland sometimes with, and sometimes
without, the Kings permission or at least his blind eye. Inevitably, over time,
married into the families of existing ‘royalty’ and became ‘royal’ in their own
right. The crowning achievement of this process was William, Duke of Normandy –
AKA William the Bastard, AKA William the Conqueror who, with as many barons as
he could muster invaded England in 1066, defeated Harold at the Battle of
Hastings and was crowned King that same year.
I hadn’t realised, until recently, that the events known as the Norman Invasion had produced pro and anti Norman historians. I knew that history is reinterpreted by each generation and that new artefacts are periodically discovered that change our views on historical events but I didn’t quite appreciate that history is also a fertile ground for philosophical factionalism – especially about such things as 1066. How naïve I was! I had only heard of pro-Norman historians recently so it was interesting to actually read one who was so blatantly of that party. Of course the author is French so should be assumed to have some bias in favour of William over Harold. What surprised me more that a little was a depth of feeling the author had over English complaints that they were in fact invaded and occupied by a foreign power so long ago. He virtually said, in all but these words, that we should just get over it and deal with the fact that we lost. Of course this brings out the interesting idea that we modern British (or English) still identify with the losing Anglo-Saxons rather than with the victorious Norman French. That alone speaks volumes. The Norman invasion, it would seem, was initially successful but over time the invaders have been absorbed into the English society they sought to conquer. Obviously the
Normans had a huge impact on the future of the
English but not as much as this author proposes or would prefer. Pro
Anglo-Saxon historians continually point out that English society in 1066 was
one of the most modern and sophisticated in Europe at that time and that the
outcome of Hastings
was far closer that some other historians would have us believe. It is
intriguing to speculate as to what the world would now be like if Harold had
not died on Senlac hill but had led his troops
to victory over the Norman usurper.