A riveting and authoritative history of the single most important event in English history: The Norman Conquest.
An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom. An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought.
This new history explains why the Norman Conquest was the most significant cultural and military episode in English history. Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror’s attack; why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge; how William’s hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unraveled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions, and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors.
This is a tale of powerful drama, repression, and seismic social change: the Battle of Hastings itself; the sudden introduction of castles and the massive rebuilding of every major church; the total destruction of an ancient ruling class. Language, law, architecture, and even attitudes toward life itself were altered forever by the coming of the Normans.
Historian Marc Morris presents an enjoyable and modern account of the Norman invasion that created the foundation for the English nation. Beginning with the Saxon kings and the constant conflicts besetting England as she fell prey to both Vikings and Normans, Morris lays bare the intrigues and betrayals that marked the Anglo-Saxons' rule. With his silken voice and impeccable timing, narrator Frazer Douglas recounts these events with great familiarity and relish. Morris sets the stage for William the Conqueror's invasion and shows how his hopes for a united Anglo-Norman realm were dashed by rebellions, Viking invasions, and the demands of his fellow conquerors. Listeners will be entertained by this rambunctious look at the most important period of English history.
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Great story, poor reading
The book takes in the whole scope of history from Viking raids before the millennium through to life under the Normans after the invasion. If you are looking for an in depth account of the battle of Hastings itself you may be disappointed. The battle is just one relatively small part of the narrative.
The only negative regarding the book is that I think it tries to cover too much, especially in the first half. Names and dates are rattled off with little to flesh out the story or people involved.
Regarding the narration, I can only agree with other reviewers. Frazer Douglas sounds like an intelligent guy, so it's extraordinary that he manages to mangle the pronunciation of so many familiar English and French place names. He also speaks as though there is, a, comma, after, every, single, word. When he quotes from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle or some other historical text, which he does frequently, he slips into tones of whispered sincerity that sounds like an impersonation of David Attenborough nearing a family of mountain gorillas, which is amusing, but annoying.
Still, if you want an overview of the history of the times it's pretty good.
Thorough and entertaining
This is an excellent overview of the Norman Conquest, from it's pre-history in the early 11th Century to it's lasting legacy through British History. Morris will be criticised for being pro-Norman, but he does illustrate quite convincingly that Harold's claim to the throne was less than dubious. He's certainly no Norman apologist when it comes to the Harrying of the North and their ruthless political (if not literal) decapitation of the Saxon nobility.
What Morris does manage to do is to incorporate the source material effectively into the narrative. As such, he provides an insight into the way that Historian's handle the contemporaneous accounts of the Conquest whilst turning their author's into characters in their own right.
Frazer Douglas' reading is slightly odd. He has a tendency to ponderous hesitancy and some of his pronunciation of place names is irritating (his rendering of Ely, the Cambridgeshire town, as EE-LIE rather than EE-LEE was particularly poor). Also, his adoption of a 'posh vicar' voice when quoting from the original source material grated after a while.
- Mark Holmes