The Normans in European History

The Normans in European History

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by Charles Homer Haskins
     
 

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"We, conquered by William, have liberated the Conqueror's land". So reads the memorial to the British war dead at Bayeaux, Normandy. Commemorating those who gave their lives to free France in 1944, it also serves to remind us of an earlier conflict. For the English, the Norman conquest remains deeply embedded in the national psyche. As the last contested military

Overview

"We, conquered by William, have liberated the Conqueror's land". So reads the memorial to the British war dead at Bayeaux, Normandy. Commemorating those who gave their lives to free France in 1944, it also serves to remind us of an earlier conflict. For the English, the Norman conquest remains deeply embedded in the national psyche. As the last contested military invasion to have succeeded in conquering this proud island nation, the date of 1066 is the one every citizen can remember. For them, William will forever be the "Conqueror", the last invader to beat them in an open fight. For others, notably the French, he is the "Bastard", a reference not only to his lineage.

William's conquest of the island arguably made him the most important figure in shaping the course of English history, but modern caricatures of this vitally important medieval figure are largely based on ignorance. William is a fascinating and complex figure, in many ways the quintessential warrior king of this period. Inheriting the Duchy of Normandy while still an infant and forced to fight for his domain almost ceaselessly during his early years, William went on to conquer and rule England, five times larger and three times wealthier. In doing so, he demonstrated sophisticated political and diplomatic skill, military prowess and administrative acumen. Although he lived by the sword, he was a devout man who had only one wife, to whom he remained faithful.

However, peering back nearly 1,000 years to understand William does not just require a suspension of 21st century values and prejudices, because the evidence itself is far from complete. The historical record includes chronicles and documents, most notably the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the famous Domesday Book and the Bayeux tapestry, leaving scholars to attempt the meticulous and painstaking process of piecing together the narrative of his life and determining what William and the Normans might actually have been like. At the same time, those scholars are the first to admit the limitations of these abilities, since the few people who could write in medieval England and Normandy often had important agendas and prejudices of their own, or they were recording events decades after they occurred.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781290584739
Publisher:
HardPress Publishing
Publication date:
08/01/2012
Pages:
278
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

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Ill NORMANDY AND ENGLAND AFTER the coming of the Northmen the chief event in Norman history is the conquest of England, and just as relations with the north are the chief feature of the tenth century, so relations with England dominate the eleventh century, and the central point is the conquest of 1066. In this series of events the central figure is, of course, William the Conqueror, by descent duke of Normandy and by conquest king of England. Of William's antecedents we have no time to speak at length. Grandson of the fourth Norman duke, Richard the Good, William was the son of Duke Robert, who met his death in Asia Minor in 1035 while returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. To distinguish him from the later duke of the same name he is called Robert I or Robert the Magnificent, sometimes and quite incorrectly, Robert the Devil, by an unwarranted confusion with this hero, or rather villain, of romance and grand opera. A contemporary of the great English king Canute, Robert was a man of renown in the Europe of the early eleventh century, and if our sources of information permitted us to know the history of his briefreign, we should probably find that much that was distinctive of the Normandy of his son's day can be traced back to his time. More than once in history has a great father been eclipsed by a greater son. The fact should be added, which William's contemporaries never allowed him to forget, that he was an illegitimate son, His mother Arlette was the daughter of a tanner of Falaise, and while it is not clear that Duke Robert was ever married to any one else, his union with Arlette had no higher sanction than the Danish custom of his forefathers. Their son was generallyknown in his day as William the Bastard, and only the great achievements of his reign succeeded...

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