The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

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Overview

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 ...

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The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Morris (A Great and Terrible King) brilliantly revisits the Norman Conquest, “the single most important event in English history,” by following the body-strewn fortunes of its key players: England’s King Edward the Confessor; his hated father-in-law and England’s premier earl, Godwine; Harold II, the prior’s son and England’s last Anglo-Saxon king; and Edward’s cousin William, the fearsome duke of Normandy, known by contemporaries as “the Bastard” and by posterity as “the Conqueror.” Miraculously surviving a Viking invasion, exile, the death of six older half-brothers (from battle, illness, and execution), and his mother’s perfidies, Edward—a descendant of Alfred the Great—took the English crown but was dominated by his father-in-law. Yet to Godwine’s chagrin, Edward chose William as his successor in return for his loyalty. Nevertheless, after Edward’s death, Harold snatched the crown, setting in motion William’s invasion and his own death at the supremely gory Battle of Hastings. In England, William and the Normans ended slavery, dispossessed the English ruling elite of their lands, ushered in an architectural revolution, zealously reformed the Church, and savagely starved the north into submission. Readable, authoritative, and remarkably nuanced, Morris’s history is sublime. 8 pages of color illus., two maps, and two family trees. Agent: Julian Alexander, LAW (U.K.). (June 15)
The Evening Standard
“Marc Morris’s lively new book retells the story of the Norman invasion with vigor and narrative urgency. A stirring account of 1066 with a firm grip on the thrust and style of a popular history.”
The TImes (London)
“A lively subject, depicted with dash and color, brought to bright life with telling detail. Morris gives a compelling account of the invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 and the violent struggle thereafter. Morris provides a much-needed, modern account of the Normans in England that respects past events more than present ideologies.”
The Daily Telegraph
“Uncommonly good. It’s compelling stuff.”
Library Journal
British historian Morris (A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain) strives to present an unbiased account of William of Normandy's 1066 invasion of England and his assumption of the English crown. He argues that the Norman Conquest was the most significant event in English history. To support his claim, he elaborates on the circumstances leading up to the conquest, including the state of both English and Norman societies and the impact the Normans had on England after William took the throne. He considers, for example, the lasting changes brought by the Normans to terms of inheritance, landholding, architecture (e.g., the building of the Tower of London), and religious attitudes. The great strength of Morris's account is his examination of early sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. He looks at these with a discerning eye, clearly evaluating biases, strengths, and weaknesses, all the while giving readers a cohesive narrative. Although Morris's analysis may border on overlong in some places, his book offers a fascinating look at the challenges of discerning truth from rumor and falsehood based on scant sources almost a thousand years old. VERDICT Highly recommended for both academic and casual readers seeking a full exploration of 1066 and all that.—Rebekah Kati, Walden Univ. Lib., Morrisville, NC
Kirkus Reviews
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.
The Times (London)

A lively subject, depicted with dash and color, brought to bright life with telling detail. Morris gives a compelling account of the invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 and the violent struggle thereafter. Morris provides a much-needed, modern account of the Normans in England that respects past events more than present ideologies.

Kansas City Star

Stunning in its action and drama, this book illuminates fully what turns out to have been a tangled and violent passage in history.

Providence Journal

It has been argued that the Norman conquest of England, initiated by William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hasting in 1066, was the single most important event in all of English history. Marc Morris’ meticulous and absorbing analysis of this seismic historical shift reaffirms that sweeping assertion. But where Morris’ book really excels is in its understanding of the conquest’s ramifications for the nation’s demographics, language, and ruling elite.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605984513
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 122,313
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Morris, PhD, is an historian and broadcaster specializing in the Middle Ages. His previous book, The Norman Conquest, was a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and lives in England.

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Read an Excerpt

The Norman Conquest

THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS AND THE FALL OF ANGLO-SAXON ENGLAND


By MARC MORRIS

Pegasus Books LLC

Copyright © 2012 Marc Morris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-9896-1



CHAPTER 1

The Man Who Would Be King


THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY begins with three men in conversation, two standing and one seated. The standing men are not identified, but the seated figure carries a sceptre and wears a crown, while above his head the caption reads 'Edward Rex'— King Edward. Today he is known, more conveniently, as Edward the Confessor. His memorable by name arose in 1161, almost a hundred years after his death, when he was recognized as a saint by the pope. The pope was satisfied that Edward had performed miracles while alive, and that miracles had continued to occur after his death.

From the record of events in his own day, Edward does not appear to have been particularly saintly. There are suggestions in contemporary sources that he may have been more pious than most, but otherwise he seems to have cut a typical, indeed unexceptional, figure. He lived a fairly long life by medieval standards, dying in his early sixties. On the Tapestry he is shown as an old man with a long white beard, and his death forms one of the most important scenes. The date of his death – 5 January 1066 – is enough to indicate that he is crucial to our story. But in order to understand that story properly, we need to travel back to his youth, and explore how he came to be king of England in the first place. It is a remarkable tale – the one aspect of his career that is indubitably miraculous.


England at the start of the eleventh century was a country both old and new. Old, because its roots stretched back into a distant past, when tribes of Germanic peoples, now collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, had begun migrating to the island of Britain in the fifth century. Fierce warriors, these newcomers eventually made themselves masters of southern and eastern Britain, defeating the native Celtic peoples, subjugating them and driving them into the upland regions to the north and west. In the areas where the Anglo-Saxons settled, new kingdoms had arisen, the names of which are still familiar as the counties and regions of today: Kent, Sussex and Essex; East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria. Pagan at first, the rulers of these kingdoms began to convert to Christianity from the end of the sixth century, and so in time did their peoples.

But in the ninth century, this galaxy of competing kingdoms was destroyed by new invaders – the Vikings. Despite attempts to rehabilitate them in recent times, the Vikings, with their lust for blood and glory and their gruesome human sacrifices, were not surprisingly regarded with horror by the settled Anglo-Saxons, who witnessed their monasteries being torched, their gold and silver treasures being looted, their precious illuminated manuscripts being destroyed, their young men and women being led away as slaves, and anyone else who stood in the way being mercilessly put to the sword. One by one the several kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons fell: first Northumbria, then East Anglia, and finally even Mercia, the mightiest kingdom of all, collapsed in the face of the Viking onslaught.

But the kingdom of Wessex endured. Led first by the celebrated King Alfred the Great, and afterwards by his sons and grandsons, the people of the most southerly Anglo-Saxon kingdom at first doggedly defended themselves, and then successfully fought back. And not just in Wessex. During the first half of the tenth century, the West Saxon kings became the conquerors, pushing their frontier northwards, driving the Vikings into retreat, and bringing the neighbouring peoples of Mercia and East Anglia under their dominion. In 954, the Viking capital of York finally fell, and the lands north of the Humber were also annexed by the heirs of Alfred.

In driving the Vikings out, the kings of Wessex had forged a powerful new state. As their armies had advanced, their conquests had been cemented by the foundation of fortified towns, known as burhs (boroughs), around which they had established new administrative districts, or shires. Where there had once been several, competing kingdoms there was now a single source of authority. Henceforth the various Anglo-Saxon peoples would swear an oath to one king, and live under one law; they would use a single silver coinage and worship a single Christian God.

But, having conquered, the kings of Wessex took care not to be seen as conquerors. Anxious not to alienate his new Anglian subjects, Alfred had urged them to forget their former differences, and emphasized the common Christian culture that united them against the pagan hordes they were fighting. Diplomatically he was not a rex saxonum in his charters but a rex angul-saxonum, and his people were collectively described as the angelcynn. In a further effort to promote unity, he also stressed their common history, commissioning a chronicle that would circulate around the kingdom's major monasteries. Remarkably, this Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (as it was later known) was written not in Latin, as was the practice in virtually every other literate corner of Europe, but in the everyday language that people spoke. By the end of the tenth century, this language had a name for the new state: it was 'the land of the Angles', Engla lond.

Such was the kingdom, at once ancient and modern, that Edward the Confessor would eventually inherit. Dynastically speaking, his credentials for doing so were impeccable, for he had been born into the royal family at some point between 1002 and 1005, a direct descendant of King Alfred (his great-great-great-grandfather). Statistically speaking, however, Edward's chances must have seemed vanishingly slim, for he was the product of a second marriage: six older half-brothers were already waiting in line ahead of him in the queue for the succession. And yet, at the time of Edward's arrival, it would have been rash to have placed a bet on any particular candidate, because the world was once again being turned upside down. A decade or so earlier, the Vikings had come back.

They came at first in small parties, as they had done in the past, testing the waters, raiding and then retreating with their loot. But in 991 a large Viking horde had landed at Maldon in Essex and defeated the overconfident English army that had set out to meet them, and from then on the Vikings had returned to burn, pillage and plunder on a more or less annual basis; by the time of Edward's birth, the violence had become almost a matter of routine. Under the year 1006, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that the Vikings 'did as they had been wont to do: they harried, burned and slew as they went'. The citizens of Winchester, Wessex's ancient capital, 'could watch an arrogant and confident host passing their gates on its way to the coast, bringing provisions and treasures from a distance of more than fifty miles inland'.

Why did the powerful kingdom of England, so good at expelling the Vikings in the tenth century, fail to repel them in the eleventh? In part it was because the Vikings who came in the second wave did so as part of bigger, better equipped and better organized armies: the giant circular fortresses they built around this time in their homelands at Trelleborg and elsewhere give some indication of their power. But Viking success was also caused by an abject failure of leadership in English society, beginning at the very top, with Edward's father, Æthelred.

Just as Edward has his famous cognomen 'the Confessor', so too his father will forever be remembered as Æthelred 'the Unready'. As it stands, 'unready' is a pretty fair description of Æthelred's level of preparedness for Viking attack and kingship in general. In actual fact, however, 'unready' is a modern misreading of his original nickname, which was the Old English word unraed, meaning 'illcounselled' or 'ill-advised'. (It was a pun on the king's Christian name, which meant 'noble counsel'.)

That Æthelred was ill-advised is not open to doubt: the king himself admitted as much in a charter of 993, in which he blamed the mistakes of his youth on the greed of men who had led him astray. From that point on he put more faith in peaceable churchmen, but they regarded the Viking attacks as divine punishment, and thus saw the solution as spiritual reform: more prayers, more gifts to the Church, and, in the meantime, large payments of tribute to persuade the invaders to go away. Naturally, this last policy only encouraged the Vikings to come back for more. At length – by the time his son Edward was a small boy – Æthelred embarked on a more confrontational policy. In 1008, says the Chronicle, 'the king gave orders that ships should be speedily built throughout the whole kingdom'. But this shift coincided with Æthelred placing his trust in his most discreditable counsellor of all, the contemptible Eadric 'the Grabber' (Streona), who had risen to power at court by having his rivals variously dispossessed, mutilated and murdered. The result was that the English aristocracy was riven by feud and rivalry, with disastrous consequences. When the newly constructed fleet, for instance, eventually put to sea, arguments broke out between the two factions; twenty ships deserted, then attacked and destroyed the others.

And so the Viking attacks continued. Large areas of the country were ravaged in both 1009 and 1010. In 1011, the invaders besieged Canterbury and carried off the archbishop; when he refused to be ransomed the following year they killed him, drunkenly pelting him with ox heads and bones. 'All these disasters befell us', says the Chronicle, 'through bad counsel [that word unraedas again], in that they were never offered tribute in time, nor fought against, but when they had done most to our injury, peace and truce were made with them; and for all this they journeyed anyway in war bands everywhere, and harried our wretched people, and plundered and killed them.'

The end came in 1013, when the Vikings came led by the king of Denmark himself. Swein Forkbeard, as he was known, had raided several times in the past, but this time his ambition was outright conquest. Landing in Lincolnshire, he quickly took the north of England, then the Midlands, and finally Wessex. Æthelred, holed up in London as his kingdom collapsed, had just enough presence of mind to get his two youngest sons, Edward and his brother Alfred, out of the country. A few weeks later, having spent what must have been a miserable Christmas on the Isle of Wight, the king himself followed them overseas. England had been conquered by the Vikings, and its ancient royal family were in exile – in Normandy.


On the face of it, Normandy might seem a strange place for anyone to go in order to escape the Vikings, because it had begun life as a Viking colony. At the start of the tenth century, having been dissuaded from attacking England by the kings of Wessex, a group of Norsemen had crossed to France and concentrated on ravaging the area around Rouen. Like the Vikings who had visited England a generation earlier, these invaders arrived intending to stay; they differed from their cousins in England in that they were successful. Try as they might, the kings, dukes and counts of France could not dislodge their new Scandinavian neighbours; by the end of the tenth century, the Viking rulers of Rouen controlled an area equivalent to the former French province of Neustria. But by then it had acquired a new name. It was now Normannia, 'the land of the Norseman'.

For Æthelred and his sons, however, it was not a case of 'out of the frying pan, into the fire', because in the century since their first arrival, the Norsemen of Normandy had been evolving rapidly. It was obvious from their names. Their first leader bore the suitably-Viking name of Rollo, or Hrolfr. His son and grandson, by contrast, had been given the French names William and Richard. They had also (as their new names imply) converted from paganism to Christianity. Gradually their followers did the same, shedding their Viking ways and adopting Continental ones. They learned to speak French, increasingly using it instead of their original Norse tongue, and their leaders began to style themselves with French titles: 'count' at first, and then, when they were feeling even grander, 'duke'. Eventually, they ceased fighting to expand Normandy's borders and entered into more settled relations with their neighbours. Counts William and Richard, for example, were both married to French princesses.

The extent to which Normandy had cast off its connections to the Viking north, a vexed question for modern historians, was also a matter of great moment to King Æthelred. When, at the start of his reign, the Vikings had returned to England after their long absence, they naturally looked upon Rouen as a friendly port of call. It was a handy place to put in for repairs during the winter, and plunder from England— gold, silver and slaves— could be conveniently unloaded there for profit rather than sailed all the way back to Scandinavia. Æthelred was understandably keen to dissuade the Normans from engaging in this trade; he tried both force (an unsuccessful attack on Normandy) and diplomacy (a treaty in 991), but neither had much long-term success in reducing the number of Viking fleets that put into Rouen laden with English loot. The king's diplomatic initiative did, however, have one result with far-reaching consequences. In the spring of 1002, Æthelred agreed to marry the sister of the new Norman duke, Richard II. Her name was Emma.

It is difficult, of course, to assess people's personalities, never mind their personal relationships, at a distance of 1,000 years, but it is probably fair to say that, despite the participation of papal legates, the marriage of Æthelred and Emma was not a match made in heaven. The couple, it is true, got on well enough to produce three children: Edward, the future Confessor, his brother Alfred, and their sister, Godgifu. But since Æthelred had six sons by a previous marriage, the production of more male heirs was hardly a top priority. The match with Emma was intended to stop Vikings seeking shelter in Normandy, and this it signally failed to do. Only when the Vikings decided to conquer England in 1013 did Æthelred belatedly reap some benefit from having taken a Continental bride, which was, of course, a convenient cross-Channel bolt-hole. Whether Emma had any part in suggesting or arranging his reception is unclear. Tellingly, perhaps, the Chronicle records that she made her own way to Normandy, travelling separately from both her children and her husband.


In the event, Æthelred's exile was remarkably short. Just a few weeks after his arrival in Normandy, his supplanter, King Swein, died suddenly, leaving the question of who would succeed him in suspense. The Viking army, camped in Lincolnshire, immediately declared in favour of Swein's teenage son, but the English magnates decided to give Æthelred a second chance, and sent messengers inviting him to come home— but on conditional terms. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, they declared (in a phrase that provides one of the most damning indictments of Æthelred's rule) that 'no lord was dearer to them than their rightful lord, if only he would govern his kingdom more justly than he had done in the past'.

Æthelred, being in no real position to negotiate, naturally accepted. If his subjects took him back, he promised, 'he would be a gracious lord to them, and would remedy each one of the things which they all abhorred, and everything should be forgiven'. As a mark of his sincerity, the messengers who conveyed the king's acceptance back to England were accompanied by his son, the youthful Edward the Confessor. 'A complete and friendly agreement was reached and ratified with word and pledge on every side', said the Chronicle, adding that shortly afterwards Æthelred himself crossed the Channel and was joyfully received by his subjects. In this new-found mood of national unity, the king achieved the one notable military success of his career, leading an army into Lincolnshire and driving the Danes out.

Once they were gone, however, the mood of English co-operation quickly evaporated; very soon Æthelred was back to his old ways. The year after his return saw a fresh round of killings at court, orchestrated, as before, by his henchman, Eadric the Grabber. But the king's attempt to neutralize his enemies served only to increase divisions: his eldest son by his first marriage, Edmund, now emergedas the champion of a party of opposition. By September 1015, England was once again in total disarray; Æthelred was ill, and his heir apparent was in rebellion. It was at this moment that the Vikings returned, led by their new king, Cnut.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Norman Conquest by MARC MORRIS. Copyright © 2012 Marc Morris. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgements,
England Map,
Normandy Map,
England Family Tree,
Europe Family Tree,
A Note on Names,
Illustrations,
Introduction,
1 The Man Who Would Be King,
2 A Wave of Danes,
3 The Bastard,
4 Best Laid Plans,
5 Holy Warriors,
6 The Godwinesons,
7 Hostages to Fortune,
8 Northern Uproar,
9 The Gathering Storm,
10 The Thunderbolt,
11 Invasion,
12 The Spoils of Victory,
13 Insurrection,
14 Aftershocks,
15 Aliens and Natives,
16 Ravening Wolves,
17 The Edges of Empire,
18 Domesday,
19 Death and Judgement,
20 The Green Tree,
Abbreviations,
Notes,
Bibliography,
Index,

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 26, 2014

    Interesting and informative but hard for an elderly reader to fo

    Interesting and informative but hard for an elderly reader to follow without constantly referring back to earlier pages.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2014

    Well researched, documented and written.

    Detailed and highly readable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Loved this Book!

    Very historical and highly detailed, great for history buffs. Exciting and hard to put down.

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  • Posted March 21, 2014

    Interesting

    Well-written, well-documented, some points to argue about. Very entertaining. Worth the money and time to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2014

    Great book!

    Excellent, most readable, thorough, instructive and entertaining.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Worth reading

    Enjoyable informative read

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