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.
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.
©2012 Marc Morris (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Marc Morris' The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England (2012) is an absorbing book, demonstrating how the "new set of [Norman] attitudes and morals, which impinged on everything from warfare to politics to religion to law, . . . altered what it meant to be English." Morris begins with a concise overview of Anglo-Saxon history in England and of Norman history in Normandy up to the time of the conquest, introducing key cultural factors (including English ships, earls, and political murders, Norman castles, counts, and religious reforms, and chaotic succession conflicts in both lands) and figures (including AEthelred the Ill-Advised, King Canute, Emma, wife to both kings, Earl Godwine, Edward the Confessor, Robert Duke of Normandy, and his son William the Bastard). Morris sets up the context of William's conquest (including fraught matters like whether Edward had really named him his heir and whether Harold had really later confirmed it), then depicts the famous battle (including fraught matters like whether the Normans fled in route or in ruse, pulling the English out of their impregnable shield wall to chase them, and whether Harold was killed by a chance arrow to the eye or hacked apart by a death squad). He then covers the aftermath of the battle, when William struggled to solidify and legitimize his reign in the face of numerous rebellions and invasions, and the aftermath of the conquest, balancing the positive actions and effects of Norman rule (the end of the slave trade and political murder system and the dawn of a new age of architecture, etc.) with the negative ones (the removal of the "middle class," the Harrying of the North, and the consolidation of land in the hands of a small and powerful aristocracy, etc.). Finally, although the Anglo-Saxon tree of England fell, its deep roots never died, and the tree survived by becoming a hybrid with rising Anglo-Norman sap, as exemplified by modern English.
Throughout, Morris is open about the many insoluble questions caused by the limited, compromised, contradictory, and biased sources (one of which is "a horrendous Frankenstein's monster of a text, stitched together from bits and pieces of other chronicles, wrenched from their original texts"). Indeed, his book is nearly as much about the writing as the making of history, for he effectively works into it his historical sources, letting us know where the old quasi-historians were coming from when they wrote their chronicles. He does interesting things with the Bayeux Tapestry, more a long embroidered picture book than a tapestry, positing a likely candidate for its commission, marveling at its miraculous survival through the centuries, demonstrating the ambiguity of its images and words, and using it to supplement information from other sources. In short, he discloses the biases and limitations of each of his sources, sets them up against one another, and explains why one version is more likely than another, or how we may usefully combine two versions to get a composite "truth," and so on, as when he concludes a "debate" with the following sharp comment: "For once, William of Poitiers appears to have given us the unvarnished truth."
The book is never dull. Everywhere Morris conveys his enthusiasm for his material: "Against such nonsense we also have the magnificent testimony of the Bayeux Tapestry, almost certainly commissioned by Odo himself, which shows the bellicose bishop charging into battle on a black horse, rallying the Normans at the crucial moment. Whatever reservations others may have had about his behaviour, Odo clearly had no problems with the dual nature of his role."
Morris' chapters on the post-battle era of painful adjustment, as Normans steadily replaced Anglo-Saxons in nearly all positions of power, tried to reshape English culture in their own Norman image, replaced English with Latin as the language for official documents, and officially recognized their radical redistribution of land via the Domesday Book, are fascinating. And throughout Morris sprinkles "juicy bits," information that illuminates and stimulates, like the nickname William gave his eldest son Robert (with whom he literally came to blows in internecine battles for Normandy), translated into English as "Shorty-Pants." And like William's funeral, when his body was so fat and bloated that as it was being jammed into his stone sarcophagus, his bowels burst, and "No amount of frankincense and spices could hide the resultant stench, and the clergy therefore raced through the rest of the funeral rite before rushing back to their houses." Ah, indeed, as William's biographer Orderic Vitalis put it, "death deals with rich and poor alike."
About the reader, Frazer Douglas, I do sympathize with the reviewer who gave him two stars and said, "He has a pleasing enough voice but he reads the entire book in the same monotone sing-song." Douglas does tend to insert his own brief pauses so as to emphasize certain words, nearly making a rhythm that's not always in Morris' text: "Our [brief pause] first instinct might be to [brief pause] believe [brief pause] Poitiers." But once you get used to his manner, he's quite pleasing to listen to, and I really like his reading of quotations from Morris' old sources, because he enjoys imbuing the old historians with a dusty and biased enthusiasm, as when he reads this line from The Life of King Edward: "He lived in the squalor of the world like an angel."
Finally, Morris' material is of such great interest and is so tightly and spicily written that I bet that most people interested in the history of England and France would enjoy his book.
The Norman invasion is one of the pivotal moments in English history. However, beyond knowing the date 1066 and the "fact" that Harold died with a arrow to the eye, I did not know a whole lot about it. This book covers the event in pretty exhaustive detail. As another review has noted, the narrator does make listening to the book a little hard going. He has a strange rat-a-tat delivery and reads as if he is using an auto-cue. However, in mitigation, he has a very clear voice and delivery. I cannot speak for whether the material presented is controversial in any great way. The writer does lapse into the slightly irritating style of academic texts such as prefacing an obscure fact or complete conjecture with "Of course .." and using words like "ostensibly" and "arguably". Having said all that, I listened to the finish and felt somewhat more enlightened. I would recommend the book if you are interested in history in general and that period in particular. If not, I would not choose it as a starting point as its style is somewhere between an academic text and a popular history and it may not grab you.
Just the right amount of detail. Enough so you walk away with a thorough knowledge of what happened, when it happened, and why it happened.
Non fiction, so no characters, just real historical figures.
The sound of his voice just matches the material.
Yes, I couldn't put it down.
A great book for anyone interested in the history of Britrun from the time the Romans left to the time directly after the Norman conquest.
Morris has really done his research here and presents a thoughtful, thorough and supremely interesting account of England before, during and after the Conquest. So the book itself is fantastic.
The narrator, however, is flat-out godawful. He has a pleasing enough voice but he reads the entire book in the same monotone sing-song. A really second-rate, poor job. I had to get past the narrator to finish the otherwise wonderful book.
Dan Jones' "The Plantagenets".
No I would not listen to him again.
One man changed history...The Conqueror
I thought this was an excellent book. Many reviews comment on the narration. I had no problem with the narration. I thought that the narrator's style was a bit unusual but it was still enjoyable.
Read this: The Battle of Hastings – The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England, By Harriet Harvey Wood. Still in print @ $8.66, Amazon
Only if they were interested in the Norman Conquest or a serious Anglophile.
It was pretty good, but he did a little over acting when pretending to be someone other than the narrator.
No freaking way. Way too detailed to absorb all at once.
Great book with reasonable narration if you are into English history about the Norman Conquest. If not, it would be drab, dry and tedious.
Fantastic! But the narrator has a strange staccato rhythm that took me a while to get used to. At times he sounded robotic and monotonous; other times he sounded like he was near drowning and needed to punctuated after every couple of words. I found that extremely irritating. But once I got over the reading style, I quite enjoyed the book.
Shatner is not a good model for the narration of a history. I like the book itself, a compelling narrative history of the Conquest and the conditions leading to it, but the narration is almost unlistenable. Think of something approaching a parody of WIlliam Shatner as Kirk
The book jumps about a bit as opposed to a pure linear progression, which can be distracting. Especially when read by an American largely unfamiliar with the names, events, and places referenced. Overall, though, very well done and I would recommend it to others.
"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.
"Great book, but annoying mispronunciations"
The whole thing is great read, especially if you are interested in this era and the effects of conquest on medieval England. It's scholarly, thoughtful and shows a good grasp of sources.
The only really irritating bit was the frequent mispronunciations by the narrator, using neither modern names nor trying to guess how words were pronounced at the time, but rather getting both wrong all by himself. A bit more research would've helped, given that these particular audiobook producers don't seem to have any quality control on such things.
"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.
The story is well told and engaging.
Unfortunately, Frazer Douglas sounds like he is learning to read. His performance is a major distraction from this absorbing story. He breathes in all the wrong places and his intonation fluctuates arbitrarily. Of course, I don't have access to a printed copy of the book, so I cannot verify that the text actually contains punctuation but, if it does, Frazer ignores it. Any sentence of more than two clauses is a definite struggle, both for him and for the listener. I cannot dispel an image of him tracing the words with a finger as he reads.
Not if Mel Gibson was in it.
I only hope that I can find the strength to persevere.
"my kind of book"
in depth history and gems of information
afraid i am one of those readers who finds storyteller must fit in with book and vice verca his reading was exellent
Good content and structure, but despite the authors promise at the start it is very biased towards a Norman perspective.
In respects of the narrator he is very clear and easy to follow, but it is let down by pronounciation of Danish and old English names and words.
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