The Bayeux Tapestry: A comprehensive Survey
William I and the Norman Conquest,
The Military Organization of Norman England
The Norman Conquest
The Conquest of England
The Making of the King 1066
So far as I know this is the first time that a centenary of the Norman Conquest has been celebrated. Although 1066 is the one date in English history that everybody knows, the events of that year and the personalities involved in them have never found a place in the popular memory. The spate of books which has greeted the centenary this year has been partly inspired by the desire to remedy this state of affairs and to bridge the gap between academic studies and the popular imagination. But they are not likely to achieve this result. With all their merits historians of the Conquest today have no message capable of penetrating the barrier between the universities and the outer world.
There have been three occasions in the past when the events of 1066 have seemed to convey an important intellectual message to a large public. The first occasion was in 1163. In this year, the solemn translation of the recently canonized Edward the Confessor to his new tomb in Westminster Abbey was a symbol of the newly achieved unity of the French and English peoples of Britain. It was seen by contemporaries as an act of healing after the bitterness of Conquest and as a demonstration of the continuity of English history. The translation took place on 13 October, on the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and it was the nearest thing to a centenary celebration at any time before this year. It was a great event, but it did not encourage a renewed interest in the Conquest. Quite the contrary. It effectively buried it.
Then in the seventeenth century the Conquest got a new lease of imaginative life as a result of a doctrine popularized by the Levellers. In the Leveller mythology the Conquest was the source of all the tyrannies which oppressed the English people. The partition of the lands of Englishmen among the Norman conquerors destroyed the free nation of England. It was a blow from which the people had never recovered. It is easy to smile at this simplification of history, and it was soon forgotten in Restoration England, but it is a landmark in the historiography of the Conquest. For the first time it made the Conquest an event worth remembering.
A HUNDRED YEARS AGO there was no celebration, but there was a man at work on the greatest, and certainly the biggest, book ever written on the Norman Conquest. This was E. A. Freeman. He was a man with a message. He gave the Conquest a world setting in the perennial struggle between the two great forces in European history—the Teutonic and the Gallic. The Battle of Hastings was for him a heroic fight in which the Teutonic freedom of England was temporarily overthrown till it was won back by the strength of the people. In modern secular terms this was the theme of those who had consummated the canonization of Edward the Confessor in 1163. It was…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.