Jan Crenshaw

title.none: Thomas, The Norman Conquest (Jan Crenshaw)

identifier.other: baj9928.0811.014 08.11.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jan Crenshaw, Houston, Texas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Thomas, Hugh M. The Norman Conquest: England after William the Conqueror. Critical Issues in History. Langham, MD: Rowman 8 Littlefield, 2007. Pp. xxii, 208. ISBN: $21.95 978-0-7425-3840-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.11.14

Thomas, Hugh M. The Norman Conquest: England after William the Conqueror. Critical Issues in History. Langham, MD: Rowman 8 Littlefield, 2007. Pp. xxii, 208. ISBN: $21.95 978-0-7425-3840-5.

Reviewed by:

Jan Crenshaw
Houston, Texas

This slender volume in the Critical Issues in History series reviews the events leading up to the Norman Conquest, particulars of the actual event, and the results thereof. Beyond the obvious contents one would expect of such a book, the author carries on an interesting historiographical discussion with the reader on traditional treatments of the subject, "great men" and military, versus newer approaches such as social history and, particularly, David Hackett Fisher's idea of "contingency" (xx).

In keeping with this approach, Thomas asks a series of questions as to the significance of the changes in England resulting from the invasion. He asks these questions as they pertain to landownership, government, war, law, economics, society, and culture, in this case being art, architecture, literature and language.

While doing so, the author also provides the reader with useful analyses of the primary resources for this period in terms of their absence or their limitations and prejudices. One example of this is a remark he makes about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was certainly influenced by the final disasters of the reign, but from the distance of centuries, it is not easy to tell the difference between a sloppy, partisan smear job and a thoughtful analysis based on hindsight by an observer who knew far more than we do. (11) With such statements as this Thomas questions the wisdom of modern historians' ignoring automatically the opinions expressed in medieval sources even as they must determine what is fiction or just mistaken such as the size of Harold's army which was stated to have been 1,200,000 in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Guy, Bishop of Amiens. Thomas also finds questionable any reliance on arguments from silence (49). Besides using traditional resources, the author also bases some of his conclusions on material evidence, numismatics and the Bayeux Tapestry, as well as advocating newer techniques such as the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Thomas also includes the debates among modern historians as to the nature of fiefs, honors (73), and feudalism in general (72-84) or the meaning of "waste" as it was used in Domesday Book (94-96) to name only two.

In his discussion of the consequences of the invasion, the author presents a commentary greatly enriched by his decision not to answer just "yes" or "no" to his question, "Did the Conquest Matter?" (55). He chose rather to examine the aspects of English life listed above as to the short-, medium-, or long-term effects. In some cases, he also suggests that the changes attributed to the invasion were evolutionary in nature (86) and would have happened anyway though perhaps in not quite the same form.

Thomas cautions against any idea that the invasion or its consequences were inevitable and also against subscribing to extravagant chains of causation. In keeping with the concept of contingency, he remarks on the motives and decisions of individuals and on times when mere chance determined an outcome.

At several points toward the end of the book, the author expands on his conclusions with the phrase, "Had Harold won..." Such ventures into speculation seem risky though none of Thomas's proposals come across as outlandish. Key terms in the text are in bold type, usually an attractive feature, though the criteria for doing so are occasionally not obvious as in the case where "Varangian Guards" is in bold type but not "Stamford Bridge."

Analyses of the military and governmental results of the invasion have long been topics of interest to historians. As a social historian, Thomas brings to the fore the less common consideration of the social and cultural ramifications. Particularly interesting were his comments on the impact on English literature and language.

The text is enhanced by the inclusion of four pertinent maps, three genealogical tables, and a timeline from King Alfred (871) to the succession of Henry II (1154). There is also a section of one- to three-sentence biographies of the individuals mentioned in the text, a glossary of terms and place names, and a bibliographical essay for further study.

For its clear-cut analyses alone this book is a valuable contribution to the literature. Beyond this, its conversational style using the first and second person makes for a rather comfy read for new graduates and for medievalists wanting to brush up on a time and location not in their specialty. For its historiographical comments especially, it would also make a kindly inclusion on comprehensive exam reading lists.