04.06.18, Daniell, From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta

Main Article Content

Emma Hawkins

The Medieval Review baj9928.0406.018


Daniell, Christopher. From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta: England 1066-1215. London: Routledge, 2003. Pp. xiv, 258. ISBN: 0-415-22216-8.

Reviewed by:
Emma Hawkins
Lamar University

Supplemented by plates and maps (five each), a figure, a table, and a one-page appendix, From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta explores life as it evolved in England during the 150 years, give or take a few years, from the defeat of the Anglo-Saxon troops by Duke William's army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215. Instead of tracing developments related to a single broad category--religion, politics, art, etc.--through various time periods, this study offers detailed, updated, and comprehensive coverage of the major facets of Anglo-Norman life during one period, primarily the twelfth century. Divided into eight chapters, the core information is comprised of basic facts supported by consensus approval; however, Daniell updates with the results of more recent scholarship and adds meticulous detail. For example, on page seventeen, he mentions the fact that profitable estates remained under the control of the powerful noblemen, while the less profitable estates were, of necessity, rented out. As sources, he initially cites a 1959 work by Lennard, then follows up with a 1980 (Mortimer) and a 1990 (Mason) source. Likewise, on page twenty-three, Archbishop Lanfranc's removal of English saints from the calendar of Christchurch, Canterbury is explored initially by Bishop's 1918 work and then Klukas' 1983 examination. The determination of the date and place of composition of The Song of Roland is upheld by Mason in 1979 and by Owen in 1997. The function of a "familiaris" (counselor) is introduced in Jolliffe's 1963 examination of Angevin kingship and reaffirmed by Warren in 1983. The concept of the rotation of administrators in various Norman areas was posited in 1916 by Haskins and supported by Gillmor in 1984. The oldest of over 500 sources listed in the twenty-two-page Bibliography date to the 1868 records from the Priory at Merton compiled by A. Heales and the 1878 collection of letters of Herbert de Losinga (Goulburn and Symonds). While he does include a sprinkling of works from all the years following these early sources, Daniell relies most heavily on scholarship from the 1970s through the 1990s. The benefit of this 2003 survey derives from the author's having updated and expanded the pool of knowledge to reflect information gleaned from new studies, a few as current as 2000 and 2001, that focus on the literature and architectural evidence, as well as the more traditional historical and archaeological. The two-page Table of Contents and eighteen-page, double-column Index provide easy access to the subject matter.

Chapter One emphasizes the historical and military details surrounding the actual Norman Conquest, the same material that can be found in most histories of England that cover this particular time period. However, Daniell incorporates updated source material. Chapters Two through Eight consider the major areas of life and how the Normans and their system of government and customs provided the stimuli for change. Chapter Two focuses on the smaller units of "Peoples and families, 1066-1215," while Chapter Three broadens to include the relations between the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and other countries, such as Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Mediterranean area. Chapters Four through Eight emphasize court life, government and justice, religion, economy and society, and the arts.

Some of the issues that have attracted more research and received fuller coverage include the place of the Jews in English culture and economy during the twelfth century (156-61); the delayed participation in the Crusades by English noblemen (72-77); the life of the knight during the heyday of English knighthood (88-92); the power of women, especially through marriage, and the role of the peace weaver (92-100); the twelfth-century forgery/hoax surrounding the discovery at Glastonbury of Arthur's tomb (30); and, since the Domesday Book is notoriously unreliable, an attempt to derive a more accurate estimation of the population at this time (164-65). One of the five plates is a photo of the Jews House in London, an early example of a house divided into rooms other than the kitchen and the hall, rooms designated for regular and private service, such as bedrooms (184). Where various major, opposing opinions have developed, Daniell presents them all and even occasionally tries to mediate a resolution, as in the case of the number of ships required to transport William's army (4), the answer to why the fleet set sail from St. Valery instead of Dives (6), the disagreement over whether there was a "cross-Channel aristocracy" (54-55), the continuity between pre- and post-Conquest estates (18-19) or the meaning of feudalism in England (88-89). In addition to contradictory views, the author also incorporates minutia that can be as entertaining as educational. While it seldom is of earth-shattering significance, the trivia is interesting, new, and informative, and does increase the core of knowledge. For instance, stirrups were used by both the Norman and the Anglo-Saxon cavalry, but Normans used metal stirrups in order to gain sufficient height and leverage, so that, when standing up in the saddle, they could more effectively slash with a sword or thrust with a lance (9). A somewhat amusing tidbit notes that curiosity has been piqued regarding the scale of the Norman camp. Based on Bachrach's calculations, the number of horses required by the cavalry and supply wagons helped determine the amount of space needed to sustain warriors and animals. The area had to be large enough to accommodate 5,000,000 pounds of horse manure and 700,000 gallons of urine (4).

Teachers or students of British literature will be pleased to note that, besides devoting an entire chapter to the development of the arts (including architecture, literature, drama, and adornment with wood or metal decoration), Daniell occasionally uses literary sources to support historical facts. It comes as no surprise that the quasi-historical Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is considered to be a reputable source, or the histories composed in verse by men like Gaimar and Ralph fitzGilbert (85). However, non-historical works are also considered. The poem entitled "Adelae Comitissae" by Baudri of Bourgeuil contains possibly the earliest reference to the Bayeux Tapestry (12). In Chapter Two Wace's poem Roman de Brut verifies the mockery and insults endured by the defeated Anglo-Saxon noblemen (28). In Chapter Three Daniell claims that by the end of the sixteenth century the connection between the Magna Carta and King John had disappeared, and he founds this conclusion upon an argument from silence: Shakespeare's play King John does not deal with the Magna Carta at all (52). And, due to the Scottish attacks of 1138, English writers became more hostile to the Scots in their writings (61). Furthermore, a story in the Life of St. Wulfstan supports the argument that wives "were responsible for the homes and estates" when the husbands had to be away (94), and, although the development of the guilds is obscure, fortunately, the Life of Christina of Markyate does record the celebration of one feast sponsored by a guild (171). Personally, I enjoyed the tidbits of striking information the most, and it is the trivia that can be credited with adding a fresh flavor to an old subject. For example, there are two figures on the Bayeux Tapestry that supposedly represent King Harold. One depicts him with an arrow in the eye, but the stitches have been removed, thereby creating a mystery as to why (9-10). Other interesting details verify that during this time the Jews were considered to be the "legal possessions" and personal property of the king who not only taxed them but charged a fee to protect them (169); usually people did not celebrate their birthdays (96); wearing moustaches was an Anglo-Saxon fashion whereas long hair and pointed shoes were preferred by the Normans (84); although the military campaign ultimately failed, the victorious English humiliated the Irish kings by pulling their long beards (66); King John "dressed his horses in silk" decorated with lions in gold (84); in addition to cows, chickens, oxen, pigs, sheep, and horses, hawks were enumerated in the estate inventories of the Pipe Rolls (171); archaeological evidence of bones indicates the "first zoo in Western Europe" was located at Winchester (86); noblemen were frequently buried, wrapped in ox hides (100); the first windmill was built in England before 1137 (180); Halley's Comet is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry (161); during this time period ghost stories became "increasingly common" (161); and the cocks involved in cock fighting, when transferred to the sphere of art, could represent either "regeneration" or the "clergy themselves" (205). Readers may need to overcome a few distractions, such as the misspelling of "probably" (provably) on page 30, line 22; the typo that left "that" instead of "than" in the second sentence of the last paragraph on page 61; the use of "given" instead of "give" on the third line of page 117; and the repetition of the preposition "in" found at the beginning of the second sentence of the third paragraph on page 91. In addition, some of the references in the Index are not correct. Readers will look in vain for the name William FitzStephen on page 183, but it does appear on page 182. In addition, William FitzHerbert is not discussed on page 100 by either proper name or position as Archbishop of York, but he does show up on page 110. Perhaps the greatest annoyance is the inconsistency in recording the names that include fitz/Fitz ("son of") as a prefix to the surname, and there are numerous examples of such names. When dealing with proper names, some attention needs to be paid to the time period as well as traditional family spelling, but the variations do not always make sense. Sometimes "fitz" begins with a lower case "f," other times with a capital "F," as in fitz Richard (14) and Fitz John (60). Sometimes there is a space between the "fitz/Fitz" and the surname, sometimes not, as in Fitz Osbern (18) and FitzHerbert (43). However, there seems to be no accounting for the name FitzGerald recorded as one word beginning with a capital "F" on pages 33 and 117, spelled fitz Gerald with a lower case "f" at the beginning and a space separating the two elements on page 65, but listed in the Index as Fitz Gerald, with a capital "F" and a space. The same applies for the name FitzStephen (115), fitz Stephen (65) and Fitz Stephen in the Index. Finally, while non-British English speakers should readily recognize the spelling variations between British and American English, they may need to accustom themselves to seeing "amongst" instead of among and "whilst" instead of while.

Article Details

Author Biography

Emma Hawkins

Lamar University