I snapped this paperback up when it was just £3, and it turned out to be (a modest amount of) money well spent. (At the time of writing, that sale, at Amazon UK, is still on).
My knowledge of the Conquest itself, and the situation preceding and immediately succeeding it, was basic at best, and I found this book to be excellent in all three regards.
The author paints a picture of pre-Conquest England that’s detailed enough to give a very good impression of the state of play (early on it’s almost a dual biography of Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror) without getting bogged down. This is invaluable as it portrays the heavy Scandinavian influence on England, which included a live threat of invasion before, during, and after the Conquest.
There is also a concise look at the formation of Normandy, from conquest by Vikings to Frankification [my own term, I should stress]. This includes not just a brief look at the culture and power structures of the realm (and how it stayed strong when much of the rest of what later became France splintered), but also the difficult and dangerous early life of William.
Naturally, most of the book revolves around the Conquest, specifically the reign of William the Conqueror. Whilst the events of 1066 are covered, I was glad that this didn’t form an excessive focus of the history because the basics are done to death, and the succeeding events, of which I previously knew little or nothing, were more interesting to discover.
The lack of Englishmen at the top of society afterwards was partly policy, and partly the fault of those who embarked upon repeated rebellions, forcing their removal (imprisonment being more common than execution). That said, the Harrying of the North, which may have led to three-quarters of those in Yorkshire dying, and general rapacity of the Normans in seizing land and forcing free men into servitude, paint the Conquest in a very dark light.
After the end of William’s reign there’s a quick summary of the events that followed, which I found very interesting.
There is one huge negative in this book, which is the vile, heretical, and unacceptable use of the Brownian tautology ‘pre-prepared’. Alright, this won’t do more than annoy most people, but for me it’s a pet hate. Honestly, Marc Morris. I expected better of you.
Leaving that abominable abuse of the English language aside, I was really pleased with this book. The writing style is easy to understand, the detail underpins explanations of why the author opts for specific interpretations of historical sources, and the scope of the book covers the preceding situation as well as the full reign of William the Conqueror.