The Norman Conquest of 1066 was one of the most important dates in English and world history. It signaled the start of the Norman influence in England with Duke William, also known as William the Conqueror, becoming King of England. But does William I deserve the reputation that is attributed to him in history, or should we be careful with how we view him because his story is told by the avaricious Church? How much help did William and the Normans receive from their English counterparts? Can we call this event a “conquest”? Who was to blame for the “Harrowing of the North”? These questions and more are discussed in Arthur C. Wright’s latest book, “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest”.
I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When it comes to studying the Norman Conquest, I am a bit of a novice, so I was excited to read another book about this time.
I found this book rather difficult to understand. Wright writes in a style where he is having a conversation to experts, while at the same time saying that every historian has it wrong and he knows exactly what happened. This rubbed me the wrong way. If he had proved his point, I might have found his argument compelling, but he just came off as an angry rambler in the first half of this book. I really wanted to understand what he was trying to say, but I did not see his evidence for English collusion. Instead, he spent a lot of time arguing that feudalism is a myth, which was quite bizarre.
I think the second part of his book was stronger than the first half. It explored the life, commerce, and education of the average citizen. I think if Wright had reorganized his chapters, this book might have been a bit easier to comprehend. Wright tends to focus on after the conquest, without specifying dates, but it is hard to see where the English collusion comes into play. Another problem that I did have is when he tried to insert more modern sayings, ideas, and characters into the conversation. It felt out of place and rather distracting.
I do believe that Wright is knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of the Norman Conquest and England in the years that followed. Unfortunately, his writing style makes it difficult to understand what message he is trying to get across with this particular book. It was readable, but the focus was a bit off and it was hard to figure out his target audience. If you are familiar with the Norman Conquest and would like a challenge, check out “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright. It was not my cup of tea, but that does not mean it is a bad book. Someone else might enjoy it.
One thought on “Book Review: “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright”
Several reviewers have remarked that Wright didn’t present evidence of collusion by the English.
I have yet to read the book, but I think one thing that may be missing is an analysis of the role of Count Alan Rufus, who was captain of William’s household knights.
Alan was the second son of Eudon of Brittany, a double-cousin of the Conqueror’s father Robert, Duke of Normandy. In 1064, William sent Alan as an emissary to Ponthieu to fetch Earl Harold from Count Guy and later to England with Harold. Alan was present at King Edward’s funeral on 6 January 1066 and stayed in England until after the appearance of Halley’s Comet on 24 April.
Of the English who still retained lordships by 1086, by far the greatest concentration did so as tenants or proteges of Count Alan.
Bretons had resided in England since at least King Alfred’s time. They later formed a persistent bridge between the natives of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and the Norman and Angevin invaders.
In King Edward’s time Ralph the Staller and Robert FitzWimarc immediately come to mind. Ralph was born in Norfolk and witnessed the documents of kings from Cnut to William. Robert was related to both Edward and William, and therefore to Alan as well.
Alan brought several brothers and a sister over to England after the Conquest; their lands were mainly in the North and East. Numerous other Bretons settled in the South and the Midlands. Alan’s brother Brian was the first Earl of Cornwall and also held land in East Anglia, until he left to join the Hautevilles in Italy and Greece.
Normandy’s economy was dominated by Breton merchants. Likewise, Bretons were prominent in the civil service in both England and France, and many of the early Mayors of London had Breton names.
English support was vital to the survival of William II in 1088 when the great Norman magnates rebelled. They formed the backbone of his army when he invaded Normandy in February 1091.
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