The Norman Conquest: Triumph or Catastrophe?

The Norman Conquest: Triumph or Catastrophe?
with Professor Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 25th February, 2017.

Depending upon our point of view, the Norman Conquest can be interpreted either as a triumph of order or as a disaster leading to the destruction of one of the most advanced civilisations in medieval Europe.  Historians have been arguing either side of this case for the past 950 years.  We shall examine both the realities of the Norman Conquest and the arguments to which they have given rise.  What really changed in 1066? How was it that Anglo-Saxon civilisation collapsed so speedily and comprehensively?  What inclines some historians to support the invaders, others to defend their victims?

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                An overview of the Norman Conquest of 1066, looking above all at the reasons why the Normans conquered and the Anglo-Saxons were defeated.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                Continuity and Change, looking especially at Domesday Book.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 ‘The Bayeux Tapestry’: Truth and Fiction.

14.50 – 15.10:                Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:                A consideration of the ways in which the experience of 1066 can be mapped against more recent exercises both in empire building and in cultural assimilation.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

About Professor Nicholas Vincent

Nicholas Vincent is Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the British Academy.  He is the author of a dozen books and more than 100 academic articles.  In 2015, he played a leading role in the 800th anniversary celebrations for Magna Carta.  Amongst various books, his Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford) and A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485 (Constable) are both targeted at a general as a well as student audience.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

The primary sources (those written at the time, as opposed to those written by historians over the past couple of centuries) are the first port of all for all serious students of the Middle Ages.

For 1066, there are numerous excerpts from chronicles and administrative sources in English Historical Documents 1042-1189, edited by David C. Douglas, and especially in R. Allen Brown, The Norman Conquest of England: Sources and Documents, 2nd ed. (Woodbridge 1995).

Various of the chronicles are available complete, in English translations in the series Oxford Medieval Texts, including the chronicles of William of Jumièges, William of Poitiers, and the Life of King Edward.

Amidst the vast literature on the Bayeux Tapestry, Wolfgang Grape, The Bayeux Tapestry (Munich 1994), and the more traditional David M. Wilson, The Bayeux Tapestry (London 1985) are both highly recommended.

For the battle, Stephen Morillo, The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge 1996).

Domesday is available in various editions, including the county by county volumes published by Phillimore, and more recently the Penguin single-volume edition by Ann Williams.

Amongst the more approachable general studies, I would especially recommend Brian Golding, Conquest and Colonisation: The Normans in Britain, 1066-1100 (Basingstoke 1994); (for Norman identity), R.H.C. Davis, The Normans and their Myth (London 1976); (for the English after 1066) Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge 1995); and, for more recent points of controversy amongst the Victorian historians and their successors, Marjorie Chibnall, The Debate on the Norman Conquest (Manchester 1999), and, particularly useful not just for the eleventh but the twelfth century, Claire Simmons, Reversing the Conquest: History and Myth in Nineteenth-Century British Literature (New Brunswick 1990).

As this reading list circulates, David Bates’s new biography of William the Conqueror is hot off the press in the Yale Monarchs of England series.