In amongst the frantic packing/moving activity this week, I've eased through Marc Morris' highly readable narrative history, The Norman Conquest (TNC.) Like the Persian invasion of Greece and the Punic Wars, the Norman invasion is something I don't get tired of reading about., just get more familiar with.
TNC follows a fairly chronological pattern, starting with chapters on the decades before 1066 in England and Normandy. The Conquest chapters themselves are fairly by the numbers, but do go to lengths to present the different crises and rebellion as serious as they were at the time. For instance, although the Danes invading turned out to be nothing but an irritant, at the time it was as serious as it got for William.
Hastings comes and goes, with more time spent discussing the choices made and the options available to the two sides, rather than discussing the actual fighting. The Bayeux Tapestry turns up and we get the familiar propaganda and updated in the 1700s discussions. Still, Morris drops in enough that was new to me to keep this section interesting (first known depiction of a plough, it survived because it was regularly used, it's actually an embroidery.)
Come the 1080s, we get to the Domesday book aka the other bit everyone knows about! As most of the other Conquest books have explained it to me, the Domesday was a massive tax collection exercise. Morris instead makes the convincing case that, although tax was a part of it's purpose, the Domesday book was a massive exercise in codifying feudalism. As it was new to me, this it an extremely engaging chapter (a few online searchs imply this is an accepted viewpoint, but, as I said, new to me!)
The book rather arbitrarily sticks to England and Normandy, referencing other places, but not dealing with the consequences of the Conquest for the rest of the British Isles. To be fair, the author acknowledges this as a choice he made, but I'd have preferred a bit more detail on William's sojourns to Wales and Scotland.
Although it's a very readable book, Morris doesn't skimp on the detail and, in particular, his sources. We frequently pause for a quick discussion of the merits of the various sources at hand, as well as discussing any author or time bias.
All in all, I can't really fault TNC for anything other than focusing solely on England and Normandy. The problem is, of course, that I now want to get a Norman army together.