Marc Morris is an up-and-coming historian, with a biography of Edward I and an influential volume on castles already under his belt. Here he attempts an ambitious overview of the Norman conquest from its origins in the 1040s to the death of William the Conqueror in 1087. This is a very fine book in many ways, for Morris has mastered the huge amount of academic writing that has appeared on this subject since the turn of the century and regurgitated it in readable form. He is up to date on all the latest controversies in Anglo-Norman studies and he writes in a pleasingly direct and lucid style, with almost total avoidance of academic jargon. He is particularly strong on events after 1066, showing how William’s reign was one of almost continual rebellion and warfare.
Yet there are problems with this volume. Morris cannot conceal a strong pro-Norman bias, whereby semi-psychotic monsters such as William and his brother Odo are consistently given the benefit of the historical doubt. Morris’s account of the ‘Harrying of the North’ – William’s scorched earth policy of pacification in northern