Empires of the Normans
Conquerors of Europe
A brilliant global history of the Normans, who—beyond the conquest of England—spread their empire to eventually dominate Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
14th October 1066.
As Harold II, the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England, lay dying in Sussex, the Duke of Normandy was celebrating an unlikely victory. William "The Bastard" had emerged from interloper to successor of the Norman throne. He had survived the carnage of the Battle of Hastings and, two months later on Christmas day, he would be crowned king of England. No longer would Anglo-Saxons or Vikings rule England; this was now the age of the Normans.
A momentous event in European history, the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons had the most dramatic effect of any defeat in the high Middle Ages. In a few short months, the leader of northern France became the dominant ruler of Britain. Over the coming decades, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom would be rebuilt around a new landowning class. During the next century, as the Norman kings laid the foundations of modern Britain, their power would spread irresistibly across Europe. From Scandinavia down to Sicily, Malta, and Seville, the Normans built magnificent castles and churches. They cerated a new Europe in the image of their own nobility, recording their power with unprecedented vision, including the Domesday Book.
Empire of the Normans tells the extraordinary story of how the descendants of Viking marauders in northern France came to dominate European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern politics. It is a tale of ambitious adventures and fierce pirates, of fortunes made and fortunes lost. Across the generations, the Normans made their influence felt across Western Europe and the Mediterranean, from the British Isles to North Africa and even to the Holy Land, with a combination of military might, political savvy, deeply held religious beliefs, and a profound sense of their own destiny.
Medievalist Roach (Aethelred the Unready) examines in this expert if somewhat stilted account the profound impact of the Normans on European history. A Viking war band that settled in the northern reaches of the Seine River in 911, the Normans famously conquered England in 1066. Roach gives due consideration to those events, but also spotlights lesser-known aspects of Norman history, including their presence in southern Italy, Sicily, and North Africa; the role of Norman forces in Byzantine Asia Minor and the Crusades; and their influence on Welsh, Scottish, and Irish culture. Throughout, he highlights how the Normans retained their nomadic warrior heritage, exploiting opportunities created by regional disputes in Italy and serving as mercenaries for Byzantine general George Maniakes and others. Though the Normans quickly adopted the language and culture of those elites whom they conquered, they also managed to maintain their collective self-identity by passing down names and customs to later generations. Roach is a lucid explainer of dynastic history, but he mars the narrative with an overreliance on clich s ("But just as things were looking up, clouds gathered"). Still, this is a well-informed and comprehensive introduction to the Norman legacy.