Thursday, April 7, 2022

Judith A. Green's "The Normans"

Judith A. Green is professor emeritus of history at the University of Edinburgh. Her many distinguished works include Henry I and The Aristocracy of Norman England.

Green applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Normans: Power, Conquest and Culture in 11th Century Europe, and reported the following:
Page 99 gives a very good idea of two of the main themes of the book, power and conquest. Its subject is a man named Robert of Rhuddlan, who came from Normandy to England as a lad. He spent fifteen years fighting in North Wales, carving out a territory for himself at the expense of the Welsh whom he killed, imprisoned or enslaved. He finally met his end by attacking the Welsh king whose ships were stranded on the beach near the Great Orme, even though his men were hopelessly outnumbered. He was a warrior who came to death, we are told, through pride and greed. His story is reflected in those of other Norman leaders, such as William the Conqueror, Robert Guiscard and his brothers who conquered southern Italy and Sicily, and Bohemond and Tancred, commanders on the First Crusade.

What is the reality which lay behind their conquests, and the myth that they were terrific warriors, the ‘stormin’ Normans’? The first part of this book explores various possible explanations, arguing that a great deal of their success was due to timing, luck, and opportunism rather than any qualities unique to Normans. The second considers the effects of their conquests in terms of state building and lordship, power experienced at its most direct, and then looks at the wider context. ‘Cultural encounters’ deals with the impact of newcomers on natives in different parts of Europe and the near East, and ranges from dress and diet to music and medicine. The issue of identity comes up when looking at Norman emigration, and the extent to which they continued to identify with a Norman ‘homeland’. Then the visible legacy of their presence in terms of castles and cathedrals is highlighted. If England was to be studded with far more castles than before 1066, the Normans’ arrival made much less change in southern Italy, for instance, where there were already Byzantine towers. Almost all major churches in England after 1066 were destroyed and rebuilt on a huge scale but in a form that did not simply replicate those in Normandy. In other words, the Normans were catalysts of change, but the old certainties of the nature and extent of change have been swept aside in recent years.
Learn more about The Normans at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue