Reviews and Short Notices
Normandy and its Neighbours 900–1250: Essays for David Bates. Edited by David Crouch and Kathleen Thompson . Brepols. 2011. xxiv + 310pp. €80.00.
Article first published online: 20 MAR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature © 2013 The Historical Association
Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature
Volume 96, Issue 1, pages 36–38, December 2012
How to Cite
Loud, G. A. (2012), Normandy and its Neighbours 900–1250: Essays for David Bates. Edited by David Crouch and Kathleen Thompson . Brepols. 2011. xxiv + 310pp. €80.00. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature, 96: 36–38. doi: 10.1111/1467-8314.12006
- Issue published online: 20 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 20 MAR 2013
As the author of what is still the best history of pre-1066 Normandy, the biographer of William the Conqueror and the editor of his acta, as well as the director of the Battle Norman Conference, David Bates looms over Anglo-Norman studies like a latter-day King William, almost as monarch of all he surveys – although he entirely lacks the brutality that scarred that king's rule. This excellent Festschrift, edited by two of his former doctoral students, is an appropriate tribute to a distinguished career, and like the work of the scholar whom it honours, this collection takes an overtly cross-Channel perspective, starting from the duchy of Normandy and only later turning to Anglo-Norman England. The fourteen essays included in this volume are divided into three, unequal, sections: six on the duchy of Normandy, three on the writing of history in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and five on social and legal history, but the focus throughout on the cross-Channel Anglo-Norman world gives the collection a focus and coherence often lacking in Festschriften.
There are several fine essays published here. Janet Nelson casts a bracing and critical eye on scholarship on the early history of Normandy since the publication of Bates's pioneering study in 1982, which she argues largely supports his picture of continuity from earlier Carolingian Neustria. Her caution with regard to the inferences drawn by archaeologists from surprisingly scanty evidence is well-merited. Judith Green and Kathleen Thompson continue their work on the aristocracy of the duchy, with particular references to women: Green on the duchesses and Thompson elucidating the tangled marital career of William the Conqueror's sister Adelaide. Both of these essays have considerably wider and more important implications than this brief summary might suggest. Lindy Grant continues this theme by looking at Blanche of Castile and Normandy in the years after 1226, as the French government continued to consolidate its hold over the province conquered from King John by Blanche's father-in-law King Philip. David Crouch, meanwhile, contributes a new edition of an Arthurian poem by Andrew of Coutances, which suggests that there was little love lost between Normans and Frenchmen in the late twelfth century. North of the Channel, Pauline Stafford contributes an important, if highly technical study of the Worcester/York ‘D’ version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle in the eleventh century; John Hudson re-examines the legal implications of the execution of Earl Waltheof in 1076, concluding that this was not, as often thought, an instance of the Normans allowing Anglo-Saxon law to take its course, but a political decision that was actually unusual and exceptional; while Nicholas Vincent takes a legal case concerning a Buckinghamshire manor in the 1230s as a tool for examining how the past, and specifically the Norman Conquest, was viewed by later generations. Vincent combines a characteristically witty introduction with a wealth of genealogical and diplomatic learning to rival, or even surpass, the doyen of such studies, the legendary John Horace Round, about whose failings, both of scholarship and of charity, he is justly critical.
Interesting as all these essays are, one might however suggest that there are three quite outstanding contributions to this volume. Matthew Strickland contributes a wide-ranging study of the battle of Brémule, which places the (largely bloodless) encounter into its wider political context, and suggests quite how fragile Henry I's rule over Normandy still was in 1119; it was the critical political situation within the duchy, and the doubtful loyalty or open hostility of many Norman lords, which forced the king to risk an open battle with the king of France. This is an exemplary piece of both military and political history, as well of nuanced source criticism. Secondly, John Gillingham examines the evidence for meetings, usually on the Norman frontier, between the kings of France and England between 1066 and the thirteenth century – rare in the period up to 1154, much more frequent thereafter, and also including visits by Henry II and John to Paris. Based on extraordinarily thorough research, this is a major contribution to the study of medieval diplomacy, as well as to understanding the process by which the Angevin empire was defended and eventually undermined. Again characteristically, King John comes off badly in the author's estimation. Not only did he lack (so Gillingham has argued elsewhere) the military and governmental skills of his father and brother, but also, seemingly, their self-confident gift of the gab when dealing with fellow monarchs. The third stellar contribution here is by Elisabeth van Houts. She critiques the widespread assumption that the Conquest of 1066 was followed by large-scale intermarriage between Normans and English. After a scrupulous re-examination of the evidence, both for the post-Conquest period and for Danish–English intermarriage under King Cnut, she concludes that the phenomenon was relatively rare, most marriages were endogamous, and insofar as there was intermarriage it tended to occur a generation or more after 1066, not in the immediate wake of the Conquest. Both her conclusions and her appendix, listing all known eleventh-century cases of mixed marriage, will be much studied.
All in all, therefore, this is a worthy tribute to a distinguished scholar. The only (slightly) disappointing feature, given the French connections of the honorand, and his insistence throughout his career on the need to take French sources and scholarship into account, is that neither of the two essays written in French contributes much of significance; indeed that by Veronique Gazeau is little more than an extended footnote. But this hardly detracts from the overall value of the volume, the quality of which suggests that Anglo-Norman studies are currently in rude good health.