Arthur C Wright, English Collusion and the Norman Conquest (Frontline Books, 2020)
Review by Dom Sore
The Norman Invasion of England was one of the most successful invasions of all time. Conquering a country in one battle has to be some kind of record, and surely done by extraordinary people? In this book, Arthur C Wright attempts to pierce the Norman superhuman myth and discusses how the English helped conquer themselves. At only 212 pages it is a short read, but pleasantly split into short chapters with maps frequently used.
One thing the author does really well is not re-hash the build up to the Norman invasion or whether William was justified. The premise of the book is not to examine the rights or wrongs but how it was so successful. The author does argue well that William could have been simply looking to make some money from his invasion in a similar vein to the Vikings raids that still happened. There are also some excellent descriptions of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Hastings and William’s consolidation of his throne.
When the author is relating historical facts, the writing is clear, concise, and informative. Unfortunately, those sections are too few. The first chapter, for example, purports to be ‘Eliminating Fantasy’ but only announces it has done so without actually showing that. There is also an odd affectation in the text of the author underlining words for emphasis, which is somewhat jarring to the eye and disrupts the read. As a book for adults, I do not think we need to be informed what to emphasise; it is akin to the canned laughter in a terrible sitcom. That undermines Wright’s authority rather than enhances it, which is especially problematic for a controversial theory like this one.
Does this book set out to do what its author sets out to do? Not really: any evidence of collusion is masked by the author patting himself on the back for having discovered something that everyone else has missed. I do not think any serious student of the period has ever thought there was no collusion, or that the Normans were supermen, or even that the England as we know it existed. There was a missed chance here to discuss the actions of the Anglo-Saxon population in the aftermath of the Norman invasion. The research has been done and more discussion of that, as this book was meant to be, would result in a deeper understanding of the Norman conquest, but English Collusion and the Norman Conquest doesn’t reach that level.