A Brief History of the Normans:
The Conquests that Changed the Face of Europe

François Neveux

translated from the French by Howard Curtis
Robinson 2006
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011 http://dannyreviews.com/
This is a genuinely brief history, coming in at just under two hundred pages of text, but it is backed by fifty pages of notes and a detailed twenty page chronology as well as an index. Neveux is a specialist on Norman history and, while his account ("in collaboration with Claire Ruelle") is accessible and wears its erudition lightly, it conveys conviction.

There is a brief account of Scandinavia and the Vikings in general, and of their raids in the West, before Neveux turns to Rollo, the formation of the Norman state, and its early development. Robert the Magnificent and William the Conqueror get a chapter each. Then there's something of a digression covering the Hauteville brothers and the Norman conquests in southern Italy and Sicily, before a less detailed treatment of Norman "greatness and decline". An epilogue sums up their long-term importance:

"One of the principal merits of the Normans is that they made the most of their military adventures, establishing strong, well-administered states. ... they proved to be builders, carving out structures which have stood the test of time."

Neveux is mostly very readable, but he does go into some detail about land and property transactions, following the records. He only touches on sources and historiography, mostly providing his own reconstructions of events without details of any debates — notably in presenting just the "Bayeux Tapestry" version of Harold's oath to William.

Perhaps reflecting the original French audience, there are maps of military movements in 1066 and at the Battle of Hastings, but there's no detailed map of Normandy, which would have been much more useful for most English readers. A family tree of the dukes of Normandy would also have been handy. There is, however, a brief bibliography, presumably added for this translation, that lists a few key sources and references in English.

September 2011

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%T A Brief History of the Normans
%S The Conquests that Changed the Face of Europe
%A Neveux, François
%M French
%F Curtis, Howard
%I Robinson
%D 2006
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9781845295233
%P 280pp