Too often, brief looks at the Conquest start at Stamford Bridge and end at Hastings. Well, this isn’t a brief look. Morris starts with nearly a century’s worth of Anglo-Saxon politics, including the fact that much of Anglo-Saxon “England” had been under Danish rule for a while. That entire period is easily worth a longer treatment on its own, but Morris gives all the essentials in a nice readable format that leads into the twenty years or so before the central date of 1066.

This section is very informative, and demonstrates how much the British Isles had become attached to Scandinavia instead of Western Europe. But more importantly, we get a very fleshed out cast of characters around Edward the Confessor. The English court was something of an unstable place, thanks to the various transfers of power from one external faction to another, and the power of various magnates (notably the Godwinesons). Very interesting is Morris’ look at the story of Edward naming William of Normandy as his heir. It’s not nearly as unlikely nor coerced as it seems at first glance. Also, he takes a look at how English kingship operated, and especially how and when a new king was acknowledged.

After Edward’s death, and the very confused year that follows, the book takes an extensive look at the approximately twenty years after 1066 as well. In many ways this isn’t as detailed or as coherent as the the first parts of the book, but the actors on the stage are a bit more fractured. This part is a story of repeated rebellions, and repeated voyages by William across the Channel in both directions. It’s also the story of how much of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy got replaced by a largely Norman one. Not all in one big transfer right after William is crowned King of England, but in a series of large grants and appropriations, and on a smaller scale by various Norman lords grabbing whatever they can get away with.

The book largely ends with the Domesday Book, or more properly the Survey which ended up by producing the two books (Great and Little). Morris has some interesting things to say here as well, and wraps things up with a bit on the eventual Anglicizing of the Norman conquerors. From start to finish, he does a great job presenting the history, all the various problems with the sources, and talks extensively about the major sources for any section. This is on the ‘popular history’ side of things, and is extremely readable, but it also has high-level discussion of just how we know what we know.