1066: The Year of the Conquest


In this critique of 1066: The Year of the Conquest, I will identify Howarth’s purpose in writing this book and discuss how well he fulfilled his purpose. Also I will evaluate the merits and shortcomings of this book in relation to the themes, sources used, and the author’s writing style.

Author’s Theme

Howarth’s 1066 was a description of the “tremendous drama [in England] that began on January 6 with the burial of King Edward in Westminster Abbey, and ended on Christmas Day in the same place with the coronation of King William” (7). Howarth balances his book by offering insights into the lives and characters of all people in England, from the peasants to the ruling classes, before and after the conquest.

Author’s Purpose

Howarth states that was “not meant to be read as a work of scholarship, only as an evocation of the excitement, pleasures, and miseries of that year” (7). Howarth acknowledges the difficulty of ascertaining a strictly factual account of a time in which sources were scarce and/or biased. Because of this, Howarth necessarily had to make some assumptions and conclusions in his account of the conquest.

Author’s Writing Style

When reading Howarth’s book, it was very easy for one to forget that this is an historical account of the Norman Invasion. His writing is very descriptive and colorful. Howarth succeeded magnificently in keeping the reader engrossed in the book. The book reads so much like a historical novel, that one wonders how much is factual. Howarth admittedly added his own opinions and advanced his own conclusions to the account to fill in the gaps that there are no sources for. For example, Howarth believes the change in King Harold’s behavior between the Battle at Stamford Bridge and the Battle at Hastings is due to his learning that William had papal blessing. This conclusion may be correct, but Howarth offers no evidence to support it. He never mentions that someone specifically told King Harold of that fact, he only says that someone must have. Therefore, Howarth is not basing his conclusions on factual evidence, but on what he surmises must have happened. This may be necessary when very few sources exist, but, for me, it casts doubts on the validity of his assertions.

Howarth’s writing style is the popular style, not scholarly. The portrait he paints of medieval England is very vividly done. Through his words, an image springs to the mind of exactly how the country looked at this time. Besides the image of England, Howarth also is very successful in giving us insights into the characters of the men involved in the battle, from the villagers turned soldiers to the rulers they fought for. For example, it is very easy for the reader to see the disillusionment and indecision in Duke William’s face after hearing that King Edward was dead and that Harold had been crowned the new king.

I enjoyed very much the way Howarth included the customs of the people involved. I believe customs determine why people act as they do, and so it is important to consider that when reading history. For this reason, I find the first chapter that details the lives of the average Englishman and Englishwoman very informative and entertaining.

I also appreciate how Howarth included prior political and social events that influenced how people acted before, during, and after the Battle of Hastings. For example, William’s invasion would have seemed baffling if Howarth had not informed us about King Edward’s promise to him and the meeting between William and Harold in Normandy.

Author’s Sources

Howarth used mainly primary sources for this book. He states that of the twenty sources he used, “twelve were written within living memory of 1066, and all but two within a hundred years” of the Battle at Hastings ( 7). Howarth also varied his sources to present the different versions of what happened; the different versions belonged to the English, Normans, and Scandinavians.


Taken as a whole, I believe this was a good text on the Norman Conquest. Even though I find some of his conclusions suspect, the book is written in a manner to entertain, while also offering valuable information about the lives of medieval peoples during one of the most important dates in Western history.

Source by Mary Arnold

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