In this magisterial addition to the Yale English Monarchs series, David Bates combines biography and a multidisciplinary approach to examine the life of a major figure in British and European history.
Bates begins his book, as any biographer of William the Conqueror should, with the details of William’s lineage and family life. As the book progresses, each chapter explores a different phase in William’s life with abundant detail. Twenty-two black and white plates complement the story.
The author’s command of sources is impeccable. It is astounding the amount of citations he compiled and from where he plumbed them. Bates pulls from medieval accounts now tucked away in archives in the British Library and National Library of France, as well as more contemporary histories of England and Europe, archaeology, architecture, and really any subject you can think of. Comparing and contrasting conflicting sources, Bates discusses not only history, but the history of William’s history. This interdisciplinary, historiographic style adds to the already rich tapestry William’s life affords the biographer. We’re not reading a straight ahead biography, but diving into and dissecting how interpretations of our subject’s life have shifted, and why certain sources discuss his deeds and impact as they do.
Like all good historical works – and I mean this in the most endearing way possible – this book is dense. An aficionado of English History might want to read this book cover-to-cover, digesting as they go every detail and shifting interpretation. Alas, for the rest of us (including this amateur), this book is best cracked by picking a topic – English castles, Norman family life, Christian influence – and using the index to discover what the historian has to say about each. As you bounce around you might be pulled into a section completely off-topic, but one that strikes your fancy anyway. Who knows, after a spell you might find yourself having read the whole book!