- The Continuity of the Conquest: Charlemagne and Anglo-Norman Imperialism by Wendy Marie Hoofnagle
Did Norman perceptions of kingship and empire deliberately follow the model set forth by Charlemagne, in both his historical and his literary or legendary forms? Wendy Marie Hoofnagle certainly thinks so and sets out to examine the hypothesis here. Norman attachment to the Charlemagne of the Chanson de Roland, as expressed in William of Malmesbury's famous description of the Conqueror's troops bursting forth in song before the Battle of Hastings, is the most obvious example of a cultural link between the two [End Page 213] eras. Other links, however, are harder to find and the impression is of an intellectually appealing conceptual framework not quite able to be rendered complete by the evidence available. Hoofnagle claims that the model of rulership presented by authors such as Dudo of Saint Quentin and Geoffroi Gaimar is 'similar to that developed during Charlemagne's reign' (p. 16). Perhaps so, but any mere resemblance between the Carolingian and Norman practice of rulership is insufficient to establish conclusively that the latter was deliberately modelled on the former in a self-reflective manner, which is the assumption underlying the entire project.
Chapter 1 pursues the intriguing notion of 'Conversion Politics'. Hoofnagle positions Norman engagement with the peoples of the British Isles as an expression of benevolent 'soft power' leading to a 'socio-cultural […] conversion' (p. 19), just as much as (or rather than) a series of military encounters. In this sense she relates Norman expansion to the Carolingian conversion of pagan Saxons as a form both of military and of cultural imperialism. Chapter 2 examines topographical and architectural examples. The view that Norman castle-building took its cue from Carolingian precedents is based on tenuous evidence, though William of Malmesbury claimed that Hereford Cathedral's design was modelled on its counterpart in Aachen (pp. 57 and 81). Some interesting literary echoes are apparent in Henry of Huntingdon's descriptions of Charlemagne and William the Conqueror (pp. 68 and 70). These are slim pickings on which to base a comparative study and it is harder to see how discussions of Britain's Roman roads or Geoffrey of Monmouth's revisionist history of the White Tower, innovative as they are on their own terms, can truly reinforce the central theme of imperial continuity.
The third chapter, 'Taming the Wild Beast: A New Look at the New Forest', encapsulates these contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Hoofnagle admits that '[t]racing the influence of Carolingian kingship on Norman ducal practices is not, unfortunately, a clear-cut exercise that reveals a definitive paper trail' (p. 91). The note of caution might stand as an epigraph for the whole volume. Sections on Norman forest law, on literary responses to the death of William Rufus and on forest imagery in the lais of Marie de France all contain fascinating and thoughtful insights. Yet while, in the case of Marie's lais, the section offers new readings of familiar texts, it is not entirely clear how these are intended to inform the volume's overarching theme. I am readily persuaded that Marie 'has reinforced the notion of the forest as a locus of kingly authority' (p. 111); but I am not sure what this tells us about the Normans' views of their reliance on Carolingian precedents. Hoofnagle's position, presented almost as an afterthought, is that Marie 'manipulat[ed] the image of the king as lawgiver and peacemaker that Charlemagne and subsequent kings capitalized on' (p. 111), but this is an argument which relies on an assumption that Marie was responding deliberately to Carolingian [End Page 214] models of kingship. Further, in order to sustain the book's central thesis about Norman (and Angevin) continuity and identity the section must also assume that Marie's complex literary creations can be equated directly to perceptions of political heritage at Henry II's court, though this is not spelled out. In short, what the chapter offers...