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REVIEWS $15 BRITAIN AND THE COMMONWEALTH Edward the Con[essor. FRANK BARLOW. Berkeleyand LosAngeles,University of CaliforniaPress, i97o.Pp.xxviii,375,maps, illus.$•o.95. One of the criticisms frequentlyleveledagainsthistoriansthesedaysis that theyare comingto knowmoreandmoreaboutlessand less.Professor Barlow's importantbiography of Edwardthe Confessor is a strikingrefutationof this criticism.Clearlyhistorians are comingto knowlessand lessaboutmoreand more. The onlypreviousscholarly biographyof Edward the Confessor is that incorporatedin E.A. Freeman'sHistory of the Norman Conquest.Here the biography occupies all of Volumen (some7oopages includingthe numerous appendices) aswell aspartsof Volumesx and m of Freeman's monumental work. Barlow'sbiography is substantially lessthan half aslong.Nor is the less and less by anymeans a matterof quantityonly.Wholeshelves full of sources whichserved asgristfor Freeman's mill disappear asProfessor Barlowconfines himselfto the hard contemporary facts.The essence of thiswork is its patient reconstruction of Edward from all too fragmentaryremains.The author is carefulto avoidprojectingtraitscharacteristic of the latter part of the reign backward to Edward'searly years.This careful scholarship often leads to unsatisfying conclusions, but Barlowfacesthesewith forthrightness. As he remarksin respectof the Confessor's appearance, 'Whether Edward in •o43 wasshortor tall, muscularor slight,dark or fair, imposing or insignificant, is unknownandunknowable' (p. 7•). Finally,Barlowhassucceeded in writinga biographyand historyof the reign that is not a prelude to the Norman Conquest. This,in itself,isnosmallaccomplishment. The overallview of Edward the Confessor may be saidto be favourablein the sensethat Edward is seenas an able and worldly-wisemonarch. He managedto survivefor nearlya quartercenturyaskingof a still dividedand notoriously difficultto rule kingdom. This abilitywasno meanqualityin the eleventhcentury.It is this generalestimateof Edward'sabilitiesand performancethat mostfundamentally disagrees with Freeman'sviews.Freeman's Edwardwasweak,utterlylackingall kinglyqualifies.One importantreason for thisdifference isBarlow's moresearching appraisal of thesources, in particularthe Vita EdwardiRegis.In the endBarlowis unableto offera totally convincing explanation of theorigins of the Vita. However,hisclearexposition of the biasit exhibits in fayourof the Houseof Godwingoes a longwayto explainat leastthe documentation of Freeman's anti-Edwardianism. Lastlyit should be notedthat substantial, informed,and delightfulasides on sex,love, marriage, andthecoronation ceremony helpto makethisbiography a genuine introduction to life in mid-eleventh-century England. T. SANDQUIST Universityof Toronto ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
p. 315
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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