- Conquest and Colonisation: The Normans in Britain, 1066–1100
Brian Golding’s Conquest and Colonisation: The Normans in Britain, 1066–1100 is a meticulous treatment of the Norman Conquest, its after-effects, and its prelude. Golding demonstrates a masterful command of his sources, as well as of the secondary source literature, by weaving both into his narrative and analysis. Golding’s main contribution to the historiography on the Conquest is a re-consideration of the colonial and imperial implications of Norman control of England.
Golding begins with a close examination of his sources. He goes on to give a brief explanation of the events leading up to the Conquest, navigating the murky waters of sources written by the Norman victors, those composed significantly after the events, and those written by English authors under Norman control. He follows this with a slightly more detailed narrative of the Conquest itself, which Golding extends to 1100, discounting somewhat the primacy given by his colleagues to the years 1065–1066 and emphasizing his argument that the Conquest was not accomplished with the Battle of Hastings.
With Chapter Four, Golding begins the analysis closest to his heart—a consideration of the mechanisms and success of Norman attempts to “colonise” England. He is innovative in demonstrating that Norman settlement across the channel had started long before 1066, particularly accelerated in the reign of Edward the Confessor. He focuses these chapters on Norman, Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Norman government, military, and religion. Golding is careful to examine Wales, Scotland, and, to some extent, Ireland as imperial projects for Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England alike. For Golding, this story is much less about the glorious military victory of “William the Conqueror”; rather this is a tale of how Anglo and Norman cultures mixed before, during, and after the reign of “William I”. He admits that the Conquest did result in a change of control at the top of society-though he suggests that the English aristocracy was not entirely eliminated, as some have argued.
Throughout his work, Golding reads his sources critically and closely to problematize the conclusions of his colleagues. His reconciliation of the inconsistencies in his sources demonstrates a careful analysis, but also results in conclusions that are, at times, too cautious. Golding’s section on the town is far too brief, but his conclusions that the towns also saw “traumatic” changes is suggestive. He uses this material to dismiss W.L. Warren’s argument that the “old structures of government were collapsing under the weight of Normal incompetence and that the ad hoc solutions of the Anglo-Norman kings had no future” by demonstrating that the Normans maintained the “well-ordered, wealthy, and sophisticated government” of the Anglo-Saxon kings, particularly at the local levels where little administrative changes were made. (114) In fact, Golding argues that the Anglo-Norman government operated much the same as the Anglo-Saxon one, though the former had a more vigorous and exploitative approach.
In his chapter “A Colonial Church?”, Golding truly begins to treat the Conquest as a colonial project. Ultimately, Golding argues that understanding Norman settlement in England as a colonial and imperial project is too problematic. The Normans and the Saxons shared far too many customs, military structures, religious practices, and political institutions for the Normans to set themselves apart as a superior “race” or people, particularly after the reign of William II. Golding’s examination of the impact of the Conquest and new notions of “empire” on Normandy itself, although brief, is path-breaking. Anglo-Norman control, however, did result in an increased attack and colonization of Wales and Scotland. These were colonial projects of Anglo-Saxon England, but the Norman influence made these attacks far more successful, particularly in Wales, and this was effected through the church and a notion of racial superiority.
With such a thorough examination of the Conquest, Golding’s monograph is an ideal survey for an undergraduate audience, and the first edition had made its way onto several course syllabi. However, since his description of these...