Wednesday, February 26, 2014

[Review] William the Conqueror by Peter Rex

Title: William the Conqueror: The Bastard of Normandy
Author: Peter Rex
Publisher: Amberley December 2012
Genre: Non-fiction, William the Conqueror, England, Norman French, King of England
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288, with 40 illustrations of which 20 are in color
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Amberley in exchange for a review. The review is of my own opinion.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BayeuxTapestryScene37.jpg
I've been anxious to read a book on William the Conqueror. I wanted to know about the Norman king who invaded England and changed the course of English history. What kind of personality did he have? What did he look like? Was he a historical person who is more legend than truth? What kind of upbringing did he have? What kind of legacy did he leave?
I felt Peter Rex's book did a splendid job in answering all of my questions.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Williams_dominions_1087.jpg
Summary:
William's parents were Duke Robert I and Herleva. Several stories are shared as to their "meeting". Romantic variations describing their relationship as a great love is a myth. Sometime after William's birth, which was possibly in 1028, Herleva was no longer Robert's mistress, and she married another man. William lived with his mother for the first few years of his life; but at the tender age of 2, or 3, he was taken to live with his father who was often absent. Peter Rex, mentions in the book, William's absence from his mother, and the early death of his father, probably caused William to be "psychologically damaged". William had a polar-type personality. He was known to be pious for the benefit of the Church, yet cruel and ruthless to his subjects. William married Matilda in 1051, or 1052. They had four sons and six daughters.
William the Conqueror, shares in brief his family dynamics; the main point of the book is when he began to take interest in England, his calculating plot, the invasion, and his tumultuous reign. 

My Thoughts:
In the opening paragraph, I posed several questions, and will explain in this section how the author answered them. 
1. What kind of personality did he have?
I'd stated that he was a person of a polar-type personality. He was pious, yet ruthless. He was loving and faithful to his family, yet cruel and demanding to his subjects. 
I'm a person who picks apart and dissects characters, I want to know what makes them tick. I agree with the author that William's "early life scarred him". 
2. What did he look like?
He was known to be tall and long armed. I can imagine with his appearance and his personality, he was intimidating. 
3. Was he a historical person of more legend than truth?
I believe, Peter Rex, has written a balanced view of William. He neither creates for the reader a hero, nor a monster. William, is a complicated person because of his polar personality. I don't understand a person who can divide themselves into compartments. What I mean is how could he be a pious and religious person, and on the other hand be cruel and destructive? Isn't this the same type of thinking a criminal has? To justify what they do without empathy for others? Please forgive me if I'm harping on his meanness.
Peter Rex, expounded on the opinions of whether William had been the true heir, or was he the usurper.
Historical information is given on William's blessing from the pope before the invasion, and of William Poitiers writings of the events of the invasion.
4. What kind of upbringing did he have?
I'd answered this in the summary. I feel empathy for his childhood, but as an adult he became responsible for his choices in life. 
5. What kind of legacy did he leave?
William left a divided England in regards to respect of their new foreign king, William conquered England, but he did not gain their admiration. The northern area of England rebelled against him, Wales rebelled against him. He was considered a religious and pious man and he lived a moral life, that is if you don't count his merciless killing and devastation of England. 




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