Bartlett, Robert. England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225.

Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.

This first volume in the “New Oxford History of England” covers the period in British history of most interest to me — from the conquest to the end of the Norman-Angevin dynasty and the loss of Normandy to France. It also covers those monarchs I find most fascinating: William I, William II, Henry I, Matilda, Henry II, and John.

One would expect a work of this sort to be chronological but Bartlett, a professor of medieval history at the University of St. Andrews, has chosen to approach his subject topically. He identifies twelve broad subjects and spends 50-60 pages on each, with from three to eight or nine subdivisions in each section, which means it’s easy to pick up the book, read the whole of a section in a reasonable amount of time, and put it down again without having to pause in the middle of anything. Very nice for a 700-page book. The first sections are (not surprisingly) “Political Patterns” and “Lordship and Government,” which also give a good overview of the issues of the times. I found the section on “Aristocracy,” a special interest of mine, especially good. The others cover subjects like “Warfare,” “Towns and Trade,” “Religious Life,” and so on. Bartlett is a very fluent writer and a plain, straightforward stylist, even when things get complicated. And he makes frequent use of extended examples from the original sources, such as (in “The Cross-Channel Aristocracy”) the multigenerational struggle of the Laigle family, lords of Pevensey, to keep their superiors in both England and Normandy happy and off their backs. There are footnotes on every page, though there’s no separate bibliography, but you’ll have to be able to read Latin to pursue most of them. This is the sort of book I expect to be happily absorbing a little at a time for some months to come. But I do have one gripe and that’s the total inadequacy of the subject index. “Queens” with 35 undifferentiated locators? “Saints” with 40? Horses, of all things, with a string of 57 bare page numbers? Very bad practice, and completely useless to anyone trying to hunt something up. When a book is already 700 pages long, a subject index of fewer than eight pages, and with no sub-heads, is simply indefensible.

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