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18 September 2014
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The Normans: Monty's Proud Ancestors?

By Michael Wood
Monty was a Norman

Image of site of Hen Domen castle
The site of the original Hen Domen castle ©
It was evident we were not going to see eye to eye. Then, looking at him over the table as he spoke, I suddenly twigged. Monty was a Norman himself.

The Field Marshal's far-distant ancestor, Roger of Montgomery, had commanded one wing of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings, and his reward from the grateful Conqueror was a vast tract of the Welsh borderland which had once belonged to English 'thegns'. There Roger founded a Norman new town to be the centre of the shire which was to bear his own name - Montgomeryshire (now called Powys). To keep the people under his thumb he studded the place with castles, even though he probably spent more time on his estates in Normandy or safe on the south coast of Sussex.

'From that moment, as far as I was concerned, Monty would always be a Norman.'

Monty, of course, still bore his name and still carried his flag. And that explained his take on the Conquest. For though he was as English as I was, he saw himself as a Norman - and that's what counts when it comes to matters of identity. As for me, well, the Field Marshal may have been a national war hero, but for me World War Two was far away and long ago, much longer ago than 1066. From that moment, as far as I was concerned, Monty would always be a Norman.

Looking back on it now, I realise of course that I was as much prey to my own history myth as Mongomery was to his. It had been created not only by the historians I'd read (Frank Stenton among them), but by the children's books, the comics, the paintings in the Town Hall that I had been exposed to as a child - all filling my head with images and tales that had sunk in long before the facts and sources had become an object of any scholarly inquiry.

And Monty saw it all from the Norman side. So there we were in 1966, still bending or ignoring the historical facts to fit our personal myths. For both of us, I daresay, it was a matter of belief rather than knowledge. And, needless to say, that is not the way historians are supposed to think.

Published: 2004-11-09

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