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

By Michael Wood
Image of Norman knights
Norman knights, as depicted on Bayeux Tapestry 

Field Marshal Montgomery's view of the Normans was coloured by his own ancestry - but others see England's conquerors in a much less rosy light. Michael Wood attempts to see both sides.

1066 revisited

Here's a personal take on the myth of the Saxons and the Normans. When I was at school in 1966, the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest was celebrated with much broohaha. On television, pundits tramped over the battlefields of Hastings and Stamford Bridge. Early in the year, The Sunday Times published an essay in its colour supplement by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the British war hero of El Alamein and D-Day.

Montgomery's position on Anglo-Saxon England was essentially that of Thomas Carlyle.

'Without the Normans, England would have been nothing: nothing more than a small island on the fringe of Europe, inhabited by tribes of Jutes and Angles wandering around in pot bellied equanimity.'

'In Monty's view it was a victory of ... forward-looking Europeans over backward-looking provincials ...'

In other words, the Anglo-Saxons were long-haired backwoodsmen whose achievements were as nothing till the Normans brought discipline, organisation and European civilisation. To 'Monty', a military man, the Battle of Hastings was proof of it.

Just think of Harold's absurd strategy and non-existent tactics - charging all that way from Yorkshire to Sussex only then to stand on a hill and be cut down, pointlessly resisting, while the Conqueror's New Model Army, with their regulation haircuts, wheeled on horseback in parade-ground precision and jabbed them to defeat.

In Monty's view, it was a victory of new technology over old, of forward-looking Europeans over backward-looking provincials who had probably stayed up all night quaffing flagons of ale.

Published: 2004-11-09

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