De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Richard P. Abels and Bernard S. Bachrach (eds.)

The Normans and Their Adversaries at War: Essays in Memory of C. Warren Holliste

Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001. Pp. 232; graphs and 1 map.

This collection of ten rather good articles presented by the students and colleagues of C. Warren Hollister was originally intended as a Festschrift, but Hollister's death in 1997 made it a memorial volume.

            Known to scholars in diverse fields and to legions of undergraduates as the author of textbooks on ancient, medieval and English history, Hollister was also a memorable teacher as well as an accomplished filker who mixed the two callings in his classroom presentation. Students probably never forgot the Avignon Papacy after hearing a round of "The Song of the Great Schism" (Popes in Rome and Avignon, E-I-E-I-O). A prolific writer, Hollister had three books and several articles published within five years of his dissertation. Two of these, Anglo-Saxon Military Institutions on the Eve of the Norman Conquest and The Military Organization of Norman England established him in the field of military history although his primary research interest was the reign of Henry I. Many of the essays presented in this volume continue, and sometimes modify, Hollister's research and conclusions.

            Reviewing a collected work is always a toss-up between the overview--which inevitably leaves something out--and the comprehensive list--which compresses sometimes complex discussions into a few sentences. Richard E. Barton's Preface successfully mixes both approaches, which this review will also attempt.

            In "From Alfred to Harold II: The Military Failure of the Late Anglo-Saxon State," Richard Abels considers the problem, also faced by Hollister, of why the Anglo-Saxon state was defeated by both Danes and Normans in the eleventh century, "despite possessing a highly sophisticated military system and effective army." Dismissing Hastings as a "close-run affair" that tells more about luck and generalship than military institutions, Abels concentrates on Æthelred the Unready who inherited not Alfred's effective and very expensive burgh system, but a less costly and decentralized system better suited to relative peace, a peace that had made England a very tempting target. Acknowledging recent work that rehabilitates Æthelred the Unready, Abels nonetheless concludes that, although he was neither a do-nothing king or a coward, Æthelred lacked an "overall coherent defensive strategy." His tragic or at least strategic flaw was a failure of leadership. Neils Lund's "Expedicio in Denmark" continues his study of Danish military institutions. The Danish leding (expedicio, army) is shown to have been a gathering of the forces of the Danish magnates rather than an army that was centrally organized on royal initiative, a point relevant to Abels' observations on the nature of the threat faced by Æthelred.

            The articles discussing the Conquest period are rounded out by Kelly DeVries' "Harold Godwinson in Wales: Military Legitimacy in Late Anglo-Saxon England" which discusses Harold's successful campaigns against the Welsh. The solid record of military effectiveness thus established by Harold was a major factor in his election as king in 1066.

            Bernard S. Bachrach's "William Rufus' Plan for the Invasion of Aquitaine" brings the generation post-Conquest onto the stage. Orderic Vitalis' account of the large fleet and army assembled by Rufus is supported by Bachrach's voluminous work on the Conquest and the early Angevins. Had Rufus not died in a most suspicious accident, he likely would have succeeded.

            Robert Helmerichs' "'Ad tutandos patriae fines': The Defense of Normandy, 1135," the only article in the collection to provide a map, focuses on the events just before and after the death of Henry I. This occurred just as Henry was on the brink of war with his daughter and presumed heir, Matilda, and also on poor terms with several of the barons in the lands between them. By reconsidering the timing of well-known events, Helmerichs concludes that at least a number of the Norman barons never intended to accept Matilda as their ruler, and had been negotiating with Henry's nephew, Theobald of Blois. Thus, while Matilda and Theobald were attempting to establish themselves in Normandy, Stephen, Theobald's younger brother, dashed to England to claim the crown, something that neither the claimants nor the Norman barons had apparently paid much attention to.

            John France's "The Normans and Crusading" brings the Normans of southern Italy into the picture. The connections between the two groups of Normans that figure so prominently in Bachrach's work have largely disappeared in the sources for the First Crusade, only a generation later. The followers of Bohemond and Robert Curthose had little interaction from Dorylaeum to Jerusalem and may not have considered themselves two groups of the Norman people. Indeed, the well-known Norman Anonymous never actually refers to himself as such. Those who prefer Morillo's views on the development/diffusion of military technology [p. 50, n 89] might find this of interest.

            In "Aimoin's Miracula Sancti Germani and the Viking Raids on St. Denis and St. Germain-des-Prés," C.M. Gillmor turns back to the days before the Northmen became Normans. She deploys her usual detailed analysis of geography and logistics, with special attention to the endurance limits of horses, to reaffirm the value of the monk's account of the raid of 858 when the Vikings attempted to capture for ransom the abbots of both monasteries. A picture emerges of the Vikings' use of secrecy, intelligence and deception.

            Two articles on castle guard, a subject also of interest to Hollister, show that despite the current interest in siege and fortifications the subject is far from over-studied. Michael Prestwich's "The Garrisoning of English Medieval Castles" tackles the practical problems of the size of castle garrisons and the sources of the troops. The economic burden of garrisoning castles recalls Abels' comments on the decline of Alfred's burgh system, and it is not surprising that any number of arrangements were tried. These included tenurial service, hiring mercenaries and awarding contracts, each of which had its own problems.

            The Welsh border remained a military hot spot long after the time of Harold II and so it is not surprising that staffing castles was of particular importance there. Frederick Suppe's "The Persistence of Castle Guard in the Welsh Marches and Wales: Suggestions for a Research Agenda and Methodology" first summarizes existing studies and then gives more detailed examples of means used to staff a number of border castles. What both of these articles make clear is the relative neglect of the garrison itself in favor of studies of architectural developments or constitutional models and the need to pay more attention to the human factors.

            Stephen Morillo's "Milites, Knights and Samurai: Military Terminology, Comparative History and the Problem of Translation" will come in very handy to those who have to explain why one of the words most commonly associated with medieval warfare, "knight," no longer fills the bill. That the words used to describe military personnel have different "vectors of meaning," i.e., the functional, operational and social, may actually make the problems of translating these words comprehensible to someone who never heard the Latin word miles and is thus unaware of the "problems resulting from equating miles with 'knight' too readily." Samurai, the most familiar to westerners of the words used to describe Japanese soldiers, gives another example of the vector confusion that complicates translation. This may turn out to be the most-copied article in the volume.

            All in all, this is a very good collection of articles representing the current state of the question on a number of points of Norman warfare. It can be assumed that anyone reading such a book would have a fair notion of the geography, or at least own a book with maps of France and England, but some of the articles require more detailed knowledge (or an extensive collection of the writer's previous articles), and maps would have made the reading less challenging. The same can be said for the articles that include detailed prosopography; visual aids would have made these sometimes complex relationships clearer. The collection is thankfully free of the numerous bloopers that have marred any number of scholarly books in the past few years. Obviously, someone proofread it, for which we can all be grateful.

Valerie Eads

School of Visual Arts