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Kings and Lords in Conquest England.

The eleventh century was pivotal in the development of virtually all societies in the British Isles. In England, the successive Danish and Norman conquests transformed and revitalized an English monarchy that would soon begin to cast its eyes aggressively to other parts of the British Isles, while Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were undergoing important political transformations of their own.

The two books under review here deal with two of the four major regions - England and Wales - during this critical period. Fleming's book seeks to improve upon explanations for the collapse of Anglo-Saxon kingship and the establishment of a much stronger, more resilient Norman monarchy. In both cases, Fleming argues, the result hinged upon the relationship that developed between the king and his greater subjects. At first glance, this hardly seems exciting, but Fleming's handling of the subject is inventive and, through yet another excursion into that statistical work-horse, Domesday Book, she comes to some surprising conclusions. First of all, she outlines how the carefully nurtured relationship between king and nobles that had been established by Alfred and his successors was broken down during the struggles between Aethelred II and the Danish forces of Swegn and Cnut. As is well-known, by the reign of Edward the Confessor a small number of key men began to rival the power and, in particular, the wealth of the king. Fleming's analysis of the Anglo-Saxon holdings prior to 1066 indicated in Domesday Book shows dramatically how the landed wealth of the family of Godwine had come to dominate that of the king. In opposition to Frank Barlow, Fleming puts much of the responsibility for this squarely on the shoulders of Edward himself, whom she brands as "a weak king, pushed and bullied by a family of highly competent and slightly unscrupulous earls" (p. 103). Although none of this is particularly surprising and indeed has been argued by others, Fleming provides a much closer analysis than previously available.

The more controversial aspect of Fleming's study begins when she turns to look at the reorganization under the Normans. As expected, by the end of William the Conqueror's reign the value of the king's demesne had come to dwarf the value of the holdings of the other great magnates, including those of the king's immediate relatives. The reasons Fleming gives for this, however, are surprising. Contrary to the traditional view, Fleming finds that by and large the redistribution of lay English lands was not accomplished simply by allocating the land of specific Anglo-Saxon lords to specific Norman lords (the "antecessorial" approach), but was soon superseded by what Fleming calls "territorial" allocations. Here, the Conqueror created great fees from large numbers of Anglo-Saxon holdings, which were given to particularly trusted followers of William, particularly on the Welsh marches and other militarily sensitive areas. Even more surprising, Fleming points out the very high level of illegal expropriations, especially in the eastern part of the country, where lords simply stole land or extended their lordship unofficially. From Fleming's estimates (pp. 211-12), these "private acquisitions" accounted for nearly a half of all the land transfers to lay lords. Thus, the restructuring of the royal versus magnate lands so favourable to William was far from being a carefully planned event, as generally thought, but one that worked out rather accidently (and fortuitously) for William. As Fleming notes (pp. 212-14), William's real achievement was Domesday Book (with co-operation of many magnates who wished to preserve their ill-gotten gains), which set the land-holding pattern in stone.

Although Fleming's conclusions carry conviction, there is certain to be some opposition to her findings. Because of the complicated nature of the issues which she has investigated, she was often forced to rely on a methodology that was largely descriptive. Statistical evidence, where given, was often very selective and limited to a particular area or region. As a result, the study lacks that quantitative rigour that we have become used to through such works as McDonald and Snooks's computerized study of Domesday Essex and Hampshire, published in 1986. The writing also tends to be rather forbidding, particularly as Fleming is fond of multi-page paragraphs that present a mindnumbing stream of examples. Nevertheless, the study does open up fascinating possibilities for future study, and reminds us yet again of Domesday Book's seemingly inexhaustible ability to provide materials for new and exciting work.

Maund's book is more disappointing. It is very much a work for specialists, being much narrower in focus than the title suggests. Over half of the book, in fact, is devoted to creating genealogical lists and general biographical material for eighty-five eleventh-century personages in Wales who appear in the Welsh chronicles. This is undoubtedly useful, but Maund seems very reluctant to rise above the genealogical issues to comment on larger-scale trends. The key political event - the temporary unification of Wales under Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in the middle of the eleventh century - is treated almost as an oddity by Maund; the fact that this might have some connection to similar concentrations of power evident in Scotland and Ireland is not considered. Similarly the recitation of English and Irish-Scandinavian incursions into Wales seldom lifts itself above detail. Useful comments are made about the Welsh-Mercian alliance and the gradual co-option of the Irish Vikings as Welsh allies, but this seems a thin harvest for all but the specialist reader. Finally, in the last major section of the book, Maund launches into a long criticism of Wendy Davies's handling of the Llandaff charters. Again, this will probably have interest for experts in the field, but altogether seems an overly negative exercise that has little place here and reinforces the somewhat eccentric nature of the book.

These two works join the swell of publications concerning the British Isles during a crucial period in its development. The title of the Maund book (if not the work itself) also testifies to a stronger attempt to bring together the disparate experiences of the island group as a whole. This is good not only for the history of the British Isles per se but also for the histories of its constituent parts.
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Author:Langdon, John
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:1015
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