1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth
Non-Fiction | British History
Published by Penguin Books
Goodreads | Amazon
When I was in high school, I was a bit obsessed with British history. I had a whole bookshelf devoted to the topic and even did my senior project on British legends. 1066 by David Howarth was part of my book collection back then.
When I was nineteen, my family’s house burned down, and I lost all of the books I had accumulated. Recently, I’ve been on another hardcore history kick and decided to re-buy this non-fiction classic. Turns out that I love it just as much as I did back then.
David Howarth is a military historian and has written books about Waterloo and WWII. In 1066, he turns his meticulous eye to the Norman Conquest, an invasion that was a turning point in British history.
1066 is a very slim book, finishing at just under 200 pages, but it is packed with history. Many books have been written about William the Conquerer and the Norman Conquest, but Howarth takes a unique approach to explaining the details of what happened. The first chapter starts on New Year’s Day and the book ends on New Year’s Eve. He very much focuses on how the British people would have viewed and reacted to the events, rather than just writing about how prominent historical figures handled things.
I really enjoyed this approach. Most historical non-fiction is written with a preference for how royalty and military leaders dealt with events, but they were a very small percentage of the population. Following normal, everyday people, however, offers a fresh perspective on historical events.
One of the things that I appreciate the most about David Howarth’s 1066 is his use of primary sources. The bibliography is a single page, and his sources date from 1050-1245. While there is necessarily a bit of speculation and bias from Howarth, most of the information in the book is from contemporary sources. No doubt new information has come to light since 1245 and even since this book was published in 1977, but there’s something special about reading a historical account that comes straight from people living during or immediately after the events being discussed.
Howarth makes a point of showing the readers when the original sources disagree with one another, which is just one more reason to love this book. We’ve all heard the sentiment that history is written by the victors, which is certainly true. Howarth navigates through sources from both the British and Norman sides of the line and shares each contradiction with the reader.
1066 by David Howarth is easily readable, even if you’re usually intimidated by historical non-fiction. The narrative reads like a linear story and, despite the amount of detail included, it doesn’t get bogged down in facts. If you want to learn more about the Norman Conquest and want a short, concise book, then 1066 is the absolute perfect option. I’ve read it twice now and I can easily see myself reading it many more times. It’s been one of my favorite books on British history for nearly twenty years.