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The year 1066 is so important, so vital to the course of European history, but somehow we manage to reduce it to “the Battle of Hastings.” That is largely what I was expecting with this short history by David Howarth, a popular historian better known for his takes on more recent history, including World War II and the Battle of Trafalgar. But the most popular battle of the Norman invasion takes up only one chapter of the book, with much of the rest providing a cultural and social history within which you can get a better understanding of the historical arc of the entire year. Before Howarth jumps into any history, however, he gives sets up a picture of daily life in a village called Horstede, which happens to be where King Harold first learned about William’s invasion across the English Channel. A rudimentary description of the feudal system is given in the first few chapters replete with earls and thanes. We get a discussion of English and Norman politics, including William’s motive to invade in the first place, a topic which requires some psychological second-guessing. Howarth seems to think that Edward had somehow promised William the throne in the last years of his life, and was nonplussed when Harold was immediately selected by the Witenagemot, the Anglo-Saxon advisory council that served the king. And to confuse political matters even more, there is another Harald – Harald Hardrada, King of Norway (but note the difference in spelling) – who also thought that he had a solid claim to the throne, and was invited to invade English by Harold’s estranged brother Tostig, earl of Northumbria. Harald Hardrada and Tostig both die in what is maybe the penultimate battle of the Norman invasion, the Battle of Stamford Bridge. I said “historical arc” above because in the year 1066, Edward the Confessor dies (January 5th), Harold takes the thrown on the very same day, the Norman invasion is won and lost, and William “the Conqueror” takes the thrown again on December 25th. That’s three monarchs in one year – and four if you count the fifteen-year-old Edgar the Aetheling, who held the throne for about two months before being forced to remit it to William. That’s a busy year. This isn’t model academic history. There are no footnotes, and there is a lot more conjecture – sometimes couched in the language of verifiable historical record – than I am usually comfortable with. I would approach this as I would any book of popular history: take it with a grain of salt and depending on how interested you are in the subject, consult more scholarly sources. My only complaint about the book is that there is quite a bit of detailed battle strategy (this flank was left exposed, a certain person went Berserk at Stamford Bridge) which I think could have been put to better use in explaining the politics or cultural life; these parts didn’t hold my interest as much. But for all of that, it is engagingly written, and serves as a nice foot in the door for those who want to learn about the major events and the important near-contemporary historians (like William of Malmesbury) through which we know much of what happened that year.