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William Rufus (1983) by Frank Barlow, is more than a biography of one of England's early Norman kings. The historian who composed this volume has given us a social history as well, of early Norman England. We learn things like that there were no lamps lit at night during William II's reign. The author repeats this and let's the implications sink in, of the resultant "disorder." The facts accumulate, and give a vivid picture of this era, though a typicallly English historian, Barlow is not interested in subtler, questions, such as what the lack of privacy at all levels of society meant for the individual personality. I might wish that he would repeat occasionally himself, as it is difficult for the nonprofessional to always recall the many new terms encountered in the text. And I am still trying to figure out what is meant when "candle-ends" are part of a employee's compensation. I suppose they were literally the last bit of a candle, and one accumulated them to use, in making more candles. But that is a guess on my part.
Even one who is not a specialist in this era of history gains confidence by the manner in which Barlow handles his sources, and the care in his phrasing of conclusions. One utterly fascinating discussion involves the Norman hunting practices. We learn for instance that what we now call "canned" hunts were not unknown then, though a thousand years ago personal bravery counted for something, when animals were killed, and the forest made for an evener field. This book is highly recommened.

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