The norman conquest

Ordinary women make just as thrilling history as great men

In 1348, the year the Black Death reached England and devastated the country, Matilda, the wife of Robert Comberworth, attacked someone called Magota and drew blood. She was fined 3d. Agnes, the wife of William Walker, attacked William de Pudsey and was fined four times the amount. Amica, an official watch-woman tasked with guarding a fruit crop, caught a certain Cecilia stealing. These women are among the many who star in Philippa Gregory’s latest book. Post-Conquest England is well-trodden ground, but Gregory’s history is not one of great men. It is of normal women – the women of legal battles, petitions, wills and letters. Her characters farm, pray, heal the

The evolution of England — from ragbag kingdoms to a centralised state

The title of Marc Morris’s new history makes me want to get up and dance a little jig. The modern Inquisition has been jabbing its finger at the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’, accusing it of thought crime and threatening it with the cucking stool. (At least one august history society in the US has renamed itself in response.) Bad people have no doubt used the word, but Alfred the Great (871–99) and Æthelstan (924–39), among others, identified as such, and so contemporary historians have a reasonable case for using it too. Bravo Mr Morris for getting on with it. Having spent many years at academic conferences around the world, I can reassure