Monday, July 16, 2012

Dark Age Norman Book Club

I discovered the battle of Hastings after watching Simon Schama's History of Britain.  Hastings and the Norman Conquest weren't a part of my high school courses, and I didn't take any medieval history courses in college. Schama's retelling of the story stuck with me, as he draws their personalities so vividly that they seem like living people, rather than a collection of names and deeds. The cast of characters, the twists and turns of the conflict, and the agonizing decisions that Harold faced seem like something drawn from fiction. I read a few books subsequently on the battle and period, but with only a handful of battles I didn't think there was enough potential for gaming the war to warrant painting up any armies. 

After listening to Lars Brownsworth's 12 Byzantine Emperors, I decided to listen to his Norman Centuries podcast, despite feeling the Normans were the "bad guys" who ruined the good thing the Anglo Saxons had going on in Britain before William got involved. I still think the Normans were a group of thugs, but I did get interested in their adventures in Italy, as well as their involvement in the First Crusade.

It turns out these Normans are a group I could get behind for wargaming. From small scale raids with SAGA, to the actual battles involved between William, Harold Godwinson, and Harald Hardrada, the Norman invasion of Sicily and Italy, and finally their trek to Jerusalem, there's plenty of fodder for wargames large and small.  My knowledge of the 11th century is woefully shallow, so I've decided to put together a reading list to bone up on the period before painting up hundreds of Norman knights.

I already polished off a few books:
For getting a handle on Norman warfare I'm looking at Osprey's The Normans (Elite) , Norman Knight AD 950-1204 (Warrior) and Ian Heath's Armies of the Dark Ages, 600-1066 A.D.  I typically need to provide both sides of any wargaming I want to do, so to get a handle on the Muslim adversaries they might face with a Crusades game I'm thinking of picking up The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. That should be plenty to get me started, but I would love any recommendations.
Edit: The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land from the recommendation in the comments. Thanks Bob!


  1. As far as books go, and all the good things the English were doing before the Normans came along, you'd do well to read 1066: The Year of the Conquest ( Pretty slender volume and a quick read, but picks up on some of the English-side politics that lead up to the Conquest (stuff that wasn't covered in the 1066 Bayeux book) and speculates on some context for Harold's decisions.

    Also, The Crusades is kind of a must read, at least the swaths on the first two Crusades (the third makes up a big chunk of the book, but echoes Warriors of God in a lot of places).

  2. Oh 1066: Year of Conquest! Yes, I did read that! Added it to the list above. Thanks for the rec on "The Crusades"... going to check it out.

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