Few recent historical studies have been as influential, or as comprehensible as Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe (Penguin, 2003). His erudite little vignette, The Hanged Man (Princeton, 2006) is gem too. So it was with eager anticipation that I switched on The Normans, fronted by the Professor of History at St Andrews, which began on BBC2 last night.
I was not disappointed; it was proof that all you need to do to make good history telly is to find a person who knows what he’s on about – Prof Bartlett is certainly that – take him to the locations where the events happened and point a camera at him. It was riveting, especially the passages that concentrated on William the Bastard’s troubled minority and his final vanquishing of rival claimants to the duchy and assorted French predatory French princes. The familiar tale of the Conquest was told with the unparalleled aid of the Bayeux Tapestry. I look forward to Bartlett’s telling of the less familiar stories of the Normans’ relations with the Celts and their adventures in Sicily. But even he may find it hard to explain how the Normans made the name Roger fashionable.