Page 6, 14th October 1966

14th October 1966
Page 6
Page 6, 14th October 1966 — On the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, SIR CHARLES
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On the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, SIR CHARLES

PETRIE, the historian, discusses The Normans by Timothy Baker (Cassell, 42s.). He finds the book makes clear that the victor of October 14, 1066, should

have been dubbed

William, the Lucky

THIS is one of those corn' paratively rare books which is at once erudite and readable: the author is extremely thorough, but he is also very easy to follow, and no aspect of the great struggle for England which took place exactly nine hundred years ago is overlooked. The military situation in particular has never been better summed up than in these two sentences : "In theory Harold's resources of manpower far surpassed those of the Duke of Normandy. Events in the summer of 1066 proved that security rested not solely on numbers, but on organisation." What is abundantly clear from these pages is that William the Conqueror was one of the luckiest generals in history. Had the elements not kept him for so long on his own side of the Channel he would have got across before the threat from the North developed, met Harold at the head of a fresh army at full strength, and in all probability been defeated : whether in that event the Anglo-Saxon Harold would have gone down before the Norwegian one, with Stamford Bridge as another Hastings, is an interesting, if idle, speculation, but what an earlier landing would have meant is that even if William had beaten Harold Godwinson he would still have had to fight Harold Hardrada. In short, even the English weather favoured the Normans.

Certainly no charge of vacillation or of lethargy can be brought against the last AngloSaxon King once the crisis broke, and for his dash North and equally rapid return South there can be nothing but praise. Mr. Baker, however. wonders if his chances of success at Hastings would not have been greater had he waited in London on the second occasion "until more men had arrived and all had been properly equipped": he rightly points out that William "was faced not by the power of England but by that of the South-East, gathered around the House of Godwine."

This, indeed, is true, and a further liability was the fact that the House of Godwine had an exceedingly evil reputation, Harold being the only respectable member of it. Perhaps, too, he made the mistake of despising both his rivals for the crown.

The really unsolved mystery about the whole campaign is the part played by the English fleet. It made no attempt to interfere either with Harold Hardrada or with William, and it would seem to have been sent to London, where it was paid off, before the situation really became serious. One wonders whether it could not be trusted, for with his many attractive qualities Harold Godwinson was a parvenu and a usurper. The events of the whole of that momentous year are very complicated, and by no means well documented, but Mr. . Baker takes us through them with unerring skill, helped, it may be added, by some most attractive illustrations and an admirable index.

SHREWD SAINT

THE Roman licence, which shocked the German friar Martin Luther, and which the rough justice of the Inquisition did not altogether quell, gradually responded to the shrewd but gentle influence of Messer Filippo Neri.

A Florentine who went there to study, he was appalled by the neglect of the young Romans and turned himself into a one-man apostolate which gradually won working lads, gentlemen's sons, priests, future cardinals and eventually popes.

In the process, he created something not unlike a modern secular institute, with its daily bible study, church history, discussion and impromptu preaching, together with silent prayer in common and, what was most unusual then, frequent confession and communion.

Miss Meriol Trevor, who was led to look into the first stage of the Oratory as a result of her books on Cardinal Newman, is convinced that many of us would do well to "take another look at the life of this forgotten man, who lived in the era of division but anticipated the time of convergence" (Apostle of Rome, St, Philip Ned, Macmillan 55s.).

Herbert Keldany.




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