By GEOFFREY ASHE The Saxon and Norman Kings, by Christopher Brooke (Batsford, 30s.).
PROFESSOR BROOKE's study extends the Batsford "British Monarchy" series backward into the early Middle Ages. While the step may have appeared necessary for the sake of completeness can it really be justified? Given a welldocumented age. royal biography can he disentangled from its context. But with kings who are often no more to U6 than names in dubious pedigrees, the "biography" will nearly always dissolve into general history, and the history itself is liable to be shaky in the extreme.
Among the Anglo Saxons, Alfred is a living personality for us, but even Edward the Confessor is only doubtfully so. The Normans are more vivid. Nevertheless Professor Brooke's careful and balanced discussion of William Rufus (no "ritual murder" for him) shows that there can he almost as much uncertainty after 1066 as before.
Of course he is well aware of the difficulty. He states it on the first page of the text and reverts to it on the last. His solution is frankly to write a hook about kingship rather than a book about kings: to examine the offices as illustrated by what is known of its holders. rather than the "old. worn. unfinished canvases" portraying the holders themselves.
The result is highly literate and as smooth reading as the complications permit, with a most agreeable lightness of touch. But the attempt to fit Anglo-Saxondom into a biographical series at all seems misguided. The proof is that some of the least quasibiographical parts such as the analysis of rules of succession arc the most interesting and memorable.