Told Chiefly in Relation to their Conquest of England
Sarah Orne Jewett
This text is in the process of being constructed.
The text and illustrations are here, but annotations are still being prepared and eventually will appear with this book and the essay sequel.
I. The Men of the Dragon Ships
II. Rolf the Ganger
III. William Longsword
IV. Richard the Fearless
V. Duke Richard the Good
VI. Robert the Magnificent
VII. The Normans in Italy
VIII. The Youth of William the Conqueror
IX. Across the Channel
X. The Battle of Val-Ès-Dunes
XI. The Abbey of Bec
XII. Matilda of Flanders
XIII. Harold the Englishman
XIV. News from England
XV. The Battle of Hastings
XVI. William the Conqueror
XVII. Kingdom and Dukedom
G. P. Putnam's Sons
[Revised edition, published as The Normans.]
My Dear Grandfather
Doctor WILLIAM PERRY, of Exeter
The copyright date for The Story of the Normans, according to WorldCat entries is 1886, though the first publication date usually is listed as 1887. Reprintings were frequent until 1905. Beginning in 1891, the volume was printed under two titles:
1. The Story of the Normans, told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England (Original title),
2. The Normans, told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England. (London: T. Fisher Unwin)
The new title apparently was occasioned by the preparation of the London publication by T. Fisher Unwin. In a December 1890 letter to Louisa Dresel, Jewett reports working on revisions for this publication. How extensive these were has not yet been determined, though superficial examination of the two versions shows that the pagination and illustrations are identical in both. It appears that the revised version became available in the United States after 1891. For most of the 1891-1905 period, the book was available under both titles, apparently in both the United States and Great Britain. Details about the reprintings need still to be sorted out.
Reviews and Notes: The Story of the Normans
From "Notes" in The Critic 158 (8 January 1887), p. 23.
Prof. E. A. Freeman, when requested by the Messrs. Putnam to write the story of a nation for their popular Nations series, very much to their surprise selected Sicily, a land which, he argued, 'presents before all others the Story of the Nations, not of one only, but of all that have ever been of any moment in the Mediterranean.' The next volumes of this series will be Miss Sara[h] Orne Jewett's 'The Story of the Normans' and Mme. Ragozin's 'Story of Assyria.' The 'Story of Chaldæa,' by Mme. Ragozin, has been highly praised by Profs. Max Müller and Sayce in letters to Mr. George Haven Putnam.
from The New Orleans Daily Picayune (Feb. 13, 1887) 10.
This book belongs to the fine series being published under the general title of "The Story of the Nations." The author, Miss Sarah [Sara] Jewett, is one of the most graceful, sympathetic and popular of the magazine writers, but even her most devoted admirers will be pleasantly surprised to find with what depth, comprehension and eloquence she has lent her pen to the romantic and thrilling career of the Normans. Miss Jewett's book relates chiefly to the Norman conquest of England, and it will always remain one of the best and most readable of the series.
from "Brief Notes on New Books," The Dial (March 1887) 274.
The name of Sarah Orne Jewett on the title page of "The Story of the Normans," the latest number of the "Story of the Nations" (Putnam), leads us to expect a narrative of blended symmetry and strength; and our expectation is perfectly fulfilled. The quiet, earnest spirit, the scrupulous veracity, the careful construction, the finished style, which mark the essays and stories of Miss Jewett, distinguish this more serious and comprehensive work. She has studied the subject faithfully, mastering it to a degree which enables her to treat it with an original picturesque force. It has all the charm of a romance, with the truth of a veritable history. The record of a people, written with such simplicity and beauty, impresses lastingly the mind of the reader, old or young. "The Story [story] of the Normans" is confined to a few generations, extending from the middle of the ninth to the beginning of the eleventh century; but as Miss Jewett relates it, it is relieved from all obscurity and elevated to its due rank and importance. We are not to forget that the lives of our ancestry go back to the Northman as well as to the Anglo-Saxon, and that to him Englishmen and Americans are indebted for some of their most estimable qualities. It is, in truth, our earlier history we trace in this story of the Norman Dukes.
The New England Magazine 5:30 (April 1887), 603.
A LARGE number of American readers should be interested in the history of the Normans, since in their veins runs a rill which, in some degree, had its source in Normandy in times antedating William the Conqueror. In her history of this people,1 Miss Jewett has treated an important as well as an interesting subject in a sprightly and in a worthy manner. In their own land they are brought to our view in the persons of the first seven dukes, the successive rulers of Normandy, who were "typical of their time and representative of the various types of the national character." The author regards these Normans as the foremost people of their day, "the most thoroughly alive, and quickest to see where advances might be made." This is observed to be true in regard to their methods and skill in government, and in the extension of their power and their national growth. It is shown in their very striking and original architecture, which has had so wide an influence, and whose beauties are constantly reproduced in modern structures. The same eminence is perceived in the social field; for it is admitted that this people were gifted with sentiment and with good taste, together with intellectual cleverness. Yet as with others there is a dark side to this picture,--failures in point of noble action, and misfortunes that involved much privation. These were owing, as usual, to a blindness to the inevitable results of certain courses, and the accompanying unwillingness to listen to their best teachers. In order that we may understand the old Norman beauty and grace, their manly strength, courage, and courtesy, the author would have us go now to the shores of Norway, where in the country of the saga-men and the rough sea-kings, beside the steep-shored harbors of the viking dragon-ships, linger still the constantly repeated types of our earlier ancestry, and where the flower of the sagas blooms as fair as ever. This is a rather romantic view of the subject, but in a certain sense, it is probably a true one.
1The Story of the Normans, by Sarah Orne Jewett. New York and London. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1887. Cloth, 12 mo.; pp. 373. $1.50.
From "Literature" in The Advance 22 (21 April 1887), p. 246.
In The Story of the Normans, by Sarah Orne Jewett, we have one of the best histories yet published in The Stories of the Nations series. Miss Jewett's stories of New England life have given her an established literary reputation. The same charm of style which has made these stories attractive, and the same power of picturesque and vivid description distinguish this more serious historical work. Her graphic pen gives an air of living reality to the characters and acts of such heroes as William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Duke Richard the Good, Robert the Magnificent, and the great William the Conqueror. Less complete and valuable as a history of the Norman Conquest of England than Thierry's work, Miss Jewett's work is yet more valuable than his, as supplying a history of the Norman from the first beginnings of his power in Northern Europe, to the culmination of that power in the great victory of William at the Battle of Hastings. As a compendious, convenient and altogether trustworthy manual of Norman history, it is to be preferred above the elaborate and exhaustive work of Sir Francis Palgrave. It's literary merits will give it favor alike with the old and the young. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.)
From North American Review 144; issue 366 (May 1887) 548.
It seems a pity that a collection of brief, popular histories so happily conceived, and for the most part so well executed as "The Story of the Nations" series should in any instance have departed from the general aim of assigning the exposition of a given subject to some writer specially qualified by original research for the work. We are not. aware that the compiler of the volume, [The Story of the Normans; by Sarah Orne Jewett. G. P. Putnam's Sons.] devoted to that division of the Northmen which is mainly associated with the Duchy of Normandy and with England, has such special qualifications, which are, on the contrary, undoubtedly possessed by Professor Freeman, or, if he was unobtainable, by more than one other English student of Northwestern Europe in the early middle ages. Hack work, though it may be performed with a certain neatness and dexterity, is, in our judgment, out of place in a series of this order, whose pretensions to fresh and independent treatment have been, upon the whole, well founded.
From Atlantic Monthly 59 (June 1887), 859.
The Story of the Normans, told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England, by Sarah Orne Jewett. (Putnams.) This book belongs to a series designed in a general way for young people, but there is little in Miss Jewett's treatment which especially calls up such an audience. We like best those portions, both at the beginning and end, and where she touches upon the artistic contribution of the Norman life, which enable her to lay aside for a while the strictly historical manner. Miss Jewett seems hardly to feel the more rugged force of the Norman character, or rather she is perhaps a little out of sympathy with Norman savagery, and more desirous of getting to the finer development. Her quiet style makes the book a somewhat amiable presentation of the subject, and she writes sometimes as if the work were an effort. A little sharper historical analysis might have given strength to her work, but we must nevertheless congratulate the author on the success which she has attained in a difficult task.
From Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine 9:54 (June 1887) 664-5
The Story of the Nations.
OF THE late issues of the Stories of the Nations, two* are so intimately connected in subject matter that they may be considered together. The Story of the Moors is merely an expansion of one of the most important and romantic of the series of movements forming the Saracenic invasion of Europe. This Saracenic episode is one of the most intensely interesting in the history of Christendom, and yet it is one which has not hitherto received any adequate popular treatment. There is an element of romance and of mystery in the sudden rise of this Asiatic flood, which fiercely menaced the shores of Europe, and then subsided as quickly as it had risen, leaving almost no trace of its presence. The Arabs, for more than one thousand years, had dragged on a colorless, unambitious existence in their desert peninsula. Contented in their low condition, they continued their primitive, uneventful life, just beyond the reach of the mighty movements that were convulsing the then civilized world, uninterested in, even ignoring, the conflicts being waged at their very doors. From this inglorious tranquillity they were aroused by the teachings of one man. Without predecessors to open the way for him, without any preparatory mental development of the people, Mohammed changed not merely their religious thought, but revolutionized their whole character. From a peaceable, contented, trading people, they became a restless, ambitious, implacable race of warriors.
After the death of Mohammed the era of conquest began. He had decreed that the faith of Islam should be spread by the sword, and so successfully was this policy carried out by his successor, that within four years after his death, Chaldea, Babylonia, and the greater part of Syria, including Jerusalem, had fallen into the hands of the Moslems. For one hundred years the irresistible spread of their power continued, until their possessions enclosed the Mediterranean on three sides, and they threatened European civilization from two directions. But the weakness which finally caused their overthrow, began to assert itself almost from the day of the prophet's death. The Saracens never formed a compact nation. The people were always divided into numerous tribes, which never fused into one mass. No attempt was made to assimilate the widely varied peoples who came under their sway, and the Kalifate gained no coherence, but rather became less united as its territory increased. In the election of the third Kalif, but twelve years after the prophet's death, the various factions began to assert themselves, and internal dissensions did not cease until the power of the Saracens had been completely lost.
The period of the greatest power of the Saracens was brief, almost momentary. They spread over Northern Africa and into Spain, but almost before the Goths had been overcome, the Berbers had regained extensive portions of the African conquests. They swept over Arabia, Persia, and Asia Minor, but Constantinople was the rock against which they dashed themselves continuously but ineffectually for one thousand years. It formed the defense of Christendom during the development of the western nations. The eighth century saw the greatest power of the Saracens; the ninth century marked their highest intellectual development. Arts, sciences, and literature flourished until Christendom sent her scholars to drink at the Moslem fountain. But the increase of learning brought with it a scepticism, which sapped the foundation of the Moslem power. The removal of the capital to Bagdad had given a preponderance to Persian influence, and their religious views prevailed. The Koran and the religion of Mohammed were finally attacked by the Commander of the Faithful himself. In the absence of any national unity, Islam had been the only cohesive force of the Kalifatte, and, when it was thus awakened, factions sprang up in every direction, and the conquered territory dropped away part by part.
As compared with the earlier books of this series, The Story of the Saracens is marked by a decided improvement in the way of maps, and the same may be said of The Story of the Moors; the latter book is also conspicuous for its clear, terse, vigorous, and interesting style. The series does not confine itself to the stories of the nations most familiar to general readers, but does some good work rummaging around in the dark corners of history, and throwing an attractive light upon them. Two of the dark corners thus illuminated are Normandy and Persia.** Perhaps in the case of the former, it would be more proper to say the Normans, for the sojourn of this people in the land to which they gave a name is the least important part of their life-story as a nation. The Normans are peculiarly interesting to us, for they formed a curious element in the development of the English-speaking race, mingling as they did the hardy race characteristics of the north, with the manners and customs of the Latin races of the south, acquired during their contact with those people in France. Miss Jewett has told the story of this people well. Her style is clear, picturesque and attractive, and she is particularly happy in her vivid presentation of the life and manners of these rough people. Mr. Benjamin writes the story of Persia most sympathetically. He makes the narrative entertaining, almost fascinating, but the early history of this, like most other Oriental countries is more or less shrouded in the mists of succeeding ages, and he has not always been scholarly in separating that which is authentic from what is purely traditionary. The latest issue of the series, The Story of Ancient Egypt*** sustains well the excellence of the earlier issues. There is always a danger in calling on a specialist to address a popular audience on his favorite subject, particularly when that audience is composed of those whose minds are so immature as to prevent their entering sympathetically into the discussion of those abstract questions which form his pastime. In the present instance, however, Prof. Rawlinson has succeeded unusually well in combining the spirit of scholarly research with his popular exposition. The subject is handled with that firm grasp and true perspective which one has a right to expect from the reputation of the author, and yet the readers will find the style clear and interesting throughout.
*The Story of the Saracens. By Arthur Gilman. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
The Story of the Moors in Spain. By Stanley Lane Poole. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
** The Story of the Normans. By Sarah O. Jewett. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
The Story of Persia. By G. W. Benjamin. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
***The Story of Ancient Egypt. By George Rawlinson and Arthur Gilman. Published by Geo. P. Putnam's Sons. New York: 1887. For sale in San Francisco by Samuel Carson & Co.
From The Speaker 5 (23 January 1892), 114-15.
NOVEL HISTORY -- BY A LADY NOVELIST
The Normans; told chiefly in relation to their conquest of England.
By Sarah Orne Jewett. ["Story of the Nations."] London: T. Fisher Unwin.
Of the making of series of popular little history books—they cannot be called histories—there seems to be no end. The "Epochs of History" commenced the epidemic, and it has now risen to such a height that every publishing firm, whether of old-established reputation or of mushroom growth, which cannot think of a good title for a series of cheap biographies, such as "English Men of Letters," "English Men of Action," "Great Writers," or the like, must have its historical series. Most of these series have their good volumes. Their harbinger, the "Epochs of History," easily bears the palm. Such books as Dean Church's "Beginning of the Middle Ages," the Bishop of Oxford's "Early Plantagenets," Mr. S. R. Gardiner's "Thirty Years' War" and "Puritan Revolution," and the Bishop of Peterborough's "Age of Elizabeth," are models of their kind. But even this series, graced by such great names and, what is of more importance, by such admirable volumes, was marked by many doleful failures. The bad volumes of this, the best of the cheap historical series, were bad enough; but there has been reserved for this particular collection of national history the "cool malignity," as Charles Lamb would have termed it, of inappropriate illustrations. It is inevitable that all these series should have their failures as well as their successes, and it is only right, for the sake of the publishers as well as the public, to point out these failures, lest the success of one or two good volumes by one or two well-known authors should foist off on unsuspecting readers utterly worthless books which should never have seen the light. The "Story of the Nations," which is Mr. Fisher Unwin's series, has had its share of good volumes. Mr. Morfill's "Russia," Mr. Bradley's "Goths," Mr. Morrison's "Jews under Roman Rule," and Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole's "Barbary Corsairs," are all valuable works, and absolutely the only books in the English language treating their respective subjects according to the lights of the latest historical research. Some of the others, which treat of well-worn subjects, are accurate and spirited little text-books. But there have been some lamentable failures -- lamentable alike for the purchaser, who has been induced to buy the worthless volume because it was one of the series, and for the reviewer, who feels it his duty to speak out clearly and emphatically against dishonest work.
"The Normans" is an instance in point. It is a curious fact that the small book upon "The Normans in Europe" in the "Epochs of History" was also, to put it mildly, not a success. And yet it might be supposed that upon no historical era would it be so easy to write an interesting and accurate little book. Not only is the subject picturesque in the extreme, affording many dramatic situations and striking portraits, but the abundant materials have been worked up by one of the three great living English historians, Professor E. A. Freeman, into a narrative at once interesting and complete. An analysis of the authorities used by Miss Jewett in the book under review will give some evidence of the absolute unfitness of the lady to write an historical work. She naturally quotes largely from Professor Freeman, but the only authors whom she mentions with words of praise are Mr. John Addington Symonds and Miss Charlotte M. Yonge! The former she calls "a charming writer," and no one will cavil at the epithet: but when she deliberately founds the greater part of a chapter on a story for children called "The Little Duke," written by Miss Yonge very many years ago, and speaks with a certain poverty of epithet of this "charming story" in the text, it is time to protest. Among the authorities quoted are the Rev. A. H. Johnson's "Normans in Europe" in more than one place, Sir Francis Palgrave, and, on the Icelandic sagas, instead of writers of reputation on the subject, Depping's "Voyages Maritimes des Normands." But Miss Jewett's knowledge of English novelists and appreciation of their writings is evidently more extensive than her acquaintance with the standard historians of the epoch she attempts to describe. Dickens's "Child's History of England," probably for the first time since its publication, is actually quoted as the authority for an historical statement. "England was made a great grave," says Dickens of the Norman Conquest, "and men and beasts lay dead together," and Miss Jewett calmly accepts this remark as being of sufficient value to deserve quotation. Even more remarkable is her admiration of Lord Lytton as an authority on Anglo-Saxon manners. Surely in this year of grace it would hardly be expected that anyone, even an American lady-novelist, should deliberately say of the family of Godwine, "Lord Lytton's novel, called 'Harold,' makes this famous household seem to live before our eyes" (p. 192).
But enough of Miss Jewett's qualifications for writing or understanding history. Let us turn now to her style of composition. Its great advantage is that it is entirely her own. Without the simplicity of Lady Callcott's "Little Arthur's History of England," it seems in places inspired by a systematic attempt to write down to the level of her readers, whom she then expects to be very juvenile, while elsewhere she indulges in curious philosophical dissertations intended for mature readers. The result of the mixture is occasionally absolutely ridiculous. A few quotations, taken at random on opening the book casually, will justify these remarks. Take, for instance, from the first chapter, entitled "The Men of the Dragon Ships," these two passages:
"Think of those clumsy little ships out on such a journey with their single masts and long oars! Think of the stories that must have been told from town to town after these strange, wild Northern foes had come and gone! They were like hawks that came swooping down out of the sky, and though Spain and Rome and Greece were well enough acquainted with wars, they must have felt when the Northmen came as we should feel if some wild beast from the heart of the forest came biting and tearing its way through a city street at noontime" (p. 20).Miss Jewett understands the feelings of the Vikings as thoroughly as those of the Greeks and Romans and Spaniards harried by them.
"As for the old men," she says, "who had been to the fights and followed the sea-kings and brought home treasures, we are sure that they were always talking over their valiant deeds and successes, and urging their sons and grandsons to go to the South. The women wished their husbands and brothers to be as brave as the rest, while they cared a great deal for the rich booty which was brought back from such expeditions. What a hard thing it must have seemed to the boys who were sick or lame or deformed, but who had all the desire for glory that belonged to any of the Vikings, and yet must stay at home with the women" (p. 27).The following description of the battle of Hastings is too sublime for criticism: --
"And the fight grew hotter and hotter, the Normans were beaten back, and returned again fiercely to the charge, down the hill, now up the hill over the palisades, like a pouring river of men, dealing stinging sword-thrusts -- dropping in clumsy heaps of javelin-pricked and axe-smitten lifelessness; from swift, bright-eyed men becoming a bloody mass to stumble over, or feebly crying for mercy at the feet that trampled them; so the fight went on. . . . There was no sound of guns or smoke of powder in that day, only a fearful wrangling and chopping, and a whir of arrow and lance and twang of bowstring. Yes, and a dolorous groaning as closer and closer the armies grappled with each other, hand to hand" (pp. 307, 308).A more charming "derangement of epitaphs" has not been seen for many a year in a work pretending to be serious.
Miss Jewett's philosophical reflections are couched in equally graphic and exquisitely comic sentences. Here are two as examples. The first contains her ideas on the effect of the Norman conquest of England: --
"Heaven send dampness now and bleak winds, and let poor Eadward's sufferings be short! There was work for a man to do in ruling England, and Eadward could not do it. The Englishmen were stupid and dull; they ate too much and drank too much; they clung with both hands to their old notions of state-craft and government. It was the old story of the hare and the tortoise, but the hare was fleet of foot and would win. Win? Yes, this race and that race; and yet the tortoise was going to be somehow made over new, and keep a steady course in the right path, and learn speed, and get to be better than the old tortoise as the years went on and on" (pp. 243, 244).The second shows her profound grasp of the effects of war: --
"Just here we might well stop to consider the true causes and effects of war. Seen in the largest way possible, from this side of life, certain forces of development are enabled to assert themselves only by outgrowing, outnumbering, outfighting their opposers. War is the conflict between ideas that are going to live and ideas that have passed their maturity and are going to die. . . . Wars may appear to delay, but in due time they surely raise whole nations of men to higher levels, whether by preparing for new growths or by mixing the new and old. Generals of battalions and unreckoned camp-followers alike are effects of some great change, not causes of it. And no war was ever fought that was not an evidence that one element in it had outgrown the other and was bound to get itself manifested and better understood. The first effect of war is incidental and temporary; the secondary effect makes a link in the grand chain of the spiritual education and development of the world" (pp. 255, 256).
It is not pleasant for a reviewer to hold up a lady to ridicule. Miss Jewett is a lady who has won some fame as a novelist in the United States; she should stick to her last and not infringe on the domain of the historical writer. To write history needs a special training; it needs wide reading; it demands unceasing labour and whole-souled devotion. A man or woman who can reel off fluent sentences is not thereby justified in thinking he or she can write history, and, above all, popular history, the hardest task in which many eminent historians have failed. We must conclude, however, in spite of seeming ungallant, to amuse our readers by a last gem from Miss Jewett's chaplet:—
"One familiar English word of ours -- hurrah, -- is said to date from Rolf's reign. Rou the Frenchmen called our Rolf; and there was a law that if a man was in danger himself, or caught his enemy doing any damage, he could raise the cry Ha Rou! and so invoke justice in Duke Rolf's name. At the sound of the cry, everybody was bound, on the instant, to give chase to the offender, and whoever failed to respond to the cry of Ha Rou! must pay a heavy fine to Rolf himself. This began the old English fashion of "hue and cry," as well as our custom of shouting Hurrah! when we are pleased and excited" (p. 49).
Images of the Book
Illustration from the cover
G. P. Putnam
Frontispiece. Birthplace of William the Conqueror. Palaise.
Fold-out map. Europe at the close of the 11th Century.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Graphics assistance: Mary Dias, Coe College
Research and other assistance: Allison Anderson, Tanner Brossert, and Gabe Heller.
Copyright 1998-2013 by Terry Heller