Top 10 Lockdown History Books: 1/10: Carmen Widonis by Kathleen Tyson

During the 2020 lockdown, Soul City Wanderer took the opportunity to catch up on his history book reading: These are his top ten recommendations from the pile he ploughed through (in no particular order). 1/10: Carmen Widonis by Kathleen Tyson.

Soul City Wanderer’s own book Soul City Wandering was released in 2020. Available in paperback or on Kindle, it encourages readers to rediscover their urban surroundings.

Song For Guy (1066, All That and More!)

Kathleen Tyson is a historian with a uncommon background in the seemingly disparate disciplines of high-finance and geography. However, it is clear her experience has given her a unique perspective on the subject that is obviously a passion for her: the Norman Conquest. Her book Carmen Widonis (CreateSpace 2019) is an extraordinary and fascinating account of the period based on her transcription and translation of a rare contemporary record.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 is often held up as the great milestone of British History. Guy’s Song (Carmen Widonis) is a Latin verse medieval poem written in 1067 by Bishop Guy d’Amiens. It is a rare contemporary record of the Conquest.

Tyson’s book is thoughtfully put together. It contains Bishop Guy d’Amiens’ poem in its original Latin form, alongside a re-translation of it by Tyson, explanatory notes, a running history and complementary images from that other great record of the Norman ‘invasion’, the Bayeux Tapestry. The running history is key, because in it, Tyson produces three main contentions, which while having been conjectured by other historians before, are seldom, if ever, seen in a single account.

Firstly, she reiterates that certain Norman figures already held various positions of political power in the England at the time, and from their viewpoint, regarded England as a kingdom rightfully bequeathed to William, Duke of Normandy, stolen by the Anglo-Saxon usurper, Harold Godwinson.

Secondly, Tyson pushes the claim that the invasion battle did not take place at the commonly regarded sites of Hastings, Battle or Pevensey, but near Brede, just inland from Icklesham and Winchelsea on the Sussex coast. This claim is cemented by her work as an expert geographer in the field.

And thirdly, her main thrust, is that the Normans did not bring conquest, destruction and subjugation. They bought unity, security and sovereignty.

Where Britain was concerned, wars were generally all about trade, because the country was rich in good fertile soil, and abundant in resources, such as tin, copper, gold, silver, lead and iron. But in particular, and this is so often forgotten, it had a wealth of valuable salt. Put it all together and it makes the land a prize worth fighting for, and worth defending.

Going back centuries, for example, historians have argued that Hadrian’s Wall, far from being a strictly defensive boundary line for the Roman Empire, acted more as a trading post for the lands beyond. Going back millennia, it has been mooted that the primary function for our oldest historic feature, Stonehenge, may have been as a showcase for British trade – a giant expo park for business! Tyson’s book suggests that these historians may not be too far out on their theories.

In addition, Tyson points out that the Norman Conquest can also be seen as the culmination of a centuries-old civil war. But we are not talking about a civil war between political factions within land masses, such as England, France, Denmark or Norway, but the coastal areas of these countries and the seas between them. These geographical expanses made up an international trade realm, and the ‘civil war’ spanned these areas.

It is fitting that the author dwells for a while on the word ‘angle’ in the second part of the book, because she comes at this subject from such a refreshingly different one.

I bought this book after I attended one of Tyson’s lectures last year. She had previously published similar accounts of the Norman Conquest in conjuction with the Carmen Widonis but this was a new version. Overall, I believe it possibly the best history of the Norman Conquest you will ever read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Carmen Widonis by Kathleen Tyson. CreateSpace 2019.


Soul City Wanderer’s own book Soul City Wandering was released in 2020. Available in paperback or on Kindle, it encourages readers to rediscover their urban surroundings.

“A great book… a great guide.

Poems… music… history… and fantastic ways to… go for walks”

Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
Soul City Wandering – the 5-star rated top ten bestseller

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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