TAKE A MAILED KNIGHT, UNLIMITED AMBITION, AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE? IN A WORD—EUROPE (OR A GREAT DEAL OF IT)
As it happens, my Irish family tracks back to Calvados, Normandy, France—but I think I would have been fascinated by the Normans anyway.
They were both phenomenally aggressive where it came to the conquest of land—and their ambition seemed to have no bounds. And they were also devastatingly competent. They grew up learning to fight and by the time they were adults, their skills were both practiced and intuitive.
True, an armored knight was extremely hard to kill for a period—until the longbow, crossbow and then gunpowder came along and were widely available—but even so their sheer chutzpah is what is so remarkable. They would dare practically anything, and they had a system of administering the lands they conquered that proved to be highly effective—though it wasn’t much fun if you were at the bottom of the pile. Little has changed in the latter regard.
Their best known conquest was England in 1066—after the Battle of Hastings—but they seem to have ended up the length and breadth of Europe, though they scarcely shined when it came to the crusades. There, they encountered maneuver warfare—an area of debate even today—a hostile climate, and were heavily outnumbered—but they still remained formidable. Unfortunately, they had a bad habit of sacking places which did not necessarily belong to their enemies. Cyprus was one. There were others. They were, so to speak, somewhat impulsive in that regard. One might almost say bloodthirsty. Once the tactically necessary killing stopped, it was exceptionally hard to rein it in. Killing was what knights did—and they were exceptionally good at it.
One of the best historical novelists who wrote about the Normans—and much else besides—is Alfred Duggan. Highly recommended.
The above keep is broadly similar to that of Fitzduane—as described in GAMES OF THE HANGMAN. As it happens, this particular specimen is located in Adrano, Sicily. Distance was no barrier to the Normans. If there were lands to conquer, they sought them out—seemingly regardless of the forces they were up against. I’m not sure they made for very comforting neighbors, but they were amazing people—brave, resolute, disciplined and ruthless. Better to read about than to know. Fascinating nonetheless.