Book Review: Defenders of the Norman Crown, Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pub date: 31 May 2021

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto – by what warrant he held his lands – John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.

Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

I had not previously heard of the Warenne family so was interested in learning about the family and their role within the aristocracy of England.

William de Warenne was created the first Earl of Surrey following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 where he fought alongside William the Conqueror.  The family would go on to hold this title until the reign of Edward III. The Warenne family became one of the richest and most powerful families through the rewards from the crown but also through successful marriages into not only prominent families but also into royalty. They gained much land but also donated much to the church.

The dynasty came to an end under the reign of Edward III. This book is the result of meticulous research and I fully enjoyed the excerpts of material.
Sharon Bennett Connolly brings this family to the forefront and discusses their successes, downfalls and scandals. Through this book I’ve learnt not just about the family but also the politics of the day and the struggles of remaining loyal to the Crown.

It can get a little confusing with names but so do many historical books and I found the chronology helped with this.

Overall, this is a brilliant overview of such a prominent family who were central to the Crown and politics and I would recommend to anyone with an interest.

I’d like to thank Pen and Sword and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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