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Legend of William the conqueror

Part of the BBC's Hands On History season, The Normans was a typically austere and tastefully shot history lesson, taking us back to a time when the future very much belonged to those crazy Viking pirates.

Presented by historian Robert Bartlett, proceedings opened on the Chateau de Falaise one fateful night in 1027, when an embalmer's daughter found herself having a strange dream that began with an enormous tree bursting out of her belly, and ended as the tree quickly overshadowed the surrounding Normandy before throwing its darkness across the water, and on to England.

The fact that this young girl had, it's believed, conceived that very night the child who would be known as William The Conqueror may explain such a fanciful dream. History -- including dreams -- tends to be written by the winner.

Then again, everyone in the Middle Ages liked their Jackanory with a little supernatural thrown in. This was a time when legends and myths were the tabloids of the day. A time when Halley's Comet was also known as The Terror Of Kings, the belief being that this great ball of fire was a sign from God that a hard rain was a-gonna fall. On a king's head, most likely.

Bartlett took us through the Normans' early invasion of France, and their cunning decision to not only come, see and conquer, but also to marry into the local aristocracy -- to make the move that little bit more palpable to the locals, and therefore a little more permanent.

That the Normans came not only for the land, wealth and power but also for some spiritual inspiration, knowledge and fine art meant that these brutes found more than a few open arms on their travels.

Bartlett took us up to that major turning point in European history, the Battle of Hastings, on October 14, 1066, William finally making the leap from being the original duke of hazard to the King of England. Next week, Bartlett will look at how the Normans changed not only England but our own green and peasant land too. I'm hoping it will be called What Have The Normans Ever Done For Us?

Ah, love and marriage. Go together like a horse and carriage. Only sometimes, as last night's Newlyweds: The One Year Itch, proved, it's a little more like a horse and cabbage.

There's a lot been said about marriage. In 1870, Benjamin Disraeli advised: 'Every woman should marry -- and no man'.

Woody Allen reckons his first nuptials failed mainly because, for that first year, he put his wife under a pedestal. Another pearl of wisdom is the argument that marriage is the price men pay for sex, and sex is the price women pay for marriage.

Either way, it's safe to say that marriage isn't merely a word, it's a sentence. A lifelong commitment. Which, for some, can seem like an eternity, even after one year.

Whether it was the God-fearing teen couple marrying so they could finally lay together or the middle-aged woman begging her beer-swillin' old boy to lay off the booze for their big day (he didn't), the signs were there with many of the choice couples from over 50 filmed tying the knot last year that, when it comes to marriage, the first cut is usually the deepest. And that first year might just be the toughest.

Not that Newlyweds found any real heartbreak here, just a selection of experiences, and insights, and, in the case of one dumped bride taking her cheating man back, glaring oversights.

In the end, one year on told us not very much at all, other than a few anecdotes. For real insights about the human condition over time, you'd be better of getting your hands on Michael Apted's wonderful 7Up series, which, in 2005, caught up with their subjects at the age of 49.

STACEY'S STARS

The Normans ***

Newlyweds: the one-year itch ***


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