“And Earl William went back to Hastings again, and waited there to see if he would be submitted to; but when he realised that no one was willing to come to him, he went inland with all of his raiding army which was left to him… ” The Anglo Saxon Chronicle D
Whilst London was celebrating their new king, Edgar, William, ignorant of these new events, marched his army back to Hastings where he hoped the English would start turning up in their droves to honour and submit to him. He waited there for a fortnight, but none came to him, which may have surprised him. It was hardly a surprise, I suspect, to the English, however, considering how he had dealt so mercilessly with their king. So, realising that the big welcome fanfare was not going to arrive any day soon, William decided to march out of Hastings with his army, to see what was what. This was probably the first act (apart from opposing him at Hastings) the English had performed or rather not performed, that endeared them to him, not.
William’s next move was to go east to Romney, where Poitiers states, some of his fleet had landed by mistake and were slaughtered by the inhabitants. For this heinous act, William punished the town, probably by burning it. He then moved onto Dover, who, perhaps on hearing of the punishment dealt out to Romney, surrendered. It didn’t stop the Normans plundering and burning it anyway, an act that Poitiers insists was accidental and caused by the greedy lower ranks of the duke’s army. Apparently, William paid compensation for this later.
Now with Dover in his hands, the Duke of Normandy remained there about a week or so to strengthen the fortifications and perhaps to wait for the overseas reinforcements that are mentioned in volume D of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Whilst holed up in Dover, the overcrowded town became a sick bed for most of the army. Running out of supplies, they may have had to resort to drinking the water and an outbreak of dysentery occurred. Many of these men who had survived the horrors of Hastings, were now dying of this agonising illness. Even William was not unaffected, and became ill himself, but made of strong stuff, he pushed on, for the army needed to forage for more supplies. William wanted to aim for London, perhaps because he’d heard, by now, that Edgar was now the proclaimed king. He left those who were too ill to continue behind in Dover and as he went on his path, the leading citizens of the south east came to submit to him, as Canterbury did before he even got to its gates.
This must have pleased the conqueror no end, but London was a different matter. The people of London were too riled to do any organised submitting at this stage, however I am sure William was hoping to change their minds, one way or another.
Soon, the dowager queen, Edith, would submit Winchester to the king, and by the end of October, the whole of Kent and much of the South East had submitted.
The route that William had taken, according to Gravett (2000), was from Hastings to Dover, to Canterbury, and along the trackways of the ancient ridgeway which runs from Wiltshire down to the east coast of Kent. After a failed attempt to take London, a large party of Normans set fire to the buildings on the south bank of the Thames and then, avoiding London for now, caught up with the main body marching onto Wallingford where he was given passage by the thegn of that burgh, Wigod. There they set up camp about mid November.
It was here that Stigand and his followers came to submit, having changed their minds about betting on Edgar. William set up a castle in Wallingford and being satisfied that he had the obeisance of the people in that area, moved on towards Luton, sending out columns of men along the way to ravage the countryside for food, and quite likely, to let London know what was coming. He finally turned southeast again, stopping first at Little Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire where he received the obeisance of Ealdred, Edgar and the thegns of London, around mid December. Perhaps, too, came the northern earls, Morcar and Edwin, though some say the brothers may have submitted later at Barking having to flee back to Northumbria when it was clear that support for Edgar was failing in the face of William’s successful campaign to win followers.
William was hesitant, it is said, to be crowned just yet, mostly because of the obvious unrest that still presided over the kingdom. He was, as yet, unsure of the North’s response to the conquest and there was still a large amount of survivors and members of the fyrd who hadn’t made it to Hastings in time, filling the streets of London. But he was either convinced by his own barons, or the English magnates, that England needed a king to prevent anymore loss of life, and sent a mixed delegation of English and Norman ahead to the capital to make the necessary preparations.
Eventually the English in London submitted, and the Coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, in the traditional format of former English kings, and as the Worcester Chronicle says:
“…Archbishop Aldred consecrated him (William) king in Westminster; and he gave his hand on it, and on Christ’s book, and also swore, before he (Aldred) would set the crown on his head, that he would hold this nation as the best of any kings before him did, if they would be loyal to him.”
But it all went catastrophically wrong when the audience, as part of the service, was required to participate by calling out their affirmations, and began shouting out, first in English, and then in French, and the Norman guards, on a knife edge due to the already extreme high tension in the burgh, assumed treachery was afoot and started setting fire to the houses outside the church. It wasn’t long before the crowds inside the church heard the clamour and rushed out in panic, leaving William standing virtually alone in the church, visibly shaken, to continue the service with just a few monks and bishops.
Chaos ensued outside and many lives were lost as the fires took hold and men tried to put them out. People were also trampled in the streets trying to flee the fracas. It was a PR disaster for William and a life changing tragedy for many Londoners.
London had been a tinder box waiting to go off at the first sign of a spark and the hostilities between the English and Normans were palpable. The Normans, the blood lust still in their veins, used this episode as an excuse to fulfil it with harrying and looting. This was a sad day for Londoners who, had stood where England’s darling, Harold, had stood, only a year ago to cheer him as England’s saviour. Such were the fates imposed upon the English that terrible year.
Thus ended the year of the Conquest, a new king, a new regime. Death, destruction and cruelty were about to hit the English on a scale of which England would not have seen since the Viking incursions of the 9th century.
The fight for England was just beginning, and it would be no easy game for rebellions would plague the new king for some time to come yet. Though the new Norman king of England be crowned, there was still a long way to go before he could sit on the throne, secure in the knowledge his kingdom was won.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Worcester D
Guy de Amiens Carmen de Hastingae Proelio
William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi
Gravett C Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England, Osprey Publishing Ltd, UK.
Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.
Swanton M. (2000) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.