“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, and spoiling for a fight, 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, though it was hardly a surprise, I suspect, to the English, seeing 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 the English had performed or rather not performed, that endeared them to him, not.
William chose 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, which surrendered to him; but that 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 the duke paid compensation for this later.
William, now with Dover in his hands, remained there about a week or so to strengthen the fortifications and perhaps to wait for the overseas reinforcements that are mentioned in the D Chronicle. Whilst holed up in Dover, the over crowded 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 the agonising illness. Even William was not unaffected, and became ill himself, but made of stronger stuff than his men, the Norman duke decided to push on, for the army needed to forage for more supplies. William wanted to aim for London, perhaps because he had heard, by now, that Edgar had been proclaimed king. He left those who were too ill to continue behind in Dover and continued on. As he went, leading citizens from the towns 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, though. 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 caught up with the main body. Avoiding London for now, William marched 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 his mind 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 north towards Luton, sending out columns of men as they went, to ravage the countryside for food, and quite likely, to let London know what was coming. He finally turned south east 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, though some say the brothers Edwin and Morcar may have submitted after the coronation at Barking after fleeing back to Northumbria.
William was hesitant, it is said, to be crowned just yet, mostly because of the obvious unrest that still presented itself in the kingdom. He was 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 any more military opposition and sent on ahead to the capital to make the necessary preparations.
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 a bit 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 outside assumed that this was treachery on the part of the English, and started setting fire to the houses outside the church. Interesting that they did this, as the shouting was coming from inside the church! Still, the Normans were suckers when it came to opportunities to show off their pyrotechnic skills. In any case, chaos ensued outside the Abbey 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 wasn’t long before the crowds inside the church heard the clamour and rushed out of the church in panic, leaving William standing there inside the church, visibly shaken, to continue the service with just a few monks and bishops. London, which was in an extreme state of high tension, was like a tinder box waiting to go off. The hostilities between the English and Normans were palpable. The Normans, still imbued with a lust for harrying and looting, used this episode as an excuse to fulfil their blood lust. 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. But, though the man 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.
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.
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.