Chapter Sixteen: The End of England as it was in 1066

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So, we have come, finally, to the end of the road that took us on our journey to the Battle of Hastings. By the end of December, William was now Harold’s successor,  refusing to acknowledge Harold’s reign at all. William, the Bastard of Normandy, had finally got his wish: to rule the most coveted kingdom in the world. In his lifetime, William had managed to achieve what might have been to some lesser resilient  men, an impossible dream. As a young boy  he endured dangers that no child should have to suffer, with attempts being made on his life and having to hide in peasants hovels. As a young man, he fought for the right to rule his duchy, and later he had to endure the king of France’s treachery, leading invasions into his Norman territories. The king of France had once been William’s protector and ally, but had betrayed him, joining forces with Geoffrey Martell, who had once been their mutual enemy.

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William and his brothers

 

By the time he reached his prime, well into his thirties, he had been able to assert power in Normandy and drew Brittany into his enclave. It was about this time, that he must have begun thinking about the supposed ‘promise’ that William had perceived that his cousin, Edward, King of England, had offered him. Whether Edward had been flippant, or had been manipulated into agreeing to make William his heir, or whether William had believed that Edward had agreed, or whether Edward had agreed, then later changed his mind, we will never know, but the evidence that Eadmer gives us is very telling. Personally, I believe there may have been some manipulation of Edward during that visit in the autumn of 1051, by both William, and Robert Champart, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In later years, as the Norman regime began to dwindle in power in England, I think it is fair to say that Edward’s influences were erring more to the English and we see how William had also used cunning to manipulate Harold into swearing an oath to support his claim.

King Edward
Edward the Confessor

 

Edward was a weak king in many ways, but in others he was stubborn, and strong willed. He had only been able to assert himself over his nobles, on one occasion when he had the whole of the Godwin family exiled; and his queen, Godwin’s daughter, banished to a nunnery. It didn’t take the  other English nobles long to be alarmed at Edward’s growing faction of Norman officials and they refused to resist Godwin’s return from exile, compelling Edward to reinstate the family back into power. Edward had never forgotten the part Godwin had played in the death of his brother, Alfred, who was brutally blinded by agents acting for Harold Harefoot and for whom Godwin had been serving at the time. Although Godwin had protested his innocence, and had been proclaimed innocent by a jury of twelve men, Edward would forever hold him responsible.  It was at an Easter feast that Edward was to bring up the subject of the death of Alfred again, and Godwin, frustrated at having the accusation flung in his face once more, was beset by a stroke, dying a few days later. Edward, hopefully because he was feeling guilty, offered the family his own personal apartments to nurse him in.

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The earldom of Wessex, was then passed on to Harold, which left East Anglia free to be  Alfgar of Mercia’s once more. As his father’s successor, Harold was able to start asserting his own authority in the once ancient kingdom. Wessex was a powerful and wealthy earldom and Harold was able to endorse his rise to power by becoming the king’s right hand man.

William was obviously of the belief that he was in line for the throne, but Edward had not confirmed this by the time he was dead, although William would have everyone believe that he had sent the powerful earl of Wessex, (Harold) with gifts and a message that Edward had not forgotten his promise of all those years ago. And this was their insistence, despite the fact that Edward had sent a mission to Europe to search for his nephew, Edward the Exile so that he could have an heir of the same blood as The House of Wessex. Therefore, if anyone should have been in line for the throne, it should have been Edward the Exile’s son, Edgar the Atheling. William did not seem to have any regard for anyone else’s claim, rightful or not.

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But it was Harold Godwinson, King Edward’s brother-in-law, who got the job in the end, though Edward seems to have enjoyed keeping everyone in the dark until he was on his deathbed. It was most likely that in an effort to stop the succession of William, the Witan accepted Harold’s claim, or they may have persuaded him sometime before Edward’s death, and had him crowned as soon as possible. Edgar’s claim seems to have not even been considered, and with the storms brewing south of the channel and from the north, it seemed sensible to choose a man who had been tried and tested and found not wanting. Harold, though not as experienced in warfare as William, nor was he as ruthless, was the most experienced of the English nobles, not only in battle tactics, but also in diplomacy and politics. Why would they have picked a young, untried boy over a man such as he?

It is quite clear that the English had no desire to have William rule them. He was a Norman through and through, and if Harold was not of royal blood himself, he was still an Englishman, born of an English father and a Danish mother, which might also endear him to those who lived in the Danelaw. The Normans were very different from the English, and the Anglo-Danes. At least those who were of Danish descent had a common culture and law code, they could understand each other, they shared a common history. The Normans, despite their Scandinavian blood, were completely alien to the men and women of England, sharing no such common history with the English and had absorbed French culture and law so much into their psyche, that they had become more French than Norse by 1066. One can see that to an Englishman, common or noble, it would be far more desirable to be ruled by someone who understood their language, their customs and their needs. And Harold had seen the ruthlessness of the Normans in action, had been on campaign with William into Brittany whilst he was there in 1064, in the hope that he could free his kin from William’s bondage. Instead, Harold had been manipulated by William, having no choice but to become William’s vassal, selling himself into the bargain in return for his freedom, and only succeeding in returning to England with Hakon, his nephew, and not with Wulfnoth. Harold’s youngest brother, Wulfnoth, was to stay in the care of William, remaining a hostage until Harold had secured William on the throne. One cannot imagine the torment that outcome must have had on Harold, whose intentions in going to Normandy had been entirely for a different reason. Later, when he took the crown, he knew his brother’s fate to be sealed. Whether Harold lived or died, Wulfnoth would never be free.

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Harold swears oath to William on holy relics

 

And as events led to Hastings, culminating in the death of England’s chosen king, those who were waiting in London to hear the outcome of the battle, would look to their boy king, Edgar Edwardson, grandson of Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. Would things have turned out differently if Harold had supported Edgar as regent? Most likely not. William would still have come for his crown, and Hardrada, too, would still have come. With Edgar on the throne, William would still have laid his claims, despite Edgar’s  being the stronger. After all, he paid no mind to Edgar, even though the lad had been proclaimed king, post Hastings, by the surviving English. Such was this Norman invader’s arrogance, he would dismiss the claims of a boy whose right was greater than his own, and proclaim himself the true, righteous king, chosen by God; for had he not the papal banner that proved God was on his side? Edgar, it seems, was soon dropped by those who had raised him up to be king, in favour of the Conqueror. The boy who would be king, never had a chance.

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English swineherds

 

William, however, was not loved by the English. He spent the first five years of his rule putting down rebellion after rebellion. Soon, there would be scant numbers of English nobility and most official administration posts, both secular and ecclesiastic would be taken up by newly appointed foreigners. French only would be spoken at court by the ruling classes who saw the spoken English as far too rustic for their tongues. English was soon exchanged for Latin, which became the language of the clerics, where English had once been used freely. But one thing that didn’t change, were the people of England themselves, who forever remained and would remain as English as they had always been.

Primary Sources 

Eadmer: Historia Novorum in Anglia

Vita Edwardi Regis

Further Reading

Barlow F. (1970) Edward the Confessor, Eyre Methuen LTD, Great Britain.

Barlow F. (2003) The Godwins, Pearson Education LTD, Great Britain.

Howarth D. (1978) 1066 The Year of the Conquest, Viking Press, New York.

Swanton M. (2000)  The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (new ed) Phoenix Press, Great Britain.

Walker I (2004)  Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King (paperback edition) Sutton Publishing LTD, Gloucs.

Chapter Fifteen: The Conqueror is Crowned

“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.

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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.

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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.

Primary Sources

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Worcester D

Guy de Amiens  Carmen de Hastingae Proelio

William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi

Further Reading

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.