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.

Chapter Thirteen: The Aftermath of the Battle

And so, the battle culminated in the end of Harold Godwinson’s reign. The Battle of Hastings, as it has largely been referred to, resulted in wiping out nearly all of the surviving sons of Godwin except for the youngest son, Wulfnoth, who, fortunately for him, was at least alive ( if not kicking) somewhere in Normandy at the time of the battle. For those who may not be endowed with the full story, Wulfnoth Godwinson had been taken to Normandy in around 1052, most probably by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Champart along with Wulfnoth’s nephew, Hakon. It is thought that Champart had plotted to put William of Normandy on the throne and had brought the boys with him when escaping the wrath of Godwin. Wulfnoth and Hakon, were at the time, hostages for Edward, left behind by Godwin when he had fled into exile. But when Godwin returned and fought his way back to power once more, Champart decided it was a good time to return to his native Normandy, taking the boys with him to use as pawns in the 11th century game of thrones. Was this the time in history that the seeds of William’s hopes were planted, leading him to believe for many years that one day England would be his?

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As the sun came down over Battle Hill, later known as Senlac, Harold’s body lay among the rest of the dead, mutilated beyond recognition, so much so, that they had to bring his wife, more Danico, Lady Edith Swannehaels, to the field to identify him the next morning. His brothers Gyrth and Leofwin were said to have  been found slain near his body. The king’s ornately decorated banner of the Fighting Man, made, possibly, by the loving hands of Edith, snatched from Harold’s personal bodyguard as they fought bravely to save it, just as they’d desperately tried to save their lord. And in doing so, they had died, their blood and guts spilled over the earth, mingling with the blood of their king. The Carmen was to bemoan that the English ideology of fighting to the death with their lord was the undoing of them. To the English, this was loyalty and honour, which, as we see in centuries to come, would still be an intrinsic part of English nature.

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Once the word had gone round that Harold was dead, it was, as is usual when this point is reached in battle, for those who were still alive, to throw their swords down and surrender to whatever fate the victor decides, or to run for their lives. It was known that many did flee, even those who were severely injured, crawling their way to imagined safety. Some of the worst collapsed in the woods and as Poitiers reports somewhat theatrically, their corpses blocked the escape of their comrades. He also tells us that William and the Count of Ponthieu led the pursuit into the night, viciously slashing at the escapee’s backs and trampling over their bodies. But the fleeing English weren’t the only ones to die; as the Norman pursuers rushed into unknown terrain in the darkness, they went headlong into an old ancient rampart. As they rode up against it, on horseback and in full armour, they fell on top of one another, horse and rider, crushing each other to death. Sometime later, the Battle Abbey Chronicle was to refer to this pit as the Malfosse: the evil ditch.

The next morning, Poitiers was to record in poetic prose this poignant phrase referring to the carnage of the day before:

‘Far and wide the earth was covered with the flower of the English nobility and youth, drenched in blood.’

William allowed his men time to bury the dead and left the English to bury their own. He wanted the body of Harold to be dealt with and did not want him taken somewhere where his remains would attract pilgrimages and sainthood. The bodies of the English warriors had been stripped of all their effects and valuables, and due to the horrific mutilations inflicted on them, it was difficult to identify him. According to the Waltham Chronicle, Lady Edith Swannehaels (Swan neck) was called for and brought to the field to identify her husband’s body, which must have been an horrific ordeal. His face was  said in later sources to have been terribly mutilated, hacked by the swords of those who had wanted to boast they’d a hand in the ‘killing’ of the King of England. He had been disemboweled and castrated, ‘hacked to pieces’. It was said that the Lady Edith  knew him by the marks on his body. What marks these were, one can only speculate, for we are not told. Tattoos, perhaps? Or lovebites? Or maybe moles or scars. Nonetheless she was able to identify him, probably hoping that she could give him a deserving burial. But it seemed that William was to deny him even this in his death, just as he had denied him his life on the battlefield.

Harold’s mother, it is said, offered the duke the weight of her son’s body in gold if he would allow her to take it. William refused, telling one of his retainers, William Malet, to take the king’s body and bury him on a hill under a pile of stones, so that he could continue to watch for enemy invaders. This sounds like the stuff of legend. William was a deeply pious man, it seems hard to believe he wouldn’t have afforded this man, who he had once supposedly greatly respected, a Christian burial. However, we have no solid, non contradictory evidence to support this. Whether or not the aforesaid story is fable or has some truth to it, where Harold’s remains ended up has been the subject of speculation for a long time. Waltham Abbey claimed that it had been secreted there, and a later excavation at Bosham, Harold’s childhood home, has found remains belonging to a man around a thousand years old, suggesting that this could also be him. There are remarkable stories that he survived the battle and wondered around an old hermit. Some people seem to have a hard time accepting someone has actually gone, died, dead, caput.

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William had Harold’s own personal standard sent to the pope in thanks for his support. The pope had given him a banner which William used on the day and this must have had a great psychological affect on the morale of the duke and also his opponent, who was by no means an irreligious man. For William, however, the affect would have been positive, for Harold, not quite so positive. He’d heard that he had been excommunicated by the pope sometime during the muster and no doubt seeing a papal banner blowing in the wind on the battlefield hadn’t helped to ease that anxiety. These were days when the outcomes of conflict were decided by God. One can only imagine the profound disappointment Harold must have felt and the injustice of it all, for he’d not had the chance to put his case before the pope as William had done.

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Thousands of men died, perhaps as many as 50% of who participated, the majority being English. William had his men rolled into a mass grave, but did not deign to give burial to those English who had no one to take care of their bodies, but did give permission for the English relatives to come and claim their men. It has been said that people came for years to search for their loved ones and give them a decent burial. This must have made it difficult to identify them, seeing as most of them had been stripped of everything they owned. Battle Hill must have been known as a place of sorrow for years to come.

William allowed his men to camp for the next few days to recover, before moving on with the next stage of the conquest, to take Dover, Rochester and London. He was expecting the rest of the English to submit to him but Edgar the Atheling was announced as king in London by the leading bishops and the young northern earls, Edwin and Morcar. London was full of men who’d marched south to support Harold, but had obviously got there too late. Some of the lucky survivors of Hastings, may also have made it back with the news of how the day had gone, shocked and distraught. Apparently the streets were teeming with men who would have no other king who wasn’t a compatriot. But of course, William was unaware of this and instead of rushing on to London, killing and devastating the land as he went, he waited patiently for a fortnight for his new subjects to come to him and surrender. When they didn’t, he decided that he would have to go to them and made ready to move.

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William may have been the victorious conqueror of the men he had defeated at Hastings, but it would be some years yet that he could actually consider himself, Conqueror of all the English. Apart from Hastings and Pevensey, the rest of the cities and towns had yet to be taken. The battle for England was only just beginning.

Primary Sources

Guy de Amiens  Carmen de Hastingae Proelio

William Poitiers Gesta Guillelmi

Further Reading

Morris M. (2012) The Norman Conquest Hutchinson, London.

Chapter 12: The Battle: 2) A Worthy and Just Cause

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So in the last part of this post, the battle lines have been drawn. Harold’s army has been marshalled along the top of the ridge at the edge of Caldbeck Hill and are watching William’s army of chevaliers, archers, crossbowmen and infantry as the Norman leader arrays them at the bottom of the steep slope, more than 200 yards from the English who are shouting “Ut! Ut! Ut!” as they bang their shields.   Amongst William’s army, to the left of the field, are the Bretons, the largest of his mercenary contingents along with the men from Anjou, Poitou, and Maine. They were under the command of the Breton, Alan Fergant. William took up the centre with his Norman troops and on the right flank, were the smaller contingents from France and Flanders, Picardy and Bolougn under the leaderships of William’s seneschal and great friend, William FitzOsbern, assisted by Eustace of Boulogne, who had caused so much trouble over the Dover incident in 1051. This incident had set the ball rolling for William, for if Eustace had not escalated the rift that was growing between Earl Godwin and King Edward, the way would not have been paved for William.

Harold was there with his  huscarles and those of his brother, Gyrth, and also thegns and land holders commended to him from East Anglia, where Gyrth was earl. The same with Harold’s other brother, Leofwine, who presided over Middlesex, Kent, Essex, Hertford, Surrey and probably Buckinghamshire.  And of course the men of Sussex. On the march back down from York to London, Harold would have needed to recruit men for the fourth army he’d had to call out this year and with the northerners still recovering from the battles in the north, he would have sent messengers on fast horses to call out the fyrds from East Anglia across to Hampshire. Many of these troops would have met him in London, but no doubt, there were those who went straight to the Hoary Apple Tree in Sussex. Harold had marched with those who’d joined with him in London to the proposed meeting place whilst his mesengers were rounding up the men of the southwest to come join them, shires like Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, and perhaps Devon and Somerset too. According to Walker (2004) men were arriving throughout the day and augmenting Harold’s army. Many of these were the local militias throughout the shires, 1 man in every 5 hides, who trained for 2 months a year. They would have been equipped with at least a shield and spear, perhaps more,  if their 5 hides could afford it, or they had a generous lord. These chaps would not have had to fight in the front lines, for they would have been killed very quickly, being so poorly armoured. It would have been their job to support the professional warriors from the back of the lines.

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An unarmoured fyrdsman, just kitted with shield and spear and a seax at his waste

It has been a popular idea that much of the English army were peasant farmers with pitchforks and slings. I don’t buy it. How on earth would an army made up mostly of yokels have lasted in such a battle all day? Working on a farm can give you muscles, sure, but muscles don’t offer skill or protection alone. The men in the front lines had to be professional, or at least semi professional like the landholding thegns, or the enemy would have broken the lines as if they were a pack of cards. The peasantry would have been better utilised in bringing in the harvest, and maintaining the fields and making sure there was enough food for the winter. Their inexperience would have got them killed, so then, who would be there to work on the land if they were gone? Well, yes, the women, I hear you say. But much of the husbandry would have needed the strength of men, not women. The only peasants that may have turned up, might have been the local Sussex farmers, who turned up to support their lords. This was their land, and perhaps they had been personally affected by the raiding Normans. These may be the men, who, when they arrived, saw that there was enough men on that ridge already, men who were armoured and had fighting experience, so they went away, as is reported  in Roman de Rou,  and in Florence’s Chronicle of Worcester.

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Thegn or huscarle

Both leaders had a good reason to want to engage as soon as possible. William must have known that not all of Harold’s army had arrived yet. England’s martial system allowed Harold to draw on around 25,000 men in a national crisis. It is thought that at the opening of battle, Harold had around 7-8,000 men and we know that more were arriving. William was cornered on the Hastings peninsula with little way of retreat, and with rumours of Harold having assembled a fleet to destroy the Normans ships, it was fight or die.  But if they could get a foot hold in, say Kent, Harold would be heading for disaster. So, William needed to get this early victory; destroy Harold and the morale of the English would be destroyed. Harold, on the other hand, needed to contain William, to keep him locked into that corner of Sussex until the rest of his army arrived and that was why he took up the defensive stance on the ridge. His army was blocking the road to London and if William retreated, they would be able to follow him and wrap him up in no time. There was also more at stake for Harold: Sussex was also where most of Harold’s ancestral home was, the hoary tree was within the boundaries of Harold’s estate of Whatlington and William had been harrying his people. The king must have felt aggrieved at this and concerned for his lands, and his people. He was their hlaford, their loaf-giver, their lord. He owed them his protection.

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Anglo Saxon Villagers

Pic care of :http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk/weststow/compare.htm

The battle was thought to have begun around 9am, however this may have been later, according to Howarth (1977), who states that by the time William had organised all his men, and set out to march at 6.30 am, it would have been considerably later than 9am. This seems possible, but all the sources seem to imply that the battle begun in the third church hour, so 9am. By now, Harold and William would have made the usual obligatory speeches to their men, exhorting their men to fight for their respective just causes. The English would have been told that their homes, their way of life and their families were at risk. If they didn’t beat the invaders, they would lose everything. William’s men would be fighting for the spoils and riches they had been promised, and for their leader’s worthy and rightful cause, and their lives. If they did not beat Harold in the field this day, they would be doomed to die on English soil.

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Taillefer wows his fellows

It was time for the battle to begin. Three writers wrote about a minstrel of William’s called Taillefer who begged his lord to be able to strike the first blow. When given permission he charged out of the ranks, singing the La Chanson de Roland and tossing, twirling and catching his sword. He was reputed to have killed three Englishmen who charged out to meet him before he was cut down and killed, himself. This seems like an embellishment added by the Normans, however, it is the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio by Guy de Amiens, that we must credit with this story first, and it is then mentioned again later by other writers. We might be able to put Taillefer’s insane bravado down to his battle excitement, but surely no sane artist wanting fame and prestige, would perform such a suicidal final act, bearing in mind that minstrels were known to be a little crazy. Perhaps it didn’t quite happen the way the Carmen tells us, for one writer puts this scene in the middle of battle. But whatever happened, if it happened at all, its a nice opener to the story of the battle.

In the next part of this post, the battle begins… join me as we examine the key battle stages as we find ourselves in the midst of the fighting.

Further Reading

Gravett C (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.

Mason E (2004)  The House of Godwine The History of a Dynasty Hambledon London, London and New York.

Chapter Eleven:The Eve of Battle

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For a better look http://www.angelfire.com/mb2/battle_hastings_1066/hastingsmaps.html

There were two hills that made the valley called Santlache, meaning a sandy lake in modern English. They were Telham Hill and Caldbeck Hill. Most likely the land here was  marshy and that was why they called it a lake, though obviously not a lake in actual fact. The origin of the name is unknown, but it was not called Senlac until the the Normans, or the French,  changed the original meaning to Sanguelac, which translates as bloody lake, as a sort of pun on the original meaning, and very apt for what it was to become. It was not until Orderic Vitalis wrote in 1140, that it began to be used, before that, chroniclers seem to have called it plain old Battle of Hastings (Howarth 1977).  It was in this valley that the battle was going to take place, Harold, choosing to defend the ridge that ran across the road to Hastings, at the top of the of incline on Caldbeck Hill.

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http://www.jeron.je/anglia/learn/sec/history/hastings/page10.htm

 

Harold met with his army by the Hoary Old Apple Tree on Caldbeck Hill the night before the battle, approaching via the road from Rochester with the men from the west joining them from a prehistoric pathway that joined the London to Lewes road as stated by Gravett 2000. Knowing that Duke William was waiting in Hastings, Harold knew that the best position to defend against an army containing cavalry, would be on the high ground. He must also have known the mustering place quite well to have chosen this as the spot. No doubt this place was a local meeting point for the local levies who would meet every year to train and hone their skills. He would have seen the advantages of the terrain. The ground was around 235 feet higher than the bottom of the slope and behind the ridge on Caldbeck Hill was open heathland and the forest lay at the edge of the hill, a good escape route if it were  needed.

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http://www.jeron.je/anglia/learn/sec/history/hastings/page10.htm

William was about 6 miles away in his encampment at Hastings when he was told that his rival for the English throne had taken up the position on the top of Caldbeck Hill, his army arriving in units from all over the country. As is the usual custom, more messengers were sent to and fro, not because the matter of the messages were important, but to spy on each other, to see what their plans were and to report anything of importance that they might find out whilst within their camps. One of the messengers reported back to Harold that there were a lot of priests accompanying the Norman army, but Harold knew the habit of the Normans to shave the back of their heads, and so was not surprised. He knew he would not be fighting a bunch of wet, weakling clergy. He had seen William’s army in action. Another messenger reported that William was going to march at dawn (Guy de Amiens), and so Harold knew they were coming, and I am certain that William did not ‘surprise’ or catch the English unawares the next morning. He would have known by now a rough count of their numbers and would have also worked out how long it would take for the invaders to march the 6 miles to Santlache. He would be ready. Unfortunately, there are no contemporary English sources of the battle itself, all we have to go on were those that came from the victorious winners, Guy of Amiens in the Roman de Rou and the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, being the main ones. What we know of the English side is what the Normans saw, and not what it was like from within the English army itself. Some sources insist that William’s convoy came over Telham Hill and into view just as Harold was still marshalling his troops along the ridge, but on reflection, so many troops would have taken quite some time to organise.  Plus some were still arriving.

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Norman Knight

What was the mental state of these two men on the eve before battle? William was buoyant, asssured and confident of a victory, with everything going his way. So far, he had been lucky, but he wouldn’t have seen it as just luck; everything that had happened so far was God’s will: the change of wind, the safe sea crossing, the safe landing with no opposition. And now Harold was out of his safe place in London and coming to him.  He was confident that he would win tomorrow. He had the papal banner to prove he had the right of it. God was on his side.

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Anglo/Danish Huscarle

Harold, I’m guessing, would have been in quite a different state of mind from William. He had recently marched north to destroy his brother and the Norsemen. His brother… dead. That can’t have been happy news for him to give to his mother and his sister. So Tostig had betrayed him, but he was still his brother. The psychological impact this must have had on him would have been traumatic. And just when he thought he had dealt with all he needed to deal with that year, along comes the news that William was waiting on his doorstep. The stress of rousing his men, having to march back down in just a few days, again, must have put a considerable amount of pressure on him. And then,  he hears that the pope had excommunicated him. The Roman de Rou, would claim that this caused men to desert him before the battle had even started. Harold would now know, that God had deserted him and the effect on his psyche would have been tremendous.

Further Reading

Gravett C (2000) Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Howarth D (1977) 1066 The Year of the Conquest Viking Press, New York.