The Rise of Edward the Confessor: The Story of the Man Who But For a Quirk of Fate, Might Never Have Been King

How Edward Became King

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 1 : le roi Édouard le Confesseur
Bayeux Tapestry, Scene 1: King Edward the Confessor and Earl Harold. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Author: Myrabella

Edward, son of Æthelred must have been one of if not the luckiest Anglo-Saxon kings to take the throne of England. He starts out with his chances of succeeding his father looking very hopeful up to the age of about eight. Then his luck ran out with the coming of Danish invaders, Svein and Cnut. His father Æthelred, chased out of England, returns again only to die in the midst of the Danish invasion. With Edward’s older brother Edmund¹ on the throne in Wessex and Cnut in charge of the Danelaw, his chances of ever becoming king were looking slim, and they got even slimmer when Edmund, the courageous Ironside, dies from his battle wounds leaving the kingdom to Cnut as agreed by the treaty the two men had made. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they are compounded when his dear mother, Emma, decides to get into a new marriage bed with Cnut, followed by two more children, leaving poor old Edward and his brother, Alfred, out in the cold in Normandy.
The years go by, and Edward spends it in exile, cultivating a hatred for his mother, that will last a life time. And who could blame him? After all, she abandons the interests of her sons by Æthelred to marry this Cnut chap who is years younger than her and not willing to play stepdaddy to two young lads one little bit. Emma seems quite happy about this, or perhaps, struck with a short memory problem, forgets her children from her former marriage also including a girl, Goda. Most likely, Emma negotiates her own terms for her marriage, seeing as her brother, in a fit of pique, more-or-less disowns her when she sails back to England to marry Cnut, and it would seem that within those terms there is no room for Edward or Alfred in this happy new family. So Emma, as far as her eldest son is concerned, bangs the first nail into her coffin, and there are more nails to bang in over the coming years.

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Emma and Cnut – public domain

Despite her neglect of her eldest children, Emma of Normandy was quite a woman for her time. Born somewhere between 985 and 989 she was shipped off to England in 1002 to marry Æthelred who was to earn the nomenclature Unready for prosperity. In becoming the second Mrs Unready, Emma was the first Norman queen of England. If her treatment of her children by Mr Unready is anything to go by, she obviously didn’t like her first husband. He was, no doubt, a lot older than her having grown up children of his own. She may had loved her first children dearly, but it still didn’t stop her from running to Cnut without securing something for them. Cnut probably needed her as much as she needed him, however, whether Cnut was unwilling to agree to her sons having a stake in the crown, or whether Emma was agreeable to forgoing their rights, is unsure. Whatever the machinations, I imagine that it was part of the nuptial contract that Emma forego her children’s rights, but she probably secured the succession for any children she had by Cnut over his children by any others. To give credit to her, she pulled off an amazing coup by becoming Cnut’s queen, ousting the backside of her rival, Ælfgifu², from his bed and replacing it with her own, getting her hands on that crown for the second time running.

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Norman knights supported by archers attack the English at the Battle of Hastings. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century

Edward probably spends the next twenty-five years living in Normandy being educated with his brother and being brought up as knights. He seems to make several friends, one of them being Robert Champart who may have travelled to Normandy with him later when his half-brother, Harthacnut, recalls him to assist with his government. It is not known exactly how he carried on his affairs in Normandy or what his relationship was like with Duke Robert or his young son, William. William would have only been in his infancy when Edward himself was a young man and Edward did not seem to have had much to do with him during the dangerous years of William’s succession to his father. It is unlikely that the Norman propaganda in later years that promulgated their relationship as cordial and supportive was true. Edward is not mentioned in the sources as being part of his administration which seems to have been carried out by close members of the senior duke’s family and that of the boy’s mother’s. If he had been, I’m sure that it would have been documented and used to their advantage. They may have known each other distantly, but there is no evidence to state that there was any love between them and by the time Edward sailed for England, the young duke would have been no older than twelve or thirteen. Edward may have studied at Jumièges, as his relationship with Robert Champart of Jumièges might suggest. Or he might have lived at the Abbey of Fécamp as his gifts to them during his reign might also suggest. William Calculus, a monk of Jumièges stated that Edward and Ælfred completed their schooling in the ducal court, which William of Poitiers, Archdeacon of Lisieux also repeats. No doubt, however, that whatever the case, the brothers were most likely brought up as young noble men would have been. Initially as pages, then learning squirely duties where they would also have learned to sing, dance, and fight on horseback as chevaliers.

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York Museums Trust (Yorkshire Museum)

Meanwhile, whilst Edward was going about his activities in Normandy, Cnut ups and dies in November of 1035. The country is split into to 2 factions, with those supporting Cnut’s son by Ælfgifu, Harold Harefoot in the north and those supporting his son, Harthacnut, by Emma in the south. Nobody thought about the two sons of Æthlefred languishing in exile over the water in Normandy – or perhaps they did, and found Edward wanting, if anyone had bothered to look into his character that is, as it was to become clear later, Edward was hardly the epitome of a king in such a warrior society as this, despite his knightly upbringing. Æthelred did have other sons that the English might have looked to should they have no desire to plant the troublesome offspring of Cnut on the throne, but by this time, they were all dead, and any issue from them may have been obscure or missing, as was the most famous amongst them, Edmund’s sons³, at this time, abroad in exile.
So, with Harthacnut held up in Denmark, unable to get back to England to claim his throne, his half-brother, Harold, is proclaimed Protector for his in his absence. Harold hurries to Emma in Winchester and seizes the Royal treasury and regalia from her. The next blow to her is Godwin, who had been a supporter of Harthacnut and Emma, accepts that his lot would be better served by switching sides and Emma, vulnerable and concerned for her own position is thought to have reached out to her first-born sons in Normandy. Edward and Ælfred, whether in harmony or not, cross separately with a contingent each to meet their mother in England. Ælfred is killed by Harold Harefoot’s henchmen after being handed over by Godwin. The Earl of Wessex intercepted had Ælfred on his way to parley with Harold. Edward is said to have landed in Southampton but is either repulsed or perhaps sent a messenger from his mother which warns him and he scuttles back home the way he came. Emma later claims that Harefoot forged a letter to sent to her sons to lure them to England and as in Ælfred’s case, eventual death. It was Earl Godwin who was the loser in this debacle. Whatever his reasons for intercepting Ælfred, he was to be blamed for the rest of his life by Edward for the death of his brother: an accusation that was said to have haunted Godwin until his death.
Harold Harefoot eventually has a timely death which coincides with Harthacnut’s return to England shortly after to take up his post as king. When he heard about the death of his half-brother, Ælfred, the first thing  he did was to dig up Harold Harefoot’s corpse and toss it in a ditch, so incensed was he. But he wasn’t to live for too long either, even though he was only about twenty-four at the time, he might have had some insight into his health. Not having married or fathered any known sons, he was advised to invite his older brother from across the sea in Normandy, to join him and be one of his counsellors. Edward had by now given up any thoughts of being king, so the summons must have come as a surprise.

Queen Emma, wife of Ethelred II and Cnut, receives the book from its author, watched by her sons Harthacnut and Edward (King Edward the Confessor)
Emma receives the Encomium from its author, flanked by Harthacnut and Edward, 11th century (c) British Library Board/Bridgeman Imageson

This must have seemed like a miracle to Edward, who, as the Vita Ædwardi Regis claims was sworn in as the future king when Emma was pregnant. The will of God had been that Edward would be their king all along, and that God had postponed the event in order to punish the people for their sins. Despite the auspisiousness of the prophecy, this was given to add meaning to Edward’s long-awaited kingship, thus rationalising the development of his saintly persona. Edward was now elevated to the highest status one could ever achieve. Just a few weeks prior to his invitation from his half-brother, Edward had been in the unlikely position of ever becoming king. Now, he was the king’s heir. Edward, without doing anything, had achieved the seemingly impossible. He had started out in a goodly position. His mother’s pre-marriage contract arranged by her brother, the Duke of Normandy, would have seen to it that any of her sons borne of Æthelred’s seed would have taken precedence over any of his sons from another woman’s womb.
Harthacnut, it was said as per the Encomium Emma, was inspired by brotherly love, because he obviously loved Edward even though he’d never given him a thought throughout his life, invited Edward to come and hold the kingdom with him. Edward hopefully didn’t rush into this rashly, after all, he’d only waited 25 years, but he obeyed the summons and ‘Emma and her two sons among whom there was true loyalty,’ ehem, *coughs, ‘amicably share the kingdom’s revenues.’ Poitiers chose to believe that William of Normandy, then only a mere twelve or thirteen, had something to do with helping the exile get back home to his rightful place.

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Edward’s Coronation

It’s possible that whilst Emma was in Bruges waiting for Harthacnut to withdraw from his issues in Denmark, some sort of reconciliation between the two brothers and their mother was made. Perhaps Emma at last felt the burden of guilt lay heavily on her shoulders, or perhaps it was Harthacnut’s idea, wanting to meet his brother and form a bond with him.
As it happened, the two brothers may have had just about enough time to get to know each other and form some sort of friendship before Harthacnut died, binging on drink in 1042 at the wedding of Tovi the Proud. He was said to have stood up to make a speech and then keeled over in what one can only imagine was some sort of stupor. He was never to recover. There is no suggestion that poison was involved, despite the fact that Harthacnut was not very well liked. In any case, the miracle that Edward had needed all his life if he was ever to be king, had finally happened. God’s will had been done, the English were punished enough, and Edward was now their king at last. The man who ought never to have been king, was elevated to that exulted place at last.

Notes

¹ King Edmund II known as the Ironside for his strength and courage.

²Ælfgifu of Northampton was Cnut’s first alliance, the daughter of an important Northern Anglo-Saxon family. She was the mother of Cnut’s two sons, Svein and Harold.

³ Edmund’s sons, Edward and Edmund, were sent abroad when they were infants to be done away with on Cnut’s orders. Luckily for them, the king of Sweden took pity on them and at least one of them survived into adulthood. Edward Edmundson was to become the subject of a mission by King Edward to find himself an heir.

References

Barlow F. 1997 Edward the Confessor, Yale University Press, Newhaven and London

Swanton M. 2000 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Phoenix Press, London.

Walker W. I. 2004 Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King

The Battle of Hereford – Part One: The story of two men and a king

a-motte-and-bailey-with-timber-defences-many-were-built-like-this-following-the-norman-invasion-of-1066Ralph de Mantes was the son of King Edward’s sister, Godgifu, known commonly as Goda. Goda was the king’s full sister, therefore a daughter of Æthelred the Unræd, and her son, Ralph, was fathered by Count Drogo of Mantes, Goda’s first husband. As such, Ralph could have been considered in line for the royal throne of England, however, he doesn’t seem to have been referred to as ‘ætheling‘, at least there is not any documented evidence. Whether or not, Ralph, whom it was said Edward was very fond of, had aspirations to the throne of England, it is not known, however he was appointed Earl of Hereford in 1052 and he had a project in mind when he took up office, to use Norman-style defence works along the difficult to manage Welsh marches.

Due to the troublesome Welsh incursions along the Herefordshire and Welsh borders, Ralph and his followers, Richard FitzScrob and Osbern de Pentecost began to ‘Normanise’ the county and three castles were built in Herefordshire, Richard’s Castle, and Ewyas Harold Castle as well as the castle built in the town of Hereford.  These castles are two of only four known pre-Conquest castles, the other two being Hereford Castle and Clavering in Essex. Ewyas Harold Castle is thought to be the first in England.   One can’t help but wonder if this was an attempt on Ralph’s behalf to ingratiate himself to the English and his uncle, in order to raise his standing – and perhaps garner some support in regards to the succession of the throne. If it was, it was all going to come crashing down around him, soon.

In 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (or Griffith as its pronounced in Welsh) was the small-time king of Gwynedd at this time. Killing off all his other rivals enabled him to become self-styled king of Wales. He was born around 1013, which by 1055, would make him around 42 or 43 and well on the way to ‘medieval old age.’ However by this time, he still appeared to be a very robust man. He came to be known as the ‘Shield of the Britons’ for uniting Wales against the English, but unfortunately when he died, his subjects were unable to maintain what he had built up in a united Wales. He  was his father’s only son, however his mother, Angharad, remarried after Llywelyn’s death in 1023 and had two brothers, Rhiwallon and Bleddyn, and a sister for Gruffudd. On the death of Gruffudd’s father, Angharad’s new husband, Iago ap Idwal, took over power in Gwynnedd.

Gruffudd  was to claim kingship of Gwynedd in 1039. He’d already held a position of power within Powys and when  Iago ab Idwal was killed by his own men, Gruffudd expanded in to Gwynedd . This may have been a deal he had with the men of Gwynedd. It was quite common to kill a ruler off when he was getting too big for his boots, as Gruffudd was later to find out when he, too, was killed by his own men. By the summer of 1055, Gruffudd had rid himself of his other rival, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, the king of the Deheubarth. This paved the way for him to take the title of King of all Wales.

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Gruffudd ap Llywelyn

Alfgar,  son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and the legendary Godiva of the naked horse ride fame, appears to have been an unruly, truculent man, envious of the success the Godwins were  having. He found himself exiled after what seems to have been an angry outburst during the witan’s meeting of Easter 1055 to decide a new earl for Northumberland. Charged with treason and stripped of all his wealth and lands, he fled to Ireland to raise a mercenary force. Like the Godwinsons before him, he was determined to return to England by force if he had to.  With 18 Hiberno/Norse ships filled with warriors, he sought out Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in Rhuddlan to ally himself with him for an invasion of England, but not before helping Gruffudd in his quest to become king of all Wales by defeating and killing his opponent in the kingdom of Deheubarth.  Interestingly, Gruffudd, had been his family’s natural enemy having killed Edwin, Alfgar’s uncle in an ambush in 1040, and also driven Hywel out of Powys and carrying off Hywel’s wife, who’d been a kinswoman of Leofric’s. But past recriminations seem to matter not when a man wanted to fight for his land and what he owned.

The Welsh had long been raiding across the borders and causing chaos for some time, which had caused Ralph to build his castle in Hereford and encouraged other Normans to do the same. He was also bent on training the local thegns to fight on horseback to emulate the continental style of combat. Most people believe that the English preferred to fight on foot, and mostly this seems to be so, however it may not have been unheard of for the English to go into battle on horseback. The tactics however, were not known, but in this case, Ralph wanted to create a continental-style force to combat the continuing harassment from across the Welsh border.
Earl on horse

What would a mounted ‘chevalier’ have appeared like and how would he have fought? Most likely he would go into battle with a few javelins to project at the enemy, or/and a spear to skewer them with. His sword or hand-axe would be for closer hand to hand fighting when proximity to his opponent made the longer arms too difficult to use. His tunic would need to be split in the front to allow comfortability in the saddle. The maille he wore would have to be longer than the byrnie to protect his legs, he would also use a kite shield, more manageable than a round shield on a horse. He would need to dexterous enough to be able to control his horse and manage various weapons on horseback. He would need years of training to achieve the sort of horsemanship that was seen at Hastings 11 years later. Those men would have been training from around 12/14, something these English men would mostly have lacked.

Ralph had been working on his Norman style defences too, building wooden structures with palisades, the pre-runner to castles. These would have consisted of a motte, a mound of earth with a towered structure within an inner bailey. The wooden fencing would have contained ramparts and lookouts.  Ralph was obviously out to impress his uncle, the king, and may have considered himself worthy of being his successor. A great resounding defeat against the Welsh might have brought him the adulation and respect that he desired. Perhaps it would have gained him the title atheling. Unfortunately for Ralph, it was not the outcome he must have hoped for. Although he had worked hard to ready his force against the coming invaders, when it came to the battle, Ralph and his band of Normans would fail their English forces miserably.

 

References

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US.

https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/herefordshires-past/the-medieval-period/castles/)

Stenton F. 1971 Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, 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.

Guest Post: Bishops, Banners and Bastards by Robert Bayliss

“…the gift of a banner as a pledge of the support of St. Peter whereby he might the more confidently and safely attack his enemy.”
The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English. – William of Poiters
“The Pope weighed the arguments on both sides, and then sent a banner to William as an earnest of his kingdom.”
Gesta Regum – William of Malmesbury

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Duke William raises his helmet to rally his troops. Beside him, Eustace of Bologne carries the Papal banner  *Source Bayeux tapestry

When Duke William landed at Pevensey in September 1066 on his campaign to dethrone Harold and conquer England, he unfurled his banners which included the Gonfalon, the battle standard of the Pope. Usually these were only issued on campaigns against non-Christian states or those who rebelled against papal authority. Yet here was a Christian Duke launching, what in effect was, a crusade against another Christian state; a Christian state that had been subject to the papacy for a century and a half. The subjugation of a well-established Christian nation could now be undertaken and those who indulged in the excesses of war would be absolved of their sins. And excesses there would be, such as the pillaging around Pevensey to draw Harold to battle and later the near genocidal Harrying of the North in the winter of 1069-70. The gift of the Gonfalon meant that other Christian kings would risk excommunication if they came to Harold’s aid or took advantage of William’s absence from his own lands. How could such a thing come to pass?

The Normans were descended from land hungry Northmen, who under their war chief Rollo, settled in north west France in an area that would bear their name – Normandy. Rollo himself had earned a reputation as a viking raiding Ireland and Scotland. He appears not to have raided England to any great extent, which isn’t surprising as Alfred the Great had recently forced Guthrum to sue for peace and was overseeing an Anglo-Saxon revival of fortunes. Heading south, Rollo’s longships raided deep into Frankia navigating along the river Seine. In 876 Rollo captured Rouen and nine years later besieged Paris itself. It was clear that Rollo and his men meant to stay and in 911 a formal treaty, with Rollo pledging fealty to Charles III of France, created the Duchy of Normandy.

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Rollo of Normandy – Falaise town square. * Source Wikipedia

The Normans adopted the language of the Carolingian Franks and they converted to Christianity. If anyone expected their new found faith to curb their warlike tendencies they would be disappointed, especially as they readily took to the Carolingian concept of heavy cavalry and made it their own. However, being subjects of the French king meant Norman expansion in France could only go so far and only the eldest son inherited lands and titles. Perhaps a second son could find a position in the church but where was the glory for a people who had won their lands by the sword? These were a people whose society was founded on martial prowess, but perhaps an outlet could be found to marry this with their newfound piety?

From 999 AD a steady stream of Normans found their way to southern Italy. Southern Italy had been settled by the Lombards, a Germanic people in the C8th – C9th. They found themselves sandwiched as a buffer state between the Carolingian Empire to the north and the Byzantine Empire to the south in Apulia – the heel – and Calabria – the toe of Italy. The Lombards had briefly had a unified Duchy but this had disintegrated into smaller duchies and principalities. As the Byzantine Empire waned the Saracens had entered the fray and carved out an Emirate in Sicily.

Legend has it that a group of Norman knights returning from pilgrimage to the Holy Land assisted the Lombards of Salerno in repulsing Saracen raiders. Not one to miss an opportunity more Normans arrived to find employment as mercenaries, especially when the Lombards, encouraged by the Pope, revolted against their Byzantine overlords. However the Normans were wily and could fight for both sides, all the time their numbers swelled and Norman held fiefdoms were carved from the chaos.

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*Source – Wikipedia

What originally was a Lombard revolt increasingly became Norman and more towns fell to them. They were not averse to campaigning as their Viking forebears had – raiding, burning farms and villages, starving towns of supplies to encourage their surrender. Their power and influence grew steadily as they crept from the toe and up the boot of Italy.

To the Lombards the Normans had changed from servants to oppressors and further revolts broke out, this time against Norman rule. The Lombards beseeched aid from the Papacy, who looked on in alarm at the turn of events. So it was that in 1053 Pope Leo IX, a relative of the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany led a combined Papal and Imperial force to nip Norman expansion in the bud. The campaign was an utter failure and Leo was soundly defeated and captured at Civitae. Pope Leo was treated well but was reduced to passive resistance only, any hope that the Holy Roman Empire would send further aid to his cause slowly dissipated. This situation continued with two further popes who were antagonistic to the Norman presence; however political reality took hold with the ascension of the reformist Pope Nicholas II. The Papacy sought independence from the Holy Roman Empire for the appointment of the pontiff (this would now be the decision of Cardinals) and also the tardiness in coming to the aid of the Pope had shown the Empire as an unreliable ally. The Normans were nearby, had assisted in the expulsion of the Byzantines and crucially had shown themselves as a strong regional power; despite their feudal form of government and their multiple fiefdoms, they quickly united when threatened. Nicholas II wished to expel the Saracens in Sicily and bring the island back into Christendom; the land hungry Normans were an obvious choice for such a task. The Treaty of Melfi in 1059 cemented the position of the Normans in Southern Italy. They had become the Pope’s sword arm.

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*Norman mercenaries in Muslim Scicily – by Angus McBride 

Nicholas II passed in 1061 and Alexander II, a student of the celebrated Lanfranc of Bec, was elected pope according to the reforms introduced by his predecessor. In opposition the Emperor in Germany chose Honorius II who with Lombard troops defeated the forces of Alexander. An armed standoff ensued between the Pope and the Antipope which only ceased in 1064 when Honorius II withdrew from Rome, although he never renounced his claim to St. Peter’s throne.

Back in Normandy, who should be Duke William’s trusted advisor but Abbot Lanfranc of St. Etienne in Caen; the same Lanfranc who had schooled the young Alexander at Bec.

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Captain Lanfranc – *Source Oxford Bodleian Library

Initially the relationship between both men had been fraught. William’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders in 1053 was deemed non-Canonical; it is unclear why, perhaps due to issues of consanguinity or even affinity. William’s uncle, Duke Richard III, had been married to Adela of France, Matilda’s mother. The marriage had been brief as Richard died the same year and they had no issue, Adela married Baldwin V of Flanders the next year. Whatever the reason, Lanfranc refused to support the marriage and the relationship between William and Lanfranc grew so dire that the Abbot was on the point of being exiled from Normandy. The two men reached a rapprochement at the eleventh hour and Lanfranc successfully gained Papal approval for the marriage in 1059. Lanfranc had William’s gratitude and the Abbot’s influence grew politically as well as in the spiritually.

Upon hearing the news of the crowning of Harold II on the death of Edward the Confessor in early 1066, William wasted no time. Whether Edward had promised him the English crown or Harold had sworn to uphold his claim we won’t discuss here. While embassies were sought with powers around the North Sea to isolate England, Lanfranc and William drew up a legal case for invasion to present to Alexander II.

It was argued that Harold was an usurper, however William’s claim could be described as somewhat shaky being as it was merely built upon a promise and an oath. There had never been papal involvement in the English succession previously, as this was down to the Witan, besides English law did not look favourably upon a bastard’s claim to the crown.

William and Lanfranc’s envoy to the pope argued that the English church was in a poor state and badly in need of reform. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury had been excommunicated for his pluralism in holding the bishoprics of Winchester and Canterbury. However England was renowned for possessing a devout ecclesiastical body that held around 20% of landed wealth. Indeed a papal legate in 1062 found no problems with the church and even Stigand had not been challenged; indeed he held the archbishopric until 1070 when he was finally arrested and unseated in favour of Lanfranc (who else?!), to die two years later in captivity.

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Archbishop Stigand – *Source The Bayeux Tapestry

None of this seems to warrant the issuing of a Gonfalon against a nation which had long recognised the spiritual authority of the Papacy. Unfortunately for Harold events long ago and far away, beyond his influence, conspired against him. The Pope, an ex-student of William’s chief advisor, was threatened by the Holy Roman Empire and their attempts to depose him in favour of their candidate, while the local Italian populaces were in a near state of permanent rebellion, resentful of the growing Norman presence in southern Italy. Pope Alexander II was both dependent on, and a hostage to, Norman power. Any symbol of approval granted to Normans in their homeland would be looked upon favourably by Normans in the Pope’s backyard.

Sources:

The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English. – William of Poiters

Gesta Regum – William of Malmesbury

The Godwins – Frank Barlow 2002

The Normans in the South – John Julius Norwich 1967