1066 was a year that changed a lot of things – though not as much as you might think. 3 experienced war leaders fought for control of England – and we all know who won, so no need to worry about plot spoilers. The History of England podcast takes us up the coronation of William at Westminster Abbey, Christmas day 1066
Why William, Harold and Harold claimed the throne
Harold Godwinsson claimed the throne by an ancient elective principle. He was nominated by Edward the Confessor, and appointed king by the Witan. Lets hear it for the poor of the people! William the Bastard claimed the throne by hereditary right through his Great Aunt Emma of Normandy. Plus he said that Harold had sworn an oath to help his claim. Harold Hadradaa said that Magnus I of Norway and Harthacnut has agreed that whoever died last should get England, back in 1040. But when Harthacnur died first, Edward the Confessor took the throne instead.
I’m only going to do a simple coverage on the blog – There are literally a billion websites (well quite a few anyway) that will tell you all you want to know, if you want more information or want to read about it . The BBC’s is comprehensive and straightforward – click here if you want to look at it. You can listen to Stanley Holloway’s version of events at Hastings. Or find out more about Fulford at a very dedicated website here.
So the main events . . .
- 6th January: Harold is hastily crowned King in Westminster Abbey
- Spring and summer: Harold gets an army and Navy together and waits for the axe to fall. Nothing happens. William is in Normandy, arguing with his barons, persuading the Pope to help out, building ships and then, once he’s done all that waiting for the wind to change so that he can sail over.
- 8th September: Harold has to disband his army and navy – no more food, everyone needs to go back to the fields. The very same day, Hadrada and Tostig land in Northumbria. Ach, bummer.
- 12th September: William sails – but gets pushed back into port
- 20th September: the Battle of Fulford: Earls Edwin and Morcar do their best, but it’s not good enough, and they are defeated by Hadrada.
- ?21st – 25th: Harold absolutely canes it up to the north, about 185 miles in 4 days. The Vikings are luxuriating in their victory, are caught unawares and comprehensively defeated at the Battle of Stamfordbridge. Yay.
- 28th September: William lands at Pevensey and starts to knock up a castle. Harold absolutely charges down to London with his men, but then, sensibly, waits for a week in London getting himself together, orders the local Fryds to assemble. Then it’s off to the seaside.
- 14th October: The Battle of Hasting. Boo. They think it’s all over…
- October: The Witan proclaim Edgar the Atheling king.
- November: William marches to Wallingford, buring and destroying as he goes. Archbishop Stigand gives in and submits.
- December: Edgar and the Anglo Saxon Thegns submit to William the Bastard at Berkhampstead, and now we must start to call him William the Conqueror. William is crowned William Ist on Christmas Day. … it is now.
The companions of William the Conqueror
There are 15 people who we are pretty sure were with William on his great adventure. Some of them gained massive rewards from their support. The nams we know are:
Robert de Beaumont
Eustace, Count of Boulogne
William, 3rd Count of Évreux
Geoffrey of Mortagne
Aimeri, Viscount of Thouars
Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville
Hugh de Montfort, Lord of Montfort-sur-Risle
Ralph de Tosny
Hugh de Montfort
William de Warenne
Odo, Bishop of Bayeux
Engnulf de Laidgle
Ok, so we’ve had an introduction to the main protagonists over the last couple of week – William the Conqueror, the Normans, and Harold Godwinsson. Let’s start with a summary of the 3 main protagonists.
By 1066, William the Bastard was a grown man, depicted as a man of fair stature with remarkably strong arms, a receding hairline and a rasping, guttural voice. He was about 5 10, which would have been relatively tall for the age and enjoyed excellent health until old age. He did get so fat in later life that the French King Philip I said that William looked like a pregnant woman – but that’s for later, and I have to say it’s a comment only the French King at the time would probably have felt brave enough to say. Just like that old bloke you can’t get away from in the pub, he had been brought up in the school of hard knocks, and educated in the university of life.
William undoubtedly possessed considerable powers of leadership and courage. He was devout and inspired loyalty in his followers, but could also be ruthless and cruel. He had a passion for hunting, in common with most nobility of his time, and a passion for money. A pretty brutal man of exceptional talent and force of will, who had survived by dint of his own talents and force of nature.
Harold Godwinsson on the other hand would very probably be one of those kings that you would have invited down to the pub in the first place. He seems to have set himself consciously against his father’s template. He had a talent for getting on with people and putting them at their ease, he was popular and liked by most.
The chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote: “This Englishman was very tall and handsome, remarkable for his physical strength, his courage and eloquence, his ready jests and acts of valour.’
He also went on to say: But what were these gifts to him without honour, which is the root of all good?” this refers of course to the oath Harold took. Orderic is a self consciously balanced chronicler, so the comment is interesting in that the myth of a broken oath was powerful and effective.
But his career, though truncated also shows an effective leader, and an effective military commander – as shown by his campaigns in Wales, and indeed as he was to show in 1066.
The guy we’ve really not really talked about is Haraold Hadrada. Harald has been described as the last Viking, and it’s a description that fits him well. He was born in 1015, and in 1030 had been on the wrong side in the battle of Stikelstad where Olaf the King of Norway was killed. He left with a band of warriors, and headed for Byzantium, where he became part of the Emperor’s Varangian guard.
In 1042 he left the Emperor’s service and on his way back to reclaim his throne he spent three years in the Russian court, acquiring a wife on the way through his
Poetry. By 1047 he had replaced Magnus as the King of Norway.
Hadrada means ‘hard ruler’. And it was over the next 20 years that Harold acquired that reputation. The next 15 years he spent in fruitless warfare against Svein of Norway, and finally then accepted that he was not going to win this and came to terms. Through the process he comprehensively alienated the Norwegians who tried to withhold taxes as a sign of displeasure. Harold was brutal in his response, killing and maiming farmers who refused. Meanwhile, he maintained standing army, that enabled him to enforce his will on an unwilling nobility.
So there we are, the scene is set. We have 3 men, all of considerable talent and with the resources of nations behind them, and all prepared to fight for the most lucrative nation in Europe. We’ve finally arrived at 1066. Thanks for listening and see you next week.
So I can no longer avoid tackling what must be the most famous date in English history, 1066. This is a path so very well trodden that I fear I can bring nothing new to it, but of course it is completely unavoidable, and of course as a story it has all the elements you could wish for in terms of drama. And it was a seismic year that had a massive impact on the course of English history. As a lover of AS history, I also find it surprisingly painful – ‘damm, why didn’t Harold just do x and then he might have won . . .’ which is horribly nerdy thing to say, I quite accept. Anyway, if you’ve heard the story too many times before just switch off and come back next week, and if you’ve not, then here we go.
However, we hadn’t quite got to the end of the reign of Edward the Confessor two weeks ago, quite deliberately, because we have to set the scene for this dramatic and terrible year. I mentioned that on the fall of Godwin, one of the things that Edward the Confessor did was to invite William over from Normandy and very probably offer him the throne. So we’ve got William in Normandy believing he has a claim.
Meanwhile the last remaining AS claimant of an age, Edward the Exile had died in 1056, and his son Edgar the Atheling in 1066 would be too young to be considered for the throne; and we’ve seen that the AS tradition was not one of primogeniture, i.e. automatic succession of the eldest son.
1065 was almost as important a year for the future of the AS State as 1066, because there are 2 key events that will weaken Harold Godwinsson’s position. The first, famously, was Harold’s visit to Normandy. The story goes that for some reason Harold was on a mission to Ponthieu on the continent, but was arrested by the count Guy. Guy had recently been subject to William, and was no doubt eager to ingratiate himself. William then plays a strong hand well, and Harold was really little choice in what happens.
Guy handed Harold over to William, and although outwardly William treated Harold as a guest there was no real doubt that he was there under duress. None the less, Harold clearly impressed his hosts as a warrior. Harold was taken by William on an expedition against Conan, Duke of Brittany, and clearly performed well in battle, so much so that he was probably knighted by William. Which is, nice, of course, but carried with it the pretty clear implication that he’d become William’s man, which meant something quite different in ASE than it did in Normandy. Then the crucial bit – back in Normandy, in Bayeux, the famous Bayeux Tapestry has the words ‘Harold took an oath to Duke William’, and shows Harold standing in William’s presence between two reliquaries. Harold was then released by William and sent on his way.
I have often wondered if all of this was really that relevant, except in a Norman y self justification after the event kind of way. After all, we know that they would have been irrelevant if Harold had won at Hastings – the matter was clearly going to be settled by force of arms. And Harold could easily claim that he was under duress and that the oath was therefore irrelevant.
But they clearly did matter. William able to claim that Harold was an oath breaker, claim Papal approval for his invasion, and this could have been a critical factor in getting the Norman barons to agree to what was a risky venture. It also made Harold’s position in England more questionable; in 1066 he was a man with something to prove, and I suspect that this made him more headstrong that he would otherwise have been.
The other major event in 1065 was the revolt against Harold’s brother Tostig. You’ll remember that Tostig had succeeded Siward as the Earl of Northumbria, thus further consolidating the power of the Godwinssons. Tostig had not been a complete disaster – he’d built a good relationship with the Kings of Scotland, for example, and kept the peace on the borders. But he had mightily annoyed the people of Northumbria, probably by over taxing them, and also by having taken personal revenge on some Northumbrian thegns. There was still in existence an AS family with the traditional right of rule in Bamburgh and Bernicia, and Cospatric, the heir of that family had recently been killed at the English court – and Tostig’s involvement was suspected.
In this atmosphere of distrust, 200 Northumbrian lords seized York, and the revolt then became general. Tostig’s supporters were hunted down, and they proclaimed Tostig an outlaw. The rebels then turned to the other remaining leading family, namely the family of the earl Leofric. Leofric had died, but his son Edwin had become earl of Mercia, and Edwin’s brother, Morcar Leofricson was invited by the rebels to become their earl.
Both Morcar and Edwin agree to become involved – Edwin brings an army from Mercia to join them, and they marched down into the Midland, taking up home in Northampton. This really does look like a general revolt, and the involvement of Edwin and Morcar is fascinating. On the one hand there does seem to be no implication that anyone was asking for Northumbria to have its own king, or any implication of revolt against Edward. But it is surely a sign of weakness that an Earl of the realm was taking up arms on behalf of the rebels, and presumably at least in part because of a family rivalry with the Godwinssons.
Harold and the rebels met at Oxford, which is itself interesting – Harold’s influence and leadership is made ever clearer. Harold was unable to reconcile Tostig and the rebels, and he made a fateful decision to back the rebels against his own brother. Morcar became earl of Northumbria, and Tostig fled to Flanders with his followers, nursing a fierce grudge against his brother and the AS state.
In this extremely volatile political situation, Edward the Confessor died, on 5th January at Westminster. He’d been ill for some time, and so the Witan was able to meet to decide what to do. Without hindsight, it would be difficult to argue with their decision – invasion threatened from at least 2 quarters, Edgar the Atheling was too young, and the only contemporary account notes that the King himself had granted the throne to Harold. So they chose Harold, and he became the first king to be consecrated at Westminster.
His succession was not easily accepted all over England. Although the AS tradition was not necessarily one of primogeniture, we have seen over the last 20 episodes that the king was chosen from the royal house, and Harold didn’t qualify. Northumbria was the main objector, and although Harold was able to win them round by visiting the lords there with the support of Wulfstan, the Archbishop of York, the Northumbrians were clearly not totally aligned with the new ruler.
As he prepared to defend his kingdom, Harold held some advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, he had numbers. And although there is a tradition that 1066 was about the defeat of an outmoded army based on an antiquated recruitment model, the disparity in quality is also by no means sure. Harold would have had a group of well trained and well armed warriors, the Huscarles, ready to answer his summons. And the fyrd would not have been simply the traditional force of peasants armed with sticks and stone. By this time, there’s evidence that a parcel of land was required to arm and equip one warrior to meet the summons of the Earl or King. Harold’s main problem was one of organisation – we could not keep an army in the field indefinitely, and he had no standing fleet. For his fleet, he was dependent on impressing ships and met from the southern ports.
Over the channel, when William heard the news about Harold’s succession to the throne he was not a happy bunny. According to William of Jumieges, when he heard the news he went all quiet, everyone near him got scared, and William ‘sat at the end of a bench . . . covering his head with a mantle and resting his head against a pillar.’
You can see why he’d be miffed. From his point of view Harold was his vassal. William had gone around telling everyone he was going to be king of England. Now he was in danger of looking like a loser, and William’s self image didn’t include the word.
William set about organising his invasion. He was able to attract volunteers from all over France, not just Normandy – so there are lords from Flanders, Brittany, Maine, Aquitaine and Normans from Southern Italy. He was greatly helped by the Papal support for this war of aggression, on the slim grounds of Harold’s oath, though there is no evidence that Harold was invited to plead his cause. The Pope’s motivation, as so often with the depressing history of the medieval papacy, was simple expediency, supporting a party from whom they could expect a greater return. One of the key disputes of the age was who should appoint the clergy – the king or the Pope. In England, as we’ve seen, there was very little separation between church and state, and the King carried out this job. William agreed to support the Papacy in this dispute. It’s also clear that despite the reforms under Edgar and Dunstan that the Roman church thought little of the English church; and it’s true to say that much off the reform had run out of steam during the reign of Aethelred. In Addition, The English Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, was deeply unpopular with the pope, since he continued to hold 2 sees and the same time – i.e. Winchester and Canterbury. 5 Successive Popes had excommunicated him for this. The fact that this went on seemingly without worrying King Edward is an interesting note of the independence of the English Church, and something the Romans would love to do something about. And William was clever enough to latch onto this. Papal support made a major difference. Whereas the initial response of the Norman barons in the English adventure had been disinterest, with the intervention of the Pope everything changed.
Meanwhile, the first campaign of 1066 was played out in May when Tostig appeared with a fleet off the South coast at Sandwich. He was joined by Copsi, a lord from the Orkneys who at the time would have owed allegiance to Harold Hadrada. Tostig set off up the coast, landing at Burnham in Norfolk and harrying the countryside and then setting off for the Humber and disembarking on the southern bank. But his raiding was then stopped in its tracks by the Earls Edwin and Morcar, who inflicted a heavy defeat on him. Tostig withdrew with his few remaining ships to Scotland, where he could rely on the relationship he’d built up with the King of Scotland.
The events showed that the resources of England were more than capable of seeing off any private invasion. They also showed the continuing problem of the lack of an English fleet, and that Tostig had in all likelihood had correspondence with Harold Hadrada, given the involvement of Copsi. So as he sat in Scotland, it’s very likely that the later invasion was being planned. It’s probably worth reminding ourselves why Hadrada was likely to be a factor. This was because Harald’s predecessor as King of Norway, claimed that the Throne of England was included in an agreement made with Hathacnut that whoever of them died first should inherit the other’s lands – and Harthacnut had died first.
Anyway, back in England, Harold spent June then assembling a defensive fleet on the south coast, against William’s expected invasion assembling a large fleet stationed at the Isle of Wight. William had meanwhile built a large fleet from scratch, and by the start of August was ready to sail, but through August and start of September he was held by adverse winds, which in the end played into his hands. Because the English naval structure did not allow the maintenance of the fleet for this long. The militiamen that manned it refused to stay any longer, and on near 8th September Harold was forced to let them go, and withdraw his ships to London. The channel lay open to William.
But now Harold Hadrada had landed in the North of England, on 8th September with a huge force of 300 ships or possibly more, with an army then of probably 10,000 men. He started by ravaging places like Scarborough on the coast, and was quickly joined by Tostig. The combined force sailed up the River Ouse towards York with the English ships, too few to resist, retreating before them. The Scandinavians stopped and disembarked at Riccall, which is 10 miles away from York, and began to advance on the city.
Harold probably didn’t hear about this until 13th or so, and would have needed some time to assemble an army. So it might not have been until 20th that he set off for York. But meanwhile he would have known that the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria, Edwin and Morcar, were in place and ready to raise an army to get rid of Hadrada.
And that is indeed Edwin and Morcar had tried to do, in the first and least regarded battle of 1066. The English army barred the advance of the Vikings at a town called Fulford, and on 20th September the battle was fought.
The English army was described as ‘immense’, so we can probably assume that the two armies that met there were at least well matched. The Hadrada put the River Ouse on one flank of his army, and had a ditch in front of him to protect his position. The English attacked, and managed to attack the Norwegian line at an angle, and at first things went well, with Morcar rolling up the Norwegian line. But Hadrada launched a counter attack from his left flank which came up themselves on the English flank. The English were pushed back onto the ditch, and the fighting became desperate until last last the army broke and ran. In flight we are told that large numbers of men were slaughtered.
The importance of Fulford is enormous. A large English army had been defeated and was now unavailable to Harold, and he would have to try to cope with the invasion himself whatever William did. One of the many ‘what if’s’ of 1066 was this one – what would have happened if Edwin and Morcar had won at Fulford.
But hey, they fluffed it, however bravely, and York came to an agreement with Tostig and Hadrada that they’d join them in return for being left in peace. So the Norwegians withdrew to a place called Stamfordbridge, 7 miles to the East of York. I am conscious by the way of all the place names so as ever there’s a map on the website for you to refer to.
So Hadrada’s army were flush from victory, and would have been totally confident that there was no English army within miles of them. In fact on 25th the army lay around in the meadows by the River Derwent, basking in the autumn sun with their arms and armour discarded.
But they were wrong. Harold had marched with ferocious speed. He arrived at Tadcaster on 24th and picked up the men of the English fleet. It’s really not clear when he had set off, and therefore how many miles a day his army had achieved in the 200 mile march north, but there’s no doubt the march was quite a feat. Most estimates have those 200 miles covered in a mere 5 days. So 40 miles a day for 5 days – don’t tell me those Huscarls weren’t a hard lot. On 25th he again covered the 20 miles between Tadcaster and Stamford Bridge and the first the Norwegians knew of his army was the sight of the shining weapons of the English. According to the Saga writer Storri Sturlasson ‘when their weapons glittered it looked like a sheet of ice’.
Many would have had no time to put their armour on, and the Norwegians were unprepared for the fight. But before the fight started, on chronicler has a brave English soldier approaching Hadrada and Tostig and offering Tostig his Earldom back if he would turn on Hadrada. Tostig asked the man what Harold would offer Hadrada for his trouble, and received the reply “Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men’.
This, it transpires, was Harold himself. Well, We are back to Storri again and it’s a nice story, but I think we can agree probably a bit unlikely.
Despite their unpreparedness, the battle of Stamford Bridge was long and hard, and lasted all day. Hadrada formed a defensive ring on the River and sent messages for the men guarding his fleet to join him. But he was never able to release his army from English pressure, and in the end the Norwegians were totally defeated, and Hadrada and Tostig killed. Harold allowed the remaining Norwegians to return home on as many ships as they needed – which amounted to just 24 of the 300 who had come over.
Stamford Bridge is of course massively over shadowed by Hastings, and it’s significance often seen purely as the impact it must have had on the ability of the English to resist the Normans. But we should recognise Harold’s achievement. The last Scandinavian invasion had seen the English apparently helpless in the face of the Viking onslaught. Harold had acted with enormous speed and decisiveness, and at Stamford Bridge ended more than 200 years of conflict with the Vikings, and defeated a famous war leader.
Back in Normandy, the northerly wind that had help William on the Norman coast had changed, and now on 27th September he set sail, over the small Roman fort at Pevensey on the Sussex coast.
The army that arrived on the Sussex coast would have been about 7,000 strong, with 2,000 mounted men, provided with extra horses, and 5,000 foot soldiers. Although, again, it’s important not to view William’s victory in 1066 as purely one of a the triumph of a technologically advanced army, he did had significant advantages. One was that unlike the English, his mounted men fought on horseback, rather that just using horses as a mode of transport. Another is that Archers were integrated into the army as a structured part of it. The English did use slingers and archers, but their use appears a bit haphazard.
It’s impossible not to admire the enormous efficiency with which William went about his task. Not only had he seen the construction of a fleet of 400 ships entirely for this enterprise, he had with him all the materials he needed for the famous Motte and Bailey castles, and was able to throw an effective castle up within days. The Motte, then, is a manually constructed mound of earth, on top of which is placed a rampart of wooden stakes. The bailey is a larger area below the mound, again enclosed by a rampart of wooden stakes.
William paused in Sussex. He lay south of the weald, which was then a famously impenetrable wilderness. It’s not around now because it was cut down by Henry 8th to build one of those navies he didn’t need. He would have been concerned about his provisioning, and being surprised or cut off as he struggled through the Weald. He would have known that he had one chance – and would probably have expected the English to have the chance to recover from one defeat and try again, and we’ve no idea how much he knew about the activities in the North.
Harold then made a series of decisions that have been hotly and long debated. He decided that speed was important here again, and that he should rush south as fast as possible. He decided that all the Godwinssons’ – Gryd, Leofwin and himself – should be at the battle to stress dynastic solidarity. He decided not to wait for the northern Earls, Edwin and Morcar, who were busily gathering another army. So he rushed back south and within another few days was back in London, where he waited for a week, and then by 12th October he left London with an army of about 2-3000 Huscarles. The southern fyrd was to join him by the old grey apple tree which stood on the road from Hastings out to London.
By the 14th, the English army was in place on Senlac Hill. There’s a picture on the website, but bear in mind it would have been much steeper than it is now. The Normans had had plenty of time to prepare, and therefore were completely unsurprised, but Harold had other reasons for being so fast. For one thing, he felt dynastically challenged, if that’s the right word. He was being accused by the world of being an oath breaker, and a usurper – he would not feel safe on the English throne until he had comprehensively defeated his accusers. And there was a perfectly sound strategic reason for Senlac Hill; while he was there, William could not break out of Sussex and start ravaging the land and taking the initiative – so Harold also got to choose the ground of battle, and as we’ll see he chose well. William was burdened by horses, unlike the Vikings he couldn’t simply hop on his ships and sail off to land somewhere else. No, while waiting for the Northern Earls is one of the big what if’s of English history, there were perfectly sound reasons for Harold to take the course he did.
If I ignore my basic pro AS prejudice, there’s something rather exciting about William’s adventure. We have some knowledge of some of the nobles who joined him at Hastings, and after their victory they will be richly rewarded, and we will be hearing their names and that of their family over the next couple of hundred years. So we know of 15 companions of William at Hastings – I’ve put all their names on the website, but remember names like Beaumont, Malet, Warenne and de Montfort. Men like this were to be richly, richly rewarded.
William’s tactics were straightforward enough – soften them up with archers and crossbow; send the infantry up the hill to engage in close combat and then send the cavalry in to finish them up.
But it didn’t work, and for an hour the attacks broke on the shield wall. The Shield wall easily handled the arrows, and the horses would not throw themselves at a solid formation, so the Norman knights could only approach, throw their javelins and retire. Meanwhile stones and spears thrown by the English made mincemeat of the lines of Norman infantry. It was this very success that lead to disaster for the English. The Bretons fled in confusions from this brutal battering, with there cavalry murderously entangled with their footsoldiers, and some of the English fryd pursued. William, with superb discipline and control, turned his force on the Fyrd, and cut them to pieces.
This was not the end of the affair, but the next 5 hours were to show that Harold could ill afford the loss of those men, for as his ranks began to thin out, more and more of the less experienced fyrdmen were in the front line, and the Saxons began to weaken. Harold’s brother Leofwin was killed. Then some of the Norman cavalry were able to get up on the hill, and be more effective in splitting the Saxon shield wall. As the Shield wall shrank, the Archers began to prove their worth as arrows fired over the top fell onto unprotected men in the rear lines. And then Harold was killed, whether by an arrow, or sword hack or both, and the English were finished. The Frydmen took to the hills, Harold’s remaining brother Gryd was killed. The remaining Huscarles fought on to the end.
Very few of the English army survived the battle, though there is a record of a successful ambush by one group on the pursuing Normans against the Bretons at a place called Malfosse, or Evil Ditch. But events such as this would have been outnumbered by countless examples of fleeing English being cut down by the Norman cavalry.
In the aftermath of the battle, the body of Harold and his brothers were located by Edith Swan neck, Harold’s mistress. But although Harold’s mother begged to be able to bury her son, William refused, and asked William Malet to bury his body by the sea. At the exact spot where Harold had planted his banner, William would build an Abbey, in celebration of his victory.
William waited by the sea for 2 weeks mainly waiting for the English to submit to him willingly, and also dealing with the effects of dysentry which swept through his army.
Meanwhile in London all the implications of the reign of Edward the Confessor and Harold’s decisions came home to roost.
There was no Godwinsson left to carry on the fight. Harold had many sons and daughters who survived, but none were old enough or legitimate and therefore able to take up the throne.
The Witan and Aeldred, the Archbishop of York, elected Edgar Atheling, who was Edmund Ironside’s Grandson, to be king. But as William began to move north, ravaging the countryside as he came, the lack of unity in the Kingdom became clear. Edwin and Morcar departed for their Earldom’s, apparently convinced that this had been a private quarrel between Harold and William, that was no longer part of their business. They no doubt hoped that they’d be able to keep their lands.
William took possession of Canterbury, and Winchester, and crossed the Thames at Wallingford, 40 miles west of London. And by this stage English resistance had crumbled, and Archbishops Stigand and Aeldred came with Edgar Atheling to submit to William.
So on Christmas day, 1066, William was at last crowned in Westminster Abbey, crowned by Aeldred with the despised Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury nowhere to be seen. The ceremony was that used by Edgar, with the French addition of sacred oil during the kings anointing. The ceremony did go horribly wrong. The Normand guards outside Westminster Abbey heard shouts of acclaim from inside, and assumed some sort of revolt was starting. They attacked London’s citizens, starting to burn the houses, and everyone rushed out of the church. Uncharacteristically, William was left pale and trembling, which is not the standard image of the Conqueror.
And so we have the last of the Kings of England not to be descended from Cerdic. And despite the death throws we need to record in the next episodes, we also say our official goodbye to Anglo Saxon England.
I don’t know about you, but I have really enjoyed it. There’s something about the discovery involved – I know far less about the period than most other apart may be from the 13th and 15th Centuries. And with the exception of the Civil war, it’s probably right up there as my favourite period. Also, the record of history is so much kinder, because there is so little of it. This means a couple of things I think; firstly, many of the brutalities that very probably exist are not recorded. I have not doubt that the early kings of Wessex spent every bit as much time mutilating people like Cnut and William, but no one wrote it down. And secondly, the lack of sources means that you are able to read most of them, and form your own view of what happened. As time goes on this is simply impossible, and reliance mainly on secondary sources is really the only possible route for anybody other than professional historians.
It’s also a period where so many of the basics of England are formed. A basic attitude to unity, law. Language society and government that the Normans could not destroy, and much of which they had no intention of so doing.
Anyway, good bye AS England. I feel quite tearful. I will miss you.
Next time it’ll be William, now the Conqueror not the Bastard, and time to look at why William has to turn to a policy of brutal subjection to make his new Kingdom secure.