The Last Anglo-Saxon King and the First Native Son


Chapter 4




And they received him as their king, as was natural; and he reigned as long as God granted him. All that year was the season very severe in many and various respects: both from the inclemency of the weather, and the loss of the fruits of the earth. More cattle died this year than any man ever remembered, either from various diseases, or from the severity of the weather. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles



Edward the Confessor is the only English king to have been declared a saint by the Pope. A lonely child, he and his brother Alfred while seldom seeing his parents, King Æthelred the Unready and Queen Emma. It was just as well. His father was busy losing the kingdom in battle after battle while his mother was focused on growing in stature, a rare position for even queens of the day.


When Æthelred died in 1016, she became the most eligible widow in the known world. King Canute, a forceful and charismatic Dane, seized the opportunity and married her, acquiring a vast estate in the process. For Emma, adopted the customs and Danish language. Soon she would be pregnant twice more, giving birth to two sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacanute. it was a new start after a miserable marriage to Æthelred. The marriage to the English king was nothing a young girl would have expected. Æthelred had none of the social graces that go with being a king or a husband. Her had been wrought with abuse, which is why she practically disowned the boys, Edward and Alfred, once she had her next two boys with Canute. Now married to a Dane, the former queen of England stood to be a threat to the monarchy. Edward remained leary of her.


Under King Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) England had become the best governed and among the wealthiest countries in Europe. Edward took the fractionalized Saxon world and organized them with a kind of local police force which ruled each shire. These enforcers, ‘’sherriffs,’’ were responsible for collecting taxes and for taking silver coins out of circulation when the king re-minted coinage. This was done every six years because it was common to ‘snip’ the silver from the coins and then melt it down. It was the worst kind of debasement and devaluation of an economy that existed in the Middle Ages. Anyone caught doing this would regularly pay for it by having one, or both hands amputated.


The Sheriffs also provided security and stability that began to solidify England from its once loose collection of towns, villages, and cities. While bartering was still a form of commerce, silver coinage from the mining town of Melle, a mine just southwest of Paris created an economic boom that also leveled the field for international trade.


Until the ninth century the main source were the scattered roads through Francia that led to Rome. Although the roads were often the roads of pilgrims, merchants soon began to use them as well. The French it seems, developed a fondness for English produce. Cross channel trade flourished, much of it passing through the major ports that developed in the seventh century. Still, trade of common, low-value goods remained a largely local affair because of the costs of transportation. Merchants had to pay tolls at certain points along the road and at key points like bridges or mountain passes so that only luxury goods were worth transportation over long distances. Good produce was highly valued and for a variety of reasons wasn’t always available to the inhabitants of towns and villages throughout the region.


If you lived in England during this time, you surely would know of the Godwin family. The elder Godwin was adept at land acquisition and soon became the wealthiest man in all of England. He had nine children, and he selectively married off his daughters to other wealthy landowners as well. But his best catch was none-other than the king himself, who married Edith of Wessex, Godwin’s oldest daughter. The Godwins were now effectively co-rulers with King Edward the Confessor. For his part, the king would rather have been a recluse in a monastery than sitting on the throne of England. He couldn’t be bothered by the trappings of government. And he had no interest in having children either. Celibate to the day he died, Edward left no heir.


The Godwins were of Saxon lineage, yet the names of all the children are Danish. Gytha Thorkeldottir, Harold’s mother, was a Viking. Whether Saxon or Viking, one thing they weren’t was French. And when the loyalties of the Saxon and English landowners tilted toward Harold, the king struggled with it. He had been raised in a Norman court, spoke an early dialect of French as well as German, and scarcely spoke much English. Wherever possible, he sent for Norman and French advisors and promised land to them in order to break the monopoly of land owned by the Godwins. The tension mounted between the two as Harold’s prestige grew.


One of these advisors was Robert of Jumièges, (1002-1057). He had previously served as the abbot of St. Ouen at Rouen and had earned the wrath of the Godwins by attempting to confiscate lands that the Godwin family owned. He proved to be one of the manipulative and ambitious schemers of the time. It was then no surprise that the Godwin’s would bitterly oppose Edward’s insistence that Robert be appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury against Godwin’s wishes.


Robert of Jumiérges now had the king's ear and he fed into Edward’s secluded paranoia. Clearly, members of Edward’s court had managed to play upon the king’s worst fears. He grew up feeling unwanted by anyone but God and Church. As he aged, his pious character and faith began to erode. Edward’s closest allies were, at least in his mind, in the Norman court he was raised in. For three years he appointed Normans to positions within the church that began to see a stark decline in the Godwin influence.


With each Norman appointment the ire of the English grew. Most people still revered the king and his lineage to King Alfred the Great. But they weren't fond of Norman clergy replacing well established priests and bishops. The people didn't understand the thick accents or changes in religious occasions. Meanwhile, support for Harold Godwin grew stronger as he became, in many senses, a 'king for the English people.'



Above: Ruins of The Abbey at Jumiérges


One example of Robert’s behavior happened within a week of his arrival. As soon as he was appointed, he demanded that Godwin hand back some of the archiepiscopal estates that he took over upon his election to the position. When this didn’t happen fast enough, a serious crisis began to develop. Edward then set a trap for Harold. King Edward quietly continued to look for any opportunity to influence a Normanization of the country, and getting rid of the Godwin’s was a sure way to challenge traditional Anglo-Saxon customs and traditions. There was a long and uneasy alliance between the Godwins and King Edward that had been tested in 1051 when Earl Godwin brought England to the brink of civil war. At the time, the Godwin patriarch landed on the Isle of Wight and looted coastal towns until he and Edward reached a settlement.


EDWARD’S MOST SERIOUS CRISIS (1051-1052)


When the locals in Canterbury insisted on a relative of the Godwin’s as Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward flatly rejected it. Instead he appointed his aforementioned advisor, Robert of Jumiéges. This would prove to be a disastrous choice for Edward, as Robert had no interest in the Church or the trappings that come with it. He was a man of reckless ambition who used the Church’s authority to fill his own desires.


One example of Robert’s behavior happened within a week of his arrival. As soon as he was appointed, he demanded that Godwin hand back some of the archiepiscopal estates that he took over upon his election to the position. When this didn’t happen fast enough, a serious crisis began to develop. Edward then set a trap for Harold.


On September 8th, 1051, a party led by Count Eustace of Boulogne landed in Dover. Eustace was married to Edward’s sister, Godgifu, and was a powerful ruler in his own right. An important figure, he would later be one of the few named companions of William the Conqueror at Hastings. Demanding the villagers to open their doors in the dead of night and make room for the king’s personal guests were met with predictable outcomes. Largely unprotected, the villagers fought the Norman guests and as many as two dozen people were killed in the skirmish.


‘’The king, as written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, ‘’was very wroth with the townsmen, and sent off Earl (Harold) Godwin, bidding him go into Kent with hostility to Dover.’’ One needn’t a reason to take the word of a powerful diplomat and brother-in-law over the nameless peasants in the far corner of England. When Eustace told Edward his version of events, the king wanted revenge. Earl Godwin of Sussex, where Dover was located, refused. ‘’For Eustace had told the king that the guilt of the townsmen was greater than his. But it was not so: and the earl would not consent to the expedition, because he was loth to destroy his own people.’’


The Vita Regis Edwardi, (The Life of King Edward) written by William of Jumièges, (no relation to Robert) seems to agree with this assessment, perhaps adding even more color to the event. He writes, ‘’’His men caused an affray in Dover, and Edward ordered Godwin as earl of Kent to punish the town's burgesses, but he took their side and refused.’’


Perhaps all too conveniently, Edward blamed the city’s townspeople for igniting this kind of rebellion. And, this part of England just happened to be under the rule of Harold Godwin. The King ordered Godwin to punish Dover by harrying the town. Naturally, Harold refused. A standoff between the Godwin family and Edward the Confessor ensued.


According to William of Poitiers, ‘’then came William, complete with a large retinue, to visit King Edward.’’ William probably visited England at least once before 1066, in 1051. This visit is recorded in another source, a single version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:


''Count William came from overseas ... and the king [Edward the Confessor] received him and as many of his companions as suited him, and let him go again.''


Supposedly, it is at this point where Edward promises the kingdom to William, the Duke of Normandy. If this seems out of place, it is because other records show William was still in Normandy at this time and might have never visited Edward at any time on English soil. The site of the hated Norman leader would likely have stirred an enormous amount of friction. As for Robert of Jumiérges, he had attempted to gain revenge, and was nearly successful.


Historians are divided as to whether this actually happened or is it a piece of Norman embellishment. On the one hand, it hardly seems necessary for Edward to promise a kingdom to William at this juncture in history. Afterall, Edward was in the most powerful position he had achieved since his accession in 1042.


To the English, there must have been a certain uneasiness with the warmth that Edward and William shared with one another. They might well have even known one another in their youths. If so, it explains why Godwin raised an army in the event of an insurrection. As historian David Bates argues, it would explain why earl Godwin quickly raised an army to go against the king, which would result in the entire Godwin family being expelled and even sending his own wife, Edith, to a nunnery. If indeed William had arrived on English soil, the English would likely have captured him. But if sent an emissary instead, it would be the condition that he remove the Godwins from England and ensure the queen is isolated from the rest of the family.


Meanwhile, the Harold's father pressured Edward to allow Sweyn back into England after his land had been given to other earls. Sweyn was the oldest son of the elder Godwin, and in an age of primogeniture should have been handling the work Harold was doing. But he couldn’t stay out of trouble and consistently taxed the king's patience with his illicit behavior. His land had finally been taken from him and handed over to deserving nobles.



Above: Page from ‘’Vita Regis Edvardi’’


One can imagine their state of mind when Sweyn was allowed to return and reclaim his land. Harold’s younger brother, Tostig, will play a major role in Harold's defeat at Hastings after turning on the family and raiding islands and coastal towns along the southern coast of England. Harold's own brother, having lost his Northumbrian lands vowed to gain revenge on Harold. The feuding Godwins had torn themselves apart, and perhaps worst of all, were now exiled from England.


After several months on the run, the Godwins returned to England, and Edward had the humiliating task of restoring his lands. Harold now had to show Edward that listening to palace intrigue would come at a high cost. The year 1052 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tells a disturbing story of Harold’s return. ‘’This year came Harold, the earl, from Ireland, with ships to the mouth of the Severn, nigh the boundaries of Somerset and Devonshire, and there greatly ravaged; and the people of the land drew together against him, as well from Somerset’’


Edward had spent most of his early life in Normandy, something that perhaps wasn’t completely known to Godwin at this time. But in the aftermath of the death of King Harthacanute, the Godwins lobbied for a ruler they could control. Their powerful position and loyalties amongst the English paved a smooth transition of power to Edward, and the Godwin’s didn’t let Edward forget it.


A rift would soon develop between the elder Godwin and Edward. Godwin had earned the backing of the English earls by offering lip-service against this practice and his desire to push the Norman friends out of England. Godwin saw an opportunity to curry favor with his own earls as well as retaining the appearance of influence over King Edward.


Everything was so different from what Edward was accustomed to, including the Church itself. He had never gotten used to the liturgy of the English Catholic Church, something that mattered very deeply to him. Simple cultural differences were blown out of proportion whenever Edward attended a mass. He believed the clergy in England were appointed by nobles rather than archbishops and considered almost all of them secular.


Instead he brought in ecclesiastical members of the Norman Church, often sending them about England to renounce local parish priests and cause dissension and uneasiness around the one thing that held England together.


Ten months went by and the uproar in favor of Godwin did not die down. Edward, it seemed, underestimated the shift in balance of power in England. The earls and even the Witan, a coalition of nobles and religious authorities, applied pressure to the king to bring the Godwins back. With increasing support for the Godwins, the weakened Edward had no choice but to accept the humiliating task of welcoming Godwin back and restoring his lands. Robert of Jumiérges knew time was working against him.



THE UNTOLD CATALYST BEHIND THE NORMAN INVASION


With Godwin's fully restored, those in positions held by the Norman friends of Edward were evicted. None was faster to flee than the Archbishop of Canterbury. His plans thwarted and ambition halted, Robert of Jumiérges fled - but not before he murdered two people in his rage as he was leaving England. Seeing an opportunity while on his way out, he snatched the Wulfnoth, youngest brother of Harold and Hakon, son of Harold’s brother Sweyn, as hostages, delivering them to his new feudal lord, William of Normandy. The situation centering around these two young relatives languishing in a dungeon would become a major cause for England’s downfall.


To make matters worse, King Edward’s temperamental and churlish manner did not serve him during the period, and his weakness and uncertainty seemed to temporarily fuel England’s growing insecurity. Both sides were concerned that a civil war would leave the country open to foreign invasion. Wales was mounting more and more campaigns into England and the situation became so bad that Edward had to send Harold to quell the rebellion.


The king's reign is remembered as peaceful, especially once the Welsh were subdued. His rule however was without a master plan. He impulsively made treaties and promises to powerful rulers in exchange for peace. But he also failed in communicating these treaties to members of the Witan. It is one of the reasons there was great confusion as to who would succeed Edward upon his death, and set off a series of chain of events that led to the Norman conquest.

Edward Dies


In January 1066, the king of England, Edward the Confessor, lay dying, too ill to attend the dedication of his own undertaking, Westminster Abbey. A politically astute and opportunistic brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson is at his side. For better or worse, he had been instrumental in assisting the king in governing England for the past decade and was well aligned with other Anglo-Saxon earls. When the king’s health declined into an almost comatose condition, word of his imminent death spread rapidly.


By 1056, Harold had been king in all but name. His father had amassed an enormous fortune of land and money. He governed England through organized taxation and feudal power, and Harold seemed to follow in his father's footsteps. '"Harold was of free and open nature, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles record, ''...having proved himself in matters of war and diplomacy.''


However, at one point, Edward awakened long enough to share a troubling dream. Taking Harold by the hand and pulling closer, he began to speak to him softly. Saint Ælred, Abbot of Rievaulx, in Yorkshire, tells the fascinating account where two monks whom Edward had known in France and were long dead, appeared to the king and warned him of what was to happen.


The extreme corruption and wickedness of the English nation has provoked the just anger of God. When malice shall have reached the fullness of its measure, God will, in His wrath, send to the English people devils, who would come through the lands with fire and war, and separating the green tree from its parent stem the length of three furlongs. But at last this same tree, through the compassionate mercy of God, and without the aid of any man, shall return to its original root, reflourish and bear abundant fruit.’’

Ælred, Abbot of Rievaulx


According to Harold, the king then handed over the kingdom to him, anointing him as the next king of England. Wasting no time, Harold accepted. Edward then slipped back into a coma and passed away two days later. When he died, the extinguishing of England’s flame was set in its inevitable motion.


For the past two centuries, the identity of a new culture formed. Edward the Confessor had been known as ‘Rex Anglorum’ or king of the English. He had looked over a land of vast wealth and a legal system of laws born out of entangled local laws and codes. There were rules on property, social behavior and marriage. For two hundred years, England had an enormously rich and vibrant growth in the arts and literature. Given the beautiful pieces of artwork and metallurgy that were done at the time, and it might be thought of as an early Anglo-Saxon Renaissance. And all of this was about to be vanquished, just as Edward’s dream predicted.


With his death on January 6th, 1066, a kingdom without an heir had become a reality. Under Anglo-Saxon rule, primogeniture was not necessarily a basis for succession. All of the king's children were called Ætherlings and were considered worthy of the throne. Three men would lay claim to the throne, while the only rightful heir, Edgar Ætherling, just fifteen, had almost no support or authority to be a realistic claimant to the throne. In addition, he wanted nothing to do with ruling England.


In fact, he was living in Europe and simply had no support even if he had wanted to claim the throne. He forever becomes a non-factor despite his lineage. As for Harold, he needed to get the council (Witan) to make him king. Within minutes after the King's death, he emerges from the bedchambers of Edward with the pronouncement that Edward named him to be King.


The Anglo-Saxons of course, positioned themselves in support of Harold. After all, he spoke their language, knew their customs, and seemed to hold true to the promises he had made. Having proven himself to be a brave soldier and an intelligent decision maker, Harold would have made a logical choice to become King.


But just across the channel was Duke William of Normandy. And sailing the North Sea was the Viking Harald Hardrada. All three would fight to the death for what they believed rightfully theirs, and before it was all over, only one of them would stand tall as the new king of England.


Harold Godwin wanted political rule and a chance to make England into the most powerful entity outside of Rome. He looked for diplomatic solutions but could be woefully impatient when it came to battle.


The Norse king, Harald Hardrada was interested in outright conquest and plunder, as this had led to a wildly eventful and successful life. He certainly would have been ill-equipped to rule England had he won. And besides, this was not the Viking way of doing things. Occupation was not in the Viking plans. Destruction and plunder however, well, that's a different story. Conquest and intelligence made him the richest of all three of the claimants to the throne. Soon to join him in battle was none other than Harold Godwin’s very own brother Tostig, who earlier had tried to enlist William as an ally. William listened impassively and turned down the offer.


In Normandy, William was a Duke. In England, he could become a King. His desire was for power. He had been totally unimpressed with the weak line of Capetian kings in France and was repeatedly asked to bring in his well trained forces to bail them out of various disputes. Yet he was relegated to a subservient role that he grew to resent. To be king was everything for William, and along the way, he somehow got the notion that the crown was promised to him. So it is hardly shocking that his reaction upon hearing that Harold had himself crowned before Edward was even buried was to tear his cloak and vow to win England for himself.


William was raised amidst violence and bloodshed. It is revealing to see that throughout his life he was also called William the bastard, a name given to him because his mother, Herleva, was not legally married to his father. He described his own upbringing, saying that he ''had been schooled in war since childhood.''


For Harold, William represented his greatest threat. His claim to the throne was vague at best, sharing a distant relation to Edward through his grandfather. Harold's claim was no stronger, being related only through the marriage of his sister to Edward. And then there was the Viking Harald Hardrada, whose invasion just three weeks prior to Hastings was pivotal in the ultimate outcome for England. Three powerful men, ruling through the sheer force of personal will and ambition, would have a role in two battles so profoundly impactful that the world is still shaped by ut today.


In a three week period in the fall of 1066, two of the world’s greatest civilizations would be swept from power and as many as 30,000 would be dead, their bones left to bleach the fields white. There are many military historians who discuss the year of 1066 because it charted a new course for England. All three men were military were extraordinary leaders of their armies and the the strategies and tactics of each man have been studied for centuries.


How We Assess Historical Events


We learn history when we can relate to it. The story, as it is told, has to be both informative and interesting. But its most alluring characteristic is in understanding human motives and seeing the world as the ancients did. Attempting to view history without the vantage point of hindsight is an acquired practice. We have to deny ourselves the knowledge of the outcome, specifically in order to see how certain decisions were made at the time the events were transpiring. We have to come to the exciting place of reading history as if it were in the present. Done correctly, the story of Hastings and the the final moments of the Anglo-Saxons become both exciting and compelling.


Our minds tend to order things. The conventions we come up with are usually opposites of one another - good and evil, right and wrong, painful and pleasurable, passion and indifference, rational and irrational. This is how we live in a state of ‘’Cosmos’’ (order) amongst all the ‘’Chaos’’ or disorder. However, there is a degree of randomness which leaves us with no cause and thus, no effect. These events are scattered through other events that happen through intention.


When actively learning about Hastings, the reality is far more fluid and in motion. Rather than being on opposite ends of the spectrum where names, dates, and battles exist, the Battle of Hastings is as much about why as it is the what and the where. As we will see, there is a strong underlying element of ‘’why’’ and ‘’how’’ which makes this particular time in history so pivotal to our world today, and why its impact has been felt for over almost a thousand years.


A Perfect Storm


These were the words King Edward the Confessor might have known. He was the last Anglo-Saxon ruler who could trace his lineage back to King Alfred the Great. Although raised in a Norman court, he ruled England for twenty-four years. Without any heirs, he left no plan for his country upon his death. As he lay dying in his bed in January 1066, he had to know that there would be a bloody battle for the kingdom.


Across the channel, there was a dynamic and charismatic leader who believed with all his conviction that the crown was promised to him. Cunning and militant, the rough voiced William considered no other option once Edward had passed away . And thus he waited, news of Edward’s death. But a powerful earl and co-ruler, Harold Godwinson, seized the moment and before sunset the following day had himself crowned as the new king in the first event held in Westminster Abbey, an ironic undertaking in that this was Edward's grand design. An impending sense of cultural castration awaited the English. For Harold had to know William wouldn’t accept this without a fight.


The Norman hour was soon arriving in England, to the land of quaint mystique, beautiful rivers, cool lakes and star-crowned mountains. They had become a united force led by the poison of greed and lust for power. Of course, the French don't see it quite in this manner. Their viewpoint is from the idea that William was always supposed to become the king and that Harold was a usurper, liar, and breaker of sacred feudal oaths. For the English, the feeling of divine judgment must have been as oppressive as the military forts and castles that dotted the countryside in the wake of the Norman conquest.


There is a reason why 1066 is seen as a dividing point in history. Prior to the year, the organization of knowledge had only begun to take place. The Norman conquest drastically changed this. Determined to show that his power was absolute, William seized land and resources at will and went on the most ambitious building project perhaps of all time. Faster than a modern ten story building would take to complete, William constructed castles that have stood for a thousand years and designed to strike fear and to pass the messages of his authority, both secular and spiritual.


The Anglo-Saxon survivors had never seen, nor expected anything like this. Such was the strength and sturdiness of these castles, delicate stained glass from medieval cathedrals through England were stored in The Tower of London during the German bombings of World War II. Considering it was built and personally lived in by the new King William I in 1067, it is a remarkable achievement.



Built under the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087) the Tower of London proved so durable that England's riches of Crown Jewels and Stained Glass were kept for safekeeping during Germany’s bombing of London in WWII.



By the time of William’s death in 1087, hundreds of Norman structures blanketed the countryside. Some were towers on mounds, surrounded by larger enclosures - often referred to as motte and bailey castles. Others were vast undertakings, such as the palace-castles William built at Colchester and at London. The Norman invasion tore down an English power and replaced it almost entirely with their own.


King Edward the Confessor inherited a kingdom ravaged by Viking pillagers who often committed recreational homicide. He was the last Anglo-Saxon ruler who could trace his lineage back to King Alfred the Great. Although raised in a Norman court, he ruled England for twenty-four years to both their greatest prosperity and peace it had ever known. And, having never consummating his marriage to Harold's sister. Without any heirs, he left no plan for his country upon his death. As he lay dying in his bed in January 1066, he had to know that the peace he sought would give rise to the bloody battle for the kingdom.


Edward would be remembered as a king without personal ambition or ego. In this way, he reflected the silent dimensions of the medieval mind - a baffling paradox to us today. His aim was the spiritual welfare of England, as evidenced by his remission of the odious ‘’Danegelt.” Canonized as a saint in 1161, Edward’s life was an example few monarchs had ever sustained. Yet, he appeared to have been easily persuaded into making promises he couldn’t keep. It seems that Harold wasn’t the only one he had promised the crown to.

Across the channel, there was a dynamic and charismatic leader who believed with all his conviction that the crown was promised to him. Duke William awaited news of Edward’s death. But a powerful earl and co-ruler, Harold Godwinson, seized the moment and before sunset the following day had himself crowned as the new king. He had to know William wouldn’t accept this without a fight.


The Norman Hour Approaches


The Norman hour was soon arriving in England, to the land of quaint mystique, beautiful rivers, cool lakes and star-crowned mountains. For the English, the feeling of divine judgment must have been as oppressive as the military forts and castles that dotted the countryside in the wake of the Norman conquest.


There is a reason why 1066 is seen as a dividing point in history. Prior to the year, the organization of knowledge had only begun to take place. The Norman conquest drastically changed this. Determined to show that his power was absolute, William seized land and resources at will and went on the most ambitious building project perhaps of all time. Faster than a modern ten story building would take to complete, William constructed castles that have stood for a thousand years and designed to strike fear and to pass the messages of his authority, both secular and spiritual.


The Anglo-Saxon survivors had never seen, nor expected anything like this. Such was the strength and sturdiness of these castles, delicate stained glass from medieval cathedrals through England were stored in The Tower of London during the German bombings of World War II. Considering it was built and personally lived in by the new King William I in 1067, it is a remarkable accomplishment.


By the time of William’s death in 1087, hundreds of Norman structures blanketed the countryside. Some were towers on mounds, surrounded by larger enclosures - often referred to as motte and bailey castles. Others were vast undertakings, such as the palace-castles William built at Colchester and at London. All were built with the intention of demonstrating his power and authority over his new subjects.


This intimidation led to a resistance for the entirety of William’s reign. If the English couldn’t rid themselves of the Normans, they would instead absorb them and gradually turn them into a more powerful version of themselves. It’s exactly why French is not the language of England. The conquerors would become much like the people they conquered.

Built under the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087) the Tower of London proved so durable that England's riches of Crown Jewels and Stained Glass were kept for safekeeping during Germany’s bombing of London in WWII.


These were the largest secular buildings in stone since the time of the Romans, over eight centuries before. These breathtaking castles and churches and abbeys testify to William’s Normanization of England. They were unlike anything ever seen before in much of England. And, they sweep the imagination by casting their long shadows due to their dizzying heights. The rugged simplicity of the small village church had given way to grand devotional places that reached into the heavens.


Record-taking was now an artform as beautiful manuscripts from the day can attest. The flickering light that shined from a monastery tower made the monks curators of civilization. Their stories shine upon the ‘dark ages’ and educated a kingdom for years to come. Who they were and what audience they had when they wrote them is very clear. But nuances and discrepancies in the accounts are mysteries we are still trying to solve. To know these writers is to know the foundation of what pushed men to fight so violently and to the death for kings and queens throughout the middle ages.


For one particular battle in 1066, the archaeological evidence is surprisingly scant. But the written word seems to confirm that the conquest of England brought the country into mainland Europe’s dominion and away from its Scandinavian roots.


They tell the story in fine calligraphy on linen and parchment and embroider its characters on a 72-meter long tapestry. In many ways, they left us a treasure of invaluable documents that illuminate those today who seek to find out what happened on a battlefield near the small town of Hastings in 1066. ###






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  12. Anne de Ponthieu (?-1067) ‘’Pontivensium comes Wido’’ donated properly to Compiegne Santa Corriegne Saint-Cornelle, confirmed nostre filie, by charter (1067) The term ‘’comtesse’’ suggest that she was married to a count at that date.

  13. Malmesbury, pp 40-41

  14. Ordericus Vitalis, 1., Guizot, F., Forester, T., Delisle, L., Guizot, M. (François). (185356). The ecclesiastical history of England and Normandy. London: H.G. Bohn.

  15. William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontifucum Angloum, ed. M. Winterbottom and R.M. Thomson (Oxford:2007)

  16. Rodney Thomson, William of Malmesbury, 1987 is the full-length study; see also Farmer, Hugh (1962). "William of Malmesbury's Life and Works". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 13 (1): 39–54.

  17. William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, ed. Giles, London 1847, p.308, p.312-313, 316

  18. Van Houts, p. 117. The Norman Conquest; p. 171. Both in Mortimer ed., William Malmesbury, Book VII, C.16, Gesta Anglorum,

  19. Van Houts, p. 117. The Norman Conquest; p. 172-173. Both in Mortimer ed., William of Jumieges, Book, Gesta Guillelmi

  20. R.H.C. Davis 'William of Poitiers and his history of William the Conqueror', in Davis, R.H.C. and Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. (eds.) The Writing of history in the Middle Ages: essays presented to Richard William Southern (Oxford, 1981)

  21. Migne, J.-P., ed. (1882). "Willelmi Conquestoris gesta a Willelmo Pictauensi Lexouiorum archidiacono contemporaneo scripta". Patrologia Latina. Page 149; Paris. col. 1217–1270.

  22. William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum; The History of the English Kings: Volume 1; edited and translated by R.A.B Mynors, RM Thomson (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1998)

  23. William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum; The History of the English Kings: Volume 1; pp 84-85, edited and translated by R.A.B Mynors, RM Thomson (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1998)

  24. Malmesbury, Vol 1, pp 143

  25. Malmesbury, Vol 2, pp 91

  26. Eadmer. (2012). Eadmeri historia novorum in Anglia: Et, opuscula duo de vita Sancti Anselmi et quibusdam miraculis ejus (Cambridge Library Collection - Rolls, p. V pp 188). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  27. Eadmer, (De Gest. Pontiff. vol. i.)






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