Setting the Scene – Part III

They do be Normans! On why keeping company, even somewhat unwillingly, with ruthless Norman adventurers wasn’t in hindsight a great idea.

•    Invasion and Conquest

Harold Godwinson (King Harold II) may have been Edward the Confessor’s brother-in-law but Duke William of Normandy was Edward’s cousin and therefore with some claim to the throne. William also believed that a pact had been made, albeit a forced one from Harold’s point of view, in 1064 in which William would become king of England and Harold would retain all of Wessex linked to the crown by marriage with his daughter.

This story as well as the subsequent Battle of Hastings is told, from the Norman perspective of course, in the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is an eleventh century embroidery most likely commissioned by Bishop Odo, Duke William’s half-brother, for his cathedral.

William prepared to seize what he thought was rightfully his and Harold confidently awaited his arrival before disbanding his army and returning to London. However, another invasion was being planned by Cnut’s successors in Norway.

Harold’s half-brother Tostig had joined in a pact with King Harold Hardrada and, after gathering a large fleet and army, they sailed toward the northeast coast of England. This left Harold facing two invasions, one from the north and one from the south.

When news reached Harold that Hardrada, Tostig, and their army were encamped in York he marched north to confront them and arrived within five days. On 25th September Harold’s army met Tostig and Hardrada’s forces in battle at Stamford Bridge and inflicted a resounding defeat on their army. Hardrada was killed in the first outbreak of fighting and Tostig took command. Harold offered Tostig peace but he refused it and at the battle’s end he too lay dead.

With this victorious battle barely over Harold received the news that William had landed at Pevensey Bay on 28th September. William had secured the sanction of Pope Alexander II for a Norman invasion and the conquest of England had begun.

Harold marched his army south and prepared to meet William’s forces. At dawn on 14th October 1066 William set out to attack Harold’s army and the Battle of Hastings began. By nightfall the last line of Saxon troops were broken by a feigned retreat of the mounted Normans and Harold, along with his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine, had been killed. A scene from the Tapestry depicts a Saxon, thought to be King Harold, pierced by arrow through the eye.

William waited for two weeks for a formal surrender of the English throne. However, the Witan proclaimed the youthful fifteen year old Edgar Aetheling king instead. William marched to London but his initial advance was beaten back at London Bridge. He then decided on a new tactic which was to march westward and attack London from the northwest. He crossed the Thames at Wallingford, a place that would become of great importance in the reign of King Stephen, and in early December forced the surrender of Archbishop Stigand who was one of Edgar’s main supporters. William pressed on relentlessly and reached Berkhamsted a few days later.  It was here that Edgar Aetheling relinquished the crown and the Saxon noblemen surrendered. William was formally crowned on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Aldred.

Are you keen to explore further and learn more about the invasion and conquest?

Links to other Websites:
• UK Battlefields Resource Centre
The Battle of Stamford Bridge
The Battle of Hastings

• William of Malmesbury
The Battle of Hastings, 1066

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