HERITAGE - 11: 1066 AND ALL THAT - More Than a Battle near Hastings

The Bayeux Tapestry marks Harold's final hour on Caldbec Hill six miles inland from Hastings - 'Sanguelac' to Norman chroniclers

Bayeux scene shows Norman cavalry closing on Harold's huscarls in the shieldwall - blood and gore on the hillside gave rise to the Norman name 'Sanguelac' - 'Lake of Blood'
Bayeux scene shows Norman cavalry closing on Harold's huscarls in the shieldwall - blood and gore on the hillside gave rise to the Norman name 'Sanguelac' - 'Lake of Blood' | Source

October 14th dawned fine, giving no inkling of the horrors to come..

Harold's warriors struck the backs of their shields loudly with their weapons, calling out 'Ut, ut, ut! at William and his allies, 'Out,out, out!' The call was carried through the ranks, creating a din loudly enough to startle the Normans' mounts
Harold's warriors struck the backs of their shields loudly with their weapons, calling out 'Ut, ut, ut! at William and his allies, 'Out,out, out!' The call was carried through the ranks, creating a din loudly enough to startle the Normans' mounts | Source

Marking the time

Almost a thousand years have gone by since King Harold was killed on Saturday, 14th October, 1066 and Duke William was crowned on Christmas Day, 1066. The flower of English society went down with their king... Or did it?

Believe it or not, aside from his bodyguard, the huscarlar (or huscarls/housecarls) only two earls were killed with Harold, his brothers Gyrth - who had fought alongside him at Stamford Bridge only a fortnight earlier - and Leofwin. Only one of his sheriffs, Godric, was killed with him. Ansgar, Harold's sheriff of Middlesex and stallari, or marshal, survived to fight again at London Bridge weeks later. As did the king's nephew Hakon and a large number of other fighting men. A number of his earls had stayed put, Eadwin of Mercia, Morkere of Northumbria and Waltheof of Middle Anglia, and fought alongside Harold's uncrowned successor Eadgar the aetheling at London Bridge.

According to the Peterborough Chronicle (E) they defeated a force of five hundred mounted knights led by William himself, who was unhorsed again, having already lost two mounts fighting against Harold's shieldwall on Caldbec Hill at the edge of the Andreds Weald near Hastings. William had offered talks before the fight, underestimating Eadgar's resolve. The majority of the Middlesex fyrd fought under their lord Ansgar, as did the huscarls and thegns brought by the young earls - Eadwin and Morkere -from the north. Waltheof had lost men who had gone with their king, and Hakon being of the Godwinson clan no doubt had his own followers.

William was not to be put out by his setback and withdrew to Kent to nurse his injured pride. Instead of trying another head-on attack - with the prospect of losing more valuable knights - he set about destroying the crops and settlements in a wide arc around the capital to cut off Eadgar's supporters from their food supplies. He met the Witan at Berkhamstead to take their surrender, thus isolating the young king. Fearful of losing their lands, the churchmen sought William's assurance that their lands were secure. Archbishop Stigand was kept for the time being in his see at Canterbury, despite not having received his pallium from Rome because of his simony - he was still Bishop of Winchester when he accepted Canterbury. (He would be ousted when William's senior churchman Lanfranc came in 1070). Archbishop Ealdred of York willingly conducted the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066, with Stigand assisting and William's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux in attendance. Ealdred's future was assured, but he was to die in 1069 when the Danes came to England to help the Northumbrians and attacked York.

So, for now William was happy enough to sit down at Barking Abbey as a guest of his kinswoman the abbess, go out hunting in Harold's forests around Essex. He appointed a number of nobles to their positions, including Copsig to the earldom of Bernicia (Northern Northumbria) before leaving for Normandy. Copsig had been Earl Tostig's corrupt tax collector - he was apt to taking more than his fair share of the proceeds to feather his own nest - and a Yorkshireman to boot, hardly the best choice to be an earl in a region that collectively hated him and his ilk. When he was feasting at Newburn on the Tyne Gospatric and Osulf, cousins within the Bernician hierarchy, sought him out and pursued him to a small chapel nearby. Setting fire to the chapel would not have endeared them to the churchmen, but burn it they did, cutting Copsig down as he tried to flee with some of his followers would certainly not have helped later with gaining Saint Peter's consent to enter heaven. (Copsig's successor, the Fleming Robert de Commines, fared no better. In the summer of 1068 he and his men were butchered by the folk of Durham when they tried to shelter in the bishop's house).

In the summer of 1067 Eadric 'the Wild', thegn of Herefordshire burnt down William fitzOsbern's timber Norman castle at Hereford with the help of the Welsh princes Bleddyn and his younger brother Rhiwallon. Late in 1067 Exeter was closed to the Normans and King Wllliam hurried west to lay siege to the city. Harold's family were in residence and provided incentive for the rebellion, the siege lasting eighteen days. By the time the Normans entered Exeter Harold's mother Gytha, his common-law wife Eadgytha and her sons were gone, the women to Steepholm in the Bristol Channel, his sons to Ireland.

Over the years from 1067-1071 William faced rebellions in the north, the midlands and in the east. The Danes came twice, only to be bought off to enable William to deal with the insurgents. Eadgar was adopted as the leader of the rebellion, was chased north into Scotland to seek the help of his brother-in-law Malcolm, came south in 1069 to head the York rebellion and left again for Scotland. Leaders came and went, and the rebellions petered out after the last leader Hereward went into exile. Other leaders were imprisoned, pardoned, imprisoned again or executed. The last straw came when Eadric was taken back into the fold and helped William invade Scotland to force Malcolm into the Treaty of Abernethy, to close Scotland to English leaders using Malcolm's hospitality as a retreat from William's wrath.

In the early evening, almost at dusk, Norman knights achieve the crest of Caldbec Beorg - Caldbec Hill - that they named Sanguelac or Senlac (Lake of Blood)
In the early evening, almost at dusk, Norman knights achieve the crest of Caldbec Beorg - Caldbec Hill - that they named Sanguelac or Senlac (Lake of Blood)

Compared with what happened in the pre-1066 era, during Eadward's reign, the time known as the 'Conquest' was awash with risings, rebellion, oppression and intrigue. Understanding the era isn't hard, it's the detail that might fox you. What happened, where, why? Marc Morris's book goes a long way to explaining the what, the where and the why - even the how.

William had large areas of the north wasted in 1069 after his timber castles in York were destroyed, to show who ruled

The Harrying of the North - after William failed to stop the aetheling Eadgar from leaving for Scotland across the Tees, he took to destroying homes, crops and livestock over much of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Shropshire out of spite
The Harrying of the North - after William failed to stop the aetheling Eadgar from leaving for Scotland across the Tees, he took to destroying homes, crops and livestock over much of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Shropshire out of spite | Source

After Ely

Many Englishmen went into exile after the siege of Ely, when William and his men found their way onto the Isle after William tricked Abbot Thurstan into believing he was about to hand Ely's property to his barons in return for defeating the rebels. Thurstan revealed a route onto the isle that would not be defended.

Hereward returned to Flanders with others, where he had been before William landed in the south, and had commanded men in the Low Countries for Count Baldwin V.

More went on to enlist with the Varangian Guard of Michael VII and later Alexios Komnenos to fight against the Normans in the Mediterranean area who fought under Robert 'Guiscard' de Hauteville and his nephew Bohemund. Englishmen were still enlisting with the Varangian Guard well into the 12th Century in the days of Henry II

*There are more detailed accounts of the era in the CONQUEST series. See also the RAVENFEAST Series page on this site


On a much lighter note, the book by the same name. A humorous look at British history from the time the Romans came and Caesar dismissed the natives as 'weeny, weedy, weaky' ('veni, vidi, vici'), via 'Anglo-Saxon Attitudes' and the original tree-hugger 'Farmer George' who lost us America to the modern age (the book was originally published in the 1950s). A masterpiece of understated English wit by Messrs Sellar,Yeatman and Reynolds who ably illustrated this snappy outlook on our past.. .


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Comments 13 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Interestingly enough, I was able to see this invasion from the Norman point of view when we visited the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, France last year. I believe the tapestry exists in replica somewhere in the UK? Voting this Up and Interesting.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

There is the 'D-Day' Tapestry that was created to commemmorate Operation Overlord, done in the style of the original with more modern imagery. The reason for calling it 'Operation Overlord' was thinly veiled irony, as it was the Anglo-Saxon nations (with some Free French) invading Normandy. The 'overlord' was William in 1066; General Bernard Montgomery was descended from a Montgomerie who was awarded land on the Welsh border. Every heard of Montgomeryshire? The 'overlord' in 1944 was a descendant of a German immigrant, Eisenhauer to America. Dwight D Eisenhower went to tackle his ancestors' fellow countrymen and neighbours. Funny old world, innit?


Patty Kenyon profile image

Patty Kenyon 4 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

Voted UP and Interesting!! This was another great Hub!!!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello again Patty - fancy seeing you here. Have you visited 1) the Northworld Saga site Hub-page with its link to my web-site (on Eden) and 2) the RAVENFEAST page. Might be worth a look...


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

Although I am (slightly) familiar with the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and of course with the Battle of Hastings, I had no idea that Hastings failed to end the little squabble between Anglo Saxon royalty and the Norman invaders. I did not know of the Battle of London Bridge, so it is interesting to hear of that and of the lives of so many others influential at the time. And nice to know that Berkhamstead has a claim to fame alancaster! (And a beautiful image of a silhouetted tree too).

Glancing at your hubs, your knowledge on this period of history is clearly vast, and detailed - it's a age which was pivotal in shaping the Britain we know today, so I will be back to read some more. Alun.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

There's also an unconfirmed fight in the city of London after Berkhamstead, where the defenders made a good stand but were betrayed by a monk who let the Normans in through a postern gate - echoes of the siege of Exeter, where a thegn let William's men in through a secret entrance after 'the Bastard' offered terms. Luckily Harold's family (mother, wife and offspring) made good their escape. The London Bridge episode probably taught William not to take anything for granted. There was no 'united front' against William until too late (at Ely), when many nobles were taken prisoner and not released until after William died in 1087. Hereward escaped with a small band of friends and hid in the wild-woods in East Anglia until they were taken by ship to Flanders. All these events are/will be covered in the RAVENFEAST books. Check out the page and see if it's up your street.

My knowledge comes from years of study, specialised in the main between Gate Fulford (before Stamford Bridge) to when English exiles joined the Varangian Guard in Byzantium after 1072.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 days ago

A lot of interesting information about what happened after The Battle of Hastings. Thank you.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 45 hours ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Robert, nice of you to drop by. Hope the visit proved worthwhile.

As I mentioned to 'Greensleeves', it's down to years of personal study. At school this era was 'glossed over', almost in indecent haste and on to the later Middle Ages (the 'romantic' age). It was all interesting, and one era dove-tailed into another from when the Angles, Jutes and Saxons came in the 5th Century to when Charles I was 'abbreviated' at the neck.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 35 hours ago

Yes, it does seem "The Dark Ages" gets glossed over in most history classes.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 22 hours ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Much of English Common Law, the grammar and precepts predates William I. Very little in the way of lawmaking stems from his reign and Magna Carta in John's time only gave voice to the barons, not the common 'herd'. Before 1066 all free men had a say in the way government went through local 'gemots' and the 'shire moot'. After 1066 those who lived on the land became the 'property' of the local lord and lost all rights they held to self-determination.

We had a Frankish style of feudalism that only recognised the rights of townsfolk and citizens. Should a 'villein' (village dweller) seek freedom in town he had to have lived there - if he got that far before being hauled back in fetters - for some years before achieving freedom from his lord.

His lord had the right to take any bride on her wedding night, and woe betide those who objected. There was a cell in each castle without doors, the only way in through an iron grate in the ground, the only way out was death. He'd be left to starve to death, the rats got his flesh and bones to gnaw on. The cell was known as the 'Houbriet' (I think), meaning 'to forget'.

There were miscarriages of justice before William, but the Normans and their allies were allowed to ride roughshod over town and country. It took them a long time to establish total rule.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 19 hours ago

Definitely not a good time to be alive.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 18 hours ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Not if you were run-of-the-mill English. There were those who swore fealty to William and kept their lands. There was also the Church, although by the turn of the 11th Century most bishops and abbots were Norman. The fyrd in some areas threw their weight behind their new Norman, Flemish and Breton masters against fellow Englishmen. I've just added another page in the CONQUEST series about the Breton Alan 'Rufus' who was awarded the Honour of Richmond in North Yorkshire. He was a different kettle of fish, admired by both sides and his lands were razed in 1069 by men under the command of Geoffrey of Coutances and Odo, Earl of Kent (William's half-brother). Take a look at the Profile Page and click in. Savour the read.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 18 hours ago

Thank you.

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