The Open Door Web Site
The Normans Index
Living History Project
THE LIVING HISTORY PROJECT
William of Normandy
In the 9th century the area of the lower Seine that we now call Normandy had been raided many times by the Vikings. It was attacked once more in 911 by a Norwegian pirate called Rolf the Ganger. After spending his life raiding and stealing he had been exiled from his home by the King of Norway and so he took his followers and began attacking the coast of northern France. The Frankish king in Paris, Charles the Simple, did not want to confront the Viking and so gave him the Duchy of Normandy. This was on condition that he become a Christian , defend the area from further attacks and not attack the lands of the Franks.
Rolf and his successors made Normandy one of the most powerful and accomplished states in Europe. In 1035 Rolf's son Duke Robert the Magnificent was killed returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and his illegitimate son, William became the new duke. William successfully crushed rebellions by his own lords and fought and defeated his own overlord, King Henry I of France. He made Normandy bigger by adding the neighbouring territory of Maine to it in 1063.
The Crown of England
England, meanwhile , was ruled by Edward the Confessor, called this because he was very pious and lived almost like a monk. Edward had been brought up in Normandy with William and had brought some of his Norman friends to England with him when he became king . The English, however did not like these Norman lords who spoke a strange, foreign language. Edward was a weak king and after 1053 England was more or less under the control of his brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex and commander of the King's army.
Edward died on 6th January 1066 with no child to succeed him. In those days this lack of a successor wouln't have mattered much since king's usually designated (chose) who would succeed them anyway. It did not necessarily have to be their son.
On his deathbed Edward is believed to have named Earl Harold as his successor. Harold was recognised as king by the other great lords of the kingdom and was crowned king at Westminster Abbey. Afterwards Harold toured the country to make sure everyone recognised him as king.
Two other men , however had claims on the English throne. One of them was Harold Hardrada, a descendant of a Danish king who had controlled half of England a hundred and fifty years before. The other claim was that of William of Normandy who had grown up with Edward and visited England in 1051. It is possible that Edward had at that time promised him that he could succeed him.
More important than Edward's possible promise was the promise that Harold Godwin had made to William. Back in 1063 or 1064 Harold had been shipwrecked off the coast of France. A Norman writer tells us that he was taken with great ceremony to Rouen and treated as a privileged guest by Duke William. Harold took an oath to help William have the crown of England on Edward's death. The Bayeux Tapestry shows us the same ceremony.
If this is true then Harold was an oath-breaker when he crowned himself king in 1066. This was a very serious offence in the Middle Ages. Supported by Pope Alexander II, William assembled a large army at St Valéry. He invited neighbouring lords to come with him to England and gain lands if he was successful. Throughout the summer of 1066 Harold and his men waited for William's invasion but when it didn't come , many of the soldiers went home to bring in the harvest.
The Battle of Hastings 1066
In September 1066 news of the landing of Harold Hardrada and a Norwegian army in the north-east of England reached Harold Godwin . This was the last Viking raid ever to be made. Harold and his men marched north and defeated the invaders at Stamford Bridge. Two days later , however, Harold learned that William and his army, delayed for a long time by contrary winds, had landed in the south of England.
Harold immediately set off for the south and arrived in Sussex to take up position on a hill above Hastings. He probably had with him only two thousand professional soldiers and maybe three thousand peasants armed with pitchforks and stones. The Normans are thought to have had seven thousand well-armed and experienced soldiers, mostly mounted knights archers and foot-soldiers.
William won a complete victory at Hastings on 25th September 1066. Harold Godwin along with many of his noblemen were killed in the battle. William the Conqueror marched to London, had himself crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 and made himself master of his new kingdom.
The Bayeux Tapestry
To justify and celebrate his victory for future generations, William had his half-brother, Bishop Odo organise the sewing of a tapestry sometime in the years 1067-1070. It is in fact an embroidery rather than a true tapestry, sewn by English women with woollen threads of blue, green, red and yellow onto a linen background.
The first half of the tapestry is a kind of political justification for the invasion - Wiliam wants the world to understand that he really did have a claim to the throne. Then there is the preparation for the invasion and then the Battle of Hastings itself. The Tapestry is 70m long and 50cms wide. There are 72 separate scenes with descriptive wording in Latin.
The Open Door Web Site is non-profit making. Your donations help towards the cost of maintaining this free service on-line.
Donate to the Open Door Web Site using PayPal