Campaigns of the Norman Conquest

Campaigns of the Norman Conquest

Campaigns of the Norman Conquest

Campaigns of the Norman Conquest

Synopsis

This book provides a full introduction to the Norman Conquest, an event which resulted in dramatic changes to the nation's aristocracy, church and administration. It brought a new language and cultural influences and revolutionised military architecture with the introduction of the castle. This profound impact was not brought about as the result of a single battle and it took a five-year war for William to establish control over his new kingdom. The campaigns are studied in detail, with maps showing how William's energy and strategic intelligence enabled him to defeat his formidable opponents and create a new order.

Excerpt

Harold seeks the throne

Once back in England, Harold set about strengthening his own claim to the throne. His greatest potential rival was his brother Tostig, earl of Northumbria, but in the autumn of 1065 a rebellion broke out against this southerner in a fiercely independent northern shire. The likely causes included over-heavy taxation and the abuse of the legal system, as a result of which several Northumbrian notables died. Some of these may have been enjoying the earl’s hospitality at the time, although other sources blame Queen Edith, his sister. Whatever the reason, Tostig found his hearth-troops murdered, his treasure plundered and himself expelled, while the natives chose Morkere as their earl. The revolt threatened to become a political revolution as the northerners marched south, gathering support as they went and undermining the stability of Edward’s throne. The king was too ill to confront the rebels himself, and despatched Harold instead. The earl negotiated a peace which sent the northerners home satisfied but resulted in the exile of his own brother. Tostig was mortified, and took himself off to Flanders, to the court of his father-in-law, count Baldwin. Once there he plotted to return and claim the throne for himself. The whole affair was very shady and Harold came out of it with little credit. Even the Vita Edwardi Regis (Life of King Edward), a source favourable to the Godwinesons, since it was written for Queen Edith, suggests that stories abounded that Harold had himself fomented the rebellion against his brother. When charged with this he swore that this was not so, but the Vita comments that he had always been too free with his oaths.

As Edward lay dying at Christmas 1065, the Vita describes who was gathered around his bed: Queen Edith, warming his feet like a dutiful wife; Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury; Robert fitzWymarc, Edward’s Anglo-Norman steward, and Harold. It was customary for a king to designate an heir on his deathbed, and Edward effectively had no choice. He died on 5 January 1066 and the next day Harold was crowned king in Westminster Abbey. He had thrown down the gauntlet and, in so doing, plunged England into over half a decade of warfare.

The contestants prepare

As the news spread that Harold had been crowned, his rivals began their preparations, and there were three of them. As well as the ambitious William of Normandy and the embittered Tostig in Flanders there was another adventurer who threw his hat into the ring. His name was Harald nicknamed ‘Hard-ruler’, a viking who had made himself king of Norway . . .

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