Back in the day, well, in 1051 or thereabouts, Edward “the Confessor” King of England named William II, Duke of Normandy to inherit his title, for reasons that are not entirely clear. (Edward wasn’t married at the time and had no kids.)
At the same time there was a powerful family of Earls of Danish extraction, Godwin pater et fils. Harold Godwinsson’s dad was the Earl of Wessex and when he died in 1053 after choking to death at the King’s table, Harold inherited the title. To avoid getting bogged down in family pedigrees, let’s skip to the point which is that Earl Harold Godwinsson was a powerful warrior with great connections.
Now at this time in Europe warriors made war. All the time. They just couldn’t help themselves and besides, if you didn’t make war against someone, someone would make war against you. It’s what they did. I think they just didn’t like hanging around the house, or castle/palace, because their wives got on their nerves. They needed an excuse to get out and about soooo…war it was.
In 1063 Earl Harold Godwinsson had been busy murdering every Welsh male who crossed his path, including Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, King of Wales. Harold, in fact, carried Gruffydd’s head to Edward the Confessor, kind of a gruesome present but…hey, it’s what they did, back in the day. Gruffydd’s widow Ealdgyth, who was supposedly very pretty, then married Edward the Confessor (apparently she wasn’t the sensitive type). But they had no children either.
Then in 1064 Earl Harold was shipwrecked off the coast of Normandy and captured by Guy of Ponthieu. William II Duke of Normandy ordered Guy to release Harold and in no time William and Harold were best buds. They used to go hunting together. Harold had agreed to support William’s claim to the throne of England. But Edward (the Confessor) in 1066, on his deathbed, decided to name Earl Harold his successor instead of William. Harold had been busy at the time, routing his brother Tostig’s army and killing off the bro. (Now that’s sibling rivalry!) Harold, pitching William overboard (metaphorically speaking) in a heartbeat, seized the English throne for himself. He’s there, it ‘s empty, whatta ya gonna do?
When he heard about this Duke William, whose four greats grandfather BTW, was Rollo the Viking–so he and Harold were actually both of Viking extraction–was hunting in the park of Quevily, near Rouen. William stormed off, totally pissed off! He was sulking and pouting, huffing and puffing in his great hall. “He spoke to no man, and no man ventured to speak to him. Crossing the Seine in a boat, he entered his palace and sat down moodily on a bench in the hall, covering his face with his cloak and leaning his head against a column.” (J.R. Planche, The Conqueror and His Companions, Vol. 1.)
Just then the Duke’s Dapifer/Steward/Seneschal, bold William FitzOsbern, enters the hall “humming a tune” and advises the Duke that he should just invade England and take that damn crown. (Not only had it had been promised by Harold Godwinson, he and William had sworn oaths on it, on holy relics, which was a big deal back then.) Then FitzOsbern the Dapifer goes around to each of Duke William’s most influential supporters & best warriors schmoozing them to support William in invading England.
They were all against it and asked FitzOsbern to speak to the Duke on behalf of the whole group and point out that they were not bound to support him anywhere except in Normandy and that they really didn’t want any part of such an enterprise. So then, having gotten himself appointed spokesman, FitzOsbern “with the greatest effrontery” goes to the Duke and assures him that he has the unanimous support of all, “That to advance him they would go through fire and water. They would not only cross the sea, but double their service.”.
When the chieftains found out how he’d misrepresented their position they were all furious and there was a near-riot among them. “The barons were as indignant as astounded at this unwarrantable declaration. Many openly disavowed him; all was tumult and confusion. No one could hear another speak; no one could either listen to reason or render it for himself” (from Wace’s Roman de Rou). Now that’s some onions!
The rest is history. Duke William et. al. invaded England 10/14/1066 and it became Norman, not Saxon via the two warring Viking descendants. (BTW, the Saxons were by no means originally locals, they’d invaded Britain back in the fifth century, but nobody seemed to remember that and spoke of Saxons as if they were natives since, well, forever.)
Ya just gotta love FitzOsbern for being so bold. And duplicitous! And changing our history.