Category Archives: Vikings

Conquest — What’s in It for the Conqueror?


Since we seem to be heading back into the Middle Ages, I’ve been reading up on the history of those grim centuries.  William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, King of England, invaded Britain in October of 1066 and won the Battle of Hastings, and the country of England.  (The Welsh took a lot longer to be subdued.)  By Easter of 1067, William, having been crowned William I, King of England on Christmas Day 1066 at nearly new Westminster Abbey, returned to the family home at Fecamp, Normandy and had a huge party.  (Earl Harold Godwinsson had also been crowned in that abbey, on January 6, 1066, succeeding Edward the C0nfessor and totally pissing off William, Duke of Normandy who was pretty sure that damn crown was supposed to be his.)

Various historical sources provide details.  This one below, from Orderic Vitalis’ “The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. 2” (Forester translation) speaks volumes about the luxury to which William was quickly becoming accustomed.  Supposedly he brought everything he’d captured in England with him when he returned for the Easter festivities at the small Northwest French harbor town–even people whose number included many nobles who were not specifically called hostages, but were.

…The feast of Easter was kept at the abbey of the Holy
Trinity at Fecamp, where a great number of bishops, abbots,
and nobles assembled. Earl Radulph, father-in-law of
Phillip king of France- with many of the French nobility,
were also there beholding with curiosity the long-haired
natives of English-Britain, and admiring the garments of
gold tissue, enriched with bullion, worn by the king and his
courtiers. They also were greatly struck with the beauty of
the gold and silver plate, and the horns tipped with gold at
both extremities. …

So that’s what it’s all about?  Snazzy duds, including “garments of gold tissue” and  “horns tipped with gold at both extremities”?  Is that like, the emperor has no clothes?   One has to wonder–was gold tissue to be worn over more substantially woven clothing?  It sounds, well, itchy.

The Hastings invasion sounds pretty much like the Vikings’ original 793 invasion of England at Lindisfarne.  By the time of William II, Duke of Normandy that country was wealthy, fat and soft, ripe for another round of plundering.  William II, Duke of Normandy was only five generations removed from his gr gr gr grandfather, Rollo the Viking.  (The succession was; from Rollo’s son, William le “Longue Epee” styled Duke of Normandy,  to his son Richard I, Duke of Normandy, “Sans Peur” (“the Fearless”) to his son, Richard II, Duke of Normandy (“the Good”) to his son Richard III Duke of Normandy who was succeeded by his brother Robert I, Duke of Normandy (either “the Devil” or “the Magnificent” depending on who’s doing the talking,) who was the father of William (“the Bastard” or “the Conqueror” depending on who’s doing the talking).  William’s conquest was just another Viking invasion.  You might say it was sort of an “apple not falling far from the tree” kind of thing.  It was often speculated that Robert (“the Devil”so called because of suspected fratricide, or “the Magnificent” because, well, I don’t know why) had his brother bumped off so he could have the Duke of Normandy title, but this was never proven.  William,the Conqueror, gr gr gr grandson of Rollo the Viking, conquered England just 273 years after the Vikings first came a-raiding at Lindisfarne.

It’s common knowledge that when William I of England died, his servants stole everything they could carry and left him, basically, lying in his underwear.   Then his corpse wasn’t attended to in a timely manner and it swelled up, then burst during the attempt to inter William.

What isn’t such common knowledge (I think) is that at William’s funeral, before he popped, someone spoke up with a claim to the patch of ground he was to be buried in.  Turns out William had ripped off the land from this guy’s father years before.  So the knights and family retainers had to take up a collection to pay off the gravesite claimant in order for the ill-fated funeral to proceed.  (Can’t ya just see them looking at each other, rolling their eyes and waiting for someone else to cough up some cash.)

Apparently, after the Conqueror’s corpse popped open there was an unbearable stench and the services were hastily concluded.  That would be by the clerics whose livelihoods had been provided for generously by William for decades but who wouldn’t even endure his stinking corpse long enough to provide a moment or two of dignity for the much abused dead king.

Yeah, generally there are plenty of assets in it for conquerors.  But in the long run, the second he (or she) is vulnerable, supporters and sycophants will take all their stuff and leave them lyin’ dead on the floor in their underwear.  They can’t even count on a decent burial.

Humans are such a mystery!  They seem smart but keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

 

 

 

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How William II Duke of Normandy Became William I King of England and England Became French Because of Two Vikings


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.