The battle of Hastings

william-the-cOn October 14th, 949 years ago, Duke William of Normandy accompanied by a Norman-French army met the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson just outside Hastings and on that Saturday morning the battle commenced.

Duke William, also known as William the Bastard, had landed at Penvensey on September 28th with a force that contemporary sources claims consisted of over 700 ships, a number which is most likely exaggerated. The invasion was a result of the succession crisis that had been raging in England since the passing of Edward the Confessor in January that same year. The accession to the throne by Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and the richest and most powerful man in England, had been contested by Duke William – who claimed king Edward himself had promised him the throne – and the Norwegian king Harald III who claimed that there had existed an agreement between his predecessor Magnus and the earlier English king Harthacanute that if either one died without an heir the other would inherit both England and Norway.

As far as Harald – also known as Harald Hardrada – was concerned, England belonged to him. This prompted Harald as well to launch an invasion force which reached the north of England, where they were strengthened by the forces of Tostig Godwinson, exiled brother of Harold and supporter of the Norwegian bid for the throne.

They met Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge in East Riding of Yorkshire in a battle that often is considered to mark the shift from the Viking age to the early Middle Ages. Like most battles, it was bloody and horrific, and left most of the Norwegian army wiped out. This however also meant that when Harold´s army met that of William at Hastings, they were already quite worn down.

The contemporary sources is contradictory, and the only thing that is known as a fact is that the battle started at 9 am on a Saturday morning and lasted until dusk 11 kilometres north of Hastings, at the location of the modern day town of Battle, but already in the Domesday Book 21 years later, in 1087, it was referred to as the Battle of Hastings.

As we all know, the victory of the day was Norman. The outcome has a lot to do with not least the fact that Harold´s army had only days before fought off the Norwegian invaders, along with the fact that Duke William was a more experienced military commander.

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 51 (partielle) : la bataille d'Hastings, chevaliers et archers normands.

Tapisserie de Bayeux – Scène 51 (partielle) : la bataille d’Hastings, chevaliers et archers normands.

The Norman dead was buried in graves, while the English soldiers was left lying where they fell, with no one really knowing what happened to the remains of Harold Godwinson. One account states that William himself threw the body of the former king in the sea, while there also started to circulate legends that Harold did not in fact die at all, but withdrew the Chester to live out the remainder of his days as a hermit.

Duke William, from this day known as William the Conqueror rather than William the Bastard, had of course expected the surviving English soldiers, and in time the rest of the country, to acknowledge him as the new king. It didn´t quite work out that way, and instead Edgar the Ætheling was proclaimed king.

After a number of clashes between Norman and Anglo-Saxon forces during the fall, William was finally crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey on December 25th 1066.

Sources:

William the Conqueror – David Douglas

Death of Anglo-Saxon England – Nick Higham

The Norman Conquest – Hugh Thomas

Barking Abbey – a glimpse

Of all the abbey´s to be found in England pre-reformation, one of the wealthiest over time was Barking Abbey, located in what is now greater London as the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.Barking_abbey_curfew_tower_london

Already from the start it was an abbey that housed the daughters of both nobility and royalty, and the position as an abbess there was more than once used as a kind of compensation for acts committed on royal authority.

Even if Henry II refused to admit, or rather strongly denied, that he had wished for the death of Thomas Becket he gave the position as abbess to Beckets sister, Mary Becket, after the murder. The Abbess of Barking Abbey would take precedence over all other Abbess´ in England.

Chertsey_Breviary_-_St._ErkenwaldThe abbey itself was founded in the 7th century, around 666 (which to me feels like an ominous number/year in this context) by Erkenwald from the kingdom of Lindsey, who would later become both the bishop of London as well as, after his death, a saint with a patronage against gout. The first abbess of Barking would come to be Erkenwald´s sister Æthelburh (also Ethelburga). At the time of the foundation there were no nunneries in England, and Erkenwald founded Barking precisely for this purpose.

It was firstly dedicated to Saint Mary, but would later be dedicated to Saint Æthelburh as well.

From the beginning Barking was a joint monastery with both monks and nuns, even if they lived separated. Eventually it would emerge as a nunnery which grew in importance. In his Historia Ecclesiastica, the Venerable Bede recounts a number of miracles that were supposed to have taken place at Barking Abbey.

For some reason, activity at the abbey seems to have ceased in the mid-9th century, and there is no proper evidence to say why, but on theory which is lifted by Teresa L. Barnes is that the abbey was attacked by Danish Vikings, something which was a common fate of abbeys during the era.

This, if it was in deed the case, was followed by about a century of silence from the abbey, after which is was re-founded by King Edgar the Peaceful who appointed as Abbess Wulfhilda, after a series of events that deserve, and will get, a post of its own.

This post is just the beginning of a subject that I during the upcoming months will spend a lot more time with.

 

Sources;

A nun´s life; Barking Abbey in late medieval and early modern times – Teresa L. Barnes

A dictionary of saintly women – Agnes Dunbar

 

Images;

Drawing of what Barking Abbey may have looked like in 1500 – Tudor place

Barking Abbey curfew tower – MRSC

Magna Carta 800 years

On June 15th it will be 800 years since a legendary document was signed at Runnymede in close proximity to Windsor.RunnymedeMagnacartaisle The document has come to continue to have significance throughout the centuries, and in England it can still be brought up in the political debate as a monument over guaranteed rights.

When a debate in 2008 brought up the possibility to prolong the period suspected terrorists could be held without charges being brought against them from 28 days to 44 days, the earlier Member of Parliament for Labour, Tony Benn (dead march 2014) stated that this was the day Magna Carta died.

But what was the background?

Magna Carta was, reluctantly mind you, signed by King John – known to from basically every movie about Robin Hood, from Errol Flynn´s interpretations to Disney´s cartoons to Sir Walter Scott´s Ivanhoe to Kevin Costner in tights.

In every modern depiction he is portrayed as the villain prince who aim to take the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart. And that really happened; when Richard was taken prisoner on his way back from the crusades, John did try to seize power.

He King_John_from_NPGwasn´t liked well enough to succeed, but he did manage to cement a genuinely bad reputation that have survived through the centuries. He ascended as a likewise disliked king at the death of his brother Richard in 1199. While historians today are in agreement that he had some talents, there is also an agreement that his many shortcomings as a king dominated, among other what has been described as “repulsive, even dangerous personality traits”; among others malice, pettiness and cruelty. Material for both books and films, in other words,

That he found himself at Runnymede that day in June 800 years ago was a result of a group of Barons whose patience with John´s self-indulgent ways to seize power and funds had come to an end.

Magna Carta was intended as a peace treaty which among other things ensured a more reasonable distribution of power between the upper layers of society, protection for the Barons against unlawful arrests and access to swift justice and limitations to feudal taxes. The Magna Carta is said to have been inspired by the Charter of Liberties signed by Henry II in 1154, which among other things promised that the King wouldn´t plunder Church properties or demand outrageous fees for inheritance or marriage. To make sure the Magna Carta A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_226_-_John_Signs_the_Great_Charterwas honoured a council of 25 Barons was put in place, which obviously didn´t help, as no party in the end respected the signed charter, and the conflicts resulted in what is known as the First Baron´s War, a civil war which raged between 1215 and 1217. While John very much was the cause of the conflict, he never saw the end of it, as he died in 1216 from what is believed to have been dysentery.

5136cMagnaCarta_wlThe mythology surrounding the Magna Carta has lived on well into the 20th century, and the charter is seen as being the ground work of both the British democracy as well as the American constitution and the UN declaration of Human Rights.

The judicial importance however began to diminish already in the 16th century as new laws was founded.

But that was then and this is now. Today four copies of the Magna Carta of 1215 still exist (it was elaborated and changed in 1216 and 1217), all of which are kept in England, but they haven´t been brought together until the first week of February this year. Between February 2nd to 5th they were shown to the public at the British Library after which they were brought to the Parliament, and the public had the opportunity to view them during guided tours for most of the month.

Celebrations will continue throughout the year with lectures, theatre plays, debates and exhibitions. For a calendar over the different events, click here.

The history of Magna Carta is much longer than I have written here, but on the same site as you find the above calendar, you will find much of what you may want to know.

Sources: A Knight at the Movies – Medieval History on Film – John Aberth

The Plantagenets – The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England – Dan Jones

Why Magna Carta? Angevin England Revisited – Natalie Fryde

King John, Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris