Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Not such a happy anniversary

Today is the 942nd anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It wasn't a terribly good day for Harold Godwinson, or his house-carls because, as every schoolchild knows, the army of William the Bastard defeated the Saxon army, ushering in a long period of Norman rule.

Here are a few little facts concerning the day, the combatants, and surrounding events.

  • The battle did not, in fact, take place at Hastings, but at Senlac Hill, around six miles to the north-west of the present town. It lasted from around 9am until dusk, with a break for lunch.

  • Harold's wife, Edith Swan-Neck, was called to identify his body after the battle, and was able to do so by some intimate mark on his body, known only to her (and him, presumably).

  • It is traditionally thought that Harold was killed when he was struck in the eye by an arrow. However, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings), composed by Bishop Guy of Amiens around 1068, suggests he was merely wounded by the arrow and was then hacked to pieces by Norman soldiers. Other scholars believe that the figure on the Bayeux Tapestry reputed to be Harold has an arrow lodged in his helmet, and not in his eye. Elsewhere in the Tapestry, soldiers with arrows in the face are depicted as either being in agony or apparently falling down dead. The "Harold" figure is neither of these.

  • Norman hairstyles were nothing if not unusual, as can be seen here. Saxons tended to go for the "long hair and moustache" look.

Guillaume couldn't remember much about his stag night

  • The Bayeux Tapestry is, in fact, an embroidery. As you might expect, the French have laid claim to its creation, but it appears more likely to have been produced in England by Saxon embroiderers because of the style of execution and the natural dyes employed. It was very nearly lost for good when it was decided to use it as a tarpaulin to cover an ammunition cart during the French Revolution, but fortunately some quick-thinking soul retrieved it.

Harold couldn't decide between the Kumfilux Divan or the Nite-Nite Deluxe. Decisions, decisions!

  • The Normans were not native French; they had their origins in Scandinavia. At the start of the tenth century, the French King, Charles the Simple, had given some land in the North of France to Rollo, a Viking chieftain, in the hope that this would bring to an end the Viking raids on France. The region we now call Normandy was originally Northmannia, the land of the Northmen. The Normans who conquered England in 1066 had little or nothing in common with their Viking forebears.

  • Unlike Elvis Presley, there has never been a suggestion that Harold is still alive.

If you should happen to have a horn of mead about your person as you read this, perhaps it would be appropriate for you to make a silent toast to poor old Harold.


Stevyn Colgan said...

Great stuff Chris. And made all the better by the revelation that there was a real King Rollo. I can hear the theme music now ...

chris hale said...

Yes, apparently he was distantly related to King Caramac of Dumnonia.