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Reflections 2012
Series 15
September 11
Norse Expansion II b: Southwestward to Normandy, then England


After we discussed Norse Expansion eastward to Russia, the previous posting discussed Norse Expansion southwestward to England, but that’s only a partial story. This posting completes the southwestward expansion to Normandy, and then secondarily, to England. We’ll reproduce again these two helpful maps to follow the movements, the centuries-by-color map, and also the date-and-route map. Again note on the 1st map the 10C orange area in Normandy, across the Channel from Britain, where the Norse started settling in two decades later, in 886 (2nd map), and where they remained for 180 years, until they invaded England in 1066, making far more extensive changes than the Danes had.


In the last posting dealing with Danish England we had a bare-bones preview accounting of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 as it backed up to the period of Scandinavian influence. We can now go ahead and fill in many of the bits and pieces about the Norman invasion, perhaps occasionally in other than perfect sequential order if it’s better to tell it that way, as the story and its ending are already on the table.


I cannot promise to be entirely unbiased. I will try (not too hard), but you already may have an inkling of my own opinions of William and the Normans when I referred disdainfully to Norman scribes eliminating non-Latin characters from English after their arrival. I find this is typical of how the Normans treated English society and the English language once they had ensconced themselves in Britain. Anyone who speaks English, be they British or not, or if they speak it natively or secondarily, should have an opinion about Hastings and 1066, or at very least be knowledgeable about it. Either one approves of the Norman invasion, feeling they made improvements to what they found in England, disapproves of the Norman invasion, feeling what they did was detrimental to what they found in England, or takes a middle ground, saying what’s done is done, and anyway, that was almost a millennium ago (2066 is only 54 years away). But one should have some opinion.


We will talk shortly about the Bayeux Tapestry; when Beverly and I were in Normandy some years ago we considered going to Bayeux to see it, but it didn’t work out, so comments here will have to be based on research. We did visit Hastings, and the nearby town of Battle, whose name tells you it includes the battlefield, but it was many decades ago, and recollections of personal on-site experience there are hazy, so much again will have to be based on research. Perhaps a re-visit or two are in order for my to-do list.


Normans & Norman French   When one culture takes over another one, what happens with the language situation isn’t necessarily predictable. Logic would make one think that the language of the victor culture (the superstratum) will overpower the language of the losing culture (the substratum), and replace it. This is frequently the case, and we have the example of the language of the Anglo-Saxons replacing any vestiges of the Celto-Roman culture that still existed in Britain, with the latter peoples and their language being absorbed into the superstratum, with only a few Celtic and Roman place names and the odd vocabulary item maintaining any lasting influence.


But culture and language are funny that way, because there are really two other possible results, and we have an example of each coming up. Sometimes the substratum takes over, as with the Vikings in Normandy, and sometimes the two strata blend, as later on in Anglo-Norman England.


It’s hard to picture the substratum taking over on a large scale (macrocosm), but an example on a small scale (microcosm) might help. Picture any immigrant group arriving in a new country. They usually gather together in their own cultural and linguistic neighborhood for group support. But as time goes by, as new generations are born, and with few new arrivals, those ethnic enclaves submit to the language of the majority.


Now try to visualize that on a large scale. Remember that we said that the (West) Germanic Burgundians and Franks emigrated from the German area to what is today France, settled in, and in time, adopted the local language. The Franks even gave their name to France, and the Burgundians gave their name to Burgundy, which we still picture as oh, so French. Well, when the North Germanic (Scandinavian) settlers arrived in Normandy (we explained how the area was named after them), they did the same. The Norse in Normandy adopted over a few generations the local variety of French, now called Norman French. Think of it: French-speaking Vikings.


Well, of course, that’s not accurate. If they assimilated with the local population over eight decades (886-1066) we can’t still call them Vikings, or even Norse. At best we can call them descendants of the Norse, ethnically blended with local French and other stock. At any rate, by 1066 they spoke what is known as Norman French, and were French--well, Norman French--via a blend of ethnicities. Still, the Norse heritage in Britain coming from this second direction is undeniable.


English Channel   Let’s review the geography between Normandy and England, separated by the English Channel. Hastings is about a third of the way from Brighton to Dover. Normandy includes the area from Cherbourg to Rouen. Note the location of Guernsey and Jersey, which with a few other Channel Islands, remain part of the UK today, although they are historically still part of Normandy, referred to as insular Normandy. Their name in French is the Îles Anglo-Normandes.


This is a detail of Normandy, with the Channel Islands. Note the location of Bayeux (ba.YÖ), which is the location of the Bayeux tapestry (see below).


[It would be disrespectful of modern history to talk about Normandy and about invasions across the English Channel without making a reference to D-Day, 6 June 1944. This map showing the location of the allied landings in Normandy (click to enlarge) should give an idea of modern history superimposed on 11C history. You can see the proximity of London and Paris, recall that Normandy extends approximately from Cherbourg to Rouen, and note that the landing beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, were spread out considerably along the coastline. Comparing the red and blue colors, you can also see that the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to have been invaded in WWII, an interesting comparison to the 1066 invasion of all of England. Also note Bayeux and Hastings. To contrast the locations of the two invasions, we should say that the Normans didn’t actually leave from Normandy. They sailed from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, a small village in neighboring Picardy, at the mouth of the Somme River, shown on this map (the Somme is also known for the WWI Battle of the Somme). The Normans landed a short distance west of Hastings, in Pevensey in Sussex (= Suþseaxe, or “South Saxons”). Such a compact area, and so much history.]


Rollo   Back to the Vikings. The founder and first ruler of the Viking principality that was to become Normandy was a Viking warrior, a Norse nobleman of either Norwegian or Danish descent. (Norwegian and Danish scholars argue to this day which of the two places he came from.) His name was Hrólfr. We’re used to seeing Old Norse names ending in an R like that, and the H at the beginning was pronounced. But shave away both, and Hrólfr becomes Rolf. Or Ralph. Sometime it’s turned into the Frankish (Germanic!) version Rodolfus, which is Rudolph/Rudolf or Rodolphe. Sometimes the French make it Raoul. But the Latinists got to him early on and twisted his Germanic name into a Latinized form they decided should be Rollo. I know. Don’t get me started.


He was eventually baptized and became Robert, sometimes Robert I, to distinguish him from his descendants, but history records him as Rollo. Those descendants were the Dukes of Normandy, and Rollo is the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror, and through William he’s an ancestor of the present-day British royal family and of all current, and of many past, European monarchs.


After the Vikings had started to raid the Seine Valley during the middle of the 9C, they took advantage of the power vacuum created by the disintegration of Charlemagne’s empire to gain possession of a section of northern France, which became Normandy. When William, Duke of Normandy, became King of England in 1066, he retained his rights to mainland and insular Normandy. In 1204, during the reign of King John, mainland Normandy was taken from England by France, although insular Normandy, the Channel Islands, remained English. In 1259, Henry III recognized the legality of French possession of mainland Normandy, and in 1801, the British surrendered claims to it. However, the British monarch to this day, because of the Channel Islands, retains the title of Duke of Normandy. When Channel Islanders toast the queen, they toast La Reine, notre Duc (The Queen, our Duke).


Bayeux Tapestry   Existence is so ephemeral. So much reliance on Anglo-Saxon history falls on sets of manuscripts, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and so much reliance on the Battle of Hastings, plus events leading up to it, falls on a piece of cloth, just a bit of stitchery, the Bayeux Tapestry. That name is inaccurate. The Tapestry isn’t a tapestry, that is to say, it isn’t rug-like; it’s a long strip of cloth. Also, it was probably made, not in Normandy, but in England for Bayeux Cathedral, probably completed for the Cathedral’s dedication in 1077. Among other indications that it was made in England is that sometimes “Franci” is used to describe the Normans, who at that time, even though they spoke a French dialect, did not at all regard themselves as French.


[This is a significant point and illustrates historic development. Early on, William’s uncle talked about the Normans “overthrowing the proud French”. Later on, once William was in power in England, his subjects were termed “Franci” and “Angli”, an indication of the direction in which the country and the English language would develop.]


The Tapisserie de Bayeux is an embroidered length of linen cloth, and the embroidery might be why it’s perceived as tapestry-like. It’s long, nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, although the right-hand end is damaged and at least two story panels are missing, covering 6.4 m (7 yards). It consists of about fifty scenes with Latin captions embroidered with colored woolen yarns. It is believed it was commissioned in the 1070’s by William’s half-brother and made in England, not in Bayeux. It was displayed annually for a long time in Bayeux Cathedral when it was rediscovered by scholars in 1729. It is now exhibited in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux.


In 1792, during the French Revolution, the tapestry was confiscated as public property to be used in covering military wagons. (!!!) It was rescued by a local lawyer, who stored it in his house until the troubles were over. Three weeks to the day after D-Day, on 27 June 1944, the Gestapo took the tapestry to the Louvre with the probable intention of getting it to Berlin, but after the liberation of Paris two months later on 25 August, it was put on display again in the Louvre temporarily, and the next year, 1945, it was returned to Bayeux.


This is a link to a VERY long picture of the entire Bayeux Tapestry. Click to enlarge, and scroll sideways.


I also have a number of specific pictures. I’ll put most here, but a few discussed later will appear then. This panel shows Edward the Confessor with Harold. Note the VV in EDVVARD. At this stage of history, W is not yet a single letter. Although W is a wide letter because of its history, it’s not as wide as these two VV’s side-by-side. (In 2012/13 we also saw two UU’s.)


I was particularly startled to see this picture of Normans crossing the Channel on their way to Hastings. Doesn’t it seem that these Normans are in a Viking longboat, or at least, in a descendant of one? Maybe there’s a little more Viking in them than I thought!


This is a picture of Harold during the battle and one of William raising his helmet to show he’s still alive. Here Normans are preparing for the invasion and here are horses during the battle. This panel shows the first known depiction ever of Halley’s Comet. ISTI MIRANT[UR] STELLA[M] is Latin for “THESE (men) ADMIRE (a) STAR.” And this panel shows the first depiction ever, in the lower-left corner, of a harrow, a farm implement used to break up earth for planting.


Likely to bring a smile is a mysterious panel showing a clergyman and a woman. It isn’t clear if he’s just touching or slapping her face, and no one knows what the caption refers to. However, there are a number of ribald, naked figures in the borders of the tapestry that seem to have no connection to the main pictures. One is the naked, squatting male figure in the lower left here exhibiting prominent, outsized genitalia, not unlike a graffito one might find in a public toilet stall. Historians speculate it might represent a well-known scandal of the day that needed no explanation at the time, but that puzzles us today.


Although the tapestry is Norman and depicts a Norman viewpoint, it tends to be fair. Harold and his soldiers are shown as brave. William is called “dux” (duke) throughout; Harold is also called “dux” up to his coronation, but is then fairly called “rex” (king). While political propaganda and/or personal glory may add a thread (pun intended) of distortion to the historical accuracy of the narrative, the tapestry is a unique visual document of medieval clothing, arms, and other objects, such as the comet and harrow, unlike any other object surviving from this period.


William I “The Conqueror” & Harold II   If you see any opinion suggested by the use of quotation marks, so be it. He was descended from Vikings as were all Normans, and, not only was Rollo his great-great-great grandfather, we have a double Viking connection, since Cnut the Great was his great-great uncle! William was born out of wedlock, and I’ve seen two sources that say he was also known as William the Bastard--their reference, not mine (!)--but nevertheless became Duke of Normandy as William II in 1035. Starting in the 1050’s, he became a contender for the throne of England, because he was a relative of childless Edward the Confessor, but another contender was the powerful English earl Harold Godwinson, whose family was also prominent. William always argued that Edward had promised the throne to him, and had earlier even met in Normandy with Harold, where he held Harold prisoner for a while in 1064. William had extracted from Harold a pledge to uphold William’s claim. But nevertheless, Edward, on his deathbed in January 1066, named Harold as his successor, who accepted, so the die was cast and the year 1066 boded poorly from the beginning. An angered William started putting together an invasion army and fleet to support it. He finally sailed from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme on 27 September, landing in Pevensey, on the Sussex coast west of Hastings, on the 28th.


Harold had spend the summer on the south coast with a large army and fleet, waiting for the invasion. He had two types of forces. Some were full-time household troops or bodyguards called housecarls (also huscarl), but the bulk of Harold’s forces were militia, or part-time soldiers, called fyrdmen. This militia was formed by minor nobles who were required to serve militarily a certain number of days a year. As the autumn approached, these fyrdmen needed to harvest their crops, so on 8 September, Harold dismissed them and the watch on the south coast was withdrawn. He then learned of the Norwegian invasion near York, so he rushed north, gathering forces as he went, and did manage to defeat them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September. However, Harold’s army was left in a weakened state. Returning south, Harold stopped in London for about a week, which means it took him and his men about a week to march south.


The Battle of Hastings   Harold departed London on the morning of 12 October gathering what additional forces he could on the way. He was hoping for an element of surprise, perhaps planning to make it all the way to Hastings itself, but William’s scouts reported Harold’s approach to him, and William set out to intercept him en route. In other words, the Battle of Hastings didn’t actually take place in Hastings on the coast, but on the road toward Hastings inland, approximately 10 km (6.3 mi) northwest of Hastings. The battle was named after Hastings since that was the nearest major town at the time. Since William and his army was also on the coast in Pevensey, they had to advance inland northeast about 17 km (10.6 mi) to what was to be the battle site.


Harold arrived at the same location on the night of 13 October, the eve of the battle. He deployed his army on an east-west ridge called Senlac Hill (or Senlac Ridge) astride the road from London leading to Hastings, where the town of Battle in East Sussex was later founded (see below). Senlac Hill had originally been known in Anglo-Saxon as Santlache (“Sandy Stream”), but after the bloody battle, the Normans punned the name into Sanguelac (“Blood Lake”), which later evolved to Senlac, a name that is another “gift” of the Normans to England. Before the top of the ridge was leveled off to create Battle Abbey (see below), Senlac Hill (this is its western flank) was 84 m (275 ft) above sea level and served as the high ground defended by the English army.


This map shows the initial deployments of the two sides astride the road from London (to the NW) to Hastings (to the SE). To compare this historic map of the countryside surrounding the battle site with the area today, Google Maps shows that a road coming down from London joins the A 271, which is then the name of the road that comes into the town of Battle in an arc as shown on the upper left of the historic map. It first passes Battle Abbey, on the road just above the word “English”, then runs SE through town as the High Street (with a couple of interesting-looking B&B’s nowadays), and crosses the site of the English battle line. Leaving the center of town, it changes its name to the A 2100, crosses the rail line (station today just off to the north) right where the Norman lines were, then makes that squiggle as shown on its way toward Hastings. The past is always present.


The battle began at about 9 the next morning, 14 October and lasted all day. Behind Harold was a great forest, and in front the ground fell away in a long slope, which rose again at the bottom as an opposing slope. This height gave the English a great advantage over the Normans, who made repeated charges up the hill to no avail. Although the numbers on each side were about equal, William had both cavalry and infantry, including many archers, while Harold had only foot soldiers and few if any archers.


The most formidable defense the English had was the shield wall they formed along the ridge. The shield wall, (scildweall in Old English) is a military tactic that was common among many early pre-gunpowder cultures, such as the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. A shield wall was just that, a “wall of shields” formed by soldiers standing in formation shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they abut or overlap, right over left. Each man benefits from both his own shield and those of his neighbors. At first the shield wall was so effective that William’s army was thrown back with heavy casualties. The Bayeux Tapestry shows the shield wall protecting the English from the Normans. It’s easy for us today to smile at this ancient tactic until we realize that it’s still used extensively, not for modern warfare, but for modern riot control by police forces. Again, the past is always present.


The advantage swayed from one side to another. After nine hours of hard fighting and probably less than a half hour from English victory, the tide turned due to a military trick of the Normans, feigned, or pretended retreat, which helped break down the solid defensive position of the English. The Normans seemed to start retreating and the English left the hill to pursue them. In other words, the English were tricked into breaking their shield wall themselves. Once the English were on flat ground, the Normans turned and made their stand. William and a handful of knights broke through the wall, and struck down Harold (see below). Without their leader, and with many nobles dead, the English became disorganized. At this point, hundreds of fyrdmen, the part-time militia, fled the field. The Anglo-Saxon code of military honor compelled the housecarls, (the bodyguards), to keep their oath of loyalty to the king, and they continued to fight until they were all killed. Two of Harold’s brothers, Leofwine and Gyrð (Gyrth) Godwinson, were also killed in the battle. The cream of England stayed and died, and the Normans had a sweeping victory.


The Battle of Hastings marked the last successful foreign invasion of the British Isles. Although there was considerable further English resistance of Anglo-Saxon nobility that didn’t wish to see their lands confiscated, that resistance was put down, and this battle is seen as the point at which William gained control of England. It is certainly the most famous battle ever fought on English soil, because it was the most decisive one. Anglo-Saxon England was about to disappear.


Death of Harold   There is a tradition that Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye. It’s possible it happened that way, but there’s another possibility, as hinted at above. An account of the battle said to have been written shortly afterwards says that Harold was killed by four knights, probably including William, when they broke through the shield wall after the feigned retreat, and Harold’s body was then brutally dismembered. It was another account, written thirty years after the battle, that was the first report of Harold being shot in the eye with an arrow. Later accounts reflect one or both of these two versions.


For guidance, one should take a look at the event as depicted in that record of the battle, the Bayeux Tapestry. This is the panel of the death of Harold, with the caption HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST, which is “HAROLD (the) KING IS KILLED”. There is a figure in this panel gripping an arrow that has struck his eye. But is this Harold? Or is Harold supposed to be the figure on the right lying almost prone, being mutilated beneath the horse’s hooves? While it’s true that the figure on the left is holding an arrow, this arrow is a later addition following repairs, and there are engravings of the tapestry from 1729 in which no arrow is present. On the other hand, there are needle holes in the linen in that location that suggest that there had been something there previously, which could possibly have been a lance he was throwing.


Furthermore, the Tapestry today has stitch marks indicating that the fallen figure once had an arrow in its eye. It’s been proposed that that was due to an addition by over-enthusiastic 19C restorers, that later had been unstitched.


Finally, a further suggestion is that both accounts are accurate, and that Harold suffered first the eye wound, then the mutilation, and the Tapestry is depicting both in sequence, left to right. This seems to the likeliest solution, but just how Harold died remains a mystery and is much debated.


Battle Abbey and its Town   Four years after the battle, in 1070, Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans to do penance for killing so many people during their conquest of England, and William decided to build an abbey on the battle site, which involved some leveling of the top of Senlac Hill. But the purpose of its being built can be taken two ways. On the one hand, it could be seen as an act of atonement for the deaths and would serve as a memorial to the dead. But if one reflects on the more calculating side of William’s nature, it would mark his victory and be a symbol of his triumph over the English. It’s often reported that the high altar of the Abbey church be located on the spot where Harold reputedly fell, but the Abbey chronicler reports William’s insistence that that be so, perhaps more as a symbol of victory. A plaque on the ground now marks the site of Harold’s death. Interestingly, nearby is a monument to Harold erected by the people of Normandy in 1903.


William died in 1087 before the building was dedicated in 1095. It flourished for over four centuries until it was closed in 1538 during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Much of the Abbey is in ruins (some of it was used for building materials elsewhere) and part of it is used as a school, but its gateway remains the dominant feature along the High Street of the town of Battle (Abbey in distance), which gradually grew around it.


Battle of Hastings Reenactment   We’ve discussed the reenactment of battles, such as for Lexington and Concord (2011/21), and I’ve described such reenactments as serious manifestations of performance art. As such, the Battle of Hastings is also reenacted in situ, and it draws participants, rather surprisingly, from around the world. It takes place every year on the weekend nearest the 14 October, although it’s often arranged across the hill rather than up it for practical reasons, such as the smaller number of participants and the need for space for spectators. Reenactors have usually been amateurs, although recently there have also been scenes by professional actors. Every five or six years there is a major reenactment, and the 2006 one had a much larger attendance than the previous one in 2000. 2006 had a total of 3,400 registered reenactors, and about 2,000 people took part on each of the two days, with up to 25,000 paying spectators, so 2006 is believed to have been the largest reenactment of any pre-gunpowder battle ever held anywhere. The last time that many people were on the site was at the battle itself. For authenticity, many of the reenactors of the English side actually walked from York to Battle, as Harold’s men had, although the reenactors took longer, three weeks, to do it. It is worth watching all of the 2006 reenactment video on YouTube (maximize) to appreciate not only the enthusiasm of the participants, but to see just what the hand-to-hand warfare was like, and how the shield wall looked.


Now that we’ve followed the battle more closely than in the last posting, it might be appropriate to listen for a second time to the account of the battle as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1066. While before we listened largely for the language now listen more for the account of the battle, and for the death of Harold and his two brothers.


Battle Aftermath: Takeover of England   It’s usually referred to rather loftily as the Norman Conquest of England. If one doesn’t pay close attention, it can slip by in the school history books as a simple change of regime. It was much more than that. It was the death of Anglo-Saxon England.


After Hastings, William II, Duke of Normandy, became the first Norman King of England on Christmas Day, 1066, in Westminster Abbey in London, as William I, and reigned 21 years until his death in 1087. Society became bound by ties of feudal loyalty, leading to a greater concentration of power in royal hands and to a huge upheaval of society, with effects on daily life of language that remain fully with us today. Before going into detail of these changes, we can describe the mechanics of events. William made arrangements for the governance of England in early 1067 and then returned to Normandy. (!!!) By 1075, his hold on England was mostly secure, allowing him to spend the majority of the rest of his reign in Normandy. (A cynic could call him an absentee landlord.) However, to oversee his expanded domain, William was forced to travel even more than he had as duke. He crossed back and forth between the continent and England at least 19 times between 1067 and his death. This map shows in pink the extent of William’s dominions in Normandy (with the Channel Islands) and in England at the time of his death in 1087. Note the caption that says that it was Scotland and Wales on the island of Britain, and the province of Maine on the continent, that all acknowledged William’s overlordship. Reminiscent of England being joined to Denmark on the continent under Cnut, now all of the island of Britain was joined to Normandy on the continent under William, continuing to reflect a remnant of Norse influence.


William didn’t try to integrate his lands into one empire, but administered each part separately. On his death, England, though larger, went to his second surviving son, William, while his home base of Normandy went to his eldest son, Robert. This would seem to reflect the importance in his mind of the two areas. See above to review how England finally lost continental Normandy to France, but retained to this day insular Normandy, the Channel Islands.


Battle Aftermath: Impact on England   The impact of the Normans on England and English society, particularly the aristocracy, was profound. There were comprehensive changes in the nobility and ownership of land, and with societal changes came changes in the culture and language. In addition, England’s orientation toward the continent changed from ties to Scandinavia to ties to France.


CONFISCATIONS To secure his hold on the country, William ordered numerous castles and keeps built around the country. Among these were the White Tower, the central keep of the Tower of London, which today houses the crown jewels. These fortifications housed and protected garrisons that were occupying the countryside and also allowed Normans to retreat to safety when rebellion threatened, since they were few in number, estimated at about 8,000, when compared to the native English population. These followers expected and received lands and titles in return for their service in the invasion. To find lands to distribute, William confiscated the lands of all the English lords who had fought and died with Harold and redistributed them to Normans. These confiscations, quite obviously, let to numerous revolts among the English nobility, which resulted in more confiscations, an absolutely ruthless cycle that continued for the first five years after the battle. He also exercised tighter control over inheritance of property by widows and daughters, often forcing marriages to Normans.


A direct consequence of the invasion and of this confiscation was the near-total elimination of the old English aristocracy and its replacement by a new Norman aristocracy. With these expropriations, by William’s death only about 5% of land in England south of the Tees River (north of York) remained in English hands, and even that was further diminished in the decades that followed. This process was most complete in the southern parts of the country.


Not only did taxation strengthen his rule (see below), so did William’s large landholdings. As heir of Edward the Confessor, he controlled all the former royal lands, and he also retained control of much of the lands of Harold and the Godwinson family, which made the king the largest secular landowner in England by a large margin.


EXILES As a result of these very thorough confiscations, the English aristocracy really had only two choices. Some of them, their land and wealth taken, had no choice but to join the peasantry, a sobering thought. Others went into exile, along with large numbers of everyday Anglo-Saxons. Popular exile destinations were nearby Scotland and Ireland, but so was Scandinavia, ironic given the invasion of England by Norway earlier in 1066.


Another popular destination for Anglo-Saxon nobles and soldiers was Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, which was in a need for mercenaries. The largest single exodus occurred in the 1070’s when a group of Anglo-Saxons in a fleet of 235 ships sailed for the Byzantine Empire. There, the English became the predominant element in the elite Varangian Guard, the unit from which the emperor’s bodyguards were drawn, which up until then had, quite ironically, been dominated by Scandinavians from Russia. They continued to serve the empire until the early 15C.


However, the middle and working classes at home remained largely Anglo-Saxon. For the working class, little changed immediately except that one lord had been replaced by another. In the first few decades most Normans intermarried with their own, as did the English, and there was little intermarriage. But within a century of the invasion, intermarriage between the two groups had become common among all levels of society.


DOMESDAY BOOK We need to backtrack a bit to William’s early years to talk about taxation, as referred to above, since taxation was the other source of William’s wealth along with confiscation. Twenty years into his reign, in 1086, William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, which was a survey listing all the landholders in England and their holdings. It was essentially a land assessment organized by counties that has since served history as a reflection of England in 1086, not only of land holdings, but of populations, of towns, and of medieval life. Each county’s listing gives the holdings of each landowner. The listings describe the holding, who owned the land before the conquest, its value, what the tax assessment was, and usually the number of peasants and other resources the holding had. It also included what the tax had been under Edward the Confessor. Towns were listed separately. His exact motivation for ordering this survey is unclear, but it served as a record of feudal obligations, and a justification for increased taxation. This is a page of the Domesday Book for Warwickshire.


The beginning of the name Domesday can be pronounced “dome”, based on the odd spelling, but more logically is pronounced “doom”, since that is what it means. The judgment of the assessors was final. What the book said was the law, and there was no appeal. This is where the name comes from; the reference is to Doomsday, the Day of Judgment, the final word.


The Domesday Book was written in Latin, and each county’s listing opened with the holdings of the king himself. The book names a total of 13,418 places. After the great convulsion of the Conquest and the following confiscations, it was in William’s interest to make sure that his rights had not suffered in the process. Still, it’s a resource that has proven invaluable to the historical record.


The modern cultural and historical pride of communities having been listed in the Domesday Book is indicated by this memorial plaque issued in 1986, on the 900th anniversary of the book, but do note that it’s Norman Heritage referred to, not English.


Evaluation   If the reader never thought twice about how monumental the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings were as opposed to after other battles, perhaps this discussion will make one opinion or the other seem more valid. I have found some opinions by scholars. The eminent medieval historian Richard Southern has claimed that the Norman Conquest was the single most radical change in European history between the Fall of Rome and the events of the 20C. He saw the conquest as a critical turning point in history, saying that “no country in Europe” in that time span “has undergone so radical a change in so short a time as England experienced after 1066.” It would seem that this is true, if change is measured by the wanton elimination of the English nobility or by the loss of Old English as a language of consequence--or by both. On the other hand, other scholars suggest the changes were much less radical than what Southern suggests. Over the centuries, some historians have seen William’s reign as an imposition of one society over another; others have had opinions varying from seeing William as one of the creators of England’s greatness to having seen him as inflicting one of the greatest defeats in English history. Modern historians in the 20C and 21C have concentrated on reviewing the actual effects of the invasion rather on the rightness or wrongness of the conquest itself.


Those that distributed the above plaques to those places listed in the Domesday Book reveled in their “Norman Heritage”, and not in any Anglo-Saxon heritage, or indeed English heritage. This is a different plaque at Battle Abbey commemorating the “fusion of the English and Norman peoples”. Since it declares itself a commemoration, presumably the authors of the statement felt that said fusion was a Good Thing. Why does it not bewail the loss of a society as part of this fusion?


In just over half a century, 54 years, it will be 2066 and we will have the millennium of the Battle of Hastings. This sort of feel-good plaque is necessary to accept the modern status quo, in the sense of “what’s done is done”. But need we revel in it?

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