I sat down this week to research what happened on this day in history, found a cool Civil War battle to read about, and then my mom distracted me with asking a question about the last successful invasion of England. So instead of reading about the “Gettysburg of the West”, which took place in New Mexico and ended on this day in 1862, I spent the morning telling her all about Edward the Confessor and his “heirs.”
Then I got to thinking about a quasi-comic that I did about the events in and around England in 1066. It was a project for a “England until Henry VI” class I took in college, and wrote and illustrated the whole thing at the hostess stand at Ticos (in between seating people for dinner). I put it up as a webomic, and shared it with the class when it was my turn to present my project.
So I chased after it. Lycos bought Angelfire and Geocities was purchased by Yahoo. Anywhere that my project existed online no longer exists. But I’ve got a flash drive which is storing everything from my last few years of school due to a series of computer crashes that I experienced. I’m pretty sure I can dig it up.
Ha! Found it!
|Normandy was a French |
kingdom just across the
First, some background. You can’t jump into epic battles and feats of strength and tests of faith without knowing why the major characters are doing what they’re doing, what their motivations are, and why they weren’t wearing armor. You gotta know what happened before to understand what’s happening now (which is also a wonderful illustration of why you should study history in the first place.) In this amazing piece of art, we see Ethelred, King of England, waiting for his betrothed, the Norman princess Emma, to come and marry him.
Next we find the happy couple enjoying the only quiet they ever got: the first years of their marriage, in which they had two sons, Alfred and Edward.
Unfortunately: VIKINGS! You may not have heard of Ethelred before, but aside from his totally awesome name, he also had a totally hilarious title. He wasn’t Ethelred the Great, or Ethelred the Terrible, he was Ethelred the Unready. He was Unready because when Vikings showed up, there wasn’t much he was able to do about it except warn his wife to do all she could to keep their sons safe. She sent them off to stay with her family in Normandy. Alfred and Edward weren’t terribly pleased to be sent away while their father stayed to defend the country, but they also weren’t yet of an age to take up arms, especially not against any Vikings.
If you’re wondering about the “(global warming)” tag attached to the Vikings, it was inspired by my husband (who was then my fiance). He hypothesized that the Vikings, living as they did in Northern climes, could not emerge from their Viking dwellings and pillage anyone if there was ice trapping their ships in the harbor. Laughingly, he decided that because global warming was thawing the ice, this was what allowed Vikings to venture out and invade neighboring countries. Hence: global warming causes Vikings.
The Vikings prevailed against the Unready king, and Knut, the Viking leader, decided to make himself king and, aided by his English advisor Godwin, decided to legitimize his reign by marrying Emma. He must have figured, “whoever marries the Queen gets to be the King, right?” He and Emma had a son, Harthaknut, and Godwin was in a great position to take care of the day-to-day running of the kingdom while Knut was doing Viking things. Godwin’s children, among them Harold, Edith, and Tostig, were also in positions of honor, while poor Ethelred’s sons lived in exile in the Norman court.
After a while, some of the English decided that they were about done with being ruled by Vikings and remembered that their true King (unready though he was) still had living heirs. They conspired to bring the eldest home from Normandy and push the usurper off the throne. This may have worked if they hadn’t been up against Vikings, for although they managed to get rid of Knut, his son Harold (one thing you will learn about this time period is that there are way too many dudes named Harold) was ready to take the throne. Godwin was smart enough to realize where the power was and to stick with the winning side, so he helpfully took care of poor Alfred for his new king, and the conspirators (and their property) were punished... Viking style.
When Harthaknut, Knut and Emma’s son, was ready to take the throne from his older brother, Godwin sensed a power shift coming on. Harthaknut seemed to feel that he needed to drive home the point that he was a Viking to the people that he ruled, despite the fact that they all knew that he was England born and bred, and that his mother was their own Queen Emma. Godwin knew that the time had not been ripe to call Alfred home, and that had been regrettable, but England could still be ruled by one of their own, and hadn’t Ethelred and Emma had another son?
Edward had been happy in Normandy. Sure, he’d been in exile, but the court of Duke Richard hadn’t exactly been a prison, and he’d found his calling in life: devotion to God (which explains his title, “the Confessor”). All Edward wanted to do was be a monk. He wasn’t terribly pleased to be called back to England and made king, but everyone seemed to want him, so he agreed. Godwin promised to take care of the running-the-country stuff and assured Edward that he’d have plenty of time to pray or whatever while still wearing a crown. The English were thrilled to not be on fire, Godwin and his family were pleased, and all seemed right with the world once again.
Edward didn’t much like being King, as it interfered with his monk time; besides, he had to get married, which displeased him (since he was probably celibate). Godwin was very pleased, however, since his daughter Edith was the new Queen, and her children would be the future rulers of England. His eldest son Harold (this is a Harold to remember) began to take over his father’s advisor/running-the-country duties. One thing that Edward did like about being King was the ability to pronounce judgement on those that had displeased him. Since he was a good Christian, he would never have ordered the death of any criminals, but he did exercise his power to exile many people. One of the first was his own mother, Emma, who he resented for betraying his father. The English were still pleased to have an English king, but Edward was definitely not as interesting as they had hoped he would be.
Edward was fine with Godwin and Harold taking care of business while he monked, but he understood that he was still the king, and got the crazy idea that “what the king says, goes.” The father and son advisors displeased their pious king at one point, and Edward inflicted his favorite punishment on them. His people didn't think it was a good idea to exile the Queen, however, so Edith was instead sent to the nunnery. During the Godwins’ absence, Edward had lots of his friends over to have a good time, including plenty of people he had known in Normandy. One of them was the Duke’s young son, William.
One of Edward’s habits was forgiveness, and he was unexiling people as often as he was exiling them. “Get out! No wait, God wants me to be a good, forgiving King, you can come back, no, seriously.” His mother was allowed to return, along with many other people he had previously cast out of his kingdom. This tendency made the outlook less grim for Godwin and his family (except possibly for Edith, who was pretty miserable).
Another of Edward’s quirks was bequeathing his throne to pretty much anyone who impressed him. He took a liking to the heir to the Norman throne, and during the lad’s visit in England, promised him the crown when he was no longer wearing it. “Oh, yeah, you can totally be the king after me. You’re a good kid. You’d probably make a good king.”
None of this behavior pleased the English people much. Godwin was the only stable element in government, their Queen was out of favor (and so unable to produce an heir), and the king’s exile/forgive cycle made him seem very fickle. At least they weren’t on fire.
The English people were pleased when Edward forgave Godwin and his family. There were no more Normans partying in the English court, and the government, in Godwin and Harold’s hands, became stable again. Perhaps the most thrilled of all was Edith, who infinitely preferred her crown to a nun’s habit.
Edward’s forgiveness extended to Godwin’s children, including his younger son Tostig, who was the king’s particular friend. He was the Earl of Northumbria, which includes the city of York. Its citizens weren’t as pleased as the king was with their Earl, since he often neglected the city to hang out and go horseriding with Edward.
Harold Godwinson was shipwrecked on the continent during a fishing trip; he was invited to enjoy the hospitality of the Norman court while he waited on repairs. During his time with William, they had lots of feasts and became friends. Harold promised to marry William’s daughter when she came of age (she was 10; and after a second look, her name was Adeliza, not Agatha). He even promised to support William as king when Edward died. We don’t know if this was a drunken “I totally swear, man! You are the best! You will be an awesome king!” or if Harold was just laying on the charm he’d inherited from his father to impress his host. Either way, we know that William had hidden some Norman relics under the table, so Harold’s “promise” was the Norman equivalent of swearing on the Bible.
When the mistreated people of York finally revolted, they chose another man to be their Earl. Harold saw the sense in this and sided with them, persuading the king to decide in their favor as well, and to exile his friend. “Just because he’s your buddy doesn’t mean he’s a good ruler; this other guy will make sure the city doesn’t burn to the ground.” Edward was upset, but understood that it was for the good of the kingdom. Tostig was upset, too, but only saw the betrayal of his brother and the weakness of the king.
|Westminster in 2009|
Edward’s “crowning” glory was his beautiful church: Westminster Abbey. English kings have been crowned, married, and buried there ever since. Everyone was pleased with the glorious building: Edward, Harold, the English people... everyone except Edith, who was still childless. Edward probably paid way more attention to his church than he ever did to her.
A week or so after Westminster Abbey’s consecration, Edward died. He was pleased with the life he lived: his commitment to God, his benevolence as king, his lenience and forgiveness as a judge. The English people were grieved: not only were they losing a king, they were not even secure of the next one, since poor Edith had never had a child, and probably had never had an opportunity to. Harold was concerned that there was no one to fill the power vacuum, so when Edward, on his death bed, asked him to “take care of” the country when he was gone, Harold and everyone within hearing distance took that to mean that Harold himself should take the crown.
Harold disregarded whatever previous promises Edward had made to various people. He disregarded whatever he may or may not have said under whatever duress he had been under. Edward died on January fifth, and the very next day Harold was crowned king in his predecessor’s brand new church. One person Harold should not have disregarded, despite how pleased the English people were to have him as their king, was the head of the church. The pope at the time was Alexander II, and it was his right to approve the monarchs of Christendom. Who better to ask whether a ruler had the divine right to rule than the pope himself?
“Of course you realize this means war.” William had a lot of preparation to do. Here he was, the true heir of Edward by the king’s own promise, and on the other side of the channel, the man who had promised to serve him faithfully when he took the crown had actually taken it for himself! He wasted no time. He visited nearby barons, who were outraged at Harold’s betrayal. They promised their aid, their knights for his army, and to keep Normandy safe from invasion while William was gone. All except for one, who told Wiliam that he didn’t care who was on the English throne and that he’d happily invade Normandy the second William’s back was turned.
The ousted Earl of Northumbria was, in the meantime, making his own plans. He traveled to the north, and in the north, as we all know, there be Vikings. Tostig presented himself in the court of Harald Hardrada and convinced the aging king that the English throne should be in the hands of Vikings, as it was before. Hardrada only had a few more battles left in him, so we’re not sure if he wanted the crown for his own or if the venture simply sounded like an opportunity for some good fighting.
Summer was the best time for fighting in those days. Winter was too cold, Spring was for planting, and Autumn was for harvesting, so Summer was reserved for war. William gathered his troops, and Harold prepared his, and the two armies glared at each other across the water. (Not
Unfortunately, William’s launch didn’t quite go as planned, and his army was stranded on the French side of the channel, waiting for the wind to change direction and take them to England. Harold and his army waited. And waited. And waited. Finally when September rolled around, when no one thought that William would risk coming so late in the year, Harold sent his men home to bring in the harvest.
Unfortunately: VIKINGS! Tostig and his allies landed at and burned the town of Scarborough before heading inland toward his former earldom. They took York easily, and spared the lives of the city’s prominent citizens and new Earl in exchange for their supporting Harald Hardrada as King when it came to it. Then they waltzed back to their ships, ready to bring them up the river to the city, which they planned to make their base of operations.
Harold heard about what happened in Northumbria, and acted decisively to defend his kingdom. Gathering forces as he went, Harold marched day and night, and traveled 185 miles in four days.
On the 25th of September, Tostig and his Viking friends were taking a stroll through their newly conquered lands. Since it was a pleasure ramble, most of them were not wearing armor and some were not even carrying their weapons.
As they neared Stamford Bridge, Tostig saw his brother approaching at the head of an army. He left Harald Hardrada and stepped forward to speak to him. Harold offered to give the earldom of Northumbria back give his little brother if he would leave the Vikings and fight on the side of the English. Tostig sassed him, asking what he would give Harald Hardrada in return. Harold looked at the Viking king, sized him up, and replied, “Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men.”
After this aggressive exchange, the two armies fought, and the English trounced the Vikings so thoroughly that only eight percent of their ships were able to return home.
Harold’s tired army didn’t have very much time to rest, because William had decided to show up anyway. The French army landed on the 28th of September, and set up a base at Hastings. After marching for four days and nights and defeating an army of Vikings, Harold and his men had another long march to look forward to. On the way, Harold learned that if one wants to be a king, one should make sure that one consults the pope first. William had, and the previously offended Alexander II listened to the story about Edward’s promise and Harold’s oath, and most of all, appreciated being consulted. He awarded William with a papal seal, thus giving his (and God’s) approval to William’s bid for the English throne. Harold kept the news quiet, since he knew it would be a demoralizing blow to his army.
And when they marched to battle with William’s army several days later, it was as though the Norman invaders were carrying a big sign that said, “The Pope and God love us, and P.S. they hate you!”
|The Death of Harold Godwinson|
The Battle of Stamford Bridge had gone well for Harold’s army. The Battle of Hastings... did not. The French army had mounted knights that faked retreats, drawing out the Englishmen and then picking them off. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold: an arrow to the eye.
Victorious, William marched his army in a circle around London, burning as they went. The English (those who were still alive, anyway) were able to get a good idea from this systematic razing who exactly was in charge.
William, with the approval of the Pope (and God) and the nobility of both Normandy and England, was crowned King in Westminster Abbey on December 25th.
This was the last successful invasion of England. Though the people themselves were subjugated by a foreign leader and forced to bow to him and the men he appointed in positions of power, the Norman King and his Norman Barons learned to speak English and adopted their traditions.
So who was really conquered?
On this day in history, the Battle of Glorieta Pass ended. It’s also Lady Gaga’s birthday and the last day to order Easter stuff from Oriental Trading company (but too late to order stuff for Lady Gaga’s birthday). It’s also a good day to geek out about history.
But then again, that’s every day.