25 December 2010

Anglo-Saxons:- "Lumbering about in pot-bellied equanimity"?

Guiscard, a member of my website (and who runs his own, Norman, message board)started off an interesting thread on his forum, which set me thinking- who uttered the infamous phrase that the Anglo-saxons would have been "Pot-bellied, amiable and drunk" as Michael Wood described in his 'In Search of the Dark Ages' series (1981)?

Some have suggested elsewhere that it was none other than Monty (General), whose disdain for the Anglo-Saxons was exceeded only by his ironic praise of the British fighting man.

But I think it was, inaccurately anyway in my view, uttered by Thomas Carlyle (d.1881), echoing John Milton's "The History of Britain" 1670 (in which he saw no Anglo-Saxon Golden Age, but just another unworthy people like the ancient Britons, who were "Progenitors not to be glori'd in"), saying;-

"A gluttonous race of Jutes and Angles, capable of no great combinations; lumbering about in pot-bellied equanimity; not dreaming of heroic toil and silence and endurance, such as leads to the high places of this Universe, and the golden mountain-tops where dwell the Spirits of the Dawn.

The most weighty adherent of the cataclysmic view was John Horace Round, who published his Feudal England in 1892. He approached the subject with all the apparatus of scholarship, and tackled it with profound learning.

In general, he believed that the Anglo-Saxons contributed little or nothing to Anglo-Norman England"

As I posted on Guiscard's forum;-

"I believe that this quote is way inaccurate historically and evidentially (is that a word?).

There was a hightly-efficient and complex system of Government and taxation in place long before 1066, which is why William kept the admin fellas in position.

As for the 'pot bellied/drunk', hinting at lazy, such an intricate and well-run society with a proud history of successful military Anglo-Saxon kings does not spring forth from indolent people."

Brunanburh, where was it fought?

Over 41 sites in mainland Britain have been proposed (listed in Hill's Age of Athelstan), ranging from Cornwall to Scotland, 20 in England alone.

Fought in 937ad between King Athelstan's 16,000 Wessex/Mercian army (numbers suggested by A.H.Burne) against an alliance of 18,000 Scots(under King Constantine); 'Britons' of Strathclyde(under King Owain); Irish and Jorvik Norsemen(under King Olaf Guthfrithsson) and most likely also some men from the isles and Northumbrian/Cumbrians.

The location of this colossal bloodbath has never been agreed upon by historians, various sites so far proposed have ranged from possibly 'Burnswark'(S.E of Lockerbie), to Bromborough/bebington on Merseyside. Others have suggested Bridgenorth, the SW of England or the Lancashire coast, which was settled by Norsemen after 902.

However, according to Smurthwaite;-
‘it seems inconceivable that the battle was fought north of the border, particularly if we accept that Olaf landed on the Humber.’
This may rule out any proposed sites more northerly than that river, as why would Olaf march NORTH to link up with his allies(Constantine heading south from 'Scotland' and Owain from Strathclyde)and march back in a southerly direction against Athelstan's advancing army- his northern-most boundary being around the Rotherham region- and where his father had recieved the submission of such foes only years before?). And it known that the allies did not penetrate deeply into Mercia, if at all.

Egil Skallagrimsson- an Icelandic poet/warrior in Athelstan's pay, who fought at the battle- states that the battlefield was described as having been fought on a heath between a large wood and a river, the river must have been on the left of the battlefield from the point of view of Athelstan's army, the wood their right, as it lined up against their foes. Hence the site of the battle should be sought on the east bank of a river that flows north/south or south/north on land belonging to the English.

Michael Wood, in his book 'In Search of England', makes the case for Brinsworth near Rotherham;-

...In the third part of In Search of England, Wood writes about places that illuminate interesting aspects of early England: Tinsley Wood, near Sheffield, which has been claimed as the site of Athelstan's great victory against the Celts in 937; ... . These are the places and events that offer a complementary version of the history that is discussed earlier in the book...


When John Porter in his ‘History of the Fylde of Lancashire’ recorded the find of hundreds of human bones on the River Wyre side at Burnaze between Thornton and Fleetwood, he mentioned that Burnaze was once called 'Brune'. With ancient maps also revealing the ‘Bergerode’ was also in this area.

However, this view does not take into account that when the Scots and 'Britons' fled the battlefield they would require a Roman road going north to take them back to Scotland. Only a lesser known Roman road between Manchester (Manacunium) and Carlisle provided that route.
Whilst the old ‘Bergerode’ between Fleetwood and Thornton would only lead them into the sea. Certainly no commander of Scots and Cumbrian Britons would put the sea between themselves and an escape route if they were compelled to initially arrive at the battle site by land.

In a Royal grant to Worcester, late in his reign (924-39) Athelstan himself refers to ‘Anlaf (Olaf) who tried to deprive me of both life and realm’ in 937.
The fact that the enemy “fell back” before Athelstan’s army prior to actual battle, suggests that they may have withdrawn to a site favourable to battle.

The Rotherham-Sheffield site suggested by Michael Wood, A.H.Burne and others is south of the confluence between the rivers Don and Rother (the latter snakes around White Hill), where there was a huge, strategic old Roman fort (during a “dark age Vietnam” as Wood says) on the top of White Hill near the old Roman road, called Brynesford in the DD Book of 1086.

In Anglo-Saxon times the fort at Templeborough (near Rotherham, a Roman fort built by the IV Gaul Cohort) was called Bruneswald or Brunesfort- the personal name of Brunan Burh, as M.Wood says, and –based upon Egil’s writings- he makes the case for Tinsley Forest (Tinsley is a district in the north-eastern part of Sheffield. Its name derives from the Old English Tingas-Leah, which means ‘Field of Council’. It is mentioned as ‘Tirneslawe’ or ‘Tineslawe’ in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it was in the possession of Roger de Busli.) being a landmark, now gone.

29 September 2010

1066: Why did the fyrdsmen break rank from the shield wall?

The fyrdsmen that broke rank from the English shieldwall at Senlac, 14th October 1066- were they later arrivals who had not been present to hear King Harold's strict orders to hold formation at all costs?

We know from the sources that more Anglo-Saxons came trickling in from the southern shires throughout the day, as their king had bade them days before.

So, were the men who fatally broke rank due to their over-zealousness, 'late arrivals', or simply indisciplined amateurs whom the huscarls in front of them, couldn't halt?

31 August 2010

"Thor's Hammer" Found in Viking Graves

Long dismissed as accidental additions to Viking graves, prehistoric "thunderstones"—fist-size stone tools resembling the Norse god Thor's hammerhead—were actually purposely placed as good-luck talismans, archaeologists say.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100810-thor-thors-hammer-viking-graves-thunderstones-science/

(National Geographic)

6 August 2010

Edward/Aethelflaed & the refortifying of burhs

In the early 10thC Chester, a former Roman town on the river Dee in N.W.England, which they called Deva, was a vitally important burh -it was a prosperous Royal mint lying on the river Dee, a noted and major Mercian stronghold and was geographically crucial to England's defence- being sited near to the northernmost tip of Mercia and near to E.Wales/S.Cumbria/S.W.Northumbria.

It also was sited relatively close to the estuaries of the Wirral, from where the vikings had attacked by sea from Ireland/Scandinavia since their ousting from Dublin in 902.
It's possible that the Danes of York were asking for Aethelflaed's military help in the 910's against roving Hiberno-Norsemen- Ingismund had been granted land soon after 902 by Athelflaed, but he betrayed her trust in 905 by attacking Chester- according to tradition, the warriors there repulsed the Norsemen by pouring honey onto the wall-scaling foes and unleashing hives of irate bees upon them!

King Edward, and moreover his sister Aethelflaed, saw to it's massive refortification.

Since 907 the 'Lady of the Mercians' had refortified the burh and manned it with troops as a prelude to their brilliant military 'Reconquest' of England (910-918) mirroring the string of new and/or refortified military forts (maybe built around this time, but not by Edward?) which strategically studded the northern Mercian border with Northumbria and Cumbria- one being the 'lost fort' of Brunan burh. Michael Wood calls this dangerous and highly volatile region as a 'dark age Vietnam'.

The six documented burhs in the NW of England that Edward and Athelflaed built/strengthened- all surround the Wirral were at;-

Chester in 907;
Eddisbury in 914;
Runcorn on the R.Mersey in 915;
Thelwall and Manchester in 919;
Rhuddlan (NW Wales) 921.


There may have been other unrecorded refortified burhs from this time, at Warburton (Cheshire) and furthest north of all at Penwortham (SW of Preston) on the river Ribble.

The local inhabitants in the Wirral and at Chester had even revolted against the Wessex Kings, and Edward the Elder was busy suppressing one such revolt when he died at Farndon-on-Dee in 924.

Edward and Athelflaed's retaking of Mercia, E.Anglia and the 'Five Boroughs' (Lincoln, Stamford, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby) from the vikings during their Reconquest of England (910-18) was truly fantastic.

Ironically, it could well have so easily come undone had Edward had a weak successor (he didn't- his son was the might Athelstan, but his nephew Eadwig was)- the vikings still roamed Northumbria, Edward was facing a revolt at Chester when he died in 924, and there was an attempted coup against his son, Athelstan, by another son (Aelfweard) over the next year.

17 May 2010

The Bayeux Tapestry & it's oddities?


Bayeux Tapestry 

230ft long &  20" high & in eight discernable colours of worsted yarn, as many as
623 humans
202 horses
55  dogs
49 trees
41 ships
Over 500 mythical and non mythical creatures such as birds and dragons are woven into the tapestry to portray the Norman conquest.

Canterbury, in Kent, was famous for its religious connotations but around this time there existed a embroidery centre of excellence in the town. Bishop Odo- as Earl of Kent- must have known of this school and this may have been the spur for the Bayeux tapestries construction as opposed to him deciding on a Tapestry and then deciding who should make it.
Another clue to its English origin is its similarity to Anglo Saxon manuscripts produced around this time. Yet another indication is the translation of names into Latin which could only have originated from the Anglo Saxon spelling.

Dating of the Tapestry. Though the 'officially' accepted date is 1077, the evidence supports a very early date for the Tapestry, predating the rebellions in Yorkshire in the early 1070s (maybe ANY of the revolts, starting with Eustace in 1067?) but before odo's 1077 cathedral dedication? The Tapestry went the rounds: being put on display mostly  to VIP’s in the capital parts of the realm to tell the Norman "spin" on recent events.
On D-Day, to avoid the Tapestry being damaged during the inevitable conflict, it was secretly moved to the Louvre in Paris where it was stored in their vaults. Following the surrender of Germany, the Tapestry was displayed again in Paris in all its glory. The following year it was returned to Bayeux under the jurisdiction of the municipal library.

Suppression of Harold's title. Once the "harrying of the north" (1069-70)had become history, William could not have put up with any further references to his predecessor as "king" Harold. It is king Harold and notearl Harold (or simply Harold) who is slain. Yet a mere twenty years later the Domesday surveyors never refer to him by his royal title. In the interim William had ruled a sullen and frequently rebellious people with an iron hand.
Any mentioning of Harold as having once been a legal king was anything but helpful to William's problems with getting his subjects to accept Norman lordship. And so Harold's royal title was expunged from all subsequent official records. Eustace of Boulogne rebelled late in 1067 and was in disfavour until the late 70s. Why would his name figure so prominently in the Tapestry if he was in fact out of favour at the time? There is serious doubt that Eustace of Boulogne is meant to be the man pointing to the duke and carrying the banner of Rome.
Once the Tapestry was finished and presented to Odo (or whoever), he was probably upset by some of the more glaring faults but let it stand. If time was critical - as it would be with a need for effective propaganda - the Tapestry would have been bundled off to do its work in the Anglo-Norman realm: educating the masses in the official story.
An accurate (factual) account of the battle of Hastings and events leading up to it was not the main purpose of the Tapestry; but an acceptable, reasonable story of why the English world had changed was necessary to help legitimize the Norman position in England.
As long as the propaganda did its work well, and the English knuckled under the new regime, there was no problem with allowing that Harold had in fact been "king" for a short while: God had made his judgment in favor of the Normans. The same prelate who had crowned the Godwinson had crowned the duke of Normandy king of the English.
Assuming Bishop Odo commissioned and oversaw the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon seamstresses given that: Odo's main power base was in Kent, the Latin text contains hints of Anglo Saxon, other embroideries originate from England at this time, and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there.
Assuming this was the case, the actual physical work of stitching was most likely undertaken by skilled English seamstresses- the best in Europe then- probably nuns from St. Augustine's, Canterbury, as Odo was earl of Kent(maybe some were grieving 1066- (widows embroidering in covert anti-Norman messages- or were they given orders to do so?).
The actual detail cannot always be taken literally- oddities such as bowstrings passing behind the archer's shoulder.

Other Embroideries..and English needleworkers.
The first mention of embroidery in Anglo-Saxon England refers to St. Etheldreda, abbess of Ely (died in 679), to St Cuthbert Maniple and Stole. This set of vestments were made in the style known as Opus Anglicanum.
There are many references to embroidery in literature and also to those who produced it. English noblewomen excelled at this.
Even Queen Mathilda- William’s wife- possessed and admired English needlework, and in her will she bequeathed two exquisite designs of English needlework to her favoured church of Holy Trinity in Caen. One of the pieces is identified in her will as being embroidered by ‘Aderet’s wife’ .
In the 10th C, there is reference to St. Dunstan working on designs for Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor- she herself was supposed to have been excellent at needlework.
There is also Queen Margaret of Scotland, wife of Malcolm III, who decorated copes, chasubles, stoles and altar cloths.
Wall hangings which commemorated Anglo-Saxon heroism on the field of battle were certainly not unknown.
The lost work presented to the church at Ely by Aelflaed in memory of her late husband's heroic death at Maldon in 991 is evidence of this.
There are examples from the 9th and 10th Centuries- often interlaced with gold thread and studded with expensive jewels.
These include the Maaseik Embroidery, a ninth century vestment associated with Saints Harlinde and Renlindis and a maniple, stole and girdle from the grave of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathederal (dated by inscription to between 909-916) which was possibly visited by King Athelstan in 934 during his rapid march to Scotland.
In the Domesday Book (1086), English needleworkers were still esteemed for their art and in possession of land. One, Aeflgyd, held land at Oakley in Bucks “which Godric the sheriff granted her…on condition of her teaching his daughter gold embroidery work”. Another, Leofgyd, held a moderate estate at Knook in Wiltshire, because she “made and makes the gold fringe of the king and queen”.
Gifts of textiles to the Church formed an important part of late Anglo-Saxon society. Vestments, made up of many marks worth of gold, were given to various religious communities during this period.
These vestments often the most valuable items in the treasuries of the communities- and after 1066 the Normans often purloined them and sent them home to Normandy, destroyed any that were too pro-English, and commissioned new ones.
Because of the intrinsic worth of these items (a cope and two chasubles burnt in the 14th century recoverd over two hundred and fifty pounds worth of gold), many were destroyed to recover the gold. This explains why so few of these items survive, despite their acknowledged beauty.

Tampering? At some point before the rediscovery of the BT in the 18thC, a semicircular tear in the border of part of the Tapestry obliterated most of Eustace's name. The tear is large and seems deliberately centred around  his name. Was this censorship? 
The first person in modern times to analyse the BT, from 1816-18,  English artist Charles Stothard- unpicked doubled-over ragged edges & stitching to revealthree more letters in addition to the visible VS.
The first was an E, the other two, TI,  came just before the end(VS). He concluded that it had once fully meant to read as EUSTATIUS (Latin for Eustace).
So it seemed that the standard bearer was Eustace- a principal commander.
But why wouldn’t someone opposed to Eustace have tried this at the time (either before or after his revolt in 1067)?
There are only fifteen named characters in the entire BT (three are women). All but four are easily identifiable. It is intended to show William in a great light, but it has several curious scenes, characters and hidden meanings & symbols.

Oddities include;-
·          Nowhere in the BT are the Normans called "Normanni" (Normans), but 'Franci'  (French) or 'Galli' (Gallic).
·          Oath. William has two grand and ornate reliquary chests put before Harold on the open ground. The earl is to formally swear on this open ground what he may have already been 'obliged' to agree with the duke in private. William has his throne brought up to command the scene(BT) and his whole haughty posture- pointing at Harold almost like a command- with ceremonial sword in the other hand, (together with the BT's depiction of Harold's furrowed brows and bowed head) gives off the air of fear and coersion. Harold has to make up his mind how he will ever return to England alive.
·          Why is earl/King Harold- shown as regal and finely regailed- apparently depicted as the heirarchical 'equal' of duke William in most scenes?
·          If the Norman account of Harold's visit is true- then why Harold's forlorn posture and King Edward's scornful one in the BT after his return? Almost like an "I told you so"? (Edward had warned Harold against going to barter for his brother and nephew's release beforehand.)
·          Why, in the final battle-scene at Hastings, is there no sign of the four knights that supposedly slew harold? Even though many characters throughout -not just H- are depicted twice in one scene!?
·          Why, when the entire Norman cause rested upon Harold's oath-breaking, is there not a single accusation in the tapestry of his perjury?
·          In the top and bottom margins are curious animal and bird motifs(real & mythical) which often defy interpretation but which run throughout the tapestry, like Aesop's fables, to help tell the story. Are these really covert symbols inserted by the orders of the sponsor(a disgruntled or disfavoured Odo or Eustace?) to cryptically criticise William and attack the Norman conquest?
·          Why does the Tapestry fail to boast the Norman succession case when it could?(ie. The opening scene shows Edward sending Harold to Normandy, but fails to establish that he did so- in the ill-fated "oath" scene which is curiously muted, it could easily have added a phrase like "concerning the crown" but doesn't?).
·                Nowhere is Harold accused of perjury and only the Norman sources stated that H was in any danger!
·                Bayeux cathedral itself not in the Tapestry?? Bayeux is only shown as a castle, nowhere is the cathedral shown, which suggests it highly unlikely that it was made to dedicate it to Odo's Cathedral on 14th July 1077. It could easily have been depicted. Either the artist didn't conceive bayeux as a place with a cathedral- yet a great new church is shown, the largest building in the entire work- Westminster Abbey. The BT is not even eccliastical in tone- Odo isn't in his holy robes at any point- revealing it to be secular. It was likely made to be hung around the walls of one of odo's great interior halls.

Turold the dwarf. This shaven-headed male(thus French or Norman)character is clearly a dwarf and not simply embroiderer's concept of distance. Though it is impossible to expect an accurate portrayal of size and persective, the entire BT seems to be the consistent work of a few embroiderers, as there are six 'joins' in the BT cloth it may have been worked in different places- all under perhaps one person's supervision. He is certainly not a child -his head is disproportionately large- about a third of his body, unlike the usual sixth on all others, and his limbs are short.
This is a key symptom of the type of dwarfism known as Achondroplasia. Having normal intelligence and lifespan, they are usually well built and strong- as evidenced in his holding two horses reigns in the BT. What this character is, is a male adult dwarf.
Could this Turold be the architect genius behind the BT? Did he cast himself in the cameo role within his own work, as hitchcock did recently? He is dressed in a pair of short, wide breeches with a pair of 'under-trousers' beneath.
In 1966 Rita Lejeune stated that this curious costume can be identified as a 'jongleur' (juggler)- and acrobat, jester, poet, minstrel or other performer who was employed at court to add humour and colour for their wealthy patron? It seems he was Count Guy of Ponthieu's personal performer- Turold is depicted with his feet in Picardy, and shown in the same scene as Guy.

Aelfgiva. A curious interjection in the story with no apparent link to scenes before(Harold talking to William) or after(the two men go on the Breton campaign). Standing in an ornate doorway with scandinavian-type columns, this noblewoman-with a popular English noble name- is being touched, maybe stroked, on the cheek by a priest standing just outside the doorway. Whilst, in the below border, a weird naked and endowed figure lewdly mimics the action of the priest and gestures up Aelfgyva's skirt- hinting at some sex scandal. If not, then it a strange and clumsily rude way to depict a noblewoman?
King Aethelred II's first wife was called Aelfgifu(d.1001?), the great-grandmother of Edgar Atheling- is she the lady in the BT and thus there is a detrimental comment being made to discredit edgar's legitimacy? Her father, Aelfhelm, was tricked and murdered whilst out hunting around the same time her brothers Ufegeat and Wulfheah were blinded, apprently on Ethelred's orders in 1006.
His second wife, Emma of Normandy, abandoned her native name and  took up the English name Aelfgifu. She later despised the unlucky/unwise Ethelred and in 1017 coldly abandoned their sons also(daughter Godgifu, sons Alfred and Edward) to sail over the Channel and  marry Canute. Clearly highly ambitious and ruthless, she retained her status and power and bore him a son- HarthaCnut. But canute had an English mistress- another The other Aelfgifu (ASC), who had previously bore him two sons- sweyn and harald. The intense and bitter rivalry between the two women reached fever pitch when Harald gained the throne, who died before Harthacnut invaded in 1040. Around this time, Emma/Aelfgyfu died.
In the Encomium Emmae Reginae - which Emma herself sponsored, her marriage to Ethelred was never mentioned, and implies that Alfred and Edward were sons of Canute. She also alledges  that young Harald- being Aelfgifu of Northampton's son- was the smuggled-in son of a servant girl, passed off as the union of herself and Canute. Allegations of Harald's  lowly birth are rumoured in three versions of the ASC, written in different parts of England,  for the year 1035! John of Worcester also states that her other son, Swyn, wasn't Canutes but "ordered the new-born son of a priests concubine to be brought to her, and made the King believe that she had borne him a son".

 Sweyn, by implication, was then supposedly the son of a fornicating priest!
Of Harefoot he wrote "Harold claimed to be the son of Canute by Aelfgifu of Northampton, but this is quite untrue, for some say that he was the son of a certain sutor [cobbler or workman], but that Aelfgifu acted in the same way that she had with Sweyn..."
Similarly then, Harald harefoot was the illegitimate son of a "cobbler" or "workman" . It was not alledged that Aelfgifu of Northampton had slept with the priest, but she had desperately sought to procure a son from a fornicating priests mistress by deceitful means, and pass him off as Canute's. Therefore, in the BT the implication is of a secret and immoral deal between a deceitful queen and a supposedly holy but fornicating priest.
This 'flashback' scene is likely included to humiliate Aelfgifu's memory to an 11thC audience but also to highlight the alledged illegitimacy of Sweyn and Harald (thus dangerously implying William's own low birth out of wedlock? Or legitimising his reign by damning his great-aunt's rivals?) Or is this scene pointing out that William is reminding Harold his own 'royal' connections- through Emma(his great aunt)- to the English throne? Eustace would have been affected by the murder of so many of his kinsmen from Boulogne, and his brother-inlaw Alfred- to vilify the killer- Harefoot- would be revenge.

Wulfnoth  In the scene where Harold (depicted at the same height as the duke, and thus his ‘equal’) and William (seated on his lavish throne) are shown to be discussing something, the earl is seen pointing to his left at a bearded and armed man standing by three Norman knights.
The character Harold points to is different to the other armed Norman knights- he has long hair at the back, a thick beard and his posturing and bearing are distinct, too.
In the iconography of the BT, only Englishmen are shown as long-haired and bearded. His shield is also of the style that Harold uses at Hastings 2yrs later. He is clearly English
Why does he bear arms in such company? He is obviously the kinsman of Harold who had been detained  in Normandy since the 1050’s, whom H was here to free. Therefore, this easily-missed BT character must be the senior of the hostages- Wulfnoth!
As this was before the open Anglo-Norman hostility, Wulfnoth had been allowed a certain amount of freedom and even been a serving soldier in the Norman military.
·          This is profound, for it confirms that Harold was not in Normandy to offer any succession, but merely to free his own kinsmen.
·          And also that Edward had changed his mind about the succession.
BT commisioner? Recent scholarly analysis about this embroidery in the 20th century shows it probably was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half brother, Bishop Odo.  The reasons for the Odo commission theory include:
·          Three of the bishop's followers mentioned in Domesday Book appear on the tapestry;
·          It was found in the mid 15thC in Bayeux Cathedral vault, built by Odo;
·          It may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral's construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral's dedication. No versions of the ASC detail Harold, only 'D' pays gives attention to Hastings and only 'E' continues past 1066(until1154)!
But could it have been sponsored by Eustace? Did Eustace commission the BT as a gift to flatter Odo as part of the reconciliation process in the early 1070's and maybe aiming to obtain the release of his nepos who was still in Odo's captivity? The manner of odo's high profile and flattery in the BT (for his great hall?). Eustace evidently employed  an artist with strong connections to St.Augustine's Abbey at canterbury- the designer might have been a long-standing monk perhaps from Eustace's own region? It seems very likely that the artist of the BT was someone with very close connections with St.Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury and that the BT was made by English embroiderers, maybe at/near Canterbury.
The monks of St.Augustine's of Canterbury could have decided to commission the BT, as a gift secular in tone, to Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Earl of Kent in order to cultivate him as an ally. They were the oldest and one of the richest abbeys in England, so could afford it, and were claiming freedom from the jurisdiction of Lanfranc- who was against tolerating such independence in his own back yard. Ill feeling between the abbey monks and those at the rival christ church(over which Lanfranc presided) spilled over into street violence at Canterbury in the late 1080's.
Odo also had poor relations with Lanfranc and thus may have been perceived as a potential ally against Lanfranc? Further, the monks may have been trying to flatter Eustace, whose stone from Marquise was was helping rebuild their abbey maybe at this time.

Arrow in the eye? This theory first started c.1085 in Amatus of Montecassino's History of the Normans; yet he also thought William had 100,000 soldiers at Hastings and 10,000 archers! The 'blinding' theme is deliberately stressed in the tapestry, hinting at divine punishment on the Godwinesons for alledged perjury, and inserted by the designer to confer legitimacy on Norman claims. It could also be intended to mean that it was punishment for Harold going 'against God' (William's papal backing)
1)                        Blinding was a well-known allegory. A puppet ruler of Judah, Zedekiah, had been installed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of powerful babylon. Nebuchnezzar made Zedekiah swear an oath in his favour but in the ninth year of his reign he rebelled. Soon after he was captured by the babylonians and was charged with breaking an oath of fealty. Like Harold, terrible punishment was now wrought upon he and his country. His sons were killed before his eyes and Zedekiah himself was blinded and taken in chains to Babylon. The Jewish kingdom of Judah was reduced to the status of a colony. It's royal officials, warriors and intellectuals were killed or exiled. The temple and the houses in Jerusalem were burnt down and a huge amount of treasure was carried off as booty.
2)                        Harold isn't the only Saxon depicted suffering this way- another is shown in a nearby scene running away clutching the shaft in his eye, as were a few English captives after the battle.
3)                        Confusion between Stamford and Hastings? Was there confusion over the eerily similar deaths by arrow, of the two King Harolds at Stamford and Hastings only three weeks apart? In Harald's Saga, the Norse King is slain in battle by an arrow to the throat and, as his body was returned to Norway, it's doubtful that the Sagas were wrong. That leaves the highly coincidental killing of King Harold by arrow at Hastings, which may have been wrongly misconstrued by later writers from earlier sources(Malmesbury- Harold's brain had been pierced; Baudri of Bourgeuil in c.1100 that Harold was hit by an arrow).
4)                        The earliest copied drawings of the BT don't show a figure being struck by an arrow at all- in 1724 a team of engravers recorded the whole BT but there was no 'arrow' going into the eye of the figure labelled as 'Harold', but engraved what the stitching showed was a long rod (a spear?)he was holding, which extends across the bottom of the letter 'o' in 'Harold' and touches the noseguard of the figures' helmet. In 1730 and 1767 similar scenes were copied. Only after the 'restoration' do the flights appear, making it seem like an arrow. The engravers of 1724 may be wrong, as the figure is one of a group showing H's standard-bearer and an unnamed warrior, and spears being hurled at them. Nor is it certain that the name 'Harold' should read Rex Interfectus Est. This too has been restored. None of the early viewers took the 1st figure to be H. Were the other two figures Leofwine and Gyrth?
5)                        Eustace killed Harold? In plate 12, as a 'Norman' knight towers over Harold striking him on the thigh, his helmet points at the strangely disconnected word TUS:EST which are seperate from the words INTERFECTUS EST (was killed). There is no reason why these words should be isolated and placed on a lower line like they are, as there is ample room for a normal, level sentence of lettering. All it takes is to reverse the two words to become EST TUS and it is clear that the letters are now short for the latin for Eustace. He is Harold's primary killer, coded in the BT, maybe so as not to displease the Normans?

A suspected 'missing finale' of maybe 20ft (maybe William's crowning)?
The BT ends suddenly (even in the 1729 drawings during restoration it ended where we know it does today), and in those final scenes a few Saxon prisoners are lead away tied by ropes, two with arrows in their eyes.
There are a few final scenes missing from the BT, and the extremities were vulnerable to damage as the Tapestry was displayed, folded and carried around over the centuries. The top/bottom borders are the unlikely places to look for covert criticism of the Norman regime, it's aggression and rapacity, whilst seemingly depicting Harold in a noble and sympathetic light.
This missing section would almost certainly have included William's consolidation of England and his coronation on Christmas Day 1066.
His acceptance by London and the construction of the tower of London. It would hopefully have confirmed or dispelled the Malfosse incident one way or another. It would also have depicted the justification of him becoming king.
Where and when this portion disappeared will never be known. Considering its chequered history it is necessary to postulate what might have been included in that section. If you were deliberately attempting to remove a portion of the Tapestry, this end piece (most accessible as it was rolled up?) would be a good place to do it. But who would have done so?

18 February 2010

Being fair to William of Normandy

Not forgetting the many overt acts and campaigns of savage barbarity he ordered and committed- not least the 'harrying of the north' 1069-70 (and the post-Hastings atrocities at Romney, Peterborough and Exeter)- but having read through a plethora of accounts via the many primary sources (Poitiers; Jumieges; Malmesbury; Vitalis etc) there seem to be a few examples where the notoriously hard duke was actually fairly magnanimous and merciful? Not all were simple acts of political/military expediency.
  • In 1064, despite actually needing the loyalty and influence of Harold if he were to succeed to the English crown- the most powerful English noble and a potentially major stumbling block in the way of the succession- there seems to have been an admiration for Harold the man, also the highly successful, affable, famous and wealthy warrior-diplomat, horseman and courtier that rescued two of William's own men from perilous swamps. Such noble/martial qualities could have been admired without having to have made him a knight, as he had Wulfnoth captive?
  • He actually dismissed one of those Franco-Norman knights that 'hacked away Harold's leg' (Euphemism for castration?) in the violent last phase of the battle? And he had also forgiven many Norman nobles who had once rebelled against him.
  • Although the Norman propaganda machine accelerated into overdrive after 1066 (especially against Harold) and maybe lying and re-writing recent history(?), William still did not toss the deceased King Harold's body into a ditch/river (as did Harthacnut with half-brother Harald Harefoot's body in 1040?) but, although not accepting the weight in gold for the mutilated king's body from Harold's mother Gytha, he apparently did order the Anglo-Norman William Malet to give this king a respectful burial by the sea?
  • He seems to have actually had a genuine affection for earl Waltheof, the last senior English noble- not just having bound him close for political necessity, (as he could have just killed him after 1066- just as Canute did in 1016-17), but seemingly through some admiration for the Englishman's personal qualities. He even forgave him once after his first 'rebellion' in 1069-70, unheard of for William, and went to great lengths to bind the earl to him?
  • He did not have the atheling Edgar killed after 1066 (as he did Edward the Confessor's nephew, Walter of Mantes, in 1064?) but offered him generous hospitality -although little/no lands. Genuine affection? Or was this an attempt to "keep his 'enemies' close"- especially when one considers that the Norman's entire premise of invasion was to align their rule with the house of Cerdic.
  • How about those whom William could easily have had killed (as Canute did in 1016-17 with rivals) as mere threats to his 'right to rule', if he had seen fit? Stigand? Edgar? Edwin? Morcar? Waltheof? Ansgar? He did not have Harold's brother Wulfnoth- a long term captive hostage- or Harold's son Ulf Haroldsson killed in the latter part of his reign, when he had crushed the rebellions in England, and no longer even needed the acquiescence of the Saxon witan or clergy?
  • William is said to have 'wept' after he heard of the death (via treachery) of earl Edwin, in 1071, and banished the murderers who brought Edwin's head to him?
He did conveniently forgive many Frenchmen (even his own uncles) prior to 1066 for various reasons, but are there any other acts of his apparent mercy in England- due to genuine respect or affection?

3 January 2010

Duke William - Jewish ancestry?

Was William’s mother, Herleve, jewish?

In 1051 Duke William invaded the wild and hilly region of Belleme (strategically placed and contested by French Kings, Normandy AND Anjou) aiming to block Angevin expansion & capture the two key frontier forts of Domfront and Alencon, that bitter rival Geoffrey of Anjou had garrisoned with troops, and that William feared would be used as a springboard to invade Normandy further. But Geoffrey retreated before the Duke's army.

However,according to William of Jumieges, at Alencon, the spirited defenders taunted the besieging Duke by hanging hides over the town's walls and shouting "Hides for the tanner", reputedly a derogatory reference to his tanner mother's lowly birth, and also his bastardy.

Wace's account might give a clue as to the original French of the Joke which the Duke found so offensive. The French for skin, according to Wace, is "la pel".
In the masculin "le pel" the word means stake, pallisade, or wall. Bearing in mind, it is conceivable that the defenders of Alençon were making a pun by shouting "the walls, the walls" to the Duke [the pelterer]. But more probably, the pelts or skins did not refer to animals, but to human corpses.

"Pellis" in Latin, and "la pel" in old French, can both indicate animal as well as human skin. Could the mockery have been insulting because Duke William's grandfather had been a pollinctor in the only known sense of the word, that is, a person who prepares corpses for burial, an undertaker or even an embalmer.
As such, the father of Herleva naturally would have dealt with skins, not however with those of animals, but of human beings.

The people of Alençon could not possibly have referred to this profession by beating human corpses or skins, so they therefore used pelts as a direct euphemism. In French, they shouted 'Pelterer' and Orderic translated this as pelliciarius, thereby preserving the double meaning.
He still knew the nature of the insults and the real occupation of Herleva's father; whereas, half a century later, neither Wace nor Benoit seem to have been aware of the real facts.

When the town was finally captured, William singled out those responsible, blinded them and had their hands & feet cut off, then threw them over the high walls.
As William returned to Domfront, it immediately surrendered, having heard of the brutal atrocities at Alencon, but William couldn't capitalise on these successes with his available forces, and withdrew.

Were these hides simply hung over walls as defence against fire -as was common practice then –or was William’s mother, Herleve, jewish?
Almost exclusively tanners were jews at this time, so was it an anti-semitic taunt?









The generally accepted belief is that these young and militarily inexperienced brother Earls (Edwin of Mercia; Morcar of Northumbria) had only their own independent Northumbrian and Mercian interests at heart, and so betrayed not only King Harold by failing to show up at Santlache on October 14th, but also the nominal young king Edgar afterwards by fleeing London, intially.

But is it as straight-forward as this?

A first cousin of theirs, Abbot Leofric of Peterborough, was actually present at the battle at Santlache (Hastings), so their family's involvement in Harold's cause was taken seriously, despite the traditional antagonism between the Godwinsons and Edwin & Morcar- and their renegade father, Earl Aelfgar, before them.
They also had a vested interest in seeing Harold succeed- their own sister Ealdgyth, the new and official queen, was pregnant with their king's child!

In all fairness, they had resisted Tostig's raids in Lindsey, forcing him to abandon his attacks and seek refuge in Scotland with King Malcolm III, his 'sworn brother'. This could be seen to be more because of their hatred/fear of the ousted Tostig's vengeful wrath than of loyalty to Harold.
Then they blocked the route to York from the Norse invasion army at Fulford Gate under King Harald Hardraada/Tostig, but lost that brutal pitched battle, fled the field and were in no position to fight on with such devastated forces.

Whether they were at Stamford Bridge or even Santlache is a moot point, it is of course very possible that they were, with remnants of their bodyguard, under peer pressure or loyalty. Certainly someone with the authority and notoriety led fresh troops and panicking men at the 'last stand' at the Malfosse.

They did not submit to William immediately after Oct 14th, but rallied around Edgar in London, briefly. It was only after the witan and churchmen chose to submit to the duke that the young Earls joined them at Berkhamstead.

In a few short years, during which they don't appear to have collaborated with William's new regime, they escaped from his gaols and raise revolt against him, with Hereward at Ely in 1070-71.

So, were they really traitors?

King Harald Hardraada & Duke William - alliance in 1066?

Did these two formidable warriors make a pre-agreed pact to co-invade England in the build up to 1066, as some believe? (I don't!)

What possible motive would these notoriously ambitious and avaricious men have had? The embittered and ousted Earl Tostig (Harold's own brother) reputedly visited both men (plus Denmark's King Swein, his cousin) to persuade them to invade.
How could it have even been practical? The same South-Westerly wind that whisked Hardrada to England in late September 1066 was keeping William pinned to the Normandy coast at exactly the same time?

Surely the military crux of a two-pronged plan is to attack, or at least appear to attack, at exactly the same time?? And of course, there is not even one mention of this in any contemporary source?  

King Harald Hardrada of Norway had been locked into bitter internecine warfare with the redoubtable King Swein of Denmark king for 20yrs- and both had designs on invading England (Swein actually prepared a fleet in the late 1040's!)
Why would two deeply avaricious men- each believing themself to be Edward's successor via vague and hollow 'promises' made to both Norway & Denmark in the late 1040's by the Anglo-Norman king- have made vague plans to 'divide and conquer' when we know from original sources that both over-ambitious men wouldn't have shared the glory or wealth?

In short, the two experienced and cunning warriors would never have tolerated, or trusted, each other.

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