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?

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