As well as posting about things I do, I’m also going to be posting about things I’ve learned.
I’ve ranted here before about the deficiencies in my education, and much as I keep promising myself that I’ll do an A-level in History or Literature or Art History or some such, I just never get around to it. But I can force myself to investigate one topic a day on Wikipedia and fill in a lot of the gaps.
Today’s investigation, prompted by a little note at the end of Paul Graham’s recent essay on essays, was into the Battle of Hastings. This is one of those things that everyone growing up in the UK should know something about. But until a couple of years ago my knowledge didn’t really stretch much beyond the image from the the Bayeaux Tapestry of King Harold with an arrow in his eye. Then I saw a TV program on the invasion from the North just beforehand. I discovered that one of the main reasons for the victory at Hastings was that Harold had just marched the remains of his troops hundreds of miles south from the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where he’d successfully warded off a Viking invasion from Norway.
Today I learned several other important facts about this.
Firstly, I discovered that the Normans were also really Vikings (North Men), who had invaded France at the end of the 9th Century, and after besieging France had been given Normandy in exchange for protecting the country from pirates. So Harold had really been fighting off Viking forces from both ends of the country.
Then I also discovered that neither invasion was really just another “let’s go invade England lads” attack. When King Edward the Confessor died earlied in 1066 he had left no children, and there was a power vacuum and great debate of who should succeed him to the throne. Harold, who at this stage was the Earl of Wessex, East Anglia and Hereford, and thus had been the second most powerful man in England, persuaded the Witenagemot (the predecessor to Parliament) to vote to appoint him as King.
Meanwhile, Harald III of Norway, backed by Harold’s brother Tostig, claimed that several generations of intermarriage gave him the right to the English throne, and came to claim it, only for both to be killed at the aforementioned Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Simultaneously, William The Bastard, the Duke of Normandy, decided that he should be heir, as not only had King Edward been his cousin, but that Edward had promised him the throne years earlier. For good measure he also claimed that when Harold had been shipwrecked in Normandy a few years earlier he had promised to support William’s claim to the throne upon Edward’s death.
And, just to complete the triangle, it seems that Harold’s brother Tostig was married to Judith of Flanders, who was William’s wife’s aunt.
It seems that this whole area is much more complex and deeply intertwined than I knew!