The Bayeux Tapestry

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The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry, is some serious piece of embroidery, consisting of 50 scenes, with 632 people, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 505 creatures, 37 buildings, 41 ships and 49 trees.  It measures seventy metres in length, along with Latin captions in the upper and lower margins.

It tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The early stage of the Bayeux Tapestry tells of Harold’s journey to France, and Harold swearing an oath of allegiance to William, promising to support William’s claim to the English throne.

Edward dies, and Harold is crowned King of England, the oath he had made to William meant nothing, for he just disregarded it, to be King.

In February of 1066 a comet was observed in the sky… This was a sign of change, the downfall of the current regime.

Duke William prepared his fleet for the seventy mile crossing to the Sussex coast, in dragon-headed ships, a reminder of Norman – Viking ancestry.

These Norman’s built castles at Pevensey and Hastings and ravaged the countryside.  Harold’s family came from Sussex, so William was challenging him on his own ground.

The tapestry depicted the Battle of Hastings, as the English held the ridge, many on foot with their axes and shields.

The first attack by the Norman’s saw the English protect the ridge.  Some English followed Norman’s down, at the word William had been killed… he removes his helmet and cries out, “I am alive.”  His men rally to his side and kill the English who had come off the ridge.

The Norman’s lured the English into a more vulnerable position, and the Norman Calvary cut them down.  Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, is depicted with a huge club.  As a Bishop, he could not shed blood, but he could breal a few arms, legs and heads.

The decisive moment of the battle comes, when King Harold was killed as an arrow pierced his eye.

The English fled, at the news of their King’s death, pursued by Normans.

William marches off to London the very next day, and on Christmas Day he is crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

One story tells of William’s wife Queen Matilda, and her ladies creating this tapestry… This piece of embroidery for her victorious husband.

If we look back in history, other 11th century queens, have produced embroidered pieces for churches.  However a seventy metre linen, embroidered in wool is something quite different, but one never knows.

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Norman England: The Domesday Book

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The Domesday Book

The Norman invasion of 1066, was led by Duke William of Normandy, who became William I (William the Conqueror), King of England.  He who was a descendant of those pagan Vikings, who attacked coastal communities from Scandinavia, who settled in the Seine Valley in 911.

When King Edward the Confessor died, Harold seized the English throne, and Edward’s promise that William should succeed him, was ignored.  This precipitated a Norman attack, as William claimed his right to the English throne.

England of the 11th century was not only an old country, but one stepped in wealth, one of which was English wool being exported to Europe…

So the Domesday Book was born, for he needed to know how much his new kingdom was worth.  Who owned every piece of land, those who lived and worked it, how much livestock, and set it down as a record.

They recorded the name of the estate, whose name it was in, how much livestock, ploughs, slaves, freemen, sokemen, wood, meadow, pasture and mills.  How much each freeman and sokeman had, and its considered value, thereof.

For it was a record of estates and manors, and how much tax could be levied across the country as a whole… an estate liability.

After the Norman Conquest, William initiated a change of estates and manor ownership, which would be recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  Some 180 large estates and manors formerly owned by Anglo-Saxons, changed hands to that of Norman Barons.

6,000 farmers, who owned their land, now had to lease it from their new Norman masters.

The Domesday Book described a conquered country to a King, who never uttered a word of the English language, but wanted a detailed record of its ownership, and estimated value for tax purposes.  It paints a picture of early medieval England, with its Feudal System, Local Government and Taxation.

The Doomesday Book was a new start for the country, whose roots were firmly rooted in the past.

Of the sixteen Anglo-Saxon Bishoprics, only one survived, the others were moved to large centres under Norman leadership, and all six Anglo-Saxon Sees were changed to Norman.

By the year 1200, most of the Anglo-Saxon Cathedrals were destroyed and replaced by Norman-Styled Architecture of which many still exist to this day.

William took over a country, down to the last blade of grass, and developed a system, run by his Norman officials, from central to local officials.  For he needed England’s wealth in taxes to pay for his army.

So a demand for tax would be sent to a shire, by representatives of the court, which would carry the royal seal, often backed by military forces to ensure payment.

When Edward the Confessor died, and Duke William of Normandy his chosen successor finally claimed the English throne.  Who would have believed he would milk the country dry by means of taxation, to pay for his own army…

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Medieval Queen: Emma of Normandy

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Emma of Normandy was an intriguing medieval woman born around 990 AD to parents; Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor a Dane.  Emma was both Viking and Norman, and her great grandfather, a Viking named Rollo, was founder of the lands known as Normandy.

In 1002, aged just twelve she left France for England, she was destined to marry Aethelred II (Ethelred) of England.  This marriage would create an alliance between France and England.  Emma being a descendant of both Viking and Norman would marry an English King and bear a Norman child.

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King Aethelred II

King Aethelred’s intentions of this marriage, was to prevent the Normans from joining forces with Vikings and take on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Aethelred escorted his young bride to Canterbury, where they were married and she was crowned Queen in 1002, and duly given an English name; Aelfgifu, after the Kings grandmother.

For hundreds of years, Vikings had raided Britain’s coastlines, and many had chosen to settle here, taking an Anglo-Saxon wife.  So it was fair to say, a large proportion of the population were Danes or descendants thereof.

On the 13th November 1002, St.Brices Day, marked Aethelred’s response to these Viking raids upon his lands, with large scale massacre’s of the Danes living in Britain.

The Viking response to such actions, led by Swein Forkbeard, inflicted a brutal attack upon Britain.  Exeter, the Queens property was destroyed, showing she was not exempt from these attacks.  However, she being of Viking and Norman blood, her reputation amongst her subjects lay in tatters, their trust in her, all but gone.

The Vikings made concerted attacks upon Britain, and by 1009 all able bodied men were called upon to defend these shores against the Viking onslaught.  Their efforts, against savage warriors failed, as by 1011, large parts of southern Britain were now under Viking control.

Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut landed in the northern parts of the country, and were met with little opposition, as they submitted to these Vikings.

Emma, the wife of a failed King, demanded protection of her brother, Richard in Normandy, whilst Aethelred fled to the Isle of Wight.

Swein and his sons, Harold and Cnut, pushed away the Anglo-Saxon dynasty and became the first Viking rulers of Britain.  Swein became King on the 25th December 1013, and made Gainsborough in Lincolnshire his capital.

Just five weeks later, Swein died and Aethelred returned to his kingdom to salvage what he could from a ravaged country.  In 1016 King Aethelred died.

Emma may have had no love for her husband Aethelred, but his death left her not knowing what future lay ahead for her.

The people of London, chose Edmund as their new King.  Edmund sensed Cnut the Dane poised to fight for the crown, but offered a compromise, they split the land in two… Edmund died before the deal had been completed.

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King Canute (Cnut)

Cnut became King in 1016, and took Emma as his wife, his trophy between old and new.

Cnut showed his commitment, by bringing Anglo-Saxon and Danes together.  Emma provided good judgement, as they formed a close working relationship.  One of her most trusted advisors in matters concerning the church was Stigand, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saying that, she had to be careful and watchful of Earl Godwine a close and trusted advisor to Cnut.

Emma bore Cnut a son; Harthacanute and a daughter, Gunnhild, future contenders to the English crown.

Cnut ruled Britain as well as Denmark, which meant Emma watched over his kingdom during his long absences.

Many precious gifts were bestowed upon the church, but most remembered has to be the “Golden Cross” at Winchester.

In 1035, Cnut died without naming his successor, and Emma found herself in a precarious situation once again.

Emma moved into the royal quarters at Winchester, surrounding herself with Cnut’s belongings…  Who would be the next King, would determine her safety.

Cnut’s first wife; also named Aelfgifu proposed her son Harold Harefoot, whilst Harthacanute remained in Denmark, fighting to protect his Danish kingdom.  The decision was made by Noble Lords who allocated the north to Harold and the south to Harthacanute.

Emma’s sons by Aethelred; Edward and Alfred sailed to England with their armies.  The Earl of Godwine intercepted Alfred who had landed in Kent, to accompany him to Winchester, to meet with his mother and brother.

It was a ploy orchestrated by Earl of Godwine, who had Alfred taken prisoner and accused of acts against Anglo-Saxons at London, then taken to Ely where his eyes were gouged out… he died later of his wounds.

Edward headed back to the safety of Normandy, upon hearing of Alfred’s death.

In 1040 Harold died and Harthacanute dug up his body, beheaded it, and tossed it into the River Thames.

Upon the death of Harthacanute in 1042, the Earl of Godwine fought off claims by descendants of Swein Forkbeard.  Edward “Edward the Confessor” was crowned King with Earl Godwine running much of the country on his behalf.

On the 3rd April 1043, Emma takes up her position, by taking command of Edward’s treasury at Winchester.  Edward did not take kindly to his mother assuming this position, and took the treasury keys from her, and suggests she moves out, for she is not welcome at Winchester Castle.

In 1052 Emma died, and was buried alongside her second husband; Cnut in Winchester.

In 1066 Emma’s son, Edward the Confessor died childless leaving no successor, and Harold Godwine, son of Earl Godwine elected by Nobles and Church leaders became King.

On the 14th October 1066, one of the most significant dates in English history, witnessed Emma’s great nephew William, the Duke of Normandy “William the Conqueror” successfully take on Harold II at the “Battle of Hastings” and claim the English crown.

(Image) Emma of Normandy: Polyvore
(Image) King Aethelred II: Wikipedia
(Image) King Canute (Cnut)

Viking Timeline in Britain

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Viking Raiders – LongShips

In 793, Viking raiders from Scandinavia arrived off the coast of Northumbria in their longships.  Britain came face to face with these barbaric pirates, as they invaded our shores in search of booty and slaves.  What they will be remembered for: their attack upon the men of God, at the Lindisfarne Monastery.  By 794, they had taken their attack against the lands of the north; Scotland.  In 795 attacked the island of Rothlin off Ireland’s north-east coast.

The coasts of mainland Britain, with its monasteries would attract these Viking marauders, expecting to find riches.

In 838, Dublin was captured, becoming the Norse Kingdom of Ireland.

In 865 Danes settle in the eastern parts of England.  York is captured in 866 and becomes known as Yorvik, the Danish capital in England.  Nottingham falls to these invaders in 867, followed by Thetford in 869 and Reading in 870.

In 871, opposition by King Ethelred, the West Saxon King and his brother Alfred, take on and defeat the Viking army at the “Battle of Ashdown” in Berkshire.

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King Alfred the Great

In 871, Alfred’s elder brother dies in battle at Merton and Alfred becomes King of Wessex, on the 23rd April.  One of his first acts, was to oversee the construction of an English fleet, to take on these Viking invaders on land and sea.  In 875 Alfred claimed a sea victory, holding his own against seasoned Viking mariners, and even managed to capture a Viking ship.

In 878, Danish forces push Alfred to the west and into the Somerset marshes.  From Athelney Fort, he gathered local assistance, to come out fighting and defeat the Danes at Edington in Wiltshire.  King Guthrum, the Danish Viking, captured by Alfred, goes on to secure his freedom by promising to leave Wessex.

As the Danes invade Kent in 885, Alfred goes on the offensive, driving back invaders and occupying London in 886.

Alfred proposes a treaty with Guthrum of co-existence: Anglo-Saxons in the south and west, with Danes in the north and east, which both parties agreed to.

The last Viking King of Northumbria was Eric Bloodaxe, who had previously been King of Norway in the 930’s.  He was expelled for extreme cruelty, having murdered his seven brothers’.

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Eric Bloodaxe

In 947 Eric received the position as King until being expelled in 949 by Eadred, King of England, returned in 952 and killed by Eadred’s army in 954 at Stainmore.

In 950, Wales comes under attack from Viking’s in their longships, from Ireland, Isle of Man and the Hebrides.  They showed much interest in coastal monasteries, looking for riches.

Aethelred II came to the throne in 978; his long reign in a battle scarred England took its toll on his health and his country.  No longer fit to command his army in battle, he bribed attacking armies.  In 994 Sven Forkbeard led a Danish army against London.  The attack was a failure; it was doomed from the start, for Forkbeard had been bought off.  Yet, his army went forward and ravaged the south-east.

In 1013, the Saxon King Aethelred, flees to Normandy as King Sven of Denmark and his son Cnut sail up the Humber and Trent, to become King of England.  In 1014 Sven dies and is succeeded by his son Cnut, who becomes King of the Danes and England.

In 1016, Aethelred dies, and his son Edmund Ironside, takes on Cnut, believing he should be King of England.

At the “Battle of Ashingdon” in Essex, the two armies do battle, and Edmund is defeated.  Even though Edmund was defeated, the control of England was split in two.  Canute controlled the lands in the north, whilst Edmund controlled those in the south.

Later that year Edmund dies and Canute is chosen to rule England as its new King.

In 1035, Canute dies and Harold Harefoot, snatches the throne from his half-brother Harthacanute, the rightful heir.  In 1040 Harthacanute ascends to the English throne upon the death of Harold Harefoot.  In 1042 Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelred II becomes King of England upon the death of Harthacanute.

In 1051, William, Duke of Normandy, met with Edmund at his court, where it was agreed William would succeed Edward the Confessor as the next King of England.

In 1064, Harold Godwineson, Earl of Wessex and close adviser to the King, swore an oath of support to William in his claim to the English throne.

In 1066, Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwineson becomes the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.  William, the Duke of Normandy had been promised the English throne, yet Harold became King, backed by his nobles… William had been betrayed.

King Harald of Norway invaded northern England, laying siege and capturing York.  King Harold is forced to march north and meet Harald at Stamford Bridge, whereupon the King of Norway is killed in battle.

As the news reached King Harold of William’s landing in the south, his tired army had to march south… no time for rest and take on William’s forces.

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Battle of Hastings

On the 14th October 1066, William the Duke of Normandy and King Harold of England met on the battle field, the prize on offer to the victor; King of England.

The “Battle of Hastings” was won by William, the Duke of Normandy, and from that day forth, life in England changed.

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Anglo-Saxons v Norman Cultural Differences

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Anglo-Saxon Sword

With the “Battle of Hastings” won by William in 1066, stability would be enforced upon England by these Norman invaders.  For they recognised this land they had conquered, was a land of wealth.

How different were the Anglo-Saxon and Norman societies at the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066?  Bearing in mind they had the same ancestral heritage.

One should never forget that the Anglo-Saxons and Normans came from the same basic stock.  They were both Scandinavian immigrant’s who had settled in another land, and taken over the ruling aristocracy or monarchy of the time.  Which means their structural way of life was similar.

Both the Anglo-Saxons and Normans desired land, you could say land was the currency by which each and everyone existed by.

The Anglo-Saxon System: For the Lord owned the land, which he shared out amongst his followers in return for service…  They became minor lords upon this land, surrounded by retinue of warriors, who would receive rewards for their service, and the greatest reward would be land.

Success in battle equals more land, more riches, which would be shared around.  If the Lord wasn’t successful or generous, his followers might offer their services to a better Lord.

The Lord led his warriors, and they fought for him.  They were both reliant on non-fighting tenant farmers, and below them came the slaves.

Therefore, the basic building block of the system was the hearth:  On his land, the overall Lord owned a hearth-hall within which he housed his warriors.  It was the responsibility of his tenant farmers to bring produce to the hall, to feed and maintain these warriors, in return all who lived upon his land received security…

By the 10th century, Anglo-Saxon England had become one of the most organised countries in all of Europe.  The King controlled a land divided into shires, upon which taxes were levied accordingly, and those taxes were collected from the burhs.

Over the previous two centuries, much had changed as a Germanic styled system had been integrated into the original form.  Basically, Anglo-Saxon Kings, changed the way it worked, instead of duties of the Lord, they imposed duties upon the land itself.  So the Lord, who owned the land, had to pay warriors to protect his lands and those who lived upon it.

In contrast the Norman system was simpler by design, for they were firmly entrenched in the past, and used the Lords hearth as other’s had done before them.

A Norman Duke could call upon his Norman nobles to bring forth his warriors in times of war, and they would expect a share in the spoils of conquest.

Norman warriors, were an elite military force, whilst the Anglo-Saxon’s their counterparts were nothing more than farming warriors, yet they proved themselves well in battle.

However, the Norman forces at the “Battle of Hastings” proved a formidable force, as Harold’s army was defeated.  One could say William had been lucky that day, for Harold was exhausted and led an army of battle weakened warriors.  For he had just fought and slew Hardrada and his Norwegian forces at Stamford Bridge in the north, on the 25th September 1066, then marched south to face the Norman’s on the 14th October 1066 at Hastings.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William changed things to match the accepted way as used by the Norman’s, one of these was: Determining whether a person was innocent or guilty of a crime.

Trial by Oath Taking, the Anglo-Saxon process whereby one would rely on oaths by your Lord and peers, who would vouch for your innocence… It is a wonder anyone was found guilty.

The Norman practice of Trial by Battle was introduced, in which your guilt or innocence was determined by the success or failure of your champion; in battle.

(Image) Anglo-Saxon Sword: Jelkdragon

The Origin of the Normans

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Viking Ships

So where did the Norman’s originate from and become a major force upon the lands of England?

According to history; Viking sea-raiders came in their longship’s from Scandinavia, creating a state of fear as they attacked the lands of Western Europe… They plundered; they killed and took captives to sell into a life of slavery.

Vikings under their leader Hrolf, pillaged the lands of North-Eastern France, around the area of the Seine River in 911.  The threat they imposed led to King Charles of the Franks, negotiating a treaty at St.Clair-sur-Epte in 911.  Effectively giving the lands bound by the rivers Brestle, Epte, Avre and Dives, by 924 they received Bayeux, Exmes and Sees, and in 933 the Cotenin and Avranchin, making up the lands of Normandy.

These Viking’s had come from the land’s of the north.  Two generation on and their lifestyle had changed.  They had taken under their wing so to speak, the language, religion, laws, customs and politics of the Franks.  They were referred to as the Northmen of Normandy, only later to be known as Normans.

Their desire for conquest, led Normans to pursue military goals abroad.  Normans went to Spain to fight the Moors; to Byzantium to fight the Turks; to Sicily in 1061 to fight the Saracens; and England in 1066.

The Norman Duke, William I, friend of Edward the Confessor, the Saxon English King who reigned from 1042-1066, and who supposedly promised the throne to William upon his death.

William I had no choice in his eyes, when Harold II claimed the English throne, which had been promised to him.  So these two armies met to decide who should be the rightful King of England.  The Norman style of fighting against the Anglo-Saxons… there was no real contest as William I… William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066.  It was a brutal time, as thousand’s were slaughtered in battle, and more died through famine and disease.

Norman England added to Norman France created a powerful and rich territory across Europe.

The last ruling Norman Monarch, should not have been King Stephen, for he stole it from Queen Matilda, the rightful heir of King Henry I; her father.  At that time England was a male dominated society, which would not crown a woman as the outright successor.  Matilda, was her father’s daughter, if she wasn’t going to reign, made sure her son Henry II; leader of the Plantagenet Dynasty would be the next King of England.

The legacy left by the Norman’s has to be its Churches, Cathedrals and Castles, many of which were built out of stone, that stretched across this land of ours:

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Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral – Winchester Cathedral

The Nave Arcade of Norwich Cathedral (1094-1145)

The West Front of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire (1108)

The Nave of Rochester Cathedral built by Gundulf (1080)

Tower of London – Windsor Castle

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge.  Built by the Knight’s Templar, a monastic order founded in 1115 to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem.

William I ran England using the “Feudal System” where the King owned everything.  So that meant he rented everything to his Barons, and they provided him with as army when required.  These Baron’s leased out land to farmer’s etc, and so the Domesday Book of 1086 was produced, creating an inventory of the country…

The Bayeux Tapestry was instigated by William’s half brother; Odo and produced by Queen Matilda.  It provides one with a visual record of events in 1066.

The New Forest, which to-day is a National Park, was formerly lands located to the North-East of Southampton and commandeered by William I, as his exclusive hunting grounds.

Viking Ships Painting: Wikipedia