Wednesday, 14 October 2015

1066 and all that...

The French like to think they did it, of course. But they didn't. The Normans weren't French; far from it. They were Normans, of course - Norsemen - who (like their Viking kin who had settled in the north of England) had tired of raiding and decided to settle down. On someone else's land. In the case of the Norman's, French land which the French king willingly gave to them to keep them quiet.

Anyway, having got that little bit of history out of the way let's put to bed that other great Battle of Hastings myth, shall we? You know the one. The arrow in the eye. Harold - poor chap - looking up at just the wrong moment and - whiiiish - argggh!

Harold Godwinson (for it was he) was probably the most unlucky king in English history (as well as one of the shortest serving). Because, you see, it wasn't only William, Duke of Normandy, who was after de-throning the Earl of Wessex (that's Harold, btw) but another Harald (with two 'a's) from Norway - Harald Hardrada who thought he'd quite like to be King of England, too.

So the last, great Viking army sailed up the Humber and landed at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. Where they were annihilated by Harold (HarOld) and his English army. And that was that. The end of the Viking age. Hundreds of years of raiding, pillaging an worse ended at a stroke by the bloke who a few days later had to march down to the south coast to meet the Conqueror.

Except he wasn't. Yet. And he nearly wasn't ever. As William jumped down from his ship he fell - face full of sand, the lot. The Norman army looking on thought this was a very bad omen and they were nearly proved right. Quite early in the Battle of Hastings the English Housecarls with their huge battle axes had the upper hand, literally hacking down Norman mounted knights - horse and rider - in a single blow.

But then Harold would look up, wouldn't he? Maybe it was that perennial English need to check on the weather, who knows. And I know I said it was a bit of a myth, but it seems Harold did get one in the eye. Just that it didn't do for him, as we all assume.

No, according to the Bayeux Tapestry Harold was then cut down by a Norman knight. Obviously didn't see him coming. And that was the end of the Battle of Hastings. Which took place 949 years ago today.

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