Friday, 19 August 2016

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE INVASION

The year is 1066 and the winds of change are brewing across England. Ships filled with knights and noble men sway on the water off the coast of France ready to set sail to English shores. A crown was sought and blood was to be shed before the crown could rest upon the head of a Norman king.

Section of The Bayeux Tapestry, c. 1080. Courtesy of Web Gallery of Art (

On the 5th of January 1066 the reigning King of England, Edward the Confessor, passed away. This was the start of a turbulent time for the country. The kings brother in law, the Earl of Essex, Harold Godwin was elected to succeed the late king by the Witan, a council of high ranking Anglo-Saxon men. The crown was soon lain upon the head of Harold, now King of England, but this did not sit well with  Duke William of Normandy across the water in France. He claimed that King Edward had promised the crown of England to him and had even managed to trick the late king, in 1063, into swearing to support his claim to the English thrown.

Duke William swiftly amassed an army ready to set sail and invade England!

Around the time William was amassing his army a problem arouse for Harold in the North of England. His brother Tostig had joined forces with Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and amassed an army now landing on the East coast of Yorkshire. King Harold gathered his army and marched north to Tadcaster to face this new threat. They caught Tostig's men off guard and after a bloody battle, including the death of both Tostig and Harold Hardrada, they, on September 24th, captured Stanford Bridge thus claiming victory over the attackers.

It was not long however until news that Duke William and his army had arrived on British shores reached the King, they landed on 28th September. A few days later on October 1st Harold and his army, now severely less in number, set off for Kent where William was waiting.

The two opposing armies met on 14th October not far from Hastings and a great battle commenced!

Axes swung from the Saxons, cutting down the Norman attackers. Swords swished and clashed as men from both sides fell to a noble death. Shields were smashed, battered and broken. Spears stabbed as arrows flew. A loose Norman arrow flew through the air and landed, quite by chance, in the eye of King Harold. This arrow gave a fatal injury but it has often been unclear as to what happened to Harold and who killed him. Reports from 1080 by an Italian Monk state that Harold was killed by the arrow to his eye but other accounts report him being cut down by a Norman knight, some saying at the same time the arrow hit. The Bayeux tapestry doesn't offer much help as it shows a man with an arrow to the eye alongside a knight chopping down a man, written over both is the caption 'Here King Harold has been killed'. This could hint towards both the figures shown being Harold, one showing the moment he was struck by an arrow and the next of him being run through by a knight. Either way Harold met his end but the battle didn't stop.

Section of the Bayeux Tapestry showing Harold's death (courtesy of Wikipedia)

It was not long, however, before Harold's remaining men were beaten and killed. This left William the victor, he could now take his place on the English throne and take on a new title; William the Conqueror!

On Christmas day of 1066 William was crowned King of England by Archbishop Ealdred of York and began his rule of England and its people. This brought the new Norman way of life to the land and things would start to change across the country...

This year marks the 950th anniversary of the great Norman invasion of England and we at Iron Shepherds are celebrating with this series of blog posts, a Norman based weapons display and several events with our Norman encampment!

Our main period of interest is the 1140's, a period of time within the Norman rule of Britain. We have an Anglo-Norman camp which we set up at various events throughout the Summer months. You can next see us and experience Norman life at the Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey on 3rd September, 10am - 5pm.

Norman Blog Series:

1066, the Year of the Normans: THE INVASION
1066, the Year of the Normans: THE TAKE OVER (coming soon)
1066, the Year of the Normans: NORMANS IN FURNESS (coming soon)