ANST - FW: Musing on October 14th -- A River of Blood
jyeates at realtime.net
Sat Oct 14 23:31:52 PDT 2000
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From: Ellsworth Weaver [mailto:astroweaver at yahoo.com]
Sent: Sunday, October 15, 2000 00:38
To: 2thpix at surfari.net
Subject: Musing on October 14th -- A River of Blood
English folk remember the date of perhaps only one battle; October
1066 marks the Battle of Hastings.
You might remember from an earlier column (see "Derwent My
that King Harold Godwin of the Saxons had been expecting an invasion
from Normandy all summer. What he got, instead, was a betrayal by his
brother Tostig and a Viking horde led by Harald Hadrada up at York.
King Harold and his swift moving House Carls beat the Norse dudes at
the Battle of Stamford Bridge. In the meantime...
William Duke of Normandy, known as the Bastard, left St.Valery in
Normandy with about 600 ships and 10 to 12,000 men September 27,1066.
They had been gearing up for a major campaign since the spring. It
getting late in the year. It was now or maybe 1067. William decided
go for it. He arrived in his ship, the Mora, ahead of the fleet to
make sure this was the place. The bay was wide and flat shored,
for landing a massive army. Pevensey was the nearest village and it
protected by an old Roman fort right behind. Behind that was a huge
flat field. Willie Boy had done his homework.
As William was getting off the boat, he managed to slip and fall
face-first on the beach, the story goes. He then quipped something
like, "My country comes to greet me." Not bad. Everyone laughed on
and got off the ships. A well-coordinated landing worthy of any great
campaign went without a hitch. Of course, there were no enemy around
either. William quickly got the men building a wooden fort inside the
Roman one. The army camped on the field. William and FitzOsborn went
out scouting. The land outside the beach area was not exactly what
William had wanted but would have to do. William took the army around
Pevensey Bay and camped them about eight miles away from the landing
site. He and the troops waited. They were probably waiting to hear
they would have to fight, Harold or Harald Hadrada.
It is said that Harold was sitting down to a victory celebration in
York when he heard about Williams landing. Bringing the remnants of
his Army south, Harold camped outside London at Waltham. For two
he gathered reinforcements, and exchanged taunts, threats and
counterclaims to the Crown of England with William. Their heralds
getting pretty tired of all of this. Finally Harold moved his army
south to a position about six miles north of where William waited.
Harold got an incredible shock when he found out that he had been
excommunicated by the pope and that William was wearing the papal
This was an in-job by Robert Guiscard, a Norman friend of William,
had done some major favors for His Holiness. What a nasty thing! Poor
Harold had to feel crushed when he realized the whole of Christendom
was against him. It would be almost five hundred years before an
English king would stand up against the Catholic Church.
William moved up to Harold's position and set up in what was then the
conventional European style:. archers, infantry and then cavalry in
rear. A set piece, each assigned to their own duties. Harold had been
surprised at the speed of Williams movement. Heck, half the troops
said they would be there to help Harold were still were trickling in.
Nothing for it but to fight.
Harold and his brother Gyrth (wonder if he had a weight problem?)
waited up on a spot of high ground. They packed the guys onto a ridge
yards by 800 yards. High ground is good but it was limiting. The
up on the hill could hardly swing without hitting each other. William
had mobility and fresh troops. The tired veterans of Stamford Bridge
Harolds side had been joined by Londoners who were not very
Still, on the very front rank were Harold's personal Hearth Troop.
These were the best men of their day, heavily equipped with long mail
hauberks, helmets, kite shields and the great broad-ax which had been
the trademark of the House Carls since Cnut's time. They were good at
what they did and the axes were much feared.
William held his Breton, Maine and Anjou contingents to the left of
line, the Normans who were the main thrust were with the Flemish and
French to his right. They flanked the Saxon troops up on their
hillside. This was critical.
Initial attempts to dislodge Harolds Saxons were futile. They were
pretty committed to being there and being tough. A few of Williams
army advanced up the hill toward Harold s troops. The Saxons quickly
chased them away. William was out in front of his men, leading and
threatening them. The House Carls had a great esprit de corps, and
may have been their undoing. The Normans started to ride along the
Saxon line, throwing in javelins. As men fell, so the House Carls
closed their ranks, not allowing the lesser men behind them to come
the front. Within a short time, the ranks of men were so tightly
together they could not fight effectively
The wily Bastard had a large contingent of his cavalry ride up almost
to the shield wall of the House Carls throw their javelins at the
packed troops, and then ride back as though in terror. Would the
follow once again? You bet! These were the troops who whopped up on
Vikings; those cowardly French were not going to get away. Despite
Harolds attempt to hold them back, the House Carls ran down the
to butcher the Normans. William sent the flanking troops to close in
like two hands clapping around a fly.
There was much bitter fighting and William had three horses killed
under him. At one time, the word went through the Norman lines that
Duke William was slain and the heart went from the invaders. But it
not so. Remounting, he took off his helmet and rode up and down the
line shouting to his men.
"See, I am not dead and with God's help we shall win this day!"
Then William directed his Breton archers to shoot up into the air,
arrows falling upon the tightly packed English who could not even
their shields to protect themselves. Neither the technical ability
the equipment of the archer at war at this time should not be
with that of the English or Welsh archer four hundred years later at
the time of Agincourt. The bows were of lighter draw weight. Even so,
the arrow shot was withering at close range and great damage was done
to the English.
Now for the first time they had access to the top of the ridge and
fiercely attacked the English flank. Still the English ranks could
be broken and although the fighting continued with little pause, the
sun had set before the end came. It is kind of reasonable to assume
that the Fyrdsmen, a loose militia of lightly equipped men who had
already given their required service to the king that year by manning
the coast against the expected invasion throughout the summer, were
among the first to fade quietly into the fringes of the great forest
Andraeswold that stood behind them. The men of the Select Fyrd and
House Carls fought on, broken up into isolated groups by the repeated
Norman cavalry attacks.
With the relative safety of the line gone, the House Carls formed a
ring around the king. With the king were the standards of England;
Dragon standard of the line of Cerdic, the ancient House of the kings
of Wessex; and the fighting man, the personal marker of Harold
Godwinsson, worked with silver and gold thread upon in red and white
Byzantine silk by Edith, his wife.
Fighting a desperate and failing action against repeated Norman
the king was beset on all sides. Unlike what it showed on the Bayeaux
tapestry, Harold was probably run through by William's lance. William
broke through the line accompanied by three others -- Eustace, Hugo
Ponthieu and Giffard -- who were in at the kill, and who savaged
brutally. "They came upon the king and hewed at him with their
One stabbed him in the chest, another cut off his head and another
slashed at his vitals, spilling them upon the ground. This last man
off the king's thigh and carried it away, but William was much
by this vile deed and sent the man from his service."
This battle would later be called Senlac, a river of blood. It
demolished most of the remnants of the Saxon fighting men of the
at very little cost to William.
On Christmas day, 1066, William was crowned King of England in
Westminster Abbey with great pomp and more than a little high-fiving.
During the ceremony, there was a commotion outside and his soldiers
fire to a house. It is said that the king's fingers whitened as he
gripped the arms of the throne, but no attack came.
William survived for twenty years after the battle that secured for
and his successors the island fortress of Europe. Of all things he
killed in a riding accident, when his saddle's high pommel was driven
into his abdomen, rupturing his stomach. He lasted for four days in
great pain, and when confessed, asked for absolution for the lives
had been lost at his hand since the age of eight. He was a young
starter. At the last, it seems that the beating on the Saxons bore
heavy upon his mind. His dying words were "May God forgive me, for I
have taken that which was not mine." I would like to think he meant
England; might have been something else: maybe that last piece of
What have we learned? Arrows can win the day? Pride goeth before the
fall? Darnedest things can take off kings? Kings get very touchy
others savaging fellow kings? How about sometimes we win something
to feel guilty about winning for years afterward?
So if you are out lobbing javelins at tight-packed lines, spilling a
kings vitals, or just swimming in a river of blood and want to
these missives to someone do so only please keep my name and sig.
Looking for that last piece of pie,
J. Ellsworth Weaver
SCA Sir Balthazar of Endor
AS Polyphemus Theognis
TRV Sebastian Yeats
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