sábado, 5 de mayo de 2018

The Normans and William the Conqueror (part II).

Map of Normandy, 12th Century.By: Sting... Cartenormandie2.PNG
Modified by: Rowanwindwhistler.
Lic: Creative Comm. Att. Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Towards the year 1036 the Duchy of Normandy had become a very important and influent country in Europe. But they were passing through a deep crisis. Why? The reason was simple: a child had the crown over his head! He was too young to exert the power by himself, and  furthermore he was a bastard. A child duke, or a bastard duke... both were hard to digest for many people. Then, a bunch of nobles believed to see the opportunity to get the throne. So Normandy, the land ruled by Rollo and his descendants for more than a century, ended up inmersed into chaos and anarchy. 

Coat of Arms of William the Conqueror ca. (1066-1087)
By: Sodacam, 2010. Lic. Creative Comm. Att. Share Alike 3.0

It seems likely that the boy, without the aid of the king of France, Henri I, would have never consolidated as a duke. Also, he surely would has been killed at a young age. During his entire youth, William had to bore many humiliations, but there would come the time to show who he was... a worthy son of Robert the Devil, and they would have to pay for each and every insult he received.

Monument to William the Conqueror. Falaise, France.
Photo: Manvyi, 2012.

As soon as he was old enough, he began to exercise his tough authority. Being only twenty years old he was in front of his army, always supported by France (but a short time later, they would be rivals). That way he managed not only to subdue the Norman's nobility uprising... at the end he crushed them completely. He made such a slaughter, that anybody would dare again to mention his humble origin in front of him. He even had the pleasure of making fun of everyone, when he signed every important document as "William the Bastard". 

William the Conqueror. Bayeux Tapestry:
Scene 23, year 1070. Photo: Myrabella, 2013.

His control over the insubordinate nobles became absolute. William established a highly centralized feudalism, unique in Europe. Besides, he always kept the Church by his side, something of a great importance then. The truth is that as soon as those internal conflicts ceased, Normandy progress was back on track. They even got to expand their territory, as they annexed some neighbors' lands. To keep that peace obtained with blood and fire, it was necessary to hire mercenaries to increase their army. An impressive heavy cavalry force of more than a thousand knights, made that army a very dangerous rival for anyone who tried to oppose them.

William the Conqueror. Unknown author.
Photo: Dcoetzee. Source: National Portrait Gallery, UK.

So it happened that William II of Normandy was in fact, the most powerful and feared ruler of all Europe. But he felt that it was not enough, he had conceived the idea of becoming a king. It was something very attractive for him and, why not? After all, he had a family relationship with the king of England, Edward III, the Confessor. It was obvious that he could be considered a heir for that throne, but nevertheless there were some difficulties. The crown of England was not only transmitted by inheritance rights... there must exist a consensus to choose between some candidates. And in that moment, at least he had another strong contender to follow the king Edward.

For a better understanding, we should go back in time a little more... 

The seal of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, 11th Cen.
British Museum. Photo: PHGCOM, 2009

Edward was a quiet person, very attached to the mistic life. But those were days when weapons almost always had the last word. We may guess that someone was as powerful as the king, maybe more. That person existed and his name was Godwin. He had been the Earl of Wessex since the Danish ruled over England... even though he was a Saxon. We could say with no doubt, that he was the true king of England. As a small sample, we only have to mention that his son Harold would become king and his daughter Edith, would marry the king Edward III. 

Richard II of Normandy. Uncle of Edward III of England
The Confessor. By: Michael Shea (imars) 2006. Source:
English Wikipedia. Lic. C.Comm. Att.Share Alike 2.5 Gen.

The good king was facing another problem, since he lived most of his youth exiled in Normandy. By then, he was under the protection of Richard II, his uncle... we should not forget the kinship of the Royal House of England and the Norman Duchy. As a consequence, from the begining of his reign, the English court resulted invaded by Norman knights and workers. Anyhow, it was the people he trusted. This, along with so many uses and practises, would be a provocation for the "nacionalists" at the time.

This situation turned out to be so complicated, that Godwin openly declared in rebellion.Then ocurred the unexpected: the lords of the north joined their forces to help Edward, and together they defeated the rebels. Those Saxon lords chose the side of the king, so they could stop the Earl of Wessex, who was becoming very powerful. So complex were politics in England on those times. As a good will gesture, or so it seemed, Godwin and his sons sentence was only the exile, while Edith had to enter a convent.

Edward the Confessor, King of England. Unknown author
13th Century. Source: www.lib.cam.ac.uk {{PD-US}}

Edward would unleash his Norman tendency, when he invited his nephew William, in the year 1051. By then he was only twenty four years old, but was a man who held an absolute power, like we said before. Is clear that the young duke appeared to Edward's eyes as the perfect heir: vigorous, successful and clever. A Norman, and also with blood ties joining them, what else could he ask? Their conversations will always remain unknown... but it was said that William returned home with the royal word. The king Edward promised to support his option to the throne of England. The problem was that in no way, he would have the last word about the issue.

Is difficult to ascertain  the veracity of some chapters of this story. If all that really happened, is undeniable that everything fits well with the final result. But also could have been invented tales: merely a propaganda from the warring factions... and later were accepted to be true. As an example, we can see how Godwin and his party alleged that the king had promised to give the crown to a Norman. That led to the king's popularity collapse and also allowed the authoritarian Godwin and sons coming back, in 1052. If they handled the facts to control the people opinion, is something we never will get to know for sure.

The Angle-Saxon England, by the year 800
(indicated by the red names).
Photo: Sakurambo, 2008

The intrigues from the Earl of Wessex were such, that he even dared to get his hands over the church affairs. However, this seemed to be a bad move; since then, he would have the clergy against him... and the problem reached the Pope at Rome! The Church's influence on those days, was something to take into account. 

But the Wheel of Fortune kept on turning. Shortly after and when no one expected, Godwin died. According to a legend he died during a banquet, suffocated with a piece of bread, when he was denying any disloyalty to the king. Whether it happened or not, his death brought some important consequences: his elder son Harold, not only inherited the Earl title, but also his determination to hold England under his control, acting as a king without crown, for the time being...

Harold Godwinson. Annonimous, 13th Cen.
Source: www.lib.cam.ac.uk {{PD-US}}

The rest of Edward the Confessor's reign almost resulted a burden for him. He had to face the shameful domain that Harold exerted over the whole England. One of his brothers, by the name of Tostig, held the power on the northern lands. The middle country, Mercia, was divided without any scruples between the other sons of Godwin. But the succesoral affair was becoming more and more urgent. By the House of Wessex, only two more aspirants remained... the elder and most important, went to England only to die in "strange " circumstances, opening the door to any doubt or suspicion. The other did not count on: he was too young, and the last thing England needed, was a child king. So everything was between Harold and William of Normandy!

Bayeux Tapestry: Scene 32. It shows the comet Halley in the year 1066.
Photo: Myrabella, 2013

This story's ending was graphically told on an ancient document, today luckily well preserved. This old times jewel could be described as a "comic strip". It constitutes a clear, pleasant and precious historical testimony. But was made by the winner side, and might lack of some accuracy. However, the sequence of events showed is obviously correct. Somehow, it looks like an attempt to show all that happened, and how they saw that. At the end it turned out to be an artistic work, of course expressed with the resources available by then. 

Bayeux Cathedral, Normandy, France. Photo: Urban, 2005
Lic. Creative Comm. Att. Share Alike 3.0 Unported

It is a hand embroidered piece of cloth about seventy meters long, and fifty centimeters wide. Exquisite and captivating, since medieval times was kept in the Cathedral of a small and beautiful city of Normandy, France. Is known as the Bayeux Tapestry, although it really is an embroidery and not a woven. Is a worth looking object, which is an open window to a past almost a thousand years away. Now, we may contemplate this wonder at the Musée de la Tapisserie, at the same city of Bayeux.

Castle of Rochester, UK. A Norman Building.
Photo: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent, 2011
Lic. Creative Comm. Att.3.0 Unported

We will stay longer to visit those times and places, carried along by the magic of that cloth... to become witnesses of some crucial events. Watching how England left the Scandinavian influence which seemed its destiny, so adquiring its own identity. It was a new course that would later lead to build a prominent nation, whose indelible marks are everywhere over this planet.



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