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Friday, 15 June 2012

The Story: Scene 2

Interpreting The Tapestry: Scene by Scene

Scene 2

And so Harold and his men arrive at Bosham. As previously discussed in my first post examining the BT scene by scene, Harold is off to Normandy to pay the Duke a visit and discuss terms for the release of his kin, however if we are looking at it from the Norman's point of view, Harold was on a misssion, sent by King Edward, to confirm his succession to the English crown upon Edward's death. Edward had been playing fools advocate for years it would seem, dangling the crown in front of various contenders. At the time of Harold's trip to Normandy, the Earl was at the height of his power, a man in his early forties, well experienced in diplomacy and administration as well as campaigning against the Welsh. He had recently put an end to King Gruffydd's harrassment of English lands along the borders by embarking on an invasion of Wales of the like he had not attempted before. In a joint enterprise with Tostig, his brother, Earl of Northumberland, he marched his army into the stonghold of Rhuddlan, forcing Gruffydd to flee into the wilds of Snowdonia whilst Harold, harrying the Welsh until they themselves murdered Gruffydd, sending his head to Harold as proof.
 I personally prefer to follow the story that Harold crossed the sea to Normandy with the sole intention of bringing home his relatives, Hakon and Wulfnoth. Mainly because this seems the most feesible rationale for him going and Eadmer, albeit a later chronicler, confirms it. I do not think that Edward had decided to send Harold on a mission to pass on his blessing and offer him the crown at all. Why would he endow his great nephew Edgar with the title of Atheling if he had intended William for the crown all along. And William was never referred to as Atheling or the heir to the English throne prior to his taking it. So imagine Harold arrives at the court of Normandy only to find that the Duke has ideas about his arrival there of his own.

So why did William believe he was the King of England's heir? He was not of the line of the Kings of Wessex and there were others who might have been more qualified after all. Edward had his nephews, Ralph who died in 1057 and would have been out of the running by the 1060's, and Walter de Mantes who dies in the captivity of the Duke of Normandy along with his wife. Young Edgar the Atheling, grandson of Edward's older brother Edmund Ironside. Edgar would have had a far better claim than William. A clue, in fact, lies in the Anglo Saxon chronicle. Chronicle D claims that in the entry for 1051, Duke William came with a large contingent of 'French' men and was recieved by King Edward. It says no more than a few cursory words and says nothing about discussing the succession  with him. Historians have been known to wrangle over the validity of this claim as it is only mentioned in Chronicle D and not any of the others. Some have suggested that this possibly never happened and was a late entry to help promote William's actions as justifiable. It has been noted that there were reasons to believe that this visit did not take place: one of them is that it was likely that William's difficulties in Normandy at this time would have made it impossible for him to come to England and it is curious as to why contemporary Norman sources made no note of it either.  However later, it was claimed that in this meeting, (as goes the Norman propaganda machine) that the offer of an heirdom took place. So, if we look at the previous events, it is plausible to imagine that scenario did take place and let's face it,William cannot have plucked the idea out of thin air. There  must have  been some basis for it.    

So what did happen before William's visit to his second cousin in 1051? This is the back-story according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicles: At mid-lent, 1051, as there was now a vacancy for the Archbishop of Canterbury's job, Edward called his council-meeting in London and advised them of his wish that his great friend and advisor, Robert Champart, former Abbot of Jumieges, should be given that post. It seems that Robert Champart may have put some noses out of joint when he came back from Rome with his pallium, because when Bishop Spearhavoc, whom Edward had promoted to Robert's see of London, approached him with the King's writ, Robert refused to consecrated him stating that the Pope had refused to let him do this. Spearhavoc was an outstanding artist whose engravings and paintings had brought him to the attention of the Godwins and the King. He may have been closely allied with the Queen. Why the Pope was against him being consecrated seems to be unknown and Robert was not about to go against the Pope in this just after recieving his pallium.

What follows appears to be a chain of events that may well be linked together. Count Eustace of Boulogne, brother-in-law of King Edward for his marriage to Goda, Edward's sister, came across the sea to visit with Edward. Chronicle E states that he

           ".....he turned to the king and spoke with him about what he wanted, and
                 then turned homeward....when he was some miles or more this side of Dover,
                 he put on his mail coat   and all his companions and went to Dover."

This sounds like Eustace was looking for trouble. He was and it was to have consequences thereafter for Godwin Earl of Wessex and his family. The men of Dover took a dislike to the way that Eustace and his followers demanded hospitality from them and when one of his men wanted to lodge at the house of a man against his will, the Frenchman attacked and wounded him. He found himself at the end of the householder's rage and the Englishman killed him. A fight in the town ensued after the householder was then killed by Eustace and his men and the French killed 20 townsmen and they themselves lost 19 of their own.

Eustace and his men rode out of Dover to report to the King of the indignities that had been inflicted upon them. Edward was apparently aflame with anger. Now Dover was in the jurisdiction of Earl Godwin and Earl Godwin was a thorn in the King's side. He ordered Godwin to punish Dover by ravaging their homes and Godwin, most likely having heard the side of the townsfolk, refused. Does this actually sound like the pious, gentle Confessor we later know him as?
Edward rallied all his loyal thegns and earls to him and Godwin and his sons did also. There was a standoff and still Godwin refused to punish the men of Dover. Eventually, some of his men deserted him and went over to Edward, probably because they did not wish for there to be a civil war in the country. The Godwins were given a few days to leave. Godwin and his sons Swein,Tostig, Gyrth and his wife Gytha, fled to Bruges. Harold went with his younger brother Leofwine to Bristol and took  Swein's ship to Ireland after a storm cost them the lives of some of their follwers. It was around this time that the Godwin boys Hakon and Wulfnoth were most likely handed over to the King as hostages.  

This event would also have a negative consequence for the Queen, (who was also a Godwin) and perhaps the priestly goldsmith, Spearhavoc. The Queen was stripped of all her wealth and banished to a nunnery, although she had evaded this for awhile.  Robert most likely urged him to put her away for being a Godwin, and urged the King to look elsewhere for a wife. As for Spearhavoc, it could be that Robert knew something about his character that others didn't, for after carrying out his duties in the see for months with Edward's permission and without consecration, according to the Chronicle E, Spearhavoc was then driven out of the bishopric; but not before, according to the Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis, he gathered all the gold and jewels he had been comissioned with from the King to fashion some regalia for him, in many bags and made off abroad with them never to be seen again.  Perhaps his patrons Godwin and Queen Edith had argued with Robert Champart against expelling Spearhavoc from the bishopric and this might have annoyed the King immensely, stuck in the middle between them and his great friend Robert. He already had no particular liking for Godwin, for he still held Godwin responsible for the death of his brother Alfred over 15 years ago. When Eustace arrives  back to the scene, perhaps they concocted an elaborate plot to stir Godwin into defiance and give the king a good reason to be rid of him at last.

Please feel free to ask any questions of me and my theories.

Hope you have enjoyed the journey through the Bayeux Tapestry so far and will continue through this amazing journey.




Enna's writan uppe said...

One of the biggest overlooked facts in this whole story is the French site, I feel we should mainly look at France. William was considered a bastard, a thorn in the French interest. Because since generations Normandy was considered as a land of barbarians – Vikings, Northmen, Pagans of the North. On the other hand, France the true genuine heir of the great Roman empire and culture. The first French kings saw themselves as the descendants of the noble Trojans. Charlemagne was seen as the New David and France the New Jerusalem. It controlled Europe by waging war, politics and family & marriage links right across most of Europe’s a good number of noble families. However, the most dangerous fact was that they also control the Vatican and the Pope's politics. And this was for William a serious problem, he must have known and understood that the might of the French rulers one day could crash him and his little slip of land along the coast of France. England on the other hand was a rich land, well organised and it was (and is) a natural fortress. An island that only can be taken by those who had a good enough navy and a well equipped landing force. Plus the strategic position of the island, stretching right along the European coasts gave anyone ruling it a huge domination over the sea trading, harbours. William most have realised this, so I guess this may have been William's biggest and only reason to wanted the English throne. It was bare survival – the best shot he had to counter French politics set to destroy him. Finding an excuse - to guise this as all warlords need some kind of moral justification to start a war or invade someone else’s country or just take the throne other than by birthright – is not that hard. Anything – as stupid or trivial it may seem – is deemed good enough. And I guess that is why it so hard to find the right reason he believed he should have the throne - it‘s are all pretext. And pretexts are never really that solid or believable. And for that many and inconsistent – depending on when and for whom they have been made up for. In those times few could write or read, those who did often were scribes in service of their lordship or his lordship himself. So it was easy to replace ‘history’ with ‘propaganda’ – even right till today regimes, presidents use spin doctors to tell us what they want us to thing, believe what happened and the so-called reasons. It nice to dig into this history trying to find the ‘excuses’ William used to claim his right on the throne. That way we may find old gems back about small histories within the history – bring the period alive and understand it better. But to find William’s reasons why he believed he had a right to rule England are a bit of a wild goose chase. As they must be phony – he just took what he needed to gain more sway, counter the French attempts to get rid of him and get a bit more fortune and spending money for his wars! By the way enjoy reading this its well researched and interesting!

Enna's writan uppe said...

Sorry I overlooked a few spelling mistakes in my comment --- I should have writen it first in word or so where I have a better over view --- and I can't find an edite button!

paulalofting said...

No problem Enna, thanks very much for your comment. You're right, William would have seen possession of England as strengthening his own position which would eventually have been quite isolated. The main point I wanted to make here was how did William legitemise his claim to the English throne when his connections to it were so tenuous. After all, he needed to convince a lot of people (not only just the English) including the Pope that he was entitled to it. He couldn't just say, "I need to empower myself a bit more." He would have had to come up with something quite convincing. I hope you'll read the next post next week and find out more about this.

Enna's writan uppe said...

I will be looking forward to this indept search to his excuses --- I just wanted to point out that he may have used trivial excuses to cover for his politic move to establish himself as a more powerful ruler. I know this part of history but by far not so good as you and for this I only could comment on his true reasons that was his struggle to keep the French from disposing of him. He also married the daughter of the Count of Flanders - sworn enimies of France. I live in the Flemish part of Belgium so that fact & event is very much highlighted in our history books! It changed the course of history not only for us - she becoming queen of England. But also for the British islands. As his French links made that William and his off spring imported a lot of feuds of Europe into Britian. And that France lived in fear of being over run by a far more powerful English king. That is the mean reason they supported latter the Scotish and Irish - as they believed a United Kingdom could stem their sway over Europe. And indeed the decline of French power started with Waterloo 1815 - well after the United Kingdom become a fact! So this part of history is indeed one of the most important ages in Europe history and his politics should be more in the mind of people as then they may better understand Europe today. So keep the good work up!