My Battle of Hastings - part three

The narrative continues

It must be understood that, to begin with, the invaders were rather apprehensive: Until a propitious event bolstered their religious faith and thus their fighting spirit considerably.

There was a knight amongst the duke's household, a champion, who could perhaps restore the army's morale with a little demonstration. His name was Taillefer -- "cut iron" -- and he was also a singer of songs and a performer of acrobatic feats (a "mummer" the Carmen calls him). He rode forward now before both armies, juggling with his sword, all the while controlling his horse with great skill, riding up close to the English and taunting them. Soon an English warrior stepped from the ranks and raised his shield and throwing-spear. Taillefer spurred his horse and lowered his lance. The English champion cast the javelin, which the Norman caught on his shield. His own lance pierced his foe's shield and the body behind. Getting off his horse, Taillefer took the head of his victim, and, remounting, held it high for all to see. His comrades raised a cry of joy, calling upon God, and as he rejoined the ranks the trumpets sounded for the attack to commence.(65)

According to the Carmen, the famous feigned-flight of the Norman chivalry was actually performed only once during the battle, and that was by prior arrangement with the French right wing.(66) This is totally believable and in agreement with critics who say that such a maneuver was too risky and difficult to perform impromptu on the battlefield.(67) Apparently, duke William had arranged with count Eustace for the feigned flight to take place during the all-out first assault. And so, after the marksmen had emptied their quivers to little effect and withdrawn out of the way, the spearmen and knights went forward and fought with the English all along the line.(68) The French chivalry, according to plan, retreated down the hill in disorder. And just as William had hoped, the English left surged out of their ranks by the hundreds in pursuit. Gyrth may not have given the command to pursue, but if he did, it would fit the character of a youthful, inexperienced and overconfident warrior, who was already accustomed to winning -- and it was Gyrth, let it be remembered, who had had the courage to advise his royal elder brother to let him lead the English army in an attack upon duke William's camp, so that Harold could not be accused of further breaking his oaths;(69) and also Gyrth's advice had been to use a scorched-earth policy to deny the French any provisions.(70) There is no doubt, that the rustica gens pursued the fleeing enemy with glee. They could hardly have done so from the rear ranks, unless the front ranks -- those with "naked swords" -- set out in pursuit first.

But a piece of bad luck almost ruined everything for William: the Breton left had got into real difficulties as they made their attack. The ground there was the most gentle slope, but something about the terrain broke up the Breton formations, vitiating their cohesion. Perhaps the weakness of his right had prompted Harold to reinforce it by digging trenches (This presumes, of course, that he had time: and he would have had, only if beforehand he planned to fight there and during the night had men up very early at work with spades); the rustics of Sussex and Kent, awaiting their king's arrival, had woven mantlets out of saplings and set them up before their lines.(71) Also, perhaps in olden times the scrub growing on Battle hill was thicker, and as the Breton foot negotiated around the growth their formations were disordered; their return fire as they advanced was weak in reply to the massed missile fire showered into them by the waiting English. Before they had even quite arrived at hand strokes, the Breton foot were breaking for the rear, carrying the knights before them. Almost to a man, the English right advanced in pursuit of their enemies.(72) Leofwin, younger than Gyrth and perhaps equally impulsive, may have given the command to chase down the Bretons: if so, his disobedience of Harold's orders was more justified by a real rout.

Meanwhile, William's Normans, facing the best English troops in the center, and having the roughest slope to climb, were the most challenged of all.(73) While they battled, William perhaps was about to ride as planned and quickly complete the cutting-off and destruction of the English left: but he saw the Bretons being driven and chased down the western slopes of the hill, and William could not at once ride to support the French attack and go to the rescue of his Breton allies. While he struggled to make up his mind, his own Normans above on the hillside felt the pressure upon their exposed flanks and began to fall back. Soon the duke's entire army, save his reserve cavalry only, was withdrawing or in rout.

The duke did the only thing left to him: he rode forward with his reserve to confront his own people. With the papal banner at his side, and with his helmet off and hauberk thrown back on his shoulders, so he could be easily recognized, the furious and desperate duke met the foremost of his fleeing troops with the shaft of his lance and his fists when that broke in his hand. The presence of his reserve riding up to them served to check the main part of the routing knights, who had outdistanced the footmen. William's voice was recognized by those nearby. The rest of his men hollered at the Normans and the rout was stayed. The heavy infantry saw the knights turn around and they too ceased to flee. Besides, a look back at the English line showed that they had not pursued: the Dragon of Wessex and the Fighting Man still floated on the October breeze, way up on the crown of Santlache hill. The housecarles held their ground. With a fresh lance in hand, William marshaled his men back into their ranks.

Perhaps before this was quite accomplished, word came that the French were retreating too. Their response to the English pursuit had been an immediate turn-about and a fierce attack. Most of the geneats and ceorls either ran or perished. Gyrth and the core of his best troops had then reformed in a close order phalanx and defended stoutly where they stood: this was likely far down the slopes of the hill. But when the French saw the Normans falling back discomfitted, they knew that something had gone seriously wrong with the duke's plans. A rumor started that he was dead,(74) and the French then broke off their attempts to defeat the English of the left wing. They were still withdrawing toward Telham hill, when the duke appeared, riding hard across their front, with the papal banner flying over his bared head. He remonstrated with them and by force of rhetoric, personality and the restored Norman situation -- as the French could observe for themselves -- he stopped them from quitting the field. As he so logically pointed out: where, after all, did they hope to flee? The coast was a long way off, and the English fleet lay between them and France.

The situation then stood thus: The English main force still held the hill; the Bretons were yet in difficulties, having been pursued -- horse and foot together -- right over the hillock behind them and into the marshy ground of the Asten brook, and there the fight raged, all confusion, that slowly favored the English; the French had returned to the battle and, with duke William personally leading them, faced down the surviving elements of Gyrth's command; the Normans of the center were reformed and now under the command of William's half-brothers, Robert and Odo. This is what king Harold must have been able to see clearly enough from his vantage point, as he stood his ground.

By his lack of aggressive action, he shows us that his whole plan had been to fight a defensive battle. All he had to do was stop the Normans and survive to win. His army would grow stronger daily, while William's grew weaker. The king's brothers had disobeyed orders and impetuously attacked, thus weakening the defensive position; but Harold must have trusted his original battle plan still. It was getting late in the afternoon, if we allow that the main attack came later than is usually thought, and if we add in the time it must have taken to sort out William's scattered troops:(75) Harold could expect to hold out to nightfall, especially if he was receiving occasional reinforcement from late-arriving fyrd on foot. To go on the offensive, moreover, must have looked like a tenuous proposition: the Bretons were not utterly vanquished, the French had turned the tables on Gyrth's men and killed many of them -- the rest were on the defensive and cut off from their brethren on the hill; William still had horsemen under his control when the Normans first routed, as Harold could well observe from his command post. To commit his whole army to an attack upon the fleeing Normans would have been rash, since many of them were mounted and could wrap his flanks or ride in upon his men once their phalanx had loosened from their forward movement. (He recalled, no doubt, the advantage his men had had three weeks before, when Harald Hardrada had broken from his shield-ring to attack the English, how the mounted fyrdmen had been able to swiftly ride in close and break the Vikings up further with javelins and bows at close range.) And there was no certainty that the Breton horsemen would not do as the French had already done and suddenly give fight: Perhaps cavalry had been sent from the rallied Norman center; or the fighting there, for whatever reason, had become so scattered that to send aid would have effected nothing: so the Bretons and English were left to themselves and played no further part in the significant fighting that remained. His brothers' plight must have been very hard on the king, but England's peril was more important, and his actions both before and during the battle show that Harold's main concern was with his duty. He would not let himself go to the aid of his younger brothers at the expense of a more certain victory. So Harold stayed put.

With the duke at their head, the French and Norman charges against the English left were furious. But so was their resistence. Up on the hill, the Normans renewed their assaults and met with still harder fighting: the English had merely to wait, while the Normans had to negotiate the rising and rough ground each time they moved in to attack. The treacherous footing over fallen bodies, the maddened horses thrashing on the ground or plunging out of control, made the chaos and nightmare worse: the axes of the housecarles lopped off limbs and heads at a single stroke; armor gave scant protection to such heavy blows, while javelins transfixed men on either side and swords spilt viscera upon the ground. In between attacks, the duke's marksmen would creep in closer and plague the English with missiles: shields bristled with broken off shafts. Wounds streamed. Men cried out all over the field where they lay stricken. The shrill screams of horses drowned the fighting.

At the height of the conflict where duke William fought, a javelin brought his horse down. According to the Carmen, it was cast by young Gyrth himself, and William furiously attacked the earl in single combat, killing him, hewing him limb from limb.(76) The battle raged around the duke, as the English sought to finish him where he stood, and his own men sought equally to come to his aid. William's prowess was a match for the circumstances: He wounded and slew many who tried to kill him. A knight of Maine was riding near the slaughter, and William waved him over with his gore-clotted sword. But the man was terrified of being cut down if he dismounted; so he pretended to not hear and tried to ride on. William wasted no time at all in seizing the craven knight by the nasal of his helm and pitching him from the saddle. He mounted up in his stead and renewed his leading of fresh attacks upon the dwindling English shield-wall. A certain housecarle of Gyrth's, known only as the son of Helloc (Havelock or Haruc), awaited his chances, and when William came within range cast a javelin at him. Again the duke's horse was killed and himself thrown heavily to the ground. He was stunned, to have lost two horses on the same field, and, furious at his bad luck, stood on his feet and determined to avenge his steed. The man was pointed out to the duke, lurking in the press of the English who still resisted in a body. The duke rushed upon Hellocson and ripped him open so that his dirt fell out upon the gore-spattered grass. Then he raged into the ranks of the English, slaying left and right. Count Eustace found him there, and dismounted so the duke could mount up. A knight of Boulogne did the same for his lord. Then the last of the English went down in death to a man where they stood.

Looting had already started. English peasants were stripping the dead of arms and armor. All duke William's men were committed to the battle on the steeps of the hill, where king Harold yet resisted effectively. But his formation was riven through and up there it was all one prolonged slaughterhouse on either hand.

Duke William was then riding across the bottom slopes, evidently intending to bring succor to his Breton allies, when a view of the battle above altered his plans at once. Up there his Normans were being done to death by Harold and his housecarles. The king was hewing his enemies in pieces, and evidently William could pick out his rival with his own eyes. The daylight was almost gone, it was growing dark. William took the conrois (77) of Eustace, Hugh of Ponthieu and a member of the Giffard clan(78) with him and rode around the battle to the rear of the English center. The rest of the French he dispatched under the command of William fitz Osbern, his seneschal, to help the Bretons. Then, in position to charge, William led his men into the English ranks and split them apart. Evidently, if the Carmen faithfully reports a story retold to bishop Guy by eyewitnesses, William ran Harold through with his lance, piercing the shield and breast together (indicating by this small detail that the king fought at that last moment with sword and shield, and not a broadaxe; although axe and shield is certainly a possibility, especially for a powerful man like Harold Godwinson); the next warrior to reach the king smote off his head below the helmet; the third ran him through the belly with his lance. A fourth blow was delivered, one that would have been quite impossible unless the knight first dismounted: Either Eustace, "Gilfardus" or Hugh cut off Harold's thigh and rode off with it.(79) The motivation behind this was so atrocious, that William later banished the man from the army. The story is replete with gory details, and William has the chief part in Harold's end. But no other original account -- except perhaps the Bayeux Tapestry -- even alludes to any such personal vendetta accomplished by the duke's own hand.(80)

But the king may have already been sorely wounded before the blows which dismembered him. There are many who believe that the Tapestry story shows Harold first being wounded in the face with an arrow, and then cut down by the sword of a mounted knight.(81) If this is so, then Harold's end is even more pitiable. He could not even defend himself when his enemies finally closed in upon him in overwhelming numbers.

With king Harold dead at last, resistance quickly collapsed. What fighting remained was around his body, as his housecarles fought stubbornly on to avenge him. At length, even they retreated to the woods in the near darkness, fighting as they went. Many likely chose to fight and die where their lord had gone down.

As the remnants of the English army reached the trees, at the edge of the Andresweald, they turned back and repulsed the first attempt of the Norman cavalry to pursue them in the almost-pitch darkness. The reason was that quite a number of knights had fallen foul of the ravines behind Santlache hill. The English butchered them where they lay on the ground. But William ordered the pursuit to continue. The chore was assumed by count Eustace (but see note 82). Then the duke had his tent erected upon the field of the dead and slept.

The moon did not come out until after midnight, so it is not likely that Eustace and the pursuit got much effective killing in until at least then. He returned somewhat after dawn, bearing wounds.(82)

Harold's body was unrecognizable. There is a story that his mistress, Edith Swan-neck, came and pointed out a body as that of her lover. His two brothers were found not far away;(83) evidence usually believed to deny that they could have been in charge of the wings of the army: but with all the lulls in the fighting to rest and regroup, I have no trouble believing that the chivalry of the Normans allowed Gyrth's and Leofwin's corpses to be born back up the hill to their brother. Once the king's body had been recovered, William sent the remains in the care of a knight of his -- William Malet, whose parentage was both English and Norman, and who had been a friend to Harold -- to be buried under a pile of stones, over-looking the bay at Hastings. Though Harold's mother offered to buy the body of her son for its weight in gold, the duke refused in anger. He had Malet put an inscription on the cairn:

"By command of the duke, O Harold, here you rest a king

That you may still be guardian of the shore and sea."

Duke William, lamenting beside the grave because of what he and Harold had both lost, then gave alms to the poor and departed bearing the royal title. After looting the dead of serviceable weaponry and armor, they buried their own and marched away, leaving the English corpses strewn for the carrion fowls and dogs.

The significance of the battle

By Christmas day, William the Conqueror was king of England, a title he held for the last twenty years of his life. With his victory at Hastings, the power to resist seemed taken out of the Anglo-Saxon nobility. A fatalism seemed to possess them and vitiated every attempt they made, alone or in conjunction with William's enemies -- of which he had many -- to throw off the Franco-Norman yoke. Every rebellion came to naught. With an iron hand William ruled a people who respected him and hated the sound of his name. Seldom, if ever, has so much been gained by a single victory in the field. His descendants sit upon the throne of England to this day.

The battle of Hastings is unusual in all aspects. Its length, the nature of the armies which fought, and the backing of one side so heavily by the church.(84) The victors were on the edge of losing badly much of the day, but barely succeeded. The deaths of the Godwinson brothers has to rank as an unparalleled example of very bad luck: or, as contemporaries saw it, the hand of God. A discussion of the battle from the technical stand point would not have occurred to them. Only in the last two hundred years or so has the wisdom of learned men discounted what generations took for granted: that God had willed that the English be ruled by the Franco-Normans.

The Norman victory seems so obvious to us, but before the battle of Hastings gave duke William his goal the whole enterprise was the greatest gamble: England's manpower was thrice that of Normandy's -- including William's vassal states -- and as a governed populace the English were superior to the infantile feudal states of western Europe.(85) Based upon this common knowledge, there was no sane reason for William to expect to win. Yet he went ahead without an outward qualm or hesitation. Perhaps his mind-set is best expressed by "himself" in the following fictitionalized lines:

"My mother had a dream ere I was born.

She thought a tree grew from her womb.

It cast its shade over all Normandy and towered up,

Shadowing France and England.

Women dream true at such times.

I am he whom God appointed."(86)

Without such certainty he could not have done what he did. Without this utter belief in himself as the instrument of destiny, he would have lacked that spiritual or "fey" quality which moves men to do the impossible.

The whole Conquest lacks anything of the duke's previous caution and prudence. His pride has been offered as the prime motive which impelled him.(87) But like his anger, pride alone could never have sustained his moments of self-doubt. At some point, others would have sensed the shallowness of his reasoning for making war with England: while he was recruiting his army and trying to convince men to follow him; during the long waiting in camp on the Dives and the Somme; during his abortive crossing between-times: and certainly after the army had come to England and William stumbled to the sand when disembarking, which was viewed by some as a bad omen; then the army soon heard of Harold's great victory over the Norse; on the morning of battle when William laughed off the reversing of his hauberk as a bad omen ("Thus shall my dukedom be turned into a kingdom," he is supposed to have said, as he rearmed -- William of Malmesbury); and finally, during the battle itself, if he had entertained any doubts of the "righteousness" of his cause he would never have allowed himself to test God's favor with a meeting of champions; he could not have held his army together during the "crisis" stage, for he would have succumbed to fear at some point. The motives of pride, anger, avarice and ambition can only begin to explain William's peculiar single-mindedness. Only an inner feeling, unflagging and real, that he was doing the right thing, could have kept him at the task through all the difficulties and apparent setbacks, and the allaying of the fears of those around him. William's confidence seems quite as real and at least as looming a factor in his victory at Hastings as the vaunted advantage of cavalry and arrows over a static infantry line.(88)

Where such confidence originates is perhaps a subject for the metaphysical theorist. Certainly, medieval men did not openly question the existence of God; most men of that distant time did not even have the question enter their heads if we are to judge by the literature that has come down to us. Perhaps William's incredible self confidence, as he prepared for and embarked upon his conquest of England, was the fruit of a subconscious awareness of his "calling" or destiny. If it was a form of megalomania, then at least such mental illnesses are known to be physically caused: but back then madness was either caused by the devil and his demons or by God to suit his inscrutable purposes. No taint of madness attaches to William of Normandy in any of the literary sources of his day. After the fact of his conquest, of course, he was seen by everyone as a winner. And it was the English who were being punished by William and his "Frenchmen" as the instruments of God.

Although at the time it must have appeared to Englishmen under Norman rule that God had punished them, yet the groundwork was being laid for a future emancipation of the common man. English culture and her system of laws are still "conquering" the modern world. Although like Egypt of old -- whose culture ruled in the Mediterranean world -- Britain has faded into a minor player, yet greater forces born of her have taken up the baton of democracy that began there with the Norman Conquest. I am approaching "democracy" from the standpoint of hindsight, of course. This is perhaps the most arguable "fact" of the Norman Conquest: that under the strengthened Anglo-Norman monarchy England government became representative in ways that would never have occurred had the old "Teutonic" Anglo-Saxon form not been both overthrown and inculcated into the new kingdom.

The kingdoms of England had been pulled further into the Scandinavian sphere ever since the establishment of the Danelaw. The brief interim of Edward the Confessor's reign had effected nothing of English mores other than to increase their natural dislike of French influences upon them. The English people welcomed Harold Godwinson as their champion and king. Anglo-Norman chroniclers who claim that he was not supported by very many in the day of battle are referring to a late development: a combination of the discovery that he was excommunicated and England under the ban of Rome, and his furious determination to attack at once, which must have seemed to many as evidence that he was in some fatalistic frame of mind brought on by a guilty conscience. Had Harold won the battle of Hastings, there is every reason to suppose that England would have continued on as before, largely allied to those Danish and Norse political and familial ties which the Godwinson family naturally followed. England's culture would have leant strength to the Scandinavian -- only recently Christianized -- and the Scandinavian would have reciprocated. That in itself would have altered the future in ways that can only be imagined.

For one thing, under their present "Teutonic" system, there was a large slave population in England. They had slipped into perpetual servitude over generations: some from indentures, some because of penury, most because of being ruined by the numerous invasions and raids of the Vikings. Although originally of the citizenry, for the most part, thralls became legal property upon the estates where they lived. They could not own land or leave without permission; they could only marry whom and when their lords permitted; they held no status outside of the bondage contract and their lord had jurisdiction over them in their relationships to him and others: in short, he was judge and jury to them (unless a third party was involved, then the lord would deliver up his thrall or slave to the justice of the shire or royal court). Based upon Domesday studies, thralls may have amounted to 10 percent of the population in England at the time of the Conquest.(89) Without the Norman Conquest, England would not have been drawn into the mainstream politics of the continent and slavery would have continued there and in Scandinavia. The Conquest, therefore, hastened -- or brought about with certainty -- the death of paganism and the spread of Christianity, which abhorred (at least in principle) the practice of slavery.

In the generation following the Conquest virtually none of the thegnhood kept the rights to their lands. The manors were assumed by William's knights and barons. The only Englishmen to notice a difference in the state of things were, therefore, those who had belonged to the more affluent citizenry: cottars, bordars(90) and thralls had no reason to assume that a change of masters would set them free, and it didn't. But the landholding citizens, especially those of wealth and nobility, tended to retain their free status and became a class of free peasants -- and their former nobility, if any, was not recognized by the new Franco-Norman aristocracy.

The Conquest gave the kings of England greater central authority and power than the other kings of Europe. Under the Plantagenets,(91) manorial peasants -- by far the majority -- were by law and custom recognized as under the jurisdiction of their landholders for all cases relating between them, thus retaining the old Anglo-Saxon custom of local government by local leaders. But there were too many peasants whose freedom was well attested, tracing right back to the Conquest. And townsmen of the boroughs, a growing class, were exempt from manorial law. It was awareness of these inequities, and the growing power of the classes that belonged outside any system of manorial jurisprudence, that no doubt prompted the barons who compiled Magna Carta to make few distinctions between nobles and the gentry (the growing "middle-class" of commoners, which included the rustic knights of the shires); and none of those distinctions involved the restriction of basic civil rights.

Had the Normans never conquered there is no reason to suppose that the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish nobility would have felt any need to alter the status quo. The new Anglo-Norman dynasty certainly never thought of liberation of anyone. It was only the combined pressures of the free towns, a peasantry which regarded themselves as freemen and the growing -- resented and feared -- power of the Angevin kings that brought about the synthesis at last. Free peasants and townsmen could not be made to give up their rights to trial by their peers; nor recognize as just any attempts to limit their freedom of movement (thus item 42 in Magna Carta claiming the right to come and go lawfully). The barons were only concerned for their own rights; but London was a powerful ally and filled with commoners who very much knew what civil rights were owed them. Combined together, they brought king John to heel. Once his seal ratified the Great Charter the true march to democracy had begun. No king after him was allowed to utterly forget what his predecessor had signed as an admission (definition) of the restrictions the law imposed on the sovereign.

The long process resulted in the mid 13th century in the creation of Parliament as a representative body for the nobility, and even the gentry and burgesses of the towns. Parliament was a permanent phenomenon by the beginning of the 14th century. As Sir Winston Churchill says it:

The actual powers of Parliament [at this time] would be very hard to define. Broadly, its consent is necessary to give legal sanction to any substantial act of authority: an important change of ancient custom can only be effected by Act of Parliament; a new tax can only be levied with the approval of the Commons. What more it can do the unfolding of time will show. But its authority is stabilised by a series of accidents. Edward III needed money for his French wars. Henry IV needed support for his seizure of the crown. And in the Wars of the Roses both the contending parties wanted some sort of public sanction for their actions, which only Parliament could provide.

Thus when in the fifteenth century the baronial structure perished in faction and civil war there remained not only the Crown, but the Crown in Parliament, now clearly shaped into its two divisions, the Lords sitting in their own right, and the Commoners as representatives of the shires and boroughs.(92)

So perhaps Freeman was right after all. If you get rid of his racial prejudice, his view of Englishmen rising to their (then) modern glory as common freemen -- in spite of the French and their invasion -- seems like a rational explanation. (93) Even today, people who view the story of the Norman Conquest passionately divide along the same line: on the one hand, the Normans infuzed the English "race" with new blood, making the British empire possible; on the other hand, the English people would have pursued such greatness without the "French interruption". There really is no way to settle the argument, since we have no method of viewing alternate history. But what is unarguable is that the battle of Hastings forms the violent pivot point when the future, whatever it was to be, hung in the balance.

Appendix for wargamers

Here are some suggestions on how -- after much experience -- to successfully refight Hastings on the table top. By "successfully," I do not infer that your refights should produce historical results every time, or even a majority of the time. From the original narratives, it is obvious that the duke, the king and his two brothers were in great danger throughout the battle: the Godwinsons all died -- certainly an unlikely thing -- and William could have easily also, at any time his horses were killed under him. Should the English win outright, usually it is because too many of the duke's troops run away at a crucial moment and the English pursue vigorously; or, duke William is killed. Even if the English are beaten from the field, having just one of the Godwinsons survive to fight another day produces, in effect, a Norman failure. Sometimes the dice will favor one side: this is the result of using probability and outcome. You should know the mathematical odds beforehand, and can tell when the dice are "behaving" strangely. Over the long run, results even out. But if your refights of Hastings consistently favor one side more often than the other, then perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the rules you use. (See the mathematical model using our rules, below.)

First off, the terrain need not be elaborate. A sizeable hill some 60" long -- at a scale of 1" equals ten yards -- will represent the 250' contour. You can consider the entire hill area as rough terrain, prohibiting cavalry from charging. In the extreme rear, the slope prohibits cavalry from passage at all. The flanks below the 250' contour are wooded, further restricting heavy cavalry from entry. Spearmen also cannot enter such wooded ground. And a scattering of broken woods in front of the English right will make the Breton attack difficult. Infantry can run downhill, or along the top of Battle hill where the slope is gentlest. While infantry units are uphill they are benefitted by gravity (see note 73).

Next, the missile fire element is vitally important. The rules you use should never allow the invaders to sit off safely and shaft the English into oblivion. Two factors will realistically limit duke William's marksmen: ammo supply and the relatively low effectiveness of the weapons employed.

Although there is good reason to call the bows of the 11th century "longbows," based on their evident length, still we would be wrong to assume a level of effectiveness equal to the bows later employed by the English armies in the Hundred Year's War. The reason is largely because of the way they were used. Duke William gathered up archers from the duchy and every other source he could pull together. By far the majority of these marksmen were not warriors, or even militia, but peasant hunters. They lacked the training in dense order and volley fire that the archers of later-England trained for weekly from their youth. The bows themselves were very similar to longbows, but to keep the problem of reloading quivers workable they would have had to draw a standard weight of around 50 pounds: the hand-picked longbow-men of the Hundred Year's War were the best of the best, pulling a bow of 70 pounds or even more. William of Normandy had no luxury of recruiting his marksmen from such a large pool of trained militia.

In shield-wall, the English are hard to bring down. Those without armor, but bearing shields (light infantry), can only begin to be effected by bow fire within c. 150 yards; troops wearing some form of body armor and head protection (medium infantry) are harder still, and can only be effected by bow fire within 100 yards; while heavy troops, such as the best thegns and the housecarles, when they are locked up in a tight shield-wall cannot be appreciably effected by bow fire outside of 50 yards. Crossbows can be considered a whole "range band" more effective than the bows, and within 50 yards are truly deadly. But they may not move and shoot at the same time like bows can. (In our rules, crossbows that are walking fire every-other turn, while bows can walk and fire on every turn.)

The gaming range of massed hand missile fire is 50 yards. But this is only possible if the throwing unit is moving forward -- at a walk or run for infantry, and at a trot or run for cavalry. If the unit throws without moving toward the target, the range is reduced to 30 yards and the effectiveness is reduced as well. Thus, if the invader marksmen try to get close for real effective shooting, they will be within range of all those English hand missiles. This was the problem in the actual battle, and William of Poitiers graphically describes the return English fire as a "deadly hail." There was no way the invaders could match it with their own javelineers, who were far less numerous. Where duke William was superior in his long range weapons to the English, they were superior employers of the old Teutonic tactics of hand missile fire. The knights too can throw their javelin or lance/javelin: but horses cannot pack tightly like infantry do, and in the majority of cases where mounted knights attempt a duel with the English using javelins the knights will get the worst of it. Finally, although the spears and lances used in hand-to-hand combat are capable of being thrown, they can only be used this way if the unit has not already engaged in hand-to-hand combat. If the unit has used their spears/lances in the melee, then too many of them are broken or otherwise lost for the unit to have them later as missiles.

The effect of heavier English troops being in front of the lesser armed is to raise them one armor class: thus, for example, if light geneats are standing behind medium or heavy thegns and housecarles, the geneats receive incoming missile fire as thought they were mediums.

As for ammo supply, yes, William had brought along reloads for his marksmen's quivers. But such needed to be brought up and distributed; or else the marksmen retired and then returned to the front after rearming. To run out of ammo, a unit will spend three turns shooting, then each turn of shooting after this roll 2d6: a roll of 2 after the fourth turn of shooting will run the unit out of ammo: the fifth turn of shooting will do the same if a 2-3 is rolled: six turns of shooting and 2-4 will empty the quivers of the unit. You get the idea. When the unit is out, it retires to the rear edge of the table. (You, the invading duke, may not order your marksmen into hand-to-hand combat. They may defend with side arms if attacked, but that is all.)

Rearming would take time, which the invaders had little enough of to spare. Sundown was around 4 p. m. in late October (the battle was actually fought on the 20th, according to our current, corrected, calendar). The invader missiles should, therefore, only be replenished twice, and then it will be too late to do so again before it gets too dark to keep fighting. So the game can be fought in a maximum of three phases. The first phase takes us up to noon or a little later. The second phase represents mid afternoon to evening. The final, third phase (if there is one) will go for ten turns; and each turn thereafter roll 1d6: a 5-6 brings on darkness and an end to hostilities. (Some fighting continued "when the stars came out," but it was not anything more than a slogging match and very desultory with no command control.) At the beginning of the second or third phase, the missiles of both armies are replenished, and both get back 60% of their losses from the last phase: any troops who routed last phase -- and did not recover -- will also count as losses and only 60% of them will come back.

During each phase enough time has elapsed to allow the possibility of late arriving English fyrd. A roll of 1d6 = 5-6 will allow 500 fyrdmen to reinforce the English phalanx for the next phase: they should be three-fourths light geneats and one-fourth medium (or even light) thegns.

If the armies never disengage at all, then the battle will be ended in a matter of minutes, well under an hour. This almost happened historically, and only the English main force stubbornly remaining on their hill saved William's army from destruction. To reflect this, a strictly historical setup works best if you put all the active players on the Norman side. The English army is on "autopilot." That is, they will stay on their hill, in their phalanx, unless routing troops -- or feigned routing cavalry -- tempt them to pursue. This is handled by making a morale test (see endnote 72). If the English being tempted by fleeing -- or apparently fleeing -- enemies fail their test they pursue. They may test each turn to stop their pursuit. While pursuing, they will do so at full speed, and therefore their formation will fall into open order.

If the knights perform a feigned flight (rout) it must be done by prior arrangement. Historically -- according to the Carmen, at least -- it was the French knights of the right wing which executed the feigned flight. If any other feigned flight is attempted, all invader units which can see it must test their morale as though they were witnessing a real rout!

Should the Norman army break through any part of the English line, they will certainly face in all directions they are being threatened to keep their phalanx as intact as possible. But they will not move aggressively. They are allowed -- if given enough time -- to move toward Harold's center to maintain cohesion: otherwise, separated elements of the English army will stand where they are and "form square." However, units which are already engaged in hand-to-hand combat cannot form square; until such time as they find themselves unengaged, i. e. they eliminate or drive off their enemies.

Historically, statistically, units rout from suffering casualties anywhere between c. 17 to 25 percent (inclusive of dead, sorely wounded and routing). If they don't break by then, then suffering more losses seems to rarely make any further difference. In our rules we tend to give units the benefit of the doubt, and require a casualty morale check once at 25 percent losses (routed members count toward total casualties). The only other thing which will likely rout a unit is seeing friendlies running away. Test each time this occurs, but not for each individual case of a routing unit: i. e. if two or more units are seen to rout, still only one test is made for seeing friendlies routing this turn. The sole exception is the marksmen who, when they rout, are not doing anything less than is perhaps expected of them: spearmen and knights witnessing this will not check. If a marksmen unit routs, only other marksmen units which can see it will check morale. (Arguably, housecarles could be immune from checking when any other English units rout -- and if I had allowed this, then the anomaly of Harold's housecarles routing would not have happened, in that game I described above. Personally, I think housecarle morale is good enough that this will rarely happen, so I make no distinctions.) A unit can check to recover good morale if they find themselves not pursued and outside of charge range of an enemy unit which could pursue; and also, outside of effective enemy missile range. In our rules, a routing unit that can check to recover their morale is allowed three turns of testing -- if it doesn't leave the gaming table before then. After three checks, if the unit is still running away, it is now too dispersed to recover command control and the remaining figures are removed from the table.

Once units are engaged in hand-to-hand combat they are stuck there, unless routing away gets them safely out of reach. The only other exception is cavalry, which can withdraw from an ongoing combat.

If any of the figurines designated as duke William or the three Godwinsons are eliminated in battle, only William has a saving roll: Harold, Gyrth and Leofwin are all "unlucky" today: William's saving roll is 1d6 = 3-6. If he lives, then it was his horse which was killed. Remove a proximate cavalry figure instead of duke William's.

The matter of fatigue is frequently mentioned, and nearly always applied more heavily to the English side than the Norman. The reasons given are: the knights shared the fatigue between horse and man; the housecarles bore the brunt of the fighting all day and therefore grew tired faster; the Norman infantry were mercenaries and could rotate their attacks, giving units a chance to catch a breather. But I think fatigue was equal across the field and should therefore be largely ignored. Surely, horses and men grew so weary that by the end of the day they could barely place one foot before another or wield their weapons. The English had withstood numerous attacks, but had not had to move at all. The Normans had been compelled to trudge up the hill each time they attacked. This wore on the infantrymen and unmounted knights, and of course the horses. As the housecarles only shared the front ranks with thegns and the better geneats, the whole English army was equally stressed. Although the effectiveness of the warriors diminished, to reflect this is unnecessary since it was universal.

A mathematical model for a wargame of Hastings: The wargame rules you use should create probability that is collectively quite even. If you look at the diagram of the two armies -- with the individual bases shown to create the order of battle given on page 17 -- you will see how losses are removed according to the mean; there are no variables, such as dice rolls, considered.

A: After one turn of receiving bow and crossbow fire from a range of c. 80 yds, the English, in shield-wall, suffer c. 1.3% casualties; or two bases = 128 men per turn. (Remember, that by "casualties" we mean the dead as well as those wounded out of the fight and routed individuals.) If they stay in their shield-wall -- unhistorically -- they will suffer a total of 11 to 12% casualties by the time the marksmen run out of missiles. Naturally, with such accumulated damage occurring in their midst, it is now easy to see why they stepped forward and threw the "deadly hail" of their own hand missiles. (In this model I assumed the English stood and "took it" for three turns before they advanced and threw one round of hand missiles. An experienced player of Hastings won't waste any time getting shot up, knowing full well that he can destroy the invader marksmen as a fighting force with anything like average dice rolls.)

B: One round of exchanged missile fire -- the English are no longer in shield-wall when they advance and throw -- producing c. 5% casualties amongst the English; but the marksmen suffer a whopping 114% casualties. This positively drives them off the field with something like 29% permanent losses after they regroup. The total English casualties at this point are c. 9%.

C: The heavy infantry advance and throw. The English reply. In one turn, the attackers suffer 19% casualties: the English 11% (they are more numerous but vary in armor from unarmored to heavy: while all the invader spearmen are considered as heavies).

D: One round of hand-to-hand combat produces enough casualties to cause three-fourths of the attacking heavy infantry to check morale (at 25%); while one of the two English wings must now check morale for casualties -- probably the right, but possibly the left: the center is too heavily-armed to have suffered 25% losses as yet, but they are getting close.

E: The odds say the Breton heavy infantry will rout at this point. But we are not playing with morale here, just the effects of combat. (The game is won or lost by the morale rolls most of the time: and the maxim is, "he who causes his enemy to make morale checks first and most often will win the battle.") For our purposes we wish to see how the effect of combat will resolve the battle by pure mechanics alone; to test whether or not our rules are producing the right effects. It can be seen that if the invaders continue to attack with their heavy infantry, they will be worsted in short order: their flanks are all exposed to heavy counter attack; and especially in the center they have little or no advantage.

F: The cavalry go in, and so swift is their advance -- even limited to a trot -- that they cannot likely be targeted for a round of javelins before they reach melee range. If there are relics of the heavy infantry attack going on, then the cavalry will not be fully engaged. But for the purposes of comparison, I removed all the heavy infantry and made a cavalry-only assault: even duke William's "reserve" was thrown in -- a maximum effort. The results imply pure carnage: If the English are set and ready -- and no missiles are exchanged -- then in a single turn of combat they suffer c. 10% casualties, whilst inflicting 15%: but now the rest of the English army must check morale for losses. This slogging match can only result in very uncertain outcomes for either side: but because of the rather better quality of the invader cavalry, and their ability to withdraw and maneuver to those places where the English line is weakest -- or even to perform a feigned rout or two, perhaps successfully drawing down a portion of the English line to the low ground where they can be butchered -- the odds slightly favor the French.

G: If the English manage to throw a round of javelins before the cavalry reach them, the odds swing back in their favor. But if they fail there, but manage to use their hand missiles in the initial round of melee (we call this in our rules "missile-in-melee" and the units attempting it must make a performance test before they can utilize it, so it is anything but a done deal), then a maximum of 14% casualties are done to the English (they are at a disadvantage for the first round in the melee because of the close timing required to throw and then deploy their hand-to-hand combat weapons: statistically, the armored troops can depend on a higher percentage of survival); and they inflict 28% losses upon the incoming knights, requiring morale checks across their whole front. As "F" favors the invaders -- causing the rest of the English army to check morale before the cavalry must -- it is apparent that "G" is a better way to go. The English should try and throw as many hand missiles as possible as the cavalry close, no matter what.

From this mathematical model it is obvious that Hastings, playing by our current rules, -- assuming average morale rolls -- will produce a stressful situation slightly favoring the duke's army: The Breton cavalry will run most of the time, and over a third of the Norman cavalry c. half of the time, causing c. half of any remaining infantry to run: while by the odds 2/3 of either English wing and 1/10 of the center will run: the thegns and especially the housecarles will stand, probably. If the English are required to stay on their hill -- except for impulsive pursuits -- the invaders, making full use of their more flexible tactics and mobility, should win somewhat better than half of the time.

However, you may wish to play out variations of Hastings, allowing the players a free hand. The English commands are: right wing, left wing, and center: with the housecarle units rolling separate morale tests and being allowed to muster apart from the fyrd if the player-commander desires. The Norman army allows a Breton-left and a French-right player, and up to three Norman-center players. The respective players should be required to worst the section of the English army in front of their historical starting positions: otherwise, the players have a free hand in how they will conduct their own attacks. (You could require the auxiliary players to follow "William's" orders, whatever those might be. But insubordination is not punishable by anything worse than possible acrimony!)

As an example of how such a game might turn out, I will narrate briefly one of the multi-player refights we played years ago, in which the English came off handily as the victors:

There were six players, divided evenly -- or possibly four on the Norman side, I don't recall for certain. Anyway, the three English players separated their four housecarle units and had them waiting as a reserve behind their fyrd line. The Norman side advanced up the hill in historical order of battle, marksmen to the front. The local peasant levies took most of them out with a round of hand missiles. Then the most advanced English units -- now well down the face of the hill -- were engaged by the knights of the Norman center. Unusually high casualties were suffered by the knights from hand missile fire; and in the melee which followed, the Norman players further covered themselves in ignominy by getting worsted by the peasants. (A certain "priest" figure, bearing a huge cross, and touted by the owner as some sort of talisman of good luck -- "you lost because you attacked my priest again" -- was the assumed cause of the defeat and victory.) To make it as bad as possible, the Norman knights routed at that point: which snowballed into a rout of three-fourths of the duke's whole army. (Yours truly managed to save the French right wing, more or less intact, by prudently leaving the stricken field before being overwhelmed by the attacking English.) The battle was as good as ended in less than five game-time minutes, and the housecarles never even moved.



References and commentary:

65. Carmen, pages 26-27. Taillefer's existence is questioned more than it is accepted. His appearance is in none of the early accounts, except the Carmen. And that, among other things, has discredited it as an original source in the eyes of some. But although he does not figure in the Bayeux Tapestry, the reason is apparent enough: the focus is almost entirely devoted to the two chief characters, William and Harold; and any depiction of Taillefer would detract from the great victory William had won, by reminding the viewer that it had taken a champion and a sign from heaven before the Normans had had the courage to attack. For the same reason, the historian William of Poitiers did not mention the hero: king William was his only hero, and there was no room for such a rival as Taillefer. He is later named in a number of 12th century sources, all of which augment his prowess and the number of Englishmen he kills, and none of which seem to know the original purpose of his challenge: to hearten the Norman warriors. Also, in all of the later accounts Taillefer dies. In the Carmen his job is accomplished and no further mention of him occurs. For a full discussion defending this early appearance of Taillefer, see Carmen, appendix B, beginning on page 81.

66. Carmen, page 29.

67. Champion of all that was Norman, R. Allen Brown's defense of the feigned flight is without equal, see SM pages 212-213. But even his clear defense of it is diluted by historians who cannot accept large-scale command control in medieval armies. The original sources refer to whole wings, battles or divisions performing the same maneuvers: thus, "The French, versed in stratagems, skilled in warfare, pretended to fly as if defeated." Not a few "discrete sections" (Bradbury, page 199) but a whole wing of cavalry. Hardly could numerous small-scale attempts at feigned flights fool enough English warriors into pursuing from the security of their phalanx, to be cut down and cause the casualties which the original sources unitedly admit were in the thousands. Only a mass withdrawal, apparently in panic, could goad a whole wing of the English army into a mad rush forward to end everything. And that such a tactic could work twice against the same foe on the same field has always struck me as highly unlikely. William of Poitiers can claim that the clever Normans thought of it first and used it two more times, after the real Breton rout serendipitously resulted in the destruction of the pursuing English right, but only the Carmen has a believable account of a prearranged feigned flight.

68. The idea that the heavy infantry fought first, then withdrew after failure to make any impression on the English phalanx, is based solely upon William of Poitiers' description of duke William's order of march inland from Hastings: "He advanced his troops in the following highly advantageous order. . . .In the vanguard he placed infantry armed with bows and crossbows; behind them were also infantry, but more steady and armed with hauberks; in the rear, the cavalry squadrons. . ." It has generally been assumed that he intended a three-part attack: arrows and crossbow quarrels to soften up the English line, an attack by infantry spearmen, followed by cavalry to exploit -- penetrate -- any gaps or weak spots created by these two attacks. This reads and sounds very well. But the original evidence does not support any of it. William of Poitiers was describing the duke's order of march from Hastings, not some three-line attack formation. The other possibility -- also not in keeping with the usual interpretation of those who have never tried to win a refight on the war-games table -- is to attack with all the infantry at once: William of Poitiers, in describing the infantry attack, includes the spearmen and marksmen together. When this failed, only the knights "came to the rescue, and those who had been in the rear found themselves in front." Since the spearmen could also use javelins, and since they would be too few to make an impression alone upon the greater English army, then they must have walked to javelin throwing range and attempted to worst the English up close; all the while, the marksmen were busy shooting from where they stood further back in the gaps between the advanced heavy infantry formations. The way the Carmen and William of Poitiers read, either style of attack could have happened, but I favor the one used in my narrative: having the spearmen and knights advance together.

The Bayeux Tapestry does not help us here. The heavily-armed figures lying dead at the feet of the English phalanx in the opening battle scene indicate that fighting has already taken place, before the knights launch their first assault: these corpses can be English as well as invader, and possibly indicate the casualties both from the earlier attempt to seize possession of the hill (Carmen, pages 22-23), and the missile duel that opened the battle proper; which, as I have described above, probably included the invader javelin-men as well as their marksmen. It is interesting to note that virtually every corpse in this scene is transfixed by a thrown spear or javelin, or by arrows. Mutual destruction is inferred, though the English got the better of it at this stage.

69. Van Houts, pages 166-169.

70. 1066 The Year of the Conquest, page 163.

71. The debate about the "hurdles" is pretty well over: they are discounted as a simile for the shield-wall, and the writers of the 12th century were never intending to describe an actual "fence" or "wall." (Bradbury, page 179.) Oman gave perhaps as much space to this subject as anyone. His notes are extensive, even including the old English passages from Wace and his translation. But there is something askew here: Oman seems to not follow the meaning of his own translation very well. He has Wace say that the fortifications were "Shields of wattled ash and of other woods, they raised them in front of themselves like hurdles joined and set close." This puts in my mind an image, not of entrenchments -- "works of the best military type of (Wace's) day" (Oman vol 1 p 55) -- but instead a line of hastily built mantlets. Any rustic of that age must have been regularly familiar with a wattled fence assembled quickly to contain flocks, or in other words, a pig fence. These, built large enough, formed the extemporaneous mantlets of quick assaults, effective cover against missiles, and, if stood behind in line, they would form a check to cavalry. I would allow them in a war-game refight only against the first attack, then they would be sundered to pieces. A combination of clumps of woods and mantlets set before the English right should provide a difficult challenge for the Breton wing, effectively preventing any cavalry charges.

72. In our wargame rules, morale is handled in a simple manner. We have four levels: A (awesome), B (better than most), C (average, like the grade in school), and D (dud, or doggy). Housecarles are A's, thegns are B's, geneats and ceorl levy are C/D: which means, that when checking to not pursue fleeing -- or apparently fleeing -- enemies, they test as "duds;" but otherwise, their morale is C for tests like taking casualties or seeing a friendly unit rout. The invader army averages lower morale, even after Taillefer's heroics: all the marksmen are D's (but if they rout no one else cares, as it is not unexpected); the Breton left units are all D's; the heavy infantry of the Norman center are C's, as are the infantry of the French right; the two forward units of Norman knights in the center are C's -- but William's reserve unit under his personal command are B's; the French right knights are B's.

Percentage chances for morale failure are: A = 17%, B = 28%, C = 42%, D = 72%. 2d6 rolls for good morale are: A = 5-12, B = 6-12, C = 7-12, D = 9-12.

In refighting Hastings, I have seldom bothered to play out the duel between Taillefer and his fellow champion, who was almost certainly one of king Harold's housecarles. I assume the historical results, however, and get on with the battle. Had Taillefer lost, the effect could have been catastrophic for William. The fact that he allowed such a risk at all indicates how desperate the situation was in his own mind. Should you wish to make Taillefer a part of the battle, play out a single combat between him and an English champion to conclusion: and if Taillefer loses, then all units in the invader army drop one morale class: with those who were already D's requiring two successful rolls per D-check to test good.

73. In our wargame rules, slopes give combat bonuses to infantry defending against climbing enemies -- if the gradient is one in 8 or less. The west slope of Battle hill is the most gentle, about one in 33. The English center, facing south, is upon the steepest slope, about one in 12. To the rear of the English phalanx the gradient is one in 4: The brooks of the Bulverhythe and Brede drained from the high ground, forming brush-covered ravines in 1066 which prevented heavy cavalry from negotiating any outflanking maneuvers. (See J. F. C. Fuller in SM, page 167.) Therefore, Battle hill is not steep enough to confer combat bonuses frontally. However, the sources are in agreement that Harold's position gave noticeable advantage to the English: the roughness of the ground -- still obvious after nearly a millennium -- reduces massed cavalry to a trot only. Also, infantry defending from uphill get bonuses for ranks of depth, while climbers do not: gravity effortlessly aids the defenders in keeping their line tight, whilst the climbers must constantly fight gravity to close up.

74. The impossibility of William being involved in the fighting up to this point is self-evident: He is shown in the Carmen, William of Poitiers and the Bayeux Tapestry, rallying his discomfitted army. This would have been utterly impossible if he had been carried along with the rout. Only if he was in the rear, watching for the opportune moment to strike the pursuing English left in the flank, would he also have been in a position to ride in front of the Normans with a sufficient body of mounted troops and stop their withdrawal. The French right, having anticipated the duke's intervention, according to plan, would have wondered what was amiss: they were making the attack on the impetuous Englishmen alone, and the rumor therefore started here, with his failure to appear as planned, that he was dead. William of Poitiers seized upon this later, and used it to cover the rout of the Normans, claiming that they were only making "a sorrowful withdrawal" because they "believed that their duke and lord had been killed." SM, page 13. He is, therefore, the one to blame for the dichotomy: Duke William in the thick of the fighting, such that his rumored slaying causes a "sorrowful withdrawal;" and yet somehow, he must manage to extricate himself from the press of his own fleeing people, race ahead of them, and make himself seen and heard by thousands of panicked soldiers. Again, only the Carmen gives a clear and believable picture of what really happened: "The Normans fled, their shields covered their backs! When the duke saw his people retreat vanquished, he rushed to confront the rout." If he himself was part of that rout, he could not have humanly moved to confront anyone, and could scarcely have made himself noticed by the men near at hand, much less the thousands of others also routing away toward Telham hill.

75. With the battle starting in the morning "at the third hour" -- i. e. around 9 a. m. -- most commentators think of the first stage (the first assaults, resulting in the "crisis," the discomfiting of William's army) as taking place between the hours of nine and ten o'clock. But fighting started before either of the armies were fully formed, as the Carmen indicates. The invaders could hardly have arrived in the neighborhood of Battle hill before 9 a. m. If the first fighting to make contest for possession of the hill was the start of the battle noted by eyewitnesses, then the first full-scale assault must have come much later than nine. By the time Taillefer killed his man, it could have been noon or after.

76. "Take the crown you have earned from us!" the duke is supposed to have shouted. He confused Gyrth for Harold, or so says the Carmen. But this is more than likely just a poetic licence, to cover William further with glory. The writer, bishop Guy, surely did not anticipate that such heroics would miss their mark. By having William play personal parts in the deaths of two of the three Godwinsons, he assured his poem's demise: for the outcome of the battle was an embarrassment for William, in light of English feelings. At first this was not obvious, but as the English made sullen difficulties, and then open rebellions, William could no longer afford to treat Harold's memory as anything less than inimical to his reign. Gyrth's death, colorfully as it is portrayed, real or not, was best forgotten along with Harold's.

77. This must nearly always be implied when any account of medieval battles mentions the leaders and heros by name-- Taillefer being an exception, as the battle was not joined, and he was obviously a lone warrior challenging the English to provide their own champion for a single combat. To read the medieval narrators, one would think that only the great men were involved in the movements and real fighting which win battles. But no commander ever departed from the midst of his own unit. The quatuor (Carmen, page 34) were the chiefs of their respective conrois; therefore we must visualize a charge upon Harold's command post of, not four reckless heros but, a body something like 40 to 200 men.

78. See Carmen appendix D pages 116 ff, wherein the editors convincingly argue for dismissing the identity of Gilfardus with that of Walter Giffard, one of the chief tenants of England under William the Conqueror. They hypothesize that an unknown member of that family was the knight disgraced by William and cast from the army for mutilating Harold by cutting off his leg after he had been dispatched. William of Malmesbury mentions the disgracing of the unnamed knight, and the Bayeux Tapestry shows a scene similar to the one described in the Carmen.

79. There are several possible ways to interpret whom the fourth knight who struck Harold might have been. The only one whom it could not have been was duke William himself. The writer of the Carmen was apparently bishop Guy of Amiens, a friend of count Eustace who fell out of favor shortly after William's coronation. It has been hypothesized that bishop Guy, among other motives, was trying to help count Eustace back into favor at the Anglo-Norman court, by making Eustace assume such a heroic and prominent role in a poem written to glorify William's achievement. Perhaps it was Eustace who struck the blow that removed Harold's leg -- in any event, he was not restored to favor and led a failed rebellion in Kent later in 1067. Then there is Hugh of Ponthieu, apparently the brother of the reigning count of Ponthieu, who was without heirs at the time: Hugh could have easily been in the position of assuming his brother's county as his appointed successor. The editors of the Carmen have advanced the possibility that the word translated as "thigh" -- coxa -- is a euphemism. Hugh of Ponthieu could have had some motive for mutilating Harold in such a manner, since Harold had been held in his brother's custody for a number of days. Harold's crimes, publicized and listed by the Carmen, included adultery. Perhaps Hugh was exacting some revenge for a sexual impropriety Harold had been guilty of while detained in Ponthieu or Normandy.

Consider, that while Harold had been duke William's "guest" back in 1064, that his loose morals became somewhat proverbial at the ducal court. There was a particular woman, or girl. Her name was not Aelfgyva, but that is how she is named in the Bayeux Tapestry -- the only woman who is named at all, of only three women depicted. Somehow, her relationship with the ducal house worked to prejudice feelings towards Harold afterwards: she appears in the Tapestry story at exactly the same time that Harold is in Normandy, at the duke's palace. One hardly thinks that leveling a charge of "adulterer" at Harold would offer just cause for invading England. But if his adultery touched the duke personally that changed things. If Aelfgyva was a niece, or a young woman betrothed for a time to one of William's sons or to an important ally, Harold's seduction of her would have been particularly vile in William's eyes. His own child-daughter, Agatha, was betrothed to Harold at this time. (And such was her enamored feelings for the older man that she never got over him, and died eight years after Harold's death while on her way to marry Alfonso of Castile, when she might have been seventeen. It was said that she never wanted to marry another -- Howarth, pages 78-80.) Whatever might have been Harold's true feelings for Aelfgyva, it would have made no difference to the duke. It was betrayal. The girl's reputation was ruined and the ducal house smirched. She is all bound up with the earl of Wessex somehow, and is possibly an important element in duke William's propaganda against Harold later on. If so, then the details are long lost. But Snorri Sturluson was probably relating an actual event, when he confused the duchess Matilda with a woman killed by the duke on his way to the fleet: she came up to his horse to speak with him, and he drove his spurred heel into her breast, from which wound she died. Surely, if Aelfgyva were that unfortunate woman, William's feelings against her would have been high-strung enough to cause such a thoughtless display of anger. At the time of Harold's death, perhaps William's propaganda had worked too well upon some young, vainglorious heros in his army. Harold's perfidious behavior of two years previous had gone the rounds in the camp. And the fourth man to come up to the stricken king had little left to do but cut away the offending member and display his trophy of William's vengeance. That William would have been horrified and disgusted seems self-evident. (This entire departure, it must be admitted, is a fine example of hubristic, hypothetical reasoning: and although I here make full apology -- and consign it solidly into the realm of historical fiction -- yet I am so enthralled by my own imagined identity for Aelfgyva that I have felt compelled to share it.)

80. It is not hard to imagine the effect of such a claim made by the Carmen upon king William. His deceased enemy was in danger of becoming a folk hero, and the last thing the new regime needed was to have the king personally implicated in Harold's pitiful demise. This detail alone in the Carmen helps to explain why the poem was so quickly forgotten: Apparently it was officially suppressed. Even without the damning scenario of duke William killing king Harold, the Carmen's picture of the Normans is disparaging at best -- though most likely unintentional -- because bishop Guy, as the uncle of the count of Ponthieu, was hardly a friend of the Normans.

81. Bradbury, color plate 28, shows clearly "that stitch-marks remain for an arrow in the head of the second figure. . . ," the one being cut down by the sword of a mounted knight. The argument for both figures in the Bayeux Tapestry being Harold is a strong one. Most convincing in an examination of the early sources of Harold's death is N. P. Brooks, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry, Proceedings of the Battle Abbey Conference 1978, pages 23-34. The author's most telling point is that the early sources relate the accepted consensus regarding how Harold had been killed, and that "modern (theories) that the Tapestry's arrow-in-the-eye figure cannot be Harold, and that this tradition has arisen from a misunderstanding of the Tapestry therefore (meet) great difficulties." Yet I would point out that the Tapestry was more likely a piece of propaganda, rather than a gift to bishop Odo, or to William from his wife or sister. And if so, then the arrow-in-the-eye death might have been cribbed from the death of Harald Hardrada, so that in the public memory the two would be confused or conflated; thereby obscuring from the official record all trace of Harold's ignominious end as portrayed (accurately?) in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio. Just because the general public -- including chroniclers -- believed that Harold Godwinson had been struck down by an arrow does not mean that that was what in fact occurred.

82. William of Poitiers disparagingly describes count Eustace as a coward, who is wounded in the back even as he tries to dissuade the duke from pursuing the enemy. The Carmen portrays Eustace in as opposite a light as possible: giving his horse to the duke, helping to slay Harold, and then conducting an all-night pursuit. The Tapestry shows Eustace as a central figure, apparently bearing the papal banner himself and pointing out the duke during the rout. At the time William of Poitiers was writing his gesta count Eustace was out of favor, so his opinions about the man cannot be trusted.

Frank Barlow (Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, ed and trans by Frank Barlow, pages 34,5 note one), argues that the object of "Actor's scion, ever vigilant" is instead Hugh of Ponthieu, and not count Eustace, as Morton and Muntz believe. I see the logic for both conclusions and prefer the arguments that favor Eustace.

83. William of Poitiers: "Beside the king, two of his brothers were found." SM, page 15.

84. "There were slain. . .nearly all the nobility of England." Florence of Worcester -- SM page 31. Although an exaggeration -- as only c. 41 percent of the thegnhood were present at Hastings -- the effect of the three battles of 1066 upon England's ruling class was disastrous: Never before had all of the nobility been mustered at the same time: and at Hastings -- involving the largest part of the core military power of the realm -- they were virtually annihilated.

The most unusual feature of William's army was the great length of time he managed to keep it together, inactive and under arms. Secondarily, the heavy backing by the church was very unusual. Pope Alexander lent his approbation to the invasion almost as though it were a crusade. The same rhetoric which launched the First Crusade a generation later was used to goad the religious fervor of William's troops. A comparison of the main parts will suffice to show this:

The invasion of schismatic England. . . . .The First Crusade against Islam:

85. "English kings had at their disposal a military machine more effective than any west of the Byzantine Empire." Beeler, Warfare in Feudal Europe, 730 - 1200, Cornell 1971, page 89. ". . . .William conquered a realm that was far more sophisticated administratively than most of the duchies and kingdoms of Western Europe. England's Carolingian-style government was not only capable of taxing its subjects and creating a unified currency, it also was able to exploit the wealth of the kingdom systematically for its defense." Richard Abels -- SM page 73.

86. Hope Muntz, The Golden Warrior, page 156. The claim is fabulous, and typical of such tales, after-the-fact, to lend legitimacy to a new dynasty.

87. David Howarth, pages 93-95 in 1066 The Year of the Conquest.

88. The school of thought, bordering on consensus, of Norman tactical superiority, has largely been overturned in recent years -- SM, pages 220-227 for an excellent overview. It is now known, as this paper also claims to show, that neither military system was superior to the other, merely different. Where the Franco-Normans had certain advantages in mobility on the battlefield and training in mounted shock tactics, and the advantage of being able to shoot their missiles from a greater range: the English system -- the Teutonic -- was no less mobile strategically, using horses to get to the area for battle, and it could shrug off most of the effects of the rather feeble missiles by the solidity of the phalanx and the choice of high ground. Neither army wanted to fight where the other would choose. Harold's battle on his choice of ground nearly resulted in an English victory, and would have been classed as one had he not been killed: his troops would not have broken in rout except for that. Up till then the battle had been a standoff and mutual slaughter.

89. The Domesday Book, England's Heritage, Then and Now, page 17: "(Slaves) numbered about one tenth of the total recorded population. . . ." The Domesday Book only records individuals. A multiplier must be used to estimate population totals. There is an apparent reluctance to admit the actual numbers of thralls at the time of the Conquest. Perhaps there is embarrassment caused by Britain's colonial slavery system and a desire to deny the old roots of it. Whatever. There is no evidential reason to minimize the numbers of slaves, nor to assume that they "were mostly men condemned for crime." (Howarth, page 17.) The Domesday Book etc. further says: "In 1086 they worked entirely for their lord, but the lot of their descendants gradually improved as they merged with the great mass of villeins." And later: ". . . .but slaves are probably recorded as individuals rather than as heads of families." (my emphasis) An apparent paradox is created here: slaves who are individuals, rather than heads of families, do not have descendants. Neither do criminals slaving away under guard. But the view that slaves were mostly felons is impossible, given the implied criminal activity, which would exceed modern levels of punishment and incarceration by greater than two to one. (Britannica Yearbook 1997 page 229: Russia and the U. S. A. have about .57% of their populations in penitentiaries.) If the recorded slaves of Domesday Book are treated as individuals they number about 2.7% of the estimated total population; and a majority of them considered as felons would not even include those others punished corporally, fined or incarcerated, a total that must far exceed those turned into slaves. No medieval criminal justice system could be so much more successful than those of modern states in capturing and punishing offenders; not to mention that such statistics implies a crime rate that far exceeds our own, a state of affairs that would have destroyed England's ruling class of the 11th century.

If slaves are not individuals in Domesday, nor felons in significant numbers, and not prisoners of war, they can only be thrall heads of families. The main mass recorded grouped in the west Midlands and southern shires, evidence of their ancestral connections to refugees who had fled the Viking incursions of the previous century out of Ireland and the Danelaw. To avoid starvation the ruined peasants would have submitted to thraldom.

More significant evidence is given in Domesday. Whole settlements are populated by nothing but slaves. These at least are recognized as thrall families, e. g. Macclesfield and Wigmore both have "4 slaves" on 2 hides; and no other inhabitants are recorded.

Slave and other families should be given the same multiplier. It could be argued that slave families were less stable, being sold as individuals or otherwise split up; but I believe this was very rare by this late period. The criminal element, as I have shown, was too small to concern us -- a mere 5 percent of the total multiplied slave population.

A stagnant population will produce two surviving children per average family. But any multiplier should reflect not just those who survive into adulthood, but also those total "mouths" at the time. (50% of live births died before reaching five years of age, leaving roughly 37.5% to survive to 13 and older. The average life expectancy was between 25 and 30 years of age.) A growing population, like Domesday, increases about 4 percent throughout an average birthing period of 13 years; producing c. 5.56 children, of which 2.085 reach 13 years of age -- or, two surviving children per family, with every 11 or 12 families getting three children survivors. But an average family is not a "finished" one, but rather is midpoint through the child bearing years. At 6.5 years of the mother's child bearing period she will have c. two living children, or a family multiplier of 4.

By applying x 4 to the recorded slaves of Domesday they remain around one tenth of the total estimated population.

90. Ibid: "The great majority of the Domesday peasantry, the villagers (villans), the smallholders (bordars) and the cottagers (cottars), were personally unfree. They had to render labour services to their lord, and they were tied to their manor. . . ."

91. Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, University of Chicago Press, 1961, page 272. The whole chapter is a great distillation, especially for our purposes section 4 England: The Vicissitudes of Villeinage.

92. Sir Winston Churchill, A History of the English-speaking Peoples, The Folio Society (second printing) 2003, vol. one, page xxx. The entire subject is concisely treated so excellently that I here quote all of the passage from the introduction:

The structure into which the Norman enters with the strong hand was a kingdom, acknowledged by all who spoke the King's English, and claiming some vague sovereignty over the Welsh and the Scots as well. It was governed, we may say, by the King in Council, and the Council consisted of his wise men, laymen and clerics; in other words, bishops and abbots, great landowners, officers of the Household. In all this it departed in no way from the common pattern of all kingdoms which had been built out of fragments of the Roman Empire. It had also been showing, since the last of the strong kings died, a dangerous tendency to split up into provinces, or earldoms, at the expense of the Crown and the unity of the nation; a tendency only, because the notion still persisted that the kingdom was one and indivisible, and that the King's Peace was over all men alike. Within this peace man was bound to man by a most intricate network of rights and duties, which might vary almost indefinitely from shire to shire, and even from village to village. But on the whole the English doctrine was that a free man might choose his lord, following him in war, working for him in peace, and in return the lord must protect him against encroaching neighbors and back him in the courts of law. What is more, the man might go from one lord to another, and hold his land from his new lord. And these lords, taken together, were the ruling class. The greatest of them, as we have seen, sat in the King's Council. The lesser of them are the local magnates, who took the lead in shire or hundred, and when the free men met in the shire or hundred court to decide the rights and wrongs of a matter it was their voice which carried weight. We cannot yet speak of a nobility and gentry, because the Saxons distinguished sharply between nobles and peasants and there was no room for any middle rank. But there were the makings of a gentry, to be realised hereafter.

Such was the state of England when the new Norman order was imposed on it. The Conqueror succeeded to all the rights of the old kings, but his Council now is mainly French-born, and French-speaking. The tendency to provincialisation is arrested; the King's Peace is everywhere. But the shifting pattern of relationships is drastically simplified to suit the more advanced, or more logical, Norman doctrine, that the tie of man to lord is not only moral and legal, but material, so that the status of every man can be fixed by the land he owns, and the services he does for it, if he is a tenant, or can demand, if he is a lord. In Norman days far more definitely than in Saxon the governing class is a landowning class.

In spite of its violent reannexation to the Continent, and its merger in the common feudalism of the West, England retained a positive individuality, expressed in institutions gradually shaped in the five or six hundred years that had pass since its severance, and predestined to a most remarkable development. The old English nobility of office made way for the Norman nobility of faith and landed wealth. The lesser folk throve in a peaceful but busy obscurity, in which English and Norman soon blended, and from them will issue in due course the Grand Jurors, the Justices of the Peace, the knights of the shire; ultimately overshadowing, in power if not in dignity, the nobility, and even the Crown itself. These days are far off. In the meantime we may picture the Government of England in the reign of Henry II. A strong monarchy, reaching by means of its judges and sheriffs into every corner of the land; a powerful Church that has come to a settlement with the Crown, in which the rights of both sides are acknowledged; a rich and self-willed nobility, which the Crown is bound by custom to consult in all matters of State; a larger body of gentry by whom the local administration is carried on; and the king's Household, his personal staff, of men experienced in the law and in finance. To these we must add the boroughs, which are growing in wealth and consequence now that the peace is well kept, the roads and seaways safe, and trade is flourishing.

Standing at this point, and peering forward into the future, we see how much depends on the personality of the sovereign. In the period after the Conquest we have had three powerful rulers: in William a ruthless and determinded soldier-prince who stamped the Norman pattern on the land; in his son Henry I a far-sighted, patient administrator; in Henry's grandson, the second Henry, a great statesman who had seen that national unity and the power of the Crown hung together, and that both could only be served by offering, for a price, even justice to all men, and enforcing it by the royal authority. Certain strains are developing in that compact fabric of Plantagenet England. The Crown is pressing rather hard on the nobility; the king's Household is beginning to oust the ancient counsellors of the kingdom. We need a strong king who will maintain the law, but a just king who will maintain it, not only for his private emolument or aggrandization, but for the good of all.

With King John we enter on a century of political experiment. Anyone who has heard from childhood of Magna Carta, who has read with what interest and reverence one copy of it was lately received in New York, and takes it up for the first time, will be strangely disappointed, and may find himself agreeing with the historian who proposed to translate its title not as the Great Charter of Liberties, but the Long List of Privileges -- privileges of the nobility at the expense of the State. The reason is that our notion of law is wholly different from that of our ancestors. We think of it as something constantly changing to meet new circumstances; we reproach a Government if it is slow to pass new legislation. In the Middle Ages circumstances changed very gradually; the pattern of society was settled by custom or Divine decree, and men thought of the law rather as a fixed standard by which rights and duties could in case of wrongdoing or dispute be enforced or determined.

The Great Charter therefore is not in our sense of the word a legislative or constitutional instrument. It is an agreed statement of what the law is, as between the king and his barons; and many of the provisions which seem to us to be trifling and technical indicate the points at which the king had encroached on their ancient rights. Perhaps, in their turn, the victorious barons encroached unduly on the rights of the Crown. No one at the time regarded the Charter as a final settlement of all outstanding issues, and its importance lay not in details but in the broad affirmation of the principle that there is a law to which the Crown itself is subject. Rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo et lege -- the king should not be below man, but below God and the law. This at least is clear. He has his sphere of action, within which he is free from human control. If he steps outside it he must be brought back. And he will step outside it if, ignoring the ancient Council of the kingdom, and refusing to take the advice of his wise men, he tries to govern through his Household, his favorites, or his clerks.

In other words, personal government, with all its latent possibilities of oppression and caprice, is not to be endured. But it is not easy to prevent. The king is strong, far stronger than any great lord, and stronger than most combinations of great lords. If the Crown is to be kept within its due limits some broader basis of resistance must be found than the ancient privileges of the nobility. About this time, in the middle of the thirteenth century, we begin to have a new word, Parliament. It bears a very vague meaning, and most of those who first used it would have been startled if they could have foreseen what it would some day come to signify. But gradually the idea spreads that if it is not enough for the king to 'talk things over' with his own Council, so, on the other hand, it is not enough for the barons to insist solely on their right to be considered the Council of the kingdom. Though they often claim to speak for the community of the realm, in fact they only represent themselves, and the king after all represents the whole people. Then why not call in the lesser gentry and the burgesses? They are always used in local matters. Why not use them in national concerns? Bring them up to Westminster, two gentlemen from every shire, two tradesmen from every borough. What exactly they are to do when they get there no one quite knows. Perhaps to listen while their betters speak; to let them know what the grievances of the country are: to talk things over with one another behind the scenes; to learn what the king's intentions are in Scotland and France, and to pay the more cheerfully for knowing. It is a very delicate plant, this Parliament. There is nothing inevitable about its growth, and it might have been dropped as an experiment not worth going on with. But it took root. In two or three generations a prudent statesman would no more think of governing England without a Parliament than without a king.

The actual powers of Parliament would be very hard to define. Broadly, its consent is necessary to give legal sanction to any substantial act of authority: an important change of ancient custom can only be effected by Act of Parliament; a new tax can only be levied with the approval of the Commons. What more it can do the unfolding of time will show. But its authority is stabilised by a series of accidents. Edward III needed money for his French wars. Henry IV needed support for his seizure of the crown. And in the Wars of the Roses both the contending parties wanted some sort of public sanction for their actions, which only Parliament could provide.

Thus when in the fifteenth century the baronial structure perished in faction and civil war there remained not only the Crown, but the Crown in Parliament, now clearly shaped into its two divisions, the Lords sitting in their own right, and the Commoners as representatives of the shires and boroughs. So far nothing had changed. But the destruction of the old nobility in battle or on the morrow of battle was to tip the balance of the two Houses, and the Commons, knights and burgesses, stood for those elements in society which suffered most from anarchy and profited most by strong government. There was a natural alliance between the Crown and the Commons. The Commons had little objection to the Crown extending its prerogative at the expense of the nobility, planting Councils of the North and Councils of Wales, or in the Star Chamber exercising a remedial jurisdiction by which the small man could be defended against the great. On the other hand, the Crown was willing enough to leave local administration to the Justices of the Peace, whose interest it was to be loyal, to put down sturdy beggars, and to grow quietly and peacefully rich. As late as 1937 the Coronation service proclaimed the ideal of the Tudor government in praying that the sovereign may be blessed with 'a loyal nobility, a dutiful gentry, and an honest peaceable and obedient commonality.'

93. SM page 164: "Such being the case (king Harold, the one man who could have guarded England, being slain), it is from the memorable day of Saint Calixtus that we may fairly date the overthrow, what we know to have been only the imperfect and temporary overthrow, of our ancient and free Teutonic England." (Pretty thick stuff!)

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