Anyway, here is a brief, hopefully unbiased, resume of that fascinating bit of history. (but be warned, OMR is no historian, this could be hugely inaccurate, or just plain wrong).
So, England is populated by a mixture of Anglo-Saxons (old invaders) and Danes (more recent Viking invaders) and is divided up into several autonomous ‘kingdoms’. Each kingdom has a head honcho whom I shall refer to completely inaccurately as a Lord. And some of the kingdoms are predominantly Anglo-Saxon and some are predominantly Viking. But all are nominally loyal to the king of England, who is currently Edward the confessor, Anglo-Saxon, very Christian and without heirs. But the king is not an inherited position, he is elected by the assorted lords. To further complicate matters, most of the lords are related either by birth or marriage and all sorts of complex alliances exist. For instance Harold, lord of Wessex is the brother in law of king Edward and the most powerful of the Lords (ie, has the biggest army & a keen military brain to boot).
Now over in Normandy William the Bastard is Duke. (called the Bastard because he was the illegitimate heir to the dukedom). Now William is nominally loyal to the French king, but in fact he’s pretty much free lance. He’s extremely powerful, in big with the pope and even the king of France ain’t messing with him.
Now, this is important, The people of Normandy are vassals of the Duke. The army is conscripted, There are extensive taxes to pay for the castles & Cathedrals for which the Normans are so famed. The peasants have nothing and are forced to live in abject poverty. But in dear old England all men are free. The men are volunteered for the army, The Cathedrals and fortifications are paid for by tribute. The peasants have nothing and are free to live in abject poverty.
With me so far?
Ok. King Eddie is very pro Norman. He’s having a huge Cathedral built at Westminster in the Norman style. And so he states that he wants Willie the Bastard as his heir. Now, according to the Norman view of history, this makes William the legitimate heir to the English throne. Of course, as far as the Anglo Saxons are concerned the king is elected & this is just a recommendation. I’m not too sure on the Danish view point but since they get their Viking bottoms kicked in a few paragraphs time its not important. Anyway, for reasons not fully understood, King Edward packs Lord Harold off to visit Duke William for a bit of a chat. Unfortunately, Harold is blown off course crossing the channel & is captured by some French lord and held to ransom. Now, Either Harold is valiantly rescued by William or is captured by him, or bought by him, but either way, Harold ens up in Williams court as ‘an honoured guest’.
So with Harold in tow, Duke William gives one of his local rivals a good drubbing. Harold is a superb warrior & becomes something of a hero. So Duke William offers him a knighthood. Now this is a huge problem for Harold. Should he accept then he has to swear fealty to William & support his claim to the English throne. But to refuse would be a huge insult to William, his host & ‘rescuer’ and may cost Harold his knackers. So, Harold takes the knighthood & swears loyalty to William on the holiest relics in Normandy. Now, if your English then this oath was made under duress & is without value. If your Norman this is a holy oath before God and to break it is a sin punishable by the removal of your head.
OK, Harold goes home. And King Edward dies. Harold is either elected king or seizes the crown depending on who you talk to. And William, Duke of Normandy is Miffed. So he decides to invade. King Harold cares not a jot. He is supported by the lords of Mercia (another English anglo-saxon lord-dom) and together their combined army is gonna kick Williams illegitimate butt. More worryingly, Tostig, The Danish Lord of an English lord-dom up North is not to happy with Harold as King. And he is supported by his uncle, the king of Norway, who would quite like to expand into England. So Tostig & his Uncle get an army together. At this moment Hally’s commet appears & is considered a bad omen all round.
Still, Harold is a brilliant tactitian. With the combined might of Mercia & Wessex he can nobble the Vikings & bash the Normans. So he tells the Lords of Mercia to wait for him to get his army up North & together they can trounce Tostig. Unfortunately, he ‘tells’ the Lords of Mercia. And even if your king, the Lords of Mercia aren’t being bossed around. See, politeness is everything. If only Harold had said please. So the disgruntled Lords of Mercia go it alone against the Vikings. And get slaughtered. And overnight Harolds army is halved. Harold marches north, beats up Tostigs forces & kills the king of Norway. Meanwhile, William has landed his troops in the south, fed & watered them and dug in. So Harold now has to force march his tired much reduced army south to engage the Normans on their terms. Things don’t look so good for Harold.
Still, Harold is good at war. It’s a close fought battle. At one point the Normans fear William dead & break and run, But William is still alive and regroups. Then, when things could go either way, Harold takes an arrow in the eye. The English line breaks and King Harold and the Nobility of England are butchered. William, Duke of Normandy becomes king of England and this hails a period of either
- Tyranny and enslavement of the English by their new Norman masters that completely breaks the spirit of the Anglo-Saxons and Danes.
- A renascence of building and administration that turns England into a single great nation.
Ain’t history great. (corrections welcome).