CARMEN DE HASTINGAE PROELIO (Song of the Battle of Hastings)

In his 'Historia Ecclesiastica', Orderic Vitalis notes:
"Guy bishop of Amiens also wrote a poem describing the battle of Senlac in imitation of the epics of Virgil and Statius, abusing and condemning Harold but praising and exalting William."
Later, Orderic writes:
"In the year of Our Lord 1068 King William sent ambassadors to Normandy to summon his wife Matilda to join him. At once she gladly obeyed her husband's commands, and crossed with a great company of vassals and noble women. Among the clergy who ministered to her spiritual needs the most eminent was Guy bishop of Amiens, who had already celebrated the battle between Harold and William in verse."
In 1826 a 12th century manuscript of an untitled poem, on the subject of William of Normandy's conquest of England, was discovered. (A second manuscript - a copy of the first sixty-six lines of the first - was also found). The manuscripts' discoverer, Georg Heinrich Pertz, identified the poem (which has become known as the 'Carmen de Hastingae Proelio') as the work of Bishop Guy mentioned by Orderic. There have been, however, serious challenges to this identification, and suggestions that the poem is a 12th century "literary exercise" (R.H.C Davis 1978). Indeed, in 'The Norman Conquest of England: Sources and Documents' (first published 1984), R. Allen Brown writes:
"Though at one time generally regarded as probably written by Guy, bishop of Amiens, before 1068, and thus both very early and of automatic importance, this work has recently and convincingly been dismissed as a mere literary exercise of much later date and no historical value."
This has, though, never been the unanimous view, and it appears that most work has tended to support the 'Carmen'. In 'The Godwins' (first published 2002), Frank Barlow (an authority on, and supporter of, the 'Carmen') writes that it is:
"... now securely identified as the work of the non-Norman, Guy, Bishop of Amiens, produced almost immediately after the battle of Hastings, probably in 1067."
An argument advanced by Professor Barlow, and other supporters of the 'Carmen', is that William of Poitiers used Guy's poem in his 'History' of William the Conqueror, but modified it to show his hero in the best possible light. On the other side of the debate has been the suggestion that it was the 'Carmen' which borrowed from William of Poitiers. A third option is that both works are dependant on a common source. The controversy continues.

As it now exists, the poem is 835 lines long. The action begins with Duke William's fleet arriving at St.Valery, on the Somme, and comes to a truncated end during his coronation ceremony.

Orderic Vitalis 'Historia Ecclesiastica' translated by Marjorie Chibnall