Just two or three days after the sanguinary victory of Harold Godwinesson, king of England, over an invasion force led by his brother, Tostig, and Harald Hardrada, king of Norway, at Stamford Bridge on 25th September 1066,* William the Bastard, duke of Normandy, set sail for England with his own invasion force.
The caption to this scene in the Bayeux Tapestry translates as: “Here Duke William crossed the sea in a great ship and came to Pevensey”. William's ship is depicted with a lantern at the top of its mast.* The Channel crossing was carried out overnight, and William's ship's lantern is said to have acted as a beacon for the fleet to follow.*
In fact, Duke William's preparations had been complete for some time. He had gathered his fleet at the mouth of the Dives river, which is a hundred miles across the Channel from the Isle of Wight, but the weather refused to cooperate and he was trapped by unfavourable winds for a month. As things turned out, this delay worked to William's advantage. On the 8th of September, Harold Godwinesson, who had assembled a massive military presence on the English south coast, was forced to stand-down his land and sea forces due to lack of provisions. At this stage, William apparently decided to risk a Channel crossing despite the unsettled weather, but his fleet was swept about a hundred miles along the French coast by a westerly gale – some ships were wrecked – and was forced back to shelter at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. But ‘it's an ill wind’, as they say, and the upside of this adventure was that the crossing from the Somme to England is considerably shorter than the crossing from the Dives.* William had no option but to wait for a favourable, southerly, wind.
“Here you [i.e. William] had a long and difficult delay, for you spent fully fifteen days in those parts, awaiting the help of the Supreme Judge. Frequenting the church of the saint with devout purpose, you offered him free alms, redoubling your supplications. You looked to see by what wind the weathercock of the church was turned... The feast of Michael was about to be celebrated throughout the world when God granted everything according to your desire.”
“Then came Duke William from Normandy to Pevensey, on St Michael's mass-eve [i.e. on 28th September 1066] ....
.... and immediately they were ready, they constructed a castle at Hastings-port.”
Building the castle at Hastings, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. It isn't entirely clear, but the figure on the left, directing operations, is probably Duke William's half-brother, Count Robert of Mortain.
“Having gained control, though over no great space, your [i.e. Duke William's] people attacked the region, laid it waste, and burnt it with fire. Small wonder, for the foolish folk denied that you were king! Therefore they perished justly and went to destruction.”
‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ (145–148)
Harold Godwinesson was evidently still in Yorkshire when word of William's invasion reached him.
“The messenger rushed to meet him and poured out the tale he bore in this way: “O king, truly I bring you fearful news! The duke of the Normans, with Frenchmen and Bretons, has invaded the land; he is ravaging and burning. If you ask how many thousands he has, no one will be able to tell you. He has as many knights as there are fish in the sea, and you could no more number his ranks than the stars of heaven. He is seizing boys and girls, and the widows also; and at the same time all the beasts.””
‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ (157–166)
When King Harold heard of it
He gave over to Bishop Ealdred [archbishop of York]
The much booty and harness
Which he had gained from the Norsemen.
Geffrei Gaimar (5251–5254)
“... the king at once, and in great haste, marched his army towards London ...”
At the time he first set foot on English soil, on the 28th or 29th of September, Duke William cannot have known the outcome of the battle of Stamford Bridge – fought some 250 miles to his north on the 25th of September – and so he cannot, in fact, have known who he was going to have to defeat to conquer England. He now received news that Harold was the victor and was on his way.
Whilst Harold was in London, says Orderic Vitalis,* his mother, Gytha, and brother, Earl Gyrth, advised caution, but Harold would not listen:
“He rejected the counsel that seemed wise to his friends, answered his brother who was advising him for the best with reproofs, and when his mother clung to him to hold him back, insolently spurned her with his foot. Then for six days he sent far and wide to summon the populace to war, gathered a huge multitude of Englishmen around him, and hastened to battle against the enemy. His plan was to catch them unawares and overwhelm them by an unexpected or night attack; and to prevent them escaping in flight he kept seventy heavily armed ships at sea.”
(‘HE’ III: ii, 146)
In fact, it seems that Harold was so intent on catching the Normans off-guard by the speed of his advance (a tactic that had just worked spectacularly well against his brother and the Norwegians) that he set-off whilst much of the force he had summoned was still en route.
“... though he [Harold] well knew that some of the bravest Englishmen had fallen in the two battles [Fulford and Stamford Bridge], and that one half of his army had not yet arrived, he did not hesitate to advance with all speed into Sussex against his enemies ...”
Florence of Worcester
Five days he took in gathering them;
But he could get together but few.
Because of the many men who had been killed
When God did justice on the Norsemen.
As far as Sussex Harold went.
Such men as he could he took with him.
His two brothers gathered men;
To the battle they came with him,
The one was Gyrth, the other Leofwine,
Against the folk from beyond sea.
Geffrei Gaimar (5257–5266)
In the event, however, it was William who took Harold by surprise.
“... [Harold] gathered a great army, and came to meet him [William] at the hoary apple-tree.* And William came against him unawares, ere his folk were in battle order. But the king, nevertheless, boldly fought against him with those men who would follow him ...”
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
“... [Harold] fought against him before his army had all come ...”*
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript E
William's scouts had discovered Harold's approach, and the duke immediately prepared for battle. The Norman army advanced:
“... with the banner which the pope had sent in the van.”
“He dispatched the foot in advance to open the battle with arrows, and set crossbow-men in the midst so that their speeding shafts might pierce the faces of the English (these wounds given, they might fall back).* He hoped to establish the knights in the rear of the foot but the onset of the battle did not allow this; for he perceived companies of the English appearing not far off and could see the forest glitter, full of spears.* ... Suddenly the forest poured forth troops of men, and from the hiding-places of the woods a host dashed forward. There was a hill near the forest and a neighbouring valley and the ground was untilled because of its roughness. Coming on in massed order – the English custom – they seized possession of this place for the battle. (A race ignorant of war, the English scorn the solace of horses and trusting in their strength they stand fast on foot; and they count it the highest honour to die in arms that their native soil may not pass under another yoke).”
“Yet not daring to fight on equal terms with William whom they feared more than the king of Norway, they took up position on higher ground, on a hill by the forest through which they had just come.”
William of Poitiers (II, 16)
“Preparing to meet the enemy, the king [Harold] mounted the hill and strengthened both his wings with noble men. On the highest point of the summit he planted his banner, and ordered his other standards to be set up. All the men dismounted and left their horses in the rear, and taking their stand on foot they let the trumpets sound for battle. The humble and God-fearing duke led a more measured advance and courageously approached the steeps of the hill. The foot-soldiers ran ahead to engage the enemy with arrows (against crossbow-bolts shields are of no avail). The helmeted warriors hastened to close ranks; on both sides the foemen raged with brandished spears.”
The Normans began their assault on the tightly-packed English shield-wall.*
The English shield-wall. The men's shields bristle with Norman arrows. Standing alongside them is the only English bowman depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.*
“... the Norman foot, coming in close, challenged the English, raining wounds and death upon them with their missiles.”
William of Poitiers (II, 17)
“... the crossbow-men destroyed the shields as if by a hail-storm, shattered them by countless blows.”
‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ (411–412)
“They [the English], on the other hand, valiantly resisted, each according to his ability. They threw spears and weapons of every kind, murderous axes and stones tied to sticks. By these means you would have thought to see our men overwhelmed as though by a deadly mass. And so the knights came up in support ... Spurning to fight at long range, they challenged the event with their swords.”
William of Poitiers (II, 17)
“Now the French attacked the left, the Bretons the right, the duke with the Normans fought in the centre.* The English stood firm on their ground in the closest order. They met missile with missile, sword-stroke with sword-stroke; bodies could not be laid down, nor did the dead give place to living soldiers, for each corpse though lifeless stood as if unharmed and held its post.”
‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ (413–420)
“Thus for some time the fight was waged with the utmost vigour on both sides. The English were greatly helped by the advantage of the high ground which they, in closest array, could hold on the defensive; also by their great number and massed strength; and further, by their weapons which could easily find a way through shields and other defences.* Thus they vigorously resisted or repulsed those who bravely attacked them at close quarters with the sword. They even wounded those who hurled javelins at them from a distance.”
William of Poitiers (II, 17)
The ‘Carmen’ and William of Poitiers offer different versions of the next stage of the battle.
William lifts his helmet to show his face in the Bayeux Tapestry. The caption simply reads: “Here is Duke William.”
According to the ‘Carmen’, the French, “versed in stratagems”, pretended to retreat, thus luring some English troops (referred to as “the peasantry”) to leave the ranks in pursuit. (The departure of these men allowed the corpses which had remained standing to fall to the ground: “and the once dense wood was thinned”.) The French turned on their pursuers and large numbers of Englishmen were killed (“indeed ten thousand suffered destruction”), but this setback served to inspire the English to greater efforts.
“The English people, prevailing by their number, repulsed the enemy and by their might compelled him to turn – and then the flight which had first been a ruse became enforced by [the Englishmen's] valour. The Normans fled, their shields covered their backs!”
Duke William acts to halt the retreat. He removes his helmet to show his furious face to the Normans, and gives a shaming speech to the French. His forces return to the fight:
“They wheeled, they turned to face the enemy. The duke, as leader, was the first to strike; after him the rest laid on. Coming to their senses, they regained strength by scorning fear. As stubble consumes in flames before the breath of the wind, so, O English horde, you went to destruction before the French. At the appearance of the duke the trembling host fell back, as soft wax melts away in face of fire.”
According to William of Poitiers (to whom the notion of fleeing Normans is clearly inconceivable):
“Terrified by this ferocity [i.e. of the English defence], behold! the footsoldiers and also the Breton knights, together with all the auxiliaries on the left wing, are driven back. Almost the whole ducal army falls away – though this may be said without disparagement of the invincible Norman race. The army of imperial Rome, containing the cohorts of kings accustomed to victory by land and sea, fled at times when it knew or thought its leader to be slain. The Normans now believed their duke and leader had fallen. Their retreat was not thus an occasion of shameful flight but of grief, for he was their whole support.”
Duke William saw that a large number Englishmen had left their ranks to pursue his retreating forces. Removing his helmet, to show he was still alive, the duke rallied his troops.
“The Normans, enflamed, surrounded some thousands of those who had pursued them and annihilated them in an instant, not one of them surviving. Thus encouraged they renewed their attack upon the vast army which in spite of heavy losses seemed no less. The English, full of confidence, fought with all their might, determined above all to prevent any breach from being opened in their ranks. They were so densely massed that the dead could scarcely fall. However, breaches were cut in several places by the swords of the most redoubtable knights. They were closely followed up by the men of Maine and Aquitaine, the French and the Bretons, but above all by the Normans with a courage beyond compare.”
Taking inspiration from the way many Englishmen had left their positions to chase retreating troops, Duke William's forces twice feigned flight to lure many more (“thousands”) of the English to their deaths.
“It was now a strange kind of battle, one side attacking with all mobility, the other enduring, as though rooted to the soil. The English began to weaken ... The Normans shot, smote and pierced ...”
“Here fell Leofwine and Gyrth, King Harold's brothers.”
The battle raged for the whole day.
“... there was a great slaughter made on each side. There were slain King Harold [“about twilight”, adds Florence of Worcester], and Earl Leofwine his brother, and Earl Gyrth his brother, and many good men ...”
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
“Now as the day declined the English army realized beyond doubt that they could no longer stand against the Normans. They knew that they were reduced by heavy losses; that the king himself, with his brothers and many magnates of the realm, had fallen; that those who still stood were almost drained of strength; that they could expect no help. They saw the Normans, not much diminished by casualties, threatening them more keenly than in the beginning, as if they had found new strength in the fight; they saw that fury of the duke who spared no one who resisted him; they saw that courage which could only find rest in victory. They therefore turned to flight and made off as soon as they got the chance, some on looted horses, many on foot; some along the roads, many across country... The Normans, though not knowing the terrain, pursued them keenly, slaughtering the guilty fugitives and bringing matters to a fitting end, while the hooves of the horses exacted punishment from the dead as they were ridden over.”
William of Poitiers (II, 23)
In the ‘Chronicle of Battle Abbey’, there is said to have been “an immense ditch”, a natural formation, hidden from sight by scrub, into which, after the battle, many men – some fleeing Englishmen, but mainly the chasing Normans – plunged to their deaths. The anonymous author says that, as a result of this incident, the “deep pit” is called the ‘Malfosse’ (evil-ditch), but he does not say where it is.
Both Henry of Huntingdon have variants of this Malfosse Incident, but they place it during the battle. Henry (VI, 30) makes it part of the feigned Norman retreat scenario – first, many of the Normans feigning retreat fall into “a large ditch, cunningly hidden”, then most of the Englishmen who had chased them fall into the ditch, that “they were obliged to return over”, en route back to the English line, which had been breached in their absence.
Wace makes a couple of references (‘Rou’ ii, 168+207) to defensive ditches dug by the English. Later (‘Rou’ ii, 218–9), he says that the Norman forces passed-around a ditch (dug by the English?) as they attacked, but the English then surged forward and pushed the Normans, “horses and men”, back and into the ditch:
“Many of the English also, whom the Normans drew down along with them, died there. At no time during the day's battle did so many Normans die, as perished in that ditch. So those said who saw the dead.”
William of Malmesbury describes (‘GR’ III §242) something similar, which he would appear to have based on a battle-scene in the Bayeux Tapestry:
“Getting possession of an eminence, they drove down the Normans ... into the valley beneath, where, easily hurling their javelins and rolling down stones on them as they stood below, they destroyed them to a man. Besides, by a short passage with which they were acquainted, avoiding a deep ditch, they trod under foot such a multitude of their enemies in that place, that they made the hollow level with the plain, by the heaps of carcases.”
“It was evening; already the wheeling heavens were turning day to twilight when God made the duke the victor. Only darkness and flight through the thickets and coverts of the deep forest availed the defeated English. The conqueror, resting meanwhile, passed the night among the dead and waited till day should return.”
‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ (557–562)
“Of that battle the French who took part in it do to this day declare that, although fortune swayed now on this side and now on that, yet of the Normans so many were slain or put to flight that the victory which they had gained is truly and without any doubt to be attributed to nothing else than the miraculous intervention of God, who by so punishing Harold's wicked perjury shewed that He is not a God that hath any pleasure in wickedness.”
“And Duke William went afterwards again to Hastings, and there awaited whether the nation would submit to him ...”
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript D
William of Poitiers (II, 7): “Fearing lest they reach the opposite shore before daybreak and so incur danger in a hostile and unknown roadstead, the duke issued verbal orders that as soon as they gained the high sea the ships were to lie at anchor close to him for part of the night, until they should see a lantern lit at his masthead, and then at the sound of a trumpet at once set course.”
Wace (‘Rou’ ii, 146): “The duke placed a lantern on the mast of his ship, that the other ships might see it, and hold their course after it. At the summit was a vane of copper, gilt.”
According to the ‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’(108–112), however, every ship had a lantern atop its mast: “you [William] filled the waves with the ruddy glow of torches, even as stars replenish the sky when the sun has gone. Distributing as many lights as there were ships. By their strong beams lanterns set on the masts guided the sails on a straight course over the sea.”
The figure depicted at the stern of William's ship in the Tapestry, seems to correspond (though reversed) with a statue that the ‘Ship List’ says Matilda had fitted to the prow of Mora: “a child who with his right hand pointed to England and with his left hand held an ivory horn against his mouth.”
Left: Detail of an engraving published by Bernard de Montfaucon in 1730, taken from a drawing of the Bayeux Tapestry made by Antoine Benoît, showing the statue mounted on the stern of Duke William's ship.
Wace (‘Rou’ ii, 146–7), though, describes a rather different figurehead: “On the head of the ship, in the front, which mariners call the prow, there was the figure of a child in copper, bearing an arrow with a bended bow. His face was turned towards England, and thither he looked, as though he was about to shoot; so that whichever way the ship went, he seemed to aim onwards.”
Instead of “quite eleven” (bien unze), one of the four extant manuscripts of Gaimar's ‘Estoire’ (in London College of Arms Arundel XIV, early-14th century) simply has the Roman numeral ix, i.e. ‘nine’ (‘eleven’ in Roman numerals being xi, of course.)
The text lists the number of ships William's magnates contributed to the invasion force. Fourteen magnates are mentioned, and the number of ships adds up to 776, but then comes the statement: “Apart from these ships which all together totalled 1,000, the duke had many other ships from his other men according to their means.” Clearly, this, quite literally, does not add up. Perhaps the list of magnates is incomplete in the surviving text? The concluding section of the document says that William's wife, Matilda, gave him a ship called Mora, which he used for the crossing. In return, William is said to have: “granted Matilda the earldom of Kent.” If William really did promise his wife Kent before his conquest of England, he failed to keep his word – in the event, William's half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, was made earl of Kent.
It is widely suggested that it was, in fact, a tactical decision by Duke William to take advantage of the west wind to move his fleet from the Dives to the Somme, in order to shorten the Channel crossing. It seems clear, however, that this was no benign breeze – William of Poitiers mentions (II, 6) shipwrecks and drowned men (also, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports that the dispersing English fleet suffered heavy losses), and in the ‘Carmen de Hastingae Proelio’ appears the line (43): “and the troubled sea forced you to put back.” It would appear, then, that William's intended destination was the other side of the Channel.
Actually, the ‘Chronicle’ titles William ‘earl’ (eorl) – the equivalent rank in England.
In Orderic's telling, Harold had already reached London when he got word that Duke William had invaded.
Seven hundred says William of Poitiers (II, 14). In the ‘Carmen’ (319), Harold: “is said to have sent five hundred ships to sea”.
William of Poitiers says that Duke William's messenger was “a certain monk of Fécamp”. Master Wace (‘Roman de Rou’) provides the monk's name: Hugh Margot (ii, 159). Wace asserts that Harold, in his anger, would have harmed Hugh if Gyrth had not intervened. Gyrth is a principal player in Wace's lengthy dramatization of the build-up to the battle of Hastings. Wace claims that, in exchange for Harold's submission, William offered Harold Northumbria, and Gyrth “the lands of Godwine their father” (ii, 179).
William of Jumièges says (VII, 14) that Harold (having raised “an immense army of English”): “riding through the night, appeared at the place of battle in the morning.” William of Malmesbury, though, writes (‘GR’ III §§241–242): “The courageous leaders mutually prepared for battle, each according to his national custom. The English, as we have heard, passed the night without sleep, in drinking and singing, and in the morning proceeded without delay against the enemy... On the other hand, the Normans passed the whole night in confessing their sins, and received the communion of the Lord's Body in the morning”.
In Wace's story (‘Rou’ ii, 177), Duke William's magnates tell him, if he is going to fight a battle, he ought to get on with it: “Harold's people increase daily; they come strengthening his army constantly with fresh forces.” Later (‘Rou’ ii, 212), Wace has Harold, upon seeing William's forces approaching the battlefield, confide to Gyrth: “The count of Flanders hath betrayed me. I trusted to him, and was a fool for so doing; when he sent me word by letter, and assured me by messages that William could not collect so many knights. On the faith of his report I delayed my preparations, and now I rue the delay.” (Harold's brother, Tostig, had been married to a half-sister of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. Tostig had found refuge in Flanders when he was outlawed from England in November 1065. Baldwin was also Duke William's father-in-law.)
William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ II §228) criticizes “those persons” who exaggerate the number of English fighters, in order to glorify the Normans, and maintains that the English: “were few in number and brave in the extreme”.
Wace (‘Rou’ ii, 204–5) believed that the two armies were about the same size: “Many and many have since said that Harold had a small force, and that he fell on that account. But many others say, and so do I, that he and the duke had man for man.”
Housecarls (Old English huscarl, from Old Norse húskarl, literally ‘house-man’) were the household troops of the king or an earl.
William of Poitiers claims (II, 16) that the “land of the Danes” had sent “abundant help” to the English. Orderic Vitalis, at a later stage (‘HE’ IV: ii, 190), alleges that Swein Estrithsson, king of Denmark, “was moved by the death and disaster that had overtaken his men in Harold's war”. It seems unlikely that any Danes who were present formed an official Danish contingent.
William of Poitiers also mentions crossbows, but the Bayeux Tapestry depicts only conventional bows.
This interruption to Duke William's troop deployment is not mentioned by William of Poitiers, who says (II, 16) the duke arranged his forces in “good order”, with the bowmen and crossbowmen in front, followed by “other infantry more heavily armed with mail tunics”, and the mounted knights (in the middle of whom rode the duke himself) bringing up the rear.
William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ III §241): “This standard William sent, after the victory, to the pope; it was sumptuously embroidered with gold and precious stones, and represented the form of a man fighting.”
Wace asserts (‘Roman de Rou’ ii, 206–7) that Harold arranged his troops so that the men of Kent would face the initial Norman assault: “for they say that the men of Kent are entitled to strike first”. The men of London were entrusted with guarding Harold and the standard.
William of Jumièges (VII, 15): “He [Duke William] engaged the enemy at the third hour of day, and the carnage continued until nightfall.”
Wace claims (‘Rou’ ii, 210–11) that Harold wanted to fight on Saturday because he was born on a Saturday, and his mother used to tell him: “good luck would attend me on that day.”
Henry of Huntingdon, Gaimar and Wace – all of the 12th century – tell variations of the Taillefer story. For this reason, the appearance of Taillefer in the ‘Carmen’ is one of the objections to giving the ‘Carmen’ an early date. In Wace's version (‘Rou’ ii, 214–15), Taillefer does not juggle, but sings “of Charlemagne and of Roland, of Oliver and the vassals who died at Rencesvals”. This seems to bring together the notion of Taillefer with a remark made by William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ III §242), that the Normans sang “the song of Roland” as the battle began.
The presence of Norman archers at Hastings is well attested – the Bayeux Tapestry shows many in action – but the Tapestry's depiction of a solitary bowman is the only evidence that there were also English archers present. Manuscript E of the ‘Chronicle’ asserts that Harold fought before all his forces had assembled. Perhaps many of the English bowmen, since they were on foot, had failed to keep pace with Harold's rapid advance to the battle-site?
Wace (‘Rou’ ii, 149 & 153) seems to confuse Pevensey and Hastings. In his telling, the invasion fleet made landfall “near Hastings”. The Normans promptly selected “a good spot” for a castle, which, thanks to the prefabricated components, was completed “before evening had well set in”. The day after the landing they travelled to “a castle called Pevensey”.
That is to say, the French contingent made-up Duke William's right wing (and attacked the left flank of the English line), the Bretons his left wing. (That, at least, is how William of Poitiers sees it.)
Presumably the highlighted passage refers to the two-handed battle-axe.
The killing of William's second horse is attributed to “the son of Helloc [otherwise unknown], a swift and able man” (504). The duke despatched him: “Cutting through his groin with a thrust of his right hand and a merciless sword-stroke, he spilt his entrails on the ground.” (517–518).
The Bayeux Tapestry (see above) places the deaths of Leofwine and Gyrth (the former is named by neither the ‘Carmen’ nor William of Poitiers) early in the battle – before the fighting which precedes William lifting his helmet. Also, the Tapestry does not attribute Gyrth's death to the duke himself.
In Wace's telling (‘Rou’ ii, 278), Gyrth is killed about the same time as Harold. (Wace places both Gyrth and Leofwine with Harold before the fighting begins, but does not mention Leofwine's death.) Wace involves Duke William in Gyrth's death, but isn't sure whether he actually delivered the coup de grâce: “the duke pushed on till he reached him, and struck him with great force. Whether he died of that blow I know not, but it was said that he fell under it, and rose no more.”
Henry of Huntingdon (VI, 30): “Harold had placed all his people very closely in a single line, constructing a sort of castle with them, so that they were impregnable to the Normans.”
Volume and page of Frédéric Pluquet's two volume edition of the ‘Roman de Rou’ (1827).
William of Jumièges completed the ‘Gesta Normannorum Ducum’ (Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans) c.1070–1. He dedicated it to the 7th duke of the Normans, William II, i.e. William the Bastard, who by that time had become William the Conqueror, king of the English.
Anglo-Norman chronicler Geffrei Gaimar wrote his ‘Estoire des Engleis’ (History of the English), for a Lincolnshire patroness, round-about 1140. It is the earliest known historical work to have been written in the French language, and is in verse (actually, octosyllabic rhymed couplets). In fact, the ‘Estoire des Engleis’ is the latter part of a longer work, but the earlier part has not survived. The existing work covers the period from the arrival in Britain of Cerdic (495) to the death of William Rufus (1100). Up to 959, it is based on a lost version of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
The, so-called, ‘Ship List of William the Conqueror’ exists in a single manuscript, copied-out at Battle Abbey around 1130–60 (preserved in Bodleian Library MS E Museo 93). Elizabeth van Houts* has, however, argued that this brief document (it fits comfortably on a single page) was originally composed in Normandy: “after 13 December 1067 or c.1072, on the basis of information compiled in the months before the Conquest.” Of course, not everyone agrees with Professor van Houts' assessment. Lucien Musset** dismisses the ‘Ship List’ as a: “spurious document ... most probably a twelfth-century flight of fancy”.
* Elizabeth van Houts ‘The Ship List of William the Conqueror’, in ‘Anglo-Norman Studies X: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1987’ (1988).
** Lucien Musset ‘The Bayeux Tapestry’ (English translation 2005, of a French original 2002)
The ‘Chronicle of Battle Abbey’ is actually two chronicles bound together in British Library MS Cotton Domitian A ii. Both chronicles are anonymous, and both date from the late-12th century.
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
Volume and page of Augustus Le Prevost's five volume edition of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (1838–1855).
Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, first produced his ‘Historia Anglorum’ (History of the English) about 1130. He later revisited the work – revising and extending – several times. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
Eadmer (an Englishman, born shortly before the Norman Conquest) was a monk at Christ Church Canterbury (indeed, he had been there since boyhood). He became a close aide to Anselm (St Anselm), archbishop of Canterbury 1093–1109. The ‘Historia Novorum in Anglia’ (History of Recent Events in England) is primarily concerned with Anselm's career, though, as Eadmer notes in the preface: “My story will also include a number of other occurrences which took place in England ... occurrences of which we do not think it right that those who come after us should be deprived of all knowledge, so far as it is within our power to prevent it.” The ‘Historia’, as first produced, concluded with the aftermath of Anselm's death in 1109, and was completed by 1114. Eadmer later added extra material, concluding in 1122.
Page number in Martin Rule's edition of the ‘Historia Novorum in Anglia’ (1884).