Monday, 16 February 2015

A Family Story of Sorts

Once upon a time.....should be the introduction of this historical essay of sorts.  These are all events that lay mostly as boring historical pieces of world history, and the vast collection of American kids won't ever hear of this simple story.  For me, there is some significance.  So, I'll try to tell the story.....as simply as it is.

Going back around a thousand years ago.....England was an isle mostly under attack from various neighbors.  For sixteen years (959 to 974), King Edgar had been accepted as the leader of England.  What you can chiefly say of his life and rule.....he was a fairly peaceful gentleman, and been able to unify the various factions that existed in England.  After his passing, it's safe to say that no one who came to rule England for decades.....did it with any form of peace or unity.

After King Edgar came King Ethelred (the Unready).  The Unready term comes up because most people felt he never took wise advice or consulted with people.  Whether true or not.....the Unready term stuck to him for the rest of history.

King Ethelred's wife would be Emma of Normandy (the sister of Richard II of Normandy).  This in itself ties Ethelred tightly to the Normans.

In today's world....the Normans are a tribe of people who existed around the coastal plain of France, and the size of Louisiana today.  They would eventually fold into the French empire.....but for a long period....the Normans were themselves....not French.

What comes out of this period of 978 to 1013 are two chief things from King Ethelred's reign.  Civil war action against the remains of the Vikings dominate almost the entire period, and this connection to the Normans starts to be a major part of the future for England.

Edward the Confessor will rule from 1042 to 1066.  What can generally be said is that he solidified the public, kept political intrigue to a minimum and only rarely showed instances of ruthlessness. Oddly, Edward will have no sons.

When Edward passes on......there is this belief in the mind of the Duke of Normandy....William II....that he is the rightful individual to take the role as King of England.  Either through letters or discussions....words spoken by Edward gave the William this belief.  It's an odd circumstance, but it's what developed.

Somewhere in the mix of things....a Earl from England simply assumed the role of King (Harold Goodwinson).  There's no real written rule on how this would all work....so simply assuming the position requires only a number of Dukes to side with you, and it's a done deal.  Except in this case.....William of Normandy disagreed.

For roughly nine months.....King Harold runs England.  Somewhere toward the very end of summer....Norway will stage an invasion of England with roughly 15,000 men.  The Norwegians will find themselves in a tough spot, and eventually lose.

Strangely enough....just days after this last battle occurs.....William of Normandy stages his invasion on the far south of England.  He arrives with roughly 10,000 men.  There are arguments about the number today.....but most historians side with the 10,000 number.

When you sit and ponder upon timing.....in this case, timing is everything.  As king, you can call together a massive army to put down some invading force.  But there's two periods of the year when the priorities are with planting crops and harvesting crops.

While King Harold does a good job in getting some quick force assembled for the original invasion and put down the Norwegians by late September....it's time for most farmers to return to their farm and harvest what they grew over the year.

Whether William of Normandy knew this or not....it's not written into history.

So King Harold moves southward to counter the Norman invasion.  He has at best....7,000 men.  Somewhere around Hastings.....around an hour's drive south of London, along the coast.....Harold and William will meet  up.

There is to be one of the greatest battles of all time in terms of significance to occur.  14 October 1066 will be the day.  And the battle will start around 9AM.

Harold holds the higher ground and is in a better defensive position.  William has around 3,000 Calvary staged near the rear of his front, and have a large assortment of archers.  He is prepared for open terrain type fighting.

What most historians will say is that the battle was not progressing well for William, and at some point.....his troops on one flank felt the battle was lost and was moving toward the rear.  William came to pump up these guys as they were retreating.  Oddly, the stationary side of Harold's troops on the hill.....felt they had the advantage finally and took off (without orders).....chasing the Normans who were in retreat.

At some point in this episode.....the retreating Normans stop.....stand and fight, and the advancing Englishmen fell into a sort of mess.  The line simply didn't hold, and the battle shifted.  By 3PM (six hours into this one battle)....it was over.

Harold was killed, and the bulk of the English troops lay on the field.  The Normans under William won.

Why this matters for me?  Somewhere among this group of men who sailed over and were part of this invasion force....my ancestors were there.  There are no names or family stories related to it.  Before 1066, there was no one in England with my last name......it comes only after the Battle of Hastings, as part of the Norman invasion.

As the months and years passed, this group of my ancestors stayed on.....married English women.....and settled primarily in the Kirby-Bedon area of eastern England.  Norman and French to some degree.....they would eventually become English.

The Battle of Hastings?  It remakes England, brings on the Normans, and sets the stage for the Magna Carta.  Without it, my family stays in Normandy.