Post by David Amicus
14 October 1066
Nice colorful painting.
I was fortunate to be able to view the Bayeau Tapestry last
year in it's Normandy museum.
But, meanwhile, from
The Battle of Hastings is rightly assessed as one of the most important,
decisive battles in world history. This is because the battle
significantly altered England, which eventually transformed into the
British Empire, which indisputably changed the rest of the world. Davis,
in his well-conceived list of decisive battles, writes of the impact of
The Norman conquest completely altered the nature of England. Dominated
by the Saxons since the Roman Empire fell more than five centuries
earlier, England had made but little progress in relation to the rest of
Europe. From 1066 that changed. The feudal system that had been
developing in France since the days of Charlemagne in the eight century
became the basis of English society and politics as well, although
adapted somewhat. Before the invasion, England had been a loose
confederation of nobles more than a country; afterward it became a real
kingdom. This mean a country going in one direction, able to focus on
its internal needs as well as foreign relations from a single point of
view. The unification that William accomplished strengthened that
concept, for the British Isles had been occupied by multiple
Scandinavian and north European populations, usually antagonistic to
each other. (1999: 117)
Fuller adds that “In the place of a loosely-knit and undisciplined
country was substituted a unified and compact kingdom under a firm and
hereditary central authority, a king who knew how to combine feudalism
with personal government” (1954: 276).
While English land has featured many history-altering battles, Hastings
stands out as not only “the most decisive battle ever fought on her
soil, but also the most decisive in her history” (Fuller, 1965: 276).
The large impact of the Norman victory can be partly explained by simple
fact that virtually the entire English army and all of the significant
competitors for power were killed in the battle, allowing William to
fill the political vacuum (Gabriel and Boose, 1994: 516). The Norman
Conquest of England is truly unique in how rapidly it was accomplished.
Whereas previous invaders such as the Romans or Vikings usually had to
fight for every piece of the country, “William of Normandy, thereafter
known to history as William the Conqueror, had completely decapitated
the English political and military system [in one swift blow]” (Gabriel
and Boose, 1994: 516-517).
William as “the Conqueror”
The reference of William as the Conqueror is an interesting one. Michel
Foucault, the provocative philosopher-historian, spends a lot of time
exploring the Norman Conquest in his lecture series compiled in Society
Must Be Defended. The passage below is part of a much grander discussion
but is worth quoting at length because it illustrates the importance of
military history in broader political, economic, and social histories.
Foucault writes that
Basically, what the new history is trying to show is that power, the
mighty, the kings, and the laws have concealed the fat that they were
born of the contingency and injustice of battles. After all, William the
Conqueror did not want to be called “the conqueror,” for he wanted to
conceal the fact that the rights he exercised, or the violence he was
inflicting on England, were the rights of conquest. He wanted to be the
seen as the legitimate dynastic successor and therefore hid the name of
“conqueror” . . . These unjust and biased kings tried to make it look as
though they were acting on behalf of all and in the name of all; they
certainly wanted people to talk of their victories, but they did not
want it to be known that their victories were someone else’s defeats.
In other words, the basis of legitimacy for every regime, past, present,
and likely future, is victory in a violent struggle. This fact is often
concealed for the same reason William did not wish to be known as “the
conqueror”: to consolidate power over the defeated. When studying
military history’s great battles, think of what each battle or campaign
legitimizes and what it tries to eradicate.
The battle appears to be a vindication of modern combined arms concepts
in which a commander must possess and use all types of arms together
effectively to win on the battlefield. William possessed all three of
this age of warfare, missile troops (archers), fixing troops (infantry),
and shock troops (knights) while Harold possessed only infantry."