Normandy’s Duke William landed in England on this day in 1066, leading an invasion army of some 10,000 in the Norman Conquest. Two weeks later William engaged Harold, the new British king, at the Battle of Hastings, regarded as “the single most important event in English history,” one that “altered what it meant to be English”(Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest). It also earned William an upgrade from “the Bastard” to “the Conqueror,” the following description of his battlefield exploits taken from the pro-Norman eleventh-century chronicle Gesta Guillelmi (Deeds of William):
Three horses were killed under him and fell. Three times he sprang to the ground undaunted, and avenged without delay the loss of his steed. Here his speed, here his physical strength and courage could be seen. With his angry blade he tirelessly pierced shields, helmets, and hauberks; with his buckler he threw back many. Marvelling at seeing him fight on foot, his knights, many of them smitten with wounds, took heart again….
The authors of 1066 and All That, a classic in the spoof genre, are a little more skeptical of William’s contribution to British history: “William next invented a system according to which everybody had to belong to somebody else, and everybody else to the King. This was called the Feutile System….”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.