The Norman Conquest through European Eyes


Elisabeth van Houts.

Printed with permission of: The English Historical Review, Sep 1995 v110 n438 p832(22)

Abstract: William the Conqueror's European contemporaries condemned the Normans' rationale for the war and violence it entailed. On the other hand, they also admired the Normans for the victory and the eventual reform of the English church. Based on the German sources, there was both fear and admiration regarding William's victory, while Flemish monks condemned the violence of his aggression. Most of France and Italy were also supportive of the war that was fought. However, at the papal court as well as in most other nations, William the Conqueror has been severely criticised for making the war happen.


Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Addison Wesley Longman Higher Education


In the spring of 1066 Duke William of Normandy sent Gilbert, Archdeacon of Lisieux, to Rome as his messenger to enlist the support of Pope Alexander II 1061-73 for his plans to dispute King Harold's succession to the English throne by force of arms. The Duke's adviser, Abbot Lanfranc of Saint-Etienne at Caen, had drawn up the Norman case, of which the main argument was that Harold had committed perjury and that therefore the Duke was justified in using violence against him. The Pope, a friend of Lanfranc from their schooldays in northern Italy, happily gave his blessing to William's enterprise, and according to the Norman sources he sent a papal banner as sign of his approval. Morally strengthened by the Pope's support, Duke William began to recruit his Invasion army. Messengers were sent round Europe and by the summer the army was ready. Shortly after Easter, a comet had appeared in the sky which remained visible for about a fortnight. We have written evidence of the comet's appearance which pre-dates the Conquest, and the Bayeux Tapestry includes a picture of astrologers explaining it. Although there is no evidence that at that stage the comet was seen as a portent of the Norman invasion, it was certainly viewed as an omen. But not until after the Norman Conquest of England, as we shall see, was the comet interpreted retrospectively as God's sign for this particular change of government.


The events of the summer and early autumn of 1066 off are well known. On 25 combined armies of Earl Tostig, brother of King Harold, and King Harold Hardrada of Norway, were defeated at Stamford Bridge. Upon his return to London, King Harold received the news of Duke William's landing at Pevensey on 29 September and within a fortnight the battle of Hastings took place. King Harold was killed and with him the greater part of the English nobility. Duke William's victory, the carnage of the battlefield, and the retrospective significance of the heavenly sign portending victory were at once reported all over Europe. What did the chronicles and annals say and how did they judge the main protagonists? Surprisingly, neither of these questions has ever been asked, let alone answered, by any historian of the Norman Conquest, or any biographer of William the Conqueror. With the exception of a brief appendix in Edward Freeman's monumental History of the Norman Conquest, written in the last century, the continental sources have been almost completely ignored. Historians have, perhaps understandably, concentrated on source material emanating from England and Normandy. But since the Norman narratives, especially the contemporary ones, tend to eulogise the new king, and the English texts were all written under Norman domination, very few samizdat writings, to use George Garnett's phrase, or dissenting voices, can be found, in England and Normandy after 1066. It is time, therefore, to assess the international press of William the Conqueror and his conquest of England, and to investigate whether the continental sources help to shed new light on the most famous event in English history.


Before we embark on this task, however, a word of caution about the annalistic sources is necessary. Annals, which were written on a year-by-year basis, are clearly contemporary to the events they describe. Those that were written in stages may date from a considerably later time, since often a series of annals written in one monastery would be copied, and then updated, in another monastery, and this custom complicates the modern assessment of their origin and date. Less problematic are the more substantial pieces of historiography, like chronicles or biographies. Apart from these sources, which form the bulk of the evidence, there are also some letters and other miscellaneous pieces which relate to William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest. I have excluded the Latin panegyrics on William, which I discussed some years ago in another context. As far as the geographical scope of my work is concerned, I limit myself to western Europe and I shall discuss the countries in this order: Scandinavia, the Holy Roman Empire, Flanders, France and Italy. I shall exclude England and Normandy, except for comparative purposes and in those cases where foreigners were writing In England or Englishmen were writing abroad. Irish, Breton, and Iberian historiography on the Norman conquest is virtually non-existent and can be left aside. The chronological limit is 1150.


Starting in the north with Scandinavia, the first thing we must note is that many Norman families were of Scandinavian descent and retained memories of their Viking forebears. Nevertheless, the links between Normandy and Scandinavia weakened with time, and there is little if any evidence that in the period before the Conquest - say from the 1020s on - the dukes of Normandy maintained relations with the Scandinavian realms in the way that they clearly did with the Scandinavian kings of England, Cnut, Harald and Harthacnut. When William became king of England in 1066, however, he was obliged to pay attention to these realms because of the threat represented by Denmark in particular. He had little to fear from Norway, because King Harald Hardrada, together with Earl Tostig, had perished. But King Svein Estrithsson of Denmark was a nephew of King Cnut of England; moreover, a sister of his father Ulf, called Gytha, had married Earl Godwine and was the mother of the Harold who died at Hastings. These dynastic links encouraged in Svein Estrithsson, and subsequently in his eldest son and successor King Cnut IV, ambitions to reunite the kingdoms of Denmark and England. Svein Estrithsson gave active backing to the Anglo-Saxon rebels in England, besides invading England himself in 1069 and 1070. His sons invaded England again in 1075. And yet another invasion was planned In 1085 by Cnut IV in alliance with his father-in-law, the Flemish Count Robert `the Friesian'. The 1085 invasion, which never materialised, was the last attempt to oust King William from the English throne.


Three sources are relevant with regard to Scandinavia. The earliest is a poem, which gives us a glimpse of how the Anglo-Danish community felt one decade after the arrival of the Normans. It was written in England in 1076 by Thorkill Skallason, a Danish skald in the service of Earl Waltheof, shortly after his master had been executed by King William for his involvement in the 1075 rebellion. His view of William is understandably bitter.

'William crossed the cold channel and reddened the bright swords, and now he has betrayed noble Earl Waltheof. It is true that killing in England will be a long time ending. A braver lord than Waltheof will never be seen on earth.'


The second source is the History of the Archbishops of Bremen, written c. 1080 by Adam of Bremen, a clerk at the archiepiscopal court. His testimony is important because in 1068 or 1069 he actually visited King Svein Estrithsson and may have incorporated some of the king's views. He justifies a digression on 1066 by reminding his readers that the battle of Hastings was great and memorable, and that it had happened in England which of old had been subjected to the Danes. Adam calls Harold Godwinson a vir maleficus who usurped the throne of England. He continues by saying that Harold killed not only his brother Tostig, but also King Harold Hardrada and the king of Ireland. Then, relying on hearsay, he says that only eight days later William crossed from France to England and fought a battle against a tired victor. Harold died, together with 100,000 Englishmen. According to Adam, William was God's avenger in punishing the English, who had sinned against Him. He banished almost all the monks who lived without a monastic rule and brought, in Lanfranc to restore divine worship. In a later addition, Adam himself attributes King William's wealth to his confiscation of 300 ships left behind by King Harald Hardrada plus the gold which Harald had collected while a Varangian in Greece. If this story originated from King Svein, which is quite possible, then it reinforces the hypothesis that Svein's attacks on England in the immediate post-conquest period were inspired by a quest for booty as well as land. Although Adam of Bremen openly condemns Harold's election as king, he justifies William's invasion and his succession to the throne only in terms of divine retribution. We find the same attitude in contemporary English sources like the anonymous Vita Edwardi, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.


The third source which reflects Danish opinion dates from c. 1122, when the Anglo-Saxon exile Aelnoth of Canterbury, who lived at Odense, wrote his biography of King Cnut IV, son of King Svein Estrithsson, who was killed in 1086. According to Aelnoth, King Cnut planned the abortive invasion of 1085 as revenge for the death of his kinsman, King Harold Godwinson, and for the imposition on the English by William the Conqueror of the imperium of the Romans and the French: `In their despair', so he writes,

'the English, whose dukes, counts, lords, noblemen and other people of high rank had either been killed, or imprisoned, or deprived of their father's honours, wealth, dignity or inheritance or expelled abroad, or

left behind and forced Into public slavery, were not able to bear the tyranny of the Romans and the French and declined to seek foreign help.'


King Cnut is pictured as the natural protector of the English people against the aggression of a foreign duke. Even half a century after the Conquest, it seems, there were people who still saw the British Isles as part of a larger Scandinavian kingdom.


No diplomatic contact between Normandy and the Holy Roman Empire is known to have existed before iou, despite the allegations of William of Poitiers, the Conqueror's biographer, that King Henry IV 56-1106 was bound to the Conqueror by friendship (amicitia . In 1035 King Cnut of England and his wife Emma, who was of Norman origin, had arranged for their daughter Gunnhilde to marry Henry III. The marriage took place at Nijmegen 1036. Gunnhilde died after the birth of their daughter Beatrice in 1038; and six years later the king married Agnes of Poitou, the mother of Henry IV. King Edward the Confessor had at one time, in 1049, allied himself with the German king against Count Baldwin V of Flanders 35-67 , but this was a temporary measure rather than an act of long-term pro-German policy. After 1066 Judith, the widow of Earl Tostig slain at Stamford Bridge, returned to her home country of Flanders, from where she was married off in 1071 to Welf IV, recently Installed as duke of Bavaria. Directly or indirectly she may have provided some of the monasteries in Bavaria with their Information concerning the events of 1066.


We may divide the German sources into three groups: one from the north and middle of Germany; one from the south and one from Lotharingia in the west. To the first of Bremen, which, as we have seen, was profoundly influenced by his contact with King Svein of Denmark. Adam's story reappears almost verbatim, but with an interesting Interpolation, in the so-called Annalista Saxo, which was written in the first half of the twelfth century by an anonymous writer at Halberstadt. The interpolation alleges that Judith was the widow of Harold before she married Welf IV of Bavaria, that she was thus a dowager queen with enormous wealth, deriving from the kings Edward and Harold. It is quite possible that the legend of Judith as a widowed queen rather than a widowed countess was fostered by Judith herself, for in the necrology of the monastery of Weingarten, where she spent the last years of her life and which she richly endowed, she was entered as a former queen of England.


A contemporary of Adam of Bremen was Marianus Scotus, an Irish recluse who settled at Mainz and there wrote a World Chronicle. Among the events in England which Marianus recorded for the years 1065 and 1066 are the following: the death of King Edward (erroneously dated to Christmas , the succession of King Harold; the invasion by King Harald Hardrada, who came `with less than a thousand ships to rule England'; the subsequent death in warfare of more than a thousand laymen and a hundred priests; the battle of Stamford Bridge, which Harald Hardrada is said to have lost because of his lack of hauberks; and the arrival of William and his Frenchmen. William, Marianus says, became king the minute he slew King Harold of the English. This is an interesting remark, especially in comparison with Bishop Guy of Amiens's assertion that William became king on the battlefield. A note in the margin of his manuscript refers to the appearance of the comet. Under the year 1070 Marianus reports famine and cannibalism in northern England owing to the campaigns by the Scots and the French; the story of cannibalism echoes a roughly contemporaneous account by the monk Simeon of Durham in his Historia Regum.


Two other chronicles from north or central Germany contain references to William the Conqueror which Illustrate the formidable reputation he acquired after the Conquest, though in both of them the Conquest itself is ignored. Lampert of Hersfeld, who mentions the battle of Stamford Bridge in his Chronicle but not the battle of Hastings, reports under the year 1074 the following story about King Henry IV. In that year, he says, the king arrived at Regensburg and was there told that Archbishop Anno of Cologne had enticed King William to come and help him to occupy the see of the regnum Aquisgrani; King Henry was sufficiently alarmed by this rumour to abandon a planned expedition to Hungary and return to the Rhineland, where he then spent Easter at Mainz. Bruno of Magdeburg, who wrotein 1082 an account of the recent war in 1073-4 between King Henry IV and the Saxons, reports that the king sent messages requesting military support to several other princes in Europe, King William among them. According to Bruno, William replied that he had seized England by violence and feared that, if he left it, it would be taken back - an answer which rings true enough in view of the rebellions with which William still had to cope in 1074, not to mention the continuing threat from Denmark. These stories recorded by Lampert and Bruno may, of course, be based on ill-informed gossip and have no real substance to them, but they reflect the respect which William's reputation could excite.


Two Bavarian sources provide accounts of the Conquest which appear independent of one another, though references to Halley's comet appear in both of them. That of Frutolf of Michelsberg at Bamberg is brief and chiefly remarkable for the fact that it blames William for causing misery instead of praising him for his military achievement:

'In the same year England was miserably attacked and finally conquered by William the Norman, who himself was made king. Soon thereafter he sent almost all the bishops of the kingdom into exile and the nobles to their death; he forced the middle rank soldiers/knights into servitude and the wives of the

Anglo-Saxons into marriage to the newcomers.'


Frutolf's chronicle was copied in a slightly abbreviated form by Bishop Otto of Freising, who also made no attempt to exonerate William. The account contained in the annals of the monastery of Niederalteich is more detailed and more intriguing, partly because it pre-dates all the other German sources, and partly because it claims to be based on eyewitness accounts. Writing in 1075, the anonymous author gives an elaborate description of the appearance of Halley's comet and then continues with a report of the battle of Hastings:

'That summer the Aquitanians fought a naval battle with the Anglo-Saxons and, having defeated them, subjected them to their rule. Those who were present at that battle told us that 12,000 men on the side of the winners died. How many died on the side of the victims can hardly be comprehended in figures. Some people also explained that the terrible, long-tailed comet had previously blazed forth because so many thousands of people perished that year.'


The most surprising element of this story is that the author attributes the invasion to Aquitanians instead of Normans. Perhaps his informants, inflating the contribution they had made, were from Aquitaine. Or, considering that they gave an estimate of the number of deaths amongst the victorious invaders, they might conceivably have been Englishmen. We know that after the battle of Hastings some Anglo-Saxons fled abroad and went to Byzantium to take service in the imperial army. They could easily have passed through Niederalteich on the Danube, which was after all an important monastery and thus a likely overnight stop on the route to Constantinople. If the annalist's information is indeed based on English eyewitness accounts, he may indirectly provide early evidence for this Anglo-Saxon exodus which is only mentioned in Byzantine sources from the early 1080s. The reference to a naval battle is not as odd as it may seem, for William of Poitiers and the compilers of Domesday Book testify quite separately to naval skirmishes.


From the western part of the Holy Roman Empire, Lotharingla, we have several important testimonies. The earliest dates from c. 1080 and comes in the form of a letter written by a scholastic of Trier to the pope: I shall discuss it below in connection with the papal evidence. From Verdun stems the chronicle of Hugh of Flavigny. He had many contacts with Normandy, the most important of which was his visit to Rouen in 1096 in order to negotiate the treaty by which Duke Robert Curthose mortgaged the duchy to his brother William Rufus for the period of his crusade. After he has reported the appearance of a comet in 1065, he explains King Edward's succession:


Because he died without children he had decided that his kinsman Count William of the Normans would reign after him. But Harold, contrary to the oath he had sworn to William, usurped the kingdom. That year in October, William crossed the sea and having fought a battle on 14 October he killed Harold and William was elected and crowned king on Christmas Day in London.


Hugh's account resembles closely the Norman version of the history of the conquest of England. From the monastery of Saint-Hubert in the Ardennes we have an anonymous story which relates how Count William conquered the English and, out of gratitude to God, established order in the monasteries, and how through foreigners he perfected the public laws of administration to his civic pride. Thus this monk, like Adam of Bremen, praises William's attitude to the English church. He is original, however, in his exultation of William's laws and in his quotation of several panegyrics on William the Conqueror, which I have discussed elsewhere. In the early twelfth century Sigebert of Gembloux distinguished between the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. His account is brief and factual. No explanations or reasons for William's actions are given. In this respect Sigebert resembles a number of other German chroniclers who incorporated short references to the conquest of England.


Whereas the reports from Germany form a mixed bag of accurate and garbled stories, the Flemish annalists are well informed. Count Baldwin V 35-67 did nothing to prevent the Norman invasion of England, despite his continuous support for the Godwine family in exile at St Omer both before and after 1066. He may have been persuaded to accept a neutral position between his son-in-law Duke William and his overlord, the king of France, Philip I 60-1108 , who also, as a minor, was his ward. We know of several Flemish scholars who lived in England during the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule: the hagiographer Goscelin of Saint-Bertin maintained a flexible attitude to whatever king ruled England, while his colleague Folcard of Saint Bertin became abbot of Thorney, but afterwards was deposed by King William. Either of them may have written The Life of King Edward, which was dedicated to Queen Edith, supports the house of Godwine and only hints at the Norman Conquest. Contrary to Goscelin and Folcard, whose neutrality towards William the Conqueror is irritating but clear Herman of Bury St Edmunds expresses doubt, albeit somewhat vague, about King Harold's accession and condemns the haste with which Harold had himself crowned. In Flanders itself the contemporary annals are brief and unambiguous. They report that William invaded - or perhaps we should go so far as to translate the Latin invasit with `usurped' - the kingdom of the English, killed Harold and was crowned in London; moreover, the annals of Lobbes specify that William became king by the use of force. Those Flemish commentators thus are unanimously negative about Duke William, and their opinion is in stark contrast with the military support from individual Flemish fighters in 1066. By the beginning of the twelfth century, however, we find justifications of William's action in Flemish chronicles when Lambert, canon at Saint Omer, inserted a genealogy both of the Anglo-Saxon royal family and of the Norman ducal dynasty into his Liber Floridus. In the former he writes that, after the death of King Edward, Harold perfidiously seized the throne, whereupon William the Bastard conquered England, killed Harold and acquired the throne for himself. In the latter he explains why: because William was related by blood to King Edward, he received the kingdom by hereditary right. By using this argument Lambert is one of a relatively small group of historians in Europe who draw attention to the kinship between King Edward and Duke William and the rights of inheritance due to ties of blood.


Although Flanders formed politically a province of the kingdom of France, its `foreign' policies were formulated by the counts, who with regard to England often followed a different course from that of the other French princes. In 1067, the year his regent Count Baldwin V of Flanders died, King Philip I came of age. He had followed Baldwin's course of non-intervention with regard to the invasion of England by his most powerful vassal, William of Normandy. In the late 1070s, however, he confronted William by lending support to William's eldest son, Robert Curthose. Thereafter the King's antagonism came to an end only with the death of William after the siege of the French town of Mantes. As far as the other French princes are concerned, none achieved the same glittering height as William of Normandy and the majority of their historians are relatively positive about Duke William's achievement. There is little sign of jealousy in their reports, and few of them are non-committal or ambiguous.


Amongst the contemporary chronicles, Hariulf's history of the monastery of Saint-Riquier in Ponthieu is the most important. Hariulf blames Harold for having broken an oath sworn to King Edward whereby he would have conceded the regnum to King Edward's cousin Aelfgar. When, however, Harold had unjustly used the power and the insignia of the regnum and had expelled Edward's cousin Aelfgar, the `highest and almighty God, in whose power lies the rule of countries which he can give to whomever he likes', destined Duke William to become king. Hariulf's interpretation of the case against Harold deserves attention because he had inside knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman court in England. His abbot, Gervinus, knew King Edward, Queen Edith and their staller Ralph the Breton, who became a benefactor of Saint-Riquier, very well. Unfortunately, the story as it stands does not make sense. If by Aelfgar Hariulf means Earl Aelfgar, son of Earl Leofwine, earl of East Anglia, who was banned several times from court, it is the only time we hear of the latter's pretensions to the throne. If, on the other hand, as seems most likely, Hariulf means Edgar the Atheling, the story becomes significant on account of the tradition that King Edward at some stage considered his young nephew might be a suitable successor. We have no evidence for this, but we know that in the mid-1050s King Edward opened negotiations with Edward `the Exile', Edgar's father, whom he recalled from Hungary. Under circumstances which have never been fully explained, shortly after his arrival in England in 1057 this Edward died, after which the subject of King Edward's succession seems to have been dropped from the agenda. On account of Hariulf's access to the circle of King Edward it would be foolish to dismiss his story. It might well reflect the truth of a promise to Edgar, perhaps to be dated to the early 1060s, which was overtaken by the events of 1066, when in the autumn Edgar was dropped by the Anglo-Saxon magnates in favour of the Conqueror.


Hugh of Fleury, from Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, in his history of recent kings of France is overtly sympathetic to William the Conqueror. Hugh's relations with the Anglo-Norman court are well known, for he dedicated his contemporary chronicle to Countess Adela, the youngest daughter of King William, and a treatise on royal and ecclesiastical power to King Henry I. Hugh argues that Duke William's adoption by the childless King Edward led to the Norman challenge to Harold's accession, and in this way he justifies William's action. One other detail in his account deserves to be mentioned. Like the Norman poet Wace he mentions the number of ships used in the invasion as 700, a number which most historians now agree is realistic. Hugh's estimate of 150,000 soldiers participating in the invasion, however, seems a gross exaggeration. The group of annals from Anjou and the Vendome, which ultimately derive from one exemplar from Saint Aubin at Angers written in the 1070s, are interesting because they explicitly link the appearance of the comet with the conquest of England. They are unique for the qualification of the invasion as a public war, a theme which we otherwise encounter only a Bishop Eremfrid of Sion's `Penitential Order' for those who fought at Hastings. By describing Duke William's expedition as a public war they implicitly deny any suggestion that the Duke pursued a private vendetta against Harold. An anonymous monk at Saint-Pierre at Sens, writing in 1096, reports that the comet was visible for twelve days. His account of the Norman Conquest is factual and remarkable only because William is called a kinsman of Edward, is said to have made peace with the English after the battle, and is reported to have subjected the Scots as well.


Of the early twelfth-century annals and chronicles it is worth mentioning the anonymous chronicler of Cambrai, who in an otherwise purely local history, written in 1133, perceived the comet, which was visible for five days in May, as a portent of the battle of Hastings. He argues that the war between Duke William and Earl Harold was due to the fact that Harold had broken his promise to William concerning the agreement to marry his daughter. This part of his story thus agrees with the accounts of William of Poitiers, Orderic Vitalis and Eadmer, who also mention a marriage alliance. The only other interesting reference to Harold can be found in the Chronicle of Saint-Maixent from Poitou, where he is described as a `pseudo king' The relatively elaborate story of Geoffrey of Chaumont-sur-Loire in the History of the Lords of Amboise is significant because it shows the impact of the Conquest on a local noble family from the Loire valley. Despite Its relatively late date of 1139, it ultimately derives from Geoffrey's own eyewitness account as a participant in the invasion. According to Geoffrey, Duke William's claim was based on his hereditary right to the English throne, an argument which the author does not further develop or explain. Following the accounts of the recruitment of troops, the Invasion, the battle, the death of Harold and William's coronation, the author of the history concludes by saying that Geoffrey received money and land from King William, which unfortunately have left no trace in any surviving documentation."


Before we move further south to Italy and the papacy, we have to take into account two other French historians who do not refer to 1066, but mention William the Conqueror in a favourable light, The earlier is the anonymous biographer of Saint Simon, otherwise known as Count Simon of Amiens 74-7, d. 1080 , who was educated at the court of William the Conqueror and may have participated in the invasion. Simon was fond of his foster parents William and Matilda, for he mediated between William and his rebellious eldest son Robert Curthose in the 1070s, while In return Matilda held him in high esteem and paid for his tomb in Rome. The other historian's Guibert of Nogent, the famous autobiographer and historian of the First Crusade. In his autobiography he mentions William the Conqueror with reference to his father who had fought at the battle of Mortemer in 1054, where he was captured. Instead of being exchanged for ransom, the latter found himself put into prison, as was the Duke's custom.


Finally, we turn to Italy, where in particular the relations between the Normans and the papacy need our attention. In contrast with the parts of Europe we have discussed thus far, Italy is different because of the large numbers of Normans who went to live there. They had arrived in the early eleventh century, and by 1066 the second generation of immigrants was firmly established. Their leader was Robert Guiscard, amongst whose achievements was the establishment of cordial relations with the pope. In fact Pope Alexander II depended on the Normans in his struggle with King Henry IV of Germany, and in return for their help he recognised their authority in southern Italy. Thanks to the continuing influx of new recruits the Italian Normans remained fully Informed about the developments in their country of origin. This is nowhere more clear than in the history of the Normans in Italy written c. 1085 by Amato, monk of Monte Cassino. Amato begins his history with a brief sketch of Normandy and its most famous duke, William the Conqueror, who throughout Amato's account of 1066 has the author's sympathy. He reports that William's army consisted of 100,000 soldiers, 10,000 archers, and numberless foot-folk. He describes Edward as a good king and Harold as a `maledit homme', a phrase which is reminiscent of Adam of Bremen's `vir maleficus'. Amato goes on by saving that Harold succumbed to an arrow in his eye, that many Englishmen died, that William emerged as victor of the throne and the victorious crown, and that King Svein was also defeated by William. He adds that the comet which had appeared earlier that year had been a good omen for the positive outcome of the battle. Considering the close relationship between the monastery of Monte Cassino and the popes in Rome, we may assume that Amato's opinion of William the Conqueror would not have been too different from that of the post-1066 popes.


Much has been written by English historians about the friendly relations between William the Conqueror and the popes Alexander Il and Gregory VII 73-85 . There is no doubt in my mind that Alexander II supported Duke William's claim to the throne of England, or that Cardinal Hildebrand, before he became Pope Gregory, denounced King Harold. Their correspondence with William and his main adviser Lanfranc, as well as their instructions to their legates, are unambiguous. Not until later during Gregory's papacy did relations become strained, owing to the papal request that King William should do homage and fealty to him. This request was not unique to Anglo-papal relations, but formed part of Gregory's Investiture struggle with other European kings, especially King Henry IV of Germany. Yet whereas the popes and the new English king got on well some eyebrows in Europe were raised about the arguments deployed to whitewash William's use of violence in order to gain the English throne. The Norman case rested on the premise that Earl Harold had broken his oath of fealty to Duke William and thus was a perjurer. A perjurer - so the argument has been reconstructed by George Garnett - threatens the Christian peace. It is the duty of a legitimate ruler (William to punish someone (Harold who has disturbed the peace. The argument of a public war Justified military action which resulted in the Invasion, the death of Harold and many others, and the occupation of England. William of Poitiers says that Pope Alexander II gave his support and thus in fact sanctioned William's actions, while in 1080 Pope Gregory VII reminded William the Conqueror of his Intercession in 1066 while still a cardinal. Pope Gregory admitted then that both had acted in the face of great moral anguish of others at the papal court about the enormous sacrifice of lives:

I am sure that you know, my most eminent son, how devoted I was to your interests before I was raised to the summit of priestly rule, how useful I showed myself to you, and with what zeal I laboured to advance you to your royal state. So much so that I had to bear from certain of my brethren the almost infamous charge of having lent my aid in bringing about so great a sacrifice of human life.


Moreover, one can legitimately ask, what was in fact the difference between William the Conqueror's overthrow of Harold's rule and other recent change-overs, like the usurpation of the Flemish county in 1071 by Robert `the Frisian', or indeed the election of Rudolf of Swabia as anti-king in Germany in 1080? That such questions were raised in Europe, though not, as far as we know, in either Normandy or in England under Norman occupation, is proven by the letter of Wenric, a scholastic first at Verdun and later at Trier, to Pope Gregory VII in 1080. In the letter, which forms part of the correspondence exchanged by scholars and the papal Chancery during the Investiture Contest, Wenric accuses the Pope of having supported the anti-king Rudolf of Swabia against King Henry IV, lists Rudolf's vices as perjury, homicide and adultery, and then in a passage which is extremely interesting for our purpose he says:

But there are others [like him] who, having usurped kingdoms by the violence of a tyrant, themselves paved the road to the throne with blood, placed a bloodstained crown on their heads, and with murder, rape, butchery, and tormenting established their rule; having themselves strangled several close kinsmen and their lords, they seized their honours; they all call themselves friends of the pope, are honoured by his blessings and are greeted by him as victorious princes.


Although he does not mention William the Conqueror by name, Wenric must have had him in mind. In attacking Pope Gregory, he accuses him of collaboration with those, like William the Conqueror, who use violence to gain thrones. Whereas Pope Alexander II and, while still a cardinal Pope Gregory VII had supported the Norman Conquest of England as a means of strengthening papal authority in north-western Europe and of creating allies they could exploit, opponents of the papacy like Wenric used the same event in an effort to weaken the pope's power by accusing him of collaboration with murderers. The nature of Wenric's information on Anglo-Norman affairs is unknown, but some suggestions as to his sources can be made. While he was a clerk at Verdun he presumably knew the historian Hugh of Flavigny, who acted as secretary to papal legates and was extremely knowledgeable about Norman affairs. In Trier Wenric may also have had access to the library of the monastery of Saint-Eucharius-Matthias, which possessed a copy of the `Carmen de Hastingae Proelio', the poem written in 1067 by Bishop Guy of Amiens to praise William the Conqueror and vilify King Harold.


The conclusion is clear. The continental contemporaries of William the Conqueror expressed at least as much condemnation of the arguments and violence used by the Normans as they expressed admiration for the military victory and the reform of the English church. The concerted efforts of Duke William and the pope had led to the recruitment of an army strong enough to overthrow King Harold, and to widespread propaganda persuasive enough to counteract dissenting voices during the autumn of 1066. But while in England they silenced most critics, on the Continent they could not, and protests were written down. When the news of the Norman Conquest spread far and wide, the presence of the Normans in England contributed to a larger political realignment, and people all over Europe began to contemplate the consequences of the new situation for their own affairs. Thus in Scandinavia we find feelings of regret and anger about the failure of an Anglo-Danish union. Amongst the German chroniclers, fear of Norman aggression, coupled with admiration for William's achievement, dominates, while the lonely voice of Countess Judith of Bavaria mourns her first husband Tostig as a rival for the English throne. The Flemish monks, remembering the long-standing ties with land, are unanimous in their condemnation of William's aggression. Most of William's French contemporaries express admiration and tend to support his claim that he fought a just war. The Italian Normans were natural partisans who, backed by the pope, happily gave him their moral support. When, after about one generation, the realisation that the Normans were going to stay In England sank in, reports on the Continent became more positive and displayed retrospective justification of the Conquest. But they never replaced the mixed a contemporary judgements which serve as important reminders that abroad, and even at the papal court, the Conqueror faced serious criticism. We should balance these views carefully with those of these propagandists in our assessment of the Norman Conquest of England.

Article A17520496


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