Remembering 1066

Brad Miner | October 12, 2021

It was quite a year.

School children (used to) know it as the year of the Norman Conquest, led by William, Duke of Normandy, a point of change in the course of history in what we now call England. But in the 11th century, the land that John of Gaunt (in Shakespeare’s Richard II) would call, “This earth of majesty, / This seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise, / This fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection and the hand of war” was a congeries of disputed and disputing fiefdoms and, as the invasion of 1066 showed, hardly an invulnerable fortress.

The two principal fiefdoms prior to William’s invasion were Mercia and Wessex, and they were constantly disputing, even warring with each other (and sometimes together against Vikings). And so it was until 1066, which was the last year in the life of the last true king of Wessex, Edward, son of Æthelred II, this latter famously styled, “the Unready.” Wessex had emerged, after all the sparring with neighbors and Vikings and Danes, as the more-or-less center of “this scepter’d isle.”

Edward’s mother, Emma, was a Norman, the daughter of Richard the Fearless, Count of Rouen, and Duke William’s great-aunt. (By the way, we need to revive the use of these epithets: Trump the Uninhibited? Biden the Unrepentant?) Edward himself had spent years in exile in Normandy, although that didn’t make Duke William’s invasion a family reunion.

The Romans were long gone, of course, although Rome had returned throughout Europe in the guise of Catholic missionaries, priests, and bishops, and the Norman invaders hadn’t come across the channel in an evangelical spirit.

For the rest of Mr. Miner’s column, click here . . .


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