Not everyone in Normandy was thrilled about Williams great idea to invade England. The Duke wanted a great number of ships to carry thousands of men across the channel, all in just a few months. Not to mention, transporting men and ships and horses on a sea journey was extremely risky, they could lose everything in one great storm. But, nothing was going to stop William and his stubborn personality was ingrained in him since he was a child.
William of Normandy had actually been born a bastard (his father the Duke and his mother a commoner in the ducal household) and this had been held over him for a long time. Throughout his life William had to constantly fight against that stigma and he proved he was more than a label. His father had named him heir (being his only son) after he left and then died on a pilgrimage, so he became Duke of Normandy at the young age of eight years old. As a child and a bastard, the world was against him. The nobles began to do whatever they wanted in to ducal lands and created warfare wherever they went. It was actually William’s mother who protected him from being assassinated himself. From this point, William hated lawlessness and wanted structure. As he matured, he worked to consolidate his power, marry strategically, and expand his territory. By 1066, William is an extremely powerful and respected duke. Now he has a chance to prove that a lowly bastard can become even more, he can become a King. This story is one of the greatest underdog stories in history. No one’s opinion or arguments could change William’s mind, he believed this was his destiny.
To stop the haters he gained the support of Pope Alexander II, which gave him the edge in the propaganda game. Through the Pope, God showed that he was on their side, NOT the English. This was confirmed with the grant of a papal banner. The estimated number of ships that were built and traveled across the channel is about 700, which is an extremely large number for the time. It is understandable why William delayed so long in the crossing (to the dismay of Harold) in order to find the perfect weather conditions; it would be too easy to lose valuable men. He would cross over with an army of a little over 7,000 men (though all these numbers are just estimates). These men were a mixture of archers, cavalry (so don’t forget they have to transport the horses as well!), and infantry.
The Tapestry illustrates the ships that were built for the purpose of the Norman invasion. At the head, there is a ship larger than all the others and is decorated with a carved lion’s head. This is assumed to be the Mora. It was built with a figurehead of a child, pointing its hand towards England as the ship led the fleet to their destiny. It was the largest and fastest of all of William’s ships. So fast that William had to pause and wait for the others during the crossing while enjoying a bit of breakfast. This beautiful ship was a gift given to William by his wife Matilda and to honor her he made it his flagship.
On September 28, after a long summer of waiting out the weather, William landed in England. Meanwhile, Harold (ignorant of what was happening in the South) was fighting a major battle in the North against a Viking invader, Harald Hardrada, who also wanted the throne. He would not know of Williams landing until after the Battle of Stamford Bridge. William used a scorched earth policy in the south and laid to waste many villages. The burning of these homes and the suffering of the people are depicted in the tapestry. Is this why Harold may have been forced to march down and attack William a lot sooner than he should have? His men had just fought an intense and exhausting battle in the north then would be pushed to travel 200 miles in four days to commence this early attack. Did William see the advantage in provoking Harold to do this? As I said in my first post, I believe Harold’s haste joining battle with William may have influenced the defeat at Hastings.
Food for Thought:
How does William’s early history contribute to his rough and unmoving personality?
Should Harold have waited after defeating one invader before taking on another?
1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry by Bridgeford