There they are: two Norman war horses stepping out of a Norman vessel onto English soil. Soon, with their knights carrying about 25 pounds of armour , they will charge up the hill to battle with King Harold of England. The Duke of Normandy, William I, unlike many commanders who stayed at the rear of the charge, will lead it. Duke William was an accomplished horseman.
Perhaps 3000 stallions landed this way (depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry) in Pevensey, England, in those days a small hamlet with a sandy beach.
The story of the Norman Conquest is fantastic and mind boggling.
What kind of man could make this type of military move?
The Duke of Normandy was in his late thirties at the time of the Conquest. He’d survived a turbulent childhood, filled with uncertainty. His father Robert, who died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when William was only seven years old, left him the duchy. Because of this, many noblemen were out to kill him and secure Normandy–with its rich limestone soil, lush forests, and river outlets and estuaries–for themselves.
William’s mother, a tanner’s daughter, sheltered and shielded him from attempted poisonings and murder. With protection from key churchmen and barons, William grew into adulthood and began his domination of Normandy and of neighboring places like Flanders, Brittany, and Maine.
From the primary sources from the times, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Gesta Gvillelmi by William of Poitiers, The Carmen De Hastingae Proelio by Guy of Amiens, and the Bayeux Tapestry we learn that Duke William, with his Viking ancestry, would not be denied that which he desired: power, the money to keep the power, and his name. And, depending on which side of the English Channel one lives, he is now known as either William the Bastard or William the Conqueror. Literally, he was both.
And as is often the pattern of sons of successful fathers, he had something to prove. How this need was manifest, we can only speculate. I suggest that he was tender and kind to his wife Matilde and his many children, but ruthless and revengeful when he didn’t get his way. Cutting off enemies’ hands was not a problem for him. He was an observant Catholic and must have needed confession daily. He believed that God was always on his side and having Rome endorse his decision to cross the Channel in 1066 was crucial. For him, the coming of Halley’s Comet in April of 1066 was a good omen.
Duke William proved that in a short nine month period, he could assemble and afford a fighting force of knights and infantry from all over Europe. He acquired or built 800-1000 ships during that time which would carry these 10,000 fighting men across the English Channel. He figured out how to feed that many people and horses while they waited for six weeks for the south wind to blow. He was incredibly patient. He kept morale high. He actually did what he said he would do. He was a logistical genius.
In terms of leadership, he was the man.
We could use William the Conqueror here in the California Legislature; that’s for sure. 🙂