The Last Phase

EngliscHeritage

THE LAST PHASE

 

 (Westminster Abbey; Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire; and Waltham in Essex)

 

The Danish King Canute who reigned ended in 1035 A.D., with his passing and was succeeded by his son Harold the First, whose mother was an English lady; but his died in Oxford in 1040 A.D., and the crown passed to his half-brother, Harthacnut, the son of Cnut by his later marriage with Emma of Normandy, widow of Aethelred the Redeless, and great-granddaughter of the Viking chieftain Rolf, who was the first Duke of Normandy.

 

This Harthacnut, a rough, heavy-drinking fellow, half Dane and half Norman, had always regarded his own claim to the throne as beeter than that of the half-English Harold, and now he spitefully ordered the body of the latter, which had been interred in the old church at Westminster, to be dug up and thrown into the Thames; but it was afterwards recovered secretly and buried either at St. Clement`s in the Strand, or at St. Olaf`s, Southwark.

 

He died, however, two years later, in 1042 A.D., having had a stroke while drinking at a marriage feast; and thereupon hus half-brother, Edward, came to the throne, he being son of the late Aethelred the Redeless and the above-mentioned Emma whose second husband was Cnut. The new King was the third English sovereign of the name of Edward, and ought by rights to be styled Edward the Third, but he is better known too long as “Edward the Confessor” for an alteration now to be made which, would turn the latter Edward the Seventh into Edward the Tenth.

He was born in Islip, then called `Githslepe`, some seven miles/11.2km north of Oxford, where his father had a palace reputed to have stood just to the north-east of the parish church. But of which no trace now remains. The font of this church is now preserved at Middle Stoney, and in the Middle Ages, the royal child was said to have been baptised in it, an inscription being engraved upon it to this effect; but actually the font dates from long after the Norman Conquest.

He was brought up at the court of hos uncle, Duke Richard of Normandy, and though an Englishman on his father`s side, he preferred his mother`s people, and was wholly Norman in character. He made a politicl marriage to Edith, daughter of the great Godwine, Earl of Wessex and of his wife Gytha, sister or cousin of Cnut; but, having avowed himself to actual celibacy, he had no children.

 

The King was more monk than ruler, and seems to have left affairs of state in the hands of three earls, Godwine, Siward, and Leofric, the last named being husband of the celebrated Lady Godiva, who rode through Coventry naked on a horse! A number of Normans were given high office in England; and William claimed later that Edward had said to him, he would be the next in line to the English throne, yet it is the Witan who would have pronounced the new king, especially as king Edward the Confessor had no children to carry on the line, so they would have sought the best man for this role and that had been carried by Earl Harold Godwinson, who was a king in all but name, so he was crowned king on King Edward`s passing.

Edward`s most memorial work was the building of the great church which was the parent of the present Westminster Abbey. The site was then known as Thorney, or isle of the Thorns, and was surrounded by marshy land. Tradition says that in Roman times there was here a temple of Apollo, and some Roman remains have been found near the Abbey, including a coffin inscribed with the name of a certain Valerius Amandinus. Tradition also states that a church was built here in the early years of the Anglo-Saxon epoch; and there is evidence that in 785 A.D., King Offa of Mercia made certain grants of land to the monastery which had grown up around this church. This monastery was rebuilt by Dunstan, which was written about in the previous chapter; and Edward the Confessor erected his new abbey just to the east of these earlier building.

The church was about 260 feet/78.6m in length, and was cruciform in shape, having a semi-circular apse at the east end, being an Orthodox church. It was consecrated a few days before the death of Edward the Confessor, who was buried there on the feast of Epithany, 6th Janaury, 1066 A.D., A century later he was canonised as a saint, and his coffin was palced in a splendid shrine; but later, when the present abbey was built, the coffin was again moved to a new shrine, which you may still sse, and which still contains his bones. Beneath the pavement in front of the high altar now in use there was some remains of the Confessor`s church, but otherwise nothing is left of it, the whole edifice having been pulled down when the abbey we know today was built.

On Edwrd the Confessor`s death, the crown was passed by election to Harold, who, being son of the great English Earl Godwine, and of his Danish wife, and consequently brother-in-law of the Confessor and nephew or cousin of Cnut, was the personification of the final union between the English and the Danes in England. Three years earlier, however, King Harold II had given a promise under duress that he supports the Duke of Normandy as the King of England, who himself was a vassal to the King of France being his Liege lord, hence all the problems with the French caused by Normans, and their attitude that they should rule France, which in the end after great suffering by both sides, ending with Normandy being brought back into France as it should be, also it is not the dying king who said who should be crowned, he may suggest which may have support, but it is the witan who finally decides who should crowned, like it is today with parliament who ultimately have the final say, as we have a constitutional monarch, so when Harold as cousin and chosen heir of Edward, so with the Duke of Normandy demanding that the promise made under duress should be honoured, to which King Harold rightly replied that this was not valid, since it was obtained from him under great pressure as the price of his freedom when he had fallen into the Duke`s hands and had been held to ransom.

Thereat the Duke of Normandy declared he would come over and fight for his rights? And meanwhile he laid his case before the Pope, reminding the Pontiff that England, owing to the independence of the English character, had always been a difficult province to manage, and that recently the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert of Jumieges, appointed by Edward the Confessor had been expelled, what is not mentioned he was a key figure in expelling the Earl Godwin and his family from England, so when they came back and was this accepted by the king Edward, his expulsion was not a surprise! Also the Duke is a supporter of the Church of Rome when it split from the Mother Church of Othodoxy in 1054, and went further when the Church of Rome declared war on the real Church of Christianity, which still continues today, the Normans became the warlords for the church, liken to the mafia, Archdeacon Hildebrand himself a descendant of Germany supported the Duke with the claim for the English crown, as the English church was slow if unwilling to support the new church, so Hildebrand gave the Normans the Papal banner in his support, plus there was financial support by the Jewish money lenders, the first time the Jews had entered England officially, this whole attitude is still present in our society even today. So we have it England will be run by renegades, both of whom opposed their rightful Lord or Church, even though there has been a church reformation and an English civil war, to overturn these events.

So back to the Pope who was not happy with the English church dignitaries who apparently had flouted the Papal authority on many occasions. We have seen how King Ecgfrith refusing to obey the Pope`s order for him to reinstate Bishop Wilfred; and how Dunstan would not recognize another Papal decree, how different the church had become from when they first came to England in the form of Augustine and now used their strength for their own purposes. To continue somewhere  about the year 1000 A.D., too, a certain abbot Aelfric wrote a number of homilies, very popular in England, one of which denounced the Roman attitude towards the Eucharist, and another put forward views in regard to St. Peter which were not in accord with those of Rome. It would be too much, of course, to say that the country was yet showing any signs of secession; but there was undoubtedly a tendency to claim that right of independent action which ultimately brought us our own church.

The Duke of Normandy`s army was drawn from several different quarters. During the Fifth and Sixth Centuries many of the Britons, turned out of their homes and lands by the Anglo-Saxon invaders, had gone across the sea to north-western France, and had there expanded a small, earlier British colony of Roman times Amorica into the latter Brittany (Little Britain). These expatriated Britons were presently absorbed into the new Viking realm of Normandy, although Brittany never became a real part of France until the 16th Century, always fighting for its independence even with the Normans, like the Welsh of today and Cornwall/West Wales, so the Duke drew heavily upon them for service in his coming English campaign. Unfortunately for the Bretons some who may have relished the coming conflict against the hated English, when in fact when the Normans had subdued the English they turned on the Welsh their own forefathers.

These and his own Northmen, or Normans, the descendants of the original Danish or Viking settlers, probably supplied a majority in his mixed army; but various adventurious barons from the neighbouring Frankish provinces also joined in with their men, thus giving something of a French flavour to the hotchpotch.

 

The presence of this French element, and the fact that the Normans had adopted the language and many of the customs of the Franks, has led us to think of the Duke of Normandy`s army as French. But the majority consisted of Normans, that is to say Danish Vikings, and British colonists from Brittany; and, in view of the quantity of Danish and British blood then running in Anglo-Saxon veins, we should rather regard the troops as being for the most part the close kin of those they were about to attack.

 

But while the Duke was making his preparations in Normandy, another pretender to the English throne landed on our shores, namely Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, an adventurous warrior who had fought in many parts of the world and for sometime commanded the Varangian Guards at Constantinople. He was also aided by Tostig former Earl of Northumbria, brother of Earl Harold future king of England who was exiled for his conduct towards the people who he meant to lead, he harried the English coast before aiding Hardrada.

He came over with 300 ships, after sacking Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast, sailed up the Humber, marched inland, and defeated the defending Anglo-Danish troops at Fulford, two miles/3.2km south of York. But, five days later, Harold the new King of England, arrived at the scene with his English forces; derisively offered his enemy “seven feet of English soil,”  `1.1m` to serve him for a grave;and on 25th September , brought him to battle at Stamford Bridge on the Derwent, seven miles/11.2km east of York, and was completely victorious.

 

The King of Norway, his generals, and nine-tenths of his entire army, were left dead on the field; and the remainder, which surrendered, required only twenty-four out of their 300 vessels to take them back across the sea. It was one of the greatest of England`s victories; and it was so long remembered that to this day the meadow where the fight took place is called Battle Flats.

On 28th September, three days after this tremendous English success in the north, the army of the Duke of Normandy landed in the south, at Pevensey in Sussex, the Roman fort of Pevensey which even today is in good order was used as a base, the sea then came right up to the forts walls, and because of the low laying land it was easy to land, after landing with perhaps between some 15,000 or 20,000 strong, in 694 ships. He then marched fourteen miles/20.5km along the coast to Hastings, and there dug himself in.

 

King Harold, up in Yorkshire, received the news a few days later, and immediately marched southwards. On his way he paused at Waltham in Essex, where during the reign of Edward the Confessor, he had spent much time and money on beautifying and enlarging the abbey-church. In this building there stood an ancient and miraculous cross, perhaps of Roman date, which had been found at Montacute in Somerset, and had been brought to Waltham by the founder of the church, which has been celebrated in the church recently in September bringing back this celebration.

 

Here before the altar Harold made his supplication for victory in the coming fight, and afterwards lay for a long time prone upon his face at the foot of this cross. Nothing recognizable now remains of this building, for the latter abbey which replaced it is in ruins, and the church, though it has survived and still is in use, has been rebuilt out of all semblance to its original self; but the present nave occupied the same site, and the visitor to it cannot but be impressed by the thought that here the last King of the Anglo-Saxon epoch, in the agony of his hope and fear, made his last prayer before going to his death.

 

The battle when it came was on Senlac Ridge in what was renamed as Battle afterwards, it has been found that the battle was on the junction with the A2100 and the minor road going west to the A21T, it is south of the town centre, O/S Landranger 199, Gd 753 157. This place is on a narrow ridge and in those days there would have been no easy way around this area, it was best place for defence, not the open area on the side of the hill which is up untill know is thought to be the battle site, an abbey was built on the claimed site called Battle Abbey. All day victory hung in the balance, but at last fortune favoured the invaders; Harold was killed, and all the English and Danish regular troops, including every single nobleman present, refusing to surrender, died where they stood around the corpse of their King.

 

It was a complete slaughter of the flower of the nation, and it left hundreds of estates vacant to be seized by the newcomers, the Duke spent the night on the battle site amongst the fallen, in the meantime the witan had decided to crown Edgar the Aetheling son of Edward the Exile, living in Hungary before coming back to England, on hearing this the duke threatened carnage, and this is what he did as he came up to London so the witan backed down and so he had himself crowne by the Archbishop of York at Westminster Abbey, who did not place the crown on his head, the Duke took it from him and crownwd himself, as there was a cheer in the abbey the troops outside thought otherwise and slaughtered many people who were waiting outaside, the duke created royal forests covering about a third of England, this caused hardship and famine and the punishments for being caught in these forests gathering food or wood was cruel, many crimes meant your death. In the north it was laid waste by the duke when they revolted against him, there was much disturbance in the England for number of years, many Normans were killed with this some went back to Normandy, in East Anglia we have the noted Herewald the Wake at the time of the invasion he was in Europe fighting and came home to a new King, he fought in the Fens under the leadership of Morcar the former Earl of Northumbria, who was eventully captured at the Isle of Ely, Herewald carried on until he was captured and after time in prison was pardoned and then lived a quiet life with his wife, the English language was barred from the court, French taking its place, English would return in a few centuries time, and England became a building site as cathedrals were built for the new faith of Roman Catholicism and the castles built to keep the people in check in mind and body. It a divide which caused the attitude of them and us, it is even here today, even at the heart of government which is seen regularly, that divide caused by the invasion of a unsurper and the church he laid claim to, both of these had rebelled against their liege lords and it is now England`s curse, but from this curse came many great things, but it is a curse, a wound which looks like, will never heal, the main thing which keeps us together is that the sovereign is the head of the country,beyond its politics, although we may even hate our opponents, but it is the sovereign who we owe allegiance which keeps the peace, break that and things would be different and England could go back to being governed by warlords/barons like what happened with the coming of the Duke of Normandy.

Whereas King Cnut was more ruthless than the Duke of Nomandy, but also he was a king and brought together the English and Danes, but the duke trying to be a king divided the Normans from the English and caused a permanent division, the Normans never affected deeply into the country as they were concerned only with the top part of society, so English was continued to be spoken by the people, hence why it came back with French words added, the Norman invasion was by people who were akin to the people they conquering, apart from the French element which the English came to hate although the French as such had nothing to do with the invasion, it was done by one of their vassals, because the English government was well established and well run, if it was taken over like the Normans accomplished then it would be hard to fight them which is what happened, the English had not only lost their government but nearly all the people to run it, dying as they did on the battle of Senlac Ridge, the English were a leaderless people which continues to this day, and like with the Germans before Bismarck the English keep bickering against each other, so forever a people who are subdued and conquered.

The English/Anglo-Saxon, royal line did not die out. Edmund Ironside, son of the deposed Aethelred the Redeless, had left a son, Edward the Exile who had lived abroad, and had been survived by his two children Edgar and Mararet. Edgar the Aetheling had died childless, but lived under the Duke of Normandy/King of England not of the English, he was kept in his household, even fighting for him, unlike the duke`s son Robert who had fought against his own father for the King of France and became the Duke of Normandy on his father`s death, and what happened to Margaret, she became the wife of king Malcolm of Scotland and later St. Margaret, she helped the king to deal with the Normans after their invasion of England, their daughter married King Henry I of England, son of the Duke of Normandy/King of England.

 

Meanwhile the duke/King of England had married Matilda of Flanders, who was the sixth in descent from Alfred the Great; and thus the blood of the English/Anglo-Saxons Kings was handed on to the future royal house of England. We need to remember that our Queen Elizabeth II is 28th in descent from the above mentioned Queen Margaret/St. Margaret the last English/Anglo-Saxon princess, and 35th in descent from Alfred the Great.