Exeter Castle

Exeter Castle, also known as Rougemont Castle, was originally no more than a defensive city wall built by the Romans and later repaired by King Athelstan around 928 AD.

After the Norman Conquest of England, the city of Exeter —  like many other cities at this time — rebelled against William the Conqueror. In 1068, William laid siege to the city, which lasted eighteen days before surrendering. William then ordered construction of the castle within the city walls. Baldwin FitzGibert managed the construction of the castle, which was placed at the highest norther angle of the Roman city wall on a volcanic outcrop. The large stone gatehouse still survives, a testament to the Anglo-Saxon masons who likely built it on William’s orders.

Additional reading:

I also wrote a short piece based in the city of Exeter, called Exeter Burning. It doesn’t include the castle but instead centers around the cathedral.

*image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, author Juan J. Martinez

The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England


The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

By Marc Morris

Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (December 15, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1605986518

Overview:

A riveting and authoritative history of the single most important event in English history: the Norman Conquest.An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom. An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought.This new history explains why the Norman Conquest was the most significant cultural and military episode in English history. Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror’s attack; why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge; how William’s hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unraveled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions, and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors.

Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars (178 reviews)

Morcar, Earl of Northumbria

Morcar was the Earl of Northumbria from 1065-1066. He was the son of Ælfgar (earl of Mercia) and brother of Eadwine (or Edwin), earl of Mercia. He was the grandson of Leofric and Godiva. Morcar rose to power at the appointment of the thegns in York due to the tyrannical rule of Tostig, the brother of Harold Godiwnson and son of Earl Godwin of Wessex. Tostig was an incapable leader, and Harold banished him due to the surmounting pressure of the thegns, and he officially appointed Morcar as Earl of Northumbria.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

They then sent after Morkar, son of Earl Elgar, and chose him for their earl.  He went south with all the shire, and with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, till he came to Northampton; where his brother Edwin came to meet him with the men that were in his earldom.  Many Britons also came with him.  Harold also there met them; on whom they imposed an errand to King Edward, sending also messengers with him, and requesting that they might have Morcar for their earl.

Tostig later returned with Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, to challenge Morcar and his brother Edwin. Tostig and Harald defeated the two brothers at Fulford on September 20, 1066.

And Morcar the earl, and Edwin the earl, fought against them; and the king of the Norwegians had the victory.  And it was made known to King Harold how it there was done, and had happened; and he came there with a great army of English men, and met him at Stanfordbridge, and slew him and the earl Tosty, and boldly overcame all the army.

Harold Godwinson, then King Harold of England following Edward the Confessor’s death earlier in the year, raced north to protect his earls, defeating Tostig and Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 28. After the battle, Harold immediately marched south to meet the invading forces of William of Normandy. Edwin and Morcar were both reluctant to join Harold, and instead went to London after the battle in most likely an attempt to seek the English throne for themselves. Eventually, they agreed to the Witan’s decision to elect Edgar the Etheling as king, though Edgar was never officially crowned as such. Duke William, instead, was crowned King of England, and both Edwin and Morcar submitted to his rule.

And the while, William the earl landed at Hastings, on St. Michael’s-day: and Harold came from the north, and fought against him before all his army had come up: and there he fell, and his two brothers, Girth and Leofwin; and William subdued this land.

From 1067-1068, Edwin and Morcar and Edgar the Etheling lived in Normandy as hostages of William. When they were finally allowed to return to the earldoms in England, they fomented rebellion against William. The Duke of Normandy eventually crushed their rebellion. Edwin’s own men betrayed and killed him. William captured Morcar, imprisoning him in Normandy for a second time.

In 1087, William released Morcar, who returned to England with William Rufus. Rufus imprisoned Morcar at Winchester, where he supposedly died.

Berkhamsted Castle

A brief history:

Berkhamsted Castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, England. The castle was built during the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century to control a key route between London and the Midlands. Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror’s half brother, was probably responsible for the construction and became the subsequent owner of the fortification. A motte and bailey design, the castle was surrounded by extensive protective earthworks and a deer park for hunting. The future town of Berkhamsted grew up alongside it. Subsequent kings granted the castle to their chancellors and it was substantially extended in the mid-12th century, probably by Thomas Becket.

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Additional reading:

The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England

The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England
By Marc Morris

This book by Marc Morris came out within the past couple of months and so far is getting good reviews.

Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1605984515

Book Description:

An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom.An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought. This new history explains why the Norman Conquest was the most significant cultural and military episode in English history.Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror’s attack; why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge; how William’s hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unraveled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions, and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors.This is a tale of powerful drama, repression, and seismic social change: the Battle of Hastings itself; the sudden introduction of castles and the massive rebuilding of every major church; the total destruction of an ancient ruling class.

Review from Publishers Weekly:

“Morris brilliantly revisits the Norman Conquest, “the single most important event in English history,” by following the body-strewn fortunes of its key players: England’s King Edward the Confessor; his hated father-in-law and England’s premier earl, Godwine; Harold II, the prior’s son and England’s last Anglo-Saxon king; and Edward’s cousin William, the fearsome duke of Normandy, known by contemporaries as “the Bastard” and by posterity as “the Conqueror.” Miraculously surviving a Viking invasion, exile, the death of six older half-brothers (from battle, illness, and execution), and his mother’s perfidies, Edward—a descendant of Alfred the Great—took the English crown but was dominated by his father-in-law. Yet to Godwine’s chagrin, Edward chose William as his successor in return for his loyalty. Nevertheless, after Edward’s death, Harold snatched the crown, setting in motion William’s invasion and his own death at the supremely gory Battle of Hastings. In England, William and the Normans ended slavery, dispossessed the English ruling elite of their lands, ushered in an architectural revolution, zealously reformed the Church, and savagely starved the north into submission. Readable, authoritative, and remarkably nuanced, Morris’s history is sublime. 8 pages of color illus., two maps, and two family trees.” (Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW)

Tostig

Early Life:

Tostig was the third son of Godwin (d. 1053), Earl of Wessex and Kent, and Gytha, daughter of Thorgils Sprakaleg. In 1051, he married Judith, the daughter of Count Baldwin IV of Flanders, half-sister of Baldwin V of Flanders, and aunt of Matilda of Flanders, who married William the Conqueror. The Domesday Book recorded twenty-six vills or townships as being held by Earl Tostig forming the Manor of Hougun.

Death:

Hardrada’s army invaded York, taking hostages after a peaceful surrender, and likely agreed with the local inhabitants to gather commandeered supplies at Stamford Bridge, near York, a conveniently central spot, well-fed by streams and roads. King Harold Godwinson raced northward with an English army from London and, on 25 September 1066, surprised Tostig and about 6,000 of his men, basking in the sun and awaiting supplies. The Norwegians and the Flemish mercenaries hired by Tostig were largely without armour and carried only personal weapons. The day was very hot and no resistance was expected. The remainder of the 11,000 man force remained guarding the Norse ships, beached miles away at Riccall.

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Additional reading:

The Battle of Stamford Bridge Society

Each year, the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society holds a big two day re-enactment event surrounding the battle that occurred on September 25th, 1066. This years event will be held on September 22nd/23rd. It attracts around 300-400 Saxon and Viking warriors. These folks set up living history tents and then re-enact various aspects of the battle. The tents depict what life was like for these people during the 11th century. Visitors can also listen to skalds telling sagas and watch court being held.

The Huscarls

The huscarls were the household troops of the English king. The traditional meaning of the term in Old Norse meant simply a household servant. The term later evolved to reference the personal bodyguard of the king. It is believed the huscarls were firmly established in England under the reign of Cnut in the early 11th century. This institution of household troops had existed in Scandinavia before this time, and it is thought that Cnut adopted this same practice in his English kingdom. When Edward the Confessor became king three reigns after Cnut, he still kept the huscarls intact and even gave some of them land, though most of them lived and served at the king’s court.

The huscarls equipped themselves with the best arms and armor: a sword, mail-shirt, helmet, shield, spear, and the two-handed war axe. They also rode horses into battle but dismounted to fight, as evidenced at the Battle of Hastings.

Fighting for the king, however, was not the only duty of the huscarls. They also collected taxes, witnessed royal charters, donated lands, and received land grants.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the organization of the huscarls seemingly disappeared. It is thought those huscarls who survived the battle migrated to the European continent and became mercenaries.

Main source:

Regia Anglorum: Who were the Huscarls?

Additional Reading:

English Logistics and military administration

English Logistics and military administration, 871-1066: The Impact of the Viking Wars
By Richard Abels
*Note: article may take a few seconds to load

King Harold Godwineson is remembered as one of the great `losers’ in history, the man who provided William the Bastard with the opportunity to earn a more flattering sobriquet. Harold’s defeat at Hastings has obscured not only the very real military talents that earned him victories over formidable Welsh and Viking opponents but, more importantly, the sophistication of the military organization he and other late Anglo-Saxon kings possessed. Scholars have not sufficiently appreciated Harold’s logistical accomplishments in the summer and autumn of 1066. Learning of William’s invasion plans. Harold summoned in May a massive naval and land force, characterized in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as “larger than any king had assembled before in this country.” He billeted his troops along the southern coast of England and harbored his fleet throughout the summer and early autumn on the Isle of Wight, awaiting William’s move. Finally, on 8 September, at least two months after the army and fleet had been assembled, provisions finally ran out and the troops returned home. Almost immediately thereafter Harold learned of the invasion of Harald Hardrada, hurriedly assembled a new army and forced marched it some 200 miles along the Great North Road to Stamford Bridge, then, after a hard fought and bloody victory, he forced marched the survivors south to confront William at Hastings.

Read the full article.