Tag Archives: William “The Conqueror”
The year 1066 is the most celebrated in English history. To every English schoolchild it evokes a Saxon hero, Harold, and a French villain, William, who met and fought at the battle of Hastings. The outcome was decided by an arrow in Harold’s eye. But history is seldom as commonly related. Harold, son of Godwin, was no Saxon and had no claim to the throne beyond Edward’s deathbed blessing. William was no Frenchman but descended from the Norse warrior Rollo, granted Normandy by the French king Charles the Simple in 911. He too had no claim beyond Edward’s apparent, but earlier, blessing. Both Harold and William were of the direct Viking descent.
Turold the dwarf is perhaps the most captivating of all the figures depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry [scene 10; plate 1]. We see him in the county of Ponthieu, holding the two horses of Duke William’s emmisaries, who have just arrived at Count Guy’s residence on their mission to demand Harold’s handover to the Norman duke. There are only fifteen characters named in the whole work; all but four are easily identifiable, known from other sources for the part they played in the drama of 1066. Who is the dwarf engaged in such a menial task, and why has he been singled out so enigmatically by name?
The Tapestry relates, through the minds and eyes of contemporaries, the events leading up to the Norman invasion of England and culminates in a major depiction of the Battle of Hastings. Events in both England and Normandy are recounted, save for an occasional apparent solecism, in chronological order. Most scenes are easily explicable in relation to the contemporary written sources, and those which are not are mere caesuras in a running story.
Behind every great man, so the saying goes, is a great woman – or, in the case of the man known to posterity as William the Conqueror, a diminutive one. William’s wife Matilda of Flanders stood little more than four feet tall, but she loomed large, all the same, in the creation of his newly royal dynasty.
The first of her attributes that appealed to the young William, duke of Normandy, was her impeccably blue blood.