From Hastings to Crowning

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History is not often simple and rarely complete. It is tempting to look back on the days of that October campaign in 1066 and say that “William was destined to become king” or that “Harold would have won had he not been exhausted from the victory at Stamford Bridge.” The plain and simple and complete fact is this: We just don’t know everything that went on. We as historians have to look back through the eyes of others and contemplate what things might have been like, based on the writings of others who have studied the period and on, possibly, on the writings or recollections of those who lived in that period. Direct eyewitness evidence from such momentous events is rare, especially as the years, decades, and centuries pile up. We are left, then, to pick up the narrative pieces where we may, trying desperately not to impose modern sensibilities and war theories on people who lived nearly a millennium ago.

What, then, to make of the Battle of Hastings? For one thing, it marked a changing of the guard. It was the Saxons’ last hurrah, at least as far as the seats of power were concerned. Although it didn’t happen right away, it did indeed occur that William was crowned King of England, on Christmas Day no less; and it did indeed occur that he founded something of a dynasty that had implications far beyond its natural life.

First of all, we can’t just jump from the Battle of Hastings to William’s being crowned. The day after the battle, William certainly wasn’t welcomed as the new king. No delegation from the kingdom came to meet him, offering submissive gestures. It is true that no army rose up to fight him, either, but William and his weary men had to slog their way through the hostile countryside to the Wessex seat of power, consolidating his hold on the territory as he went. They marched from Dover to London on a Roman road. They didn’t get there overnight, however; and in the meantime, the people of London got together and elected Edgar Aetheling as king.

These things take time, especially in a land that is used to drifting along in search of a leader. Days turned into weeks into months. The country drifted, as those in Wessex tried to get used to the idea of Edgar as king while William tried to get used to the idea of having to fight more skirmishes in order to press his claim on the throne.

Reinforcements continued to steam across the Channel into England, however, massing at William’s side and strengthening his grip on the country. The vanguard made its way to what William considered the Island’s most important city, London. Along the way, they were met with stones, spears, swords, and cheers, depending on the audience. They eventually reached London and settled in for negotiations. In the end, William’s patience was rewarded. It also didn’t that dedication to Normandy was still in fashion in certain powerful quarters. It should be remembered that Edward the Confessor had installed Normans in key government posts and had relied on their counsel and adopted many of their customs. That affectation continued to resonate through the years, and no doubt had something to do with William’s eventual ascension to the throne.

Since William had the upper hand, he got most of what he wanted, including the crown of England. He was crowned in Edward the Confessor’s Church at Westminster, the first English monarch to be so recognized. A new era had begun. It wasn’t born overnight, and it was carried out largely through the determination and perceived spite of one man. But it would change the face of England—and the world—forever.