1066 and Warfare: The Context and Place (Senlac) of the Battle of ‘Hastings’
By John Gillingham
1066 in Perspective, edited by David Bates (University of Chicago Press, 2018)
Introduction: 1066 is a year like no other in English history. During its course both York and London surrendered to an invader. Within a few weeks in the autumn there were three major engagements (Fulford on 20 September, Stamford Bridge on 25 September and Hastings on 14 October). Two kings were killed in battle. War is at the heart of the story, and although we know virtually nothing about the campaigns in the North of England – unless, rashly, we choose to believe what the Icelander, Snorri Sturlason, writing 150 years later, wrote about them – , the Norman Conquest was such an astonishing event that on this subject we have, by contrast with the meagre descriptions of Western European warfare in the previous six centuries, a remarkably rich evidence base.
On Duke Williams’s invasion, there are no less than three substantial contemporary narratives. They are an untitled Latin poem of more than 800 lines, now known as the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio by Guy of Amiens; a very long (36 pages) Latin prose account in William of Poitiers’ sycophantic account of the conqueror, now known as Gesta Guillelmi; and 25 scenes (34 to 58) in the embroidery now known as the Bayeux Tapestry.
How should we approach the stories they tell?