The Beginning in Normandy
Orderic Vitalis's text for the Battle of Hastings 1066
which was written about 1110AD and included William of Jumièges account, the document was called 'Gesta Normannorum Ducum' usually shortened to the Gesta.
for the text
William of Jumièges was a contemporary of the events of 1066, and one of the earliest writers on the subject of
the Norman conquest of England. William of Jumièges was the original compiler of the history known as the
Gesta Normannorum Ducum ('Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans'), written in about 1070, which was expanded by
Orderic Vitalis in the early 1100's.
Orderic Vitalis (1075AD – c.?1142AD) was an English chronicler and Benedictine monk who wrote one of the great
contemporary chronicles of 11th- and 12th-century Normandy and Anglo-Norman England. Orderic was born on 16 February 1075 in
Atcham, Shropshire, England, the eldest son of a French priest, Odelerius of Orléans, who had entered the
service of Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and had received from his patron a chapel there.
While it lay there innumerable vows and prayers were offered for the safety of themselves and their friends, and
floods of tears were shed. For the intimate friends and relations of those who were to remain at home, witnessing
the embarkation of fifty thousand knights and men-at-arms, with a large body of infantry, who had to brave the
dangers of the sea, and to attack an unknown people on their own soil, were moved to tears and sighs, and full of
anxiety both for themselves and their countrymen, their minds fluctuating between fear and hope. Duke William and
the whole army committed themselves to God's protection, with prayers, and offerings, and vows, and accompanied
a procession from the church, carrying the relics of St. Valeri, confessor of Christ, to obtain a favourable wind.
Crossing The Channel
At last when by God's grace it suddenly came round to the quarter which was the object of so many prayers, the duke,
full of ardour, lost no time in embarking the troops, and giving the signal for hastening the departure of the fleet.
The Norman expedition, therefore, crossed the sea on the night of the third of the calends of October [29th September],
which the Catholic church observes as the feast of St. Michael the archangel, and, meeting with no resistance, and
landing safely on the coast of England, took possession of Pevensey and Hastings, the defence of which was entrusted to
a chosen body of soldiers, to cover a retreat and guard the fleet.
While however the attention of the English was diverted
by the invasion of Yorkshire, and by (rod's permission they
neglected, as I have already mentioned, to guard the coast,
the Norman fleet, which for a whole month had been waiting
for a south wind in the mouth of the river Dive and the
neighbouring harbours, took advantage of a favourable
breeze from the west to gain the roads of St. Valeri.
Warning to Harold
Meanwhile the English usurper, after having put to the sword his brother Tostig, and his royal enemy, and slaughtered
their immense army, returned in triumph to London. As however worldly prosperity soon vanishes like smoke before the wind,
Harold's rejoicings for his bloody victory were soon darkened by the threatening clouds of a still heavier storm.
Nor was he suffered long to enjoy the security procured by his brother's death ; for a hasty messenger brought him the
intelligence that the Normans had embarked. Learning soon afterwards that they had actually landed, he made preparations
for a fresh conflict.
In the month of August, Harold, king of Norway, and Tostig, with a powerful fleet set sail over the wide sea,
and, steering for England with a favourable aparctic, or north wind, landed in Yorkshire, which was the first object
of their invasion.
Meanwhile, Harold of England, having intelligence of the descent of the Norwegians, withdrew his
ships and troops from Hastings and Pevensey, and the other seaports on the coast lying opposite to Neustria, which
he had carefully guarded with a powerful armament during the whole of the year, and threw himself unexpectedly, with
a strong force by hasty marches on his enemies from the north. A hard-fought battle ensued, in which there was great
effusion of blood on both sides, vast numbers being slain with brutal rage. At last the furious attacks of the English
secured them the victory, and the king of Norway as well as Tostig, with their whole army, were slain. The field of
battle may be easily discovered by travellers, as great heaps of the bones of the slain lie there to this day, memorials
of the prodigious numbers which fell on both sides.
Harold Marches South
For his intrepidity was dauntless, and his conduct of affairs admirable, while his personal strength was great,
his presence commanding, and he had the arts of a persuasive eloquence, and of a courtesy which endeared him
to his supporters. Still his mother Githa, who was much afflicted by the death of her son Tostig, and his other
faithful friends, dissuaded him from engaging in battle with the Normans; his brother, Earl Gurth, thus addressing
him: 'It is best, dearest brother and lord, that your courage should be tempered by discretion. You are worn by the
conflict with the Norwegians from which you are only just come, and you are in eager haste to give battle to the
Normans. Allow yourself, I pray you, some time for rest. Reflect also, in your wisdom, on the oath you have taken
to the duke of Normandy. Beware of incurring the guilt of perjury, lest by so great a crime you draw ruin on
yourself and the forces of this nation, and stain for ever the honour of our own race. For myself, I am bound by
no oaths, I am under no obligations to Count William. I am therefore in a position to fight with him undauntedly
in defence of our native soil. But do you, my brother, rest awhile in peace, and wait the issue of the contest,
that so the liberty which is the glory of England, may not be ruined by your fall.'
Harold was very indignant at this speech. Holding in contempt the wholesome advice of his friends, he loaded his brother
with reproaches for his faithful counsel, and even forgot himself so far as to kick his mother when she hung about him in
her too great anxiety to detain him with her. For six days Harold sent forth the summons to call the people to arms from
all quarters, and, having assembled vast numbers of the English, he led them by forced marches against the enemy.
Before the Battle
It was his design to take them unawares, and crush them at once by a night attack, or, at least, by a sudden onset,
and, that they might not escape by sea, he caused a fleet of seventy ships, full of soldiers, to guard the coast.
Duke William, having intelligence
of Harold's approach, ordered his troops to take to their arms on the morning of Saturday. He then heard mass, strengthening
both body and soul by partaking of the consecrated host ; he also reverently suspended from his neck the holy relics on which
Harold had sworn. Many of the clergy had followed the Norman army, among whom were two bishops, Odo, of Bayeux, and Geoffrey,
of Coutances, with attendant clerks and monks, whose duty it was to aid the war with their prayers and counsels.
The battle commenced at the third hour of the ides [14th] of October, and was fought desperately the whole day, with
the loss of many thousand men on both sides. The Norman duke drew up his light troops, consisting of archers and men
armed with cross-bows,
in the first line ; the infantry in armour formed the second rank ; and in the third were placed the cavalry, in the centre
of which the duke stationed himself with the flower of his troops, so as to be able to issue his commands, and give support
to every part of the army. On the other side, the English troops, assembled from all parts of the neighbourhood, took post
at a place which was anciently called Senlac, many of them personally devoted to the cause of Harold, and all to that of
their country, which they were resolved to defend against the foreigners.
Dismounting from their horses, on which it was determined not to rely, they formed a solid column of infantry, and thus
stood firm in the position they had taken.
Turstin, son of Eollo, bore the standard of Normandy. The sound of the trumpets in both armies was the terrible signal
for beginning the battle. The Normans made the first attack with ardour and gallantry, their infantry rushing forward to
provoke the English, and spreading wounds and death through their ranks by showers of arrows and bolts. The English, on
their side, made a stout resistance, each man straining his powers to the utmost. The battle raged for some time with
the utmost violence between both parties. At length the indomitable bravery of the English threw the Bretons, both horse
and foot, and the other auxiliary troops composing the left wing, into confusion, and, in their rout, they drew with
them almost all the rest of the duke's army, who, in their panic, believed that he was slain. The duke, perceiving that
large bodies from the enemy had broken
their ranks in pursuit of his flying troops, rode up to the fugitives and checked their retreat, loudly threatening them,
and striking with his lance. Taking off his helmet, and exposing his naked head, he shouted : ' See, I am here ; I am still
living, and, by God's help, shall yet have the victory.' Suddenly the courage of the fugitives was restored by these bold
words of the duke; and, intercepting some thousands of their pursuers, they cut them down in a moment.
In this manner, the Normans, twice again pretending to retreat, and when they were followed by the English, suddenly
wheeling their horses, cut their Pursuers off from the main body, surrounded and slew them. The ranks of the English
were much thinned by these dangerous feints, through which they fell separated from each other ; so that, when thousands
were thus slaughtered, the Normans attacked the survivors with still greater vigour. They were charged home by the troops
of Maine, France, Brittany, and Aquitaine, and great numbers of them miserably perished. Among others present at this
battle, were Eustace, Count de Boulogne, William, son of Eichard, Count d'Evreux, Geoffrey, son of Eobert, Count de Mortagne,
William Fitz- Osbern, Eobert, son of Eobert de Beaumont, a novice in arms, Aimer, Viscount de Thouars, Earl Hugh, the
constable, Walter Giffard, and Ealph Toni, Hugh de Grant-mesnil, and William de Warenne, with many other knights illustrious
for their military achievements, and whose names merit a record in the annals of history amongst the most famous warriors.
Duke William surpassed them all in courage and conduct ; for he nobly performed the duties of a general, staying the flight of
his troops, re-animating their courage, their comrade in the greatest dangers, and more frequently calling on them to follow
where he led, than commanding them to advance before him. He had three horses killed under him in the battle ; thrice he
re-mounted, and did not suffer his steeds to be long unavenged. Shields, helmets, and coats of mail were shivered by the
furious and impatient thrusts of his sword ; some he dashed to the earth with his shield, and was at all times as ready
to cover and protect his friends, as to deal death among his foes.
Harold is Killed
Although the battle was fought with the greatest fury from nine o'clock in the morning, King Harold was slain in the
first onset, and his brother Earl Leofwin fell some time afterwards, with many thousands of the royal army. Towards evening,
the English finding that their king and the chief nobles of the realm, with a great part of their army, had fallen, while
the Normans still showed a bold front, and made desperate attacks on all who made any resistance, they had recourse to
flight as expeditiously as they could. Various were the fortunes which attended their retreat ; some recovering their
horses, some on foot, attempted to escape by the highways ; more sought to save themselves by striking across the country.
English are Routed
The Normans, finding the English completely routed, pursued them vigorously all
Sunday night, but not without suffering a great loss ; for, galloping onward in hot pursuit, they fell unawares, horses and armour, into an ancient trench, overgrown and concealed by
rank grass, and men in their armour and horses rolling over each other, were crushed and smothered. This accident restored
confidence to the routed English, for, perceiving the advantage given them by the mouldering rampart and a succession of
ditches, they rallied in a body, and, making a sudden stand, caused the Normans severe loss. At this place Eugenulf, lord
of Laigle, and many others fell, the number of the Normans who perished being, as reported by some who were present,
nearly fifteen thousand. Thus did Almighty God, on the eve of the ides [14th] of October, punish in various ways the
innumerable sinners in both armies. For, on this Saturday, the Normans butchered with remorseless cruelty thousands
of the English, who long before had murdered the innocent prince Alfred and his attendants ; and, on the Saturday
before the present battle, had massacred without pity King Harold and Earl Tostig, with multitudes of Norwegians.
The righteous Judge avenged the English on Sunday night, when the furious Normans were precipitated into the concealed
trench ; for they had broken the divine law by their boundless covetous- ness ; and, as the Psalmist says : 'Their feet
were swift to shed blood,' whereupon, ' sorrow and unhappiness was in their ways.'
Duke William, perceiving the English troops suddenly rally, did not halt ; and when he found Count Eustace with
fifty men-at-arms retreating, and the count wished him to have the signal sounded for recalling the pursuers, he
commanded him with a loud voice to stand firm. The count, however, familiarly approaching the duke, whispered in
his ear that it would be safer to retreat, predicting his sudden death if he persisted in the pursuit. While he
was saying this, Eustace received a blow between the shoulders, so violent that the noise of the stroke was plainly
heard, and it caused blood to flow from his mouth and nostrils, and he was borne off by his comrades in a dying state.
The victory being secured, the duke returned to the field of battle, where he viewed the dreadful carnage, which could
not be seen without commiseration. There the flower of the youth and nobility of England covered the ground far and
near stained with blood. Harold could not be discovered by his features, but was recognized by other tokens, and his
corpse, being borne to the duke's camp, was, by order of the conqueror, delivered to William Mallet for interment
near the seashore, which had long been guarded by his arms.
Inconstant fortune frequently causes adverse and unex- pected changes in human affairs ; some persons being lifted from
the dust to the height of great power, while others, suddenly falling from their high estate, groan in extreme distress.
Thus Edith, Earl Godwin's relict, who once enjoyed wealth and influence, was now overwhelmed with grief and a prey to the
deepest misfortunes. She had borne seven sons to her husband : Sweyn, Tostig, Harold, Gurth, Alfgar, and Wulnoth. They were
all earls, and distinguished for their handsome persons, as well as what the world calls excellence; but each of them
underwent a different and disastrous fate. Alfgar and Wulnoth, indeed, feared God and lived according to his laws, and
both died in the odour of sanctity confessing the true faith, the one a pilgrim and monk at Eheims, the other at Salisbury.
Eor the other five, following the career of arms, they met their death in a variety of ways, and on different occasions. The
sorrowing mother now offered to Duke William, for the body of Harold, its weight in gold ; but the great conqueror refused such a barter, thinking it was not right that a mother should pay the last honours to one by whose insatiable ambition, vast numbers lay unburied. He issued orders that the bodies of his own soldiers should be buried with the greatest care ; and also gave all the English who applied for leave free liberty to bury those of their friends.
After providing for the decent interment of the dead the duke marched to Romney, and taking it by assault, revenged the slaughter of a party of his troops, who, having landed there by mistake, were fiercely attacked by the in- habitants and cruelly butchered, after great loss on both sides.
The duke then continued his march to Dover, where there was a large body of people collected, because they thought the position impregnable, the castle standing on the summit of a steep rock, overhanging the sea. The garrison, however, struck with panic at the duke's approach, were preparing to surrender, when some Norman squires, greedy for spoil, set the place on fire, and the devouring flames spreading around, many parts were ruined and burnt. The duke, compassionating those who were willing to render him their submission, ordered them to be paid the cost of rebuilding their houses, and their other losses. The castle being taken, eight days were spent in strengthening the fortifications. While he lay there a great number of soldiers, who devoured flesh-meat half raw and drank too much water, died of dysentery, and many more felt the effects to the end of their days. The duke, leaving a garrison in the castle, with those who were suffering from dysentery, marched onward to complete the subjugation of those he had vanquished. The Kentish men, of their own accord, met him not far from Dover and swore fealty to him, delivering hostages for their allegiance.