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Battle of Hastings 1066AD - The Ship list of William the Conqueror

What was the Ship List of William the Conqueror
An extract from the Bayeux Tapestry
This document was part of the Battle Abbey Archives and was at least in their possession between 1130AD and 1160AD.

The document contains a list of important Norman Lords and Ecclesiastic figures who provided ships and knights to William the Conqueror for the invasion of Britain in 1066AD.

An excellent analysis of the document was provided by Elizabeth M.C. van Houts in the 'Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1987' in her article titled 'The ship list of William the Conqueror'. This article is a useful document for the corroboration of Master Wace's account of the invasion in his 'The Roman de Rou'

The only online copy I can find is Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1987 on google books page 159.

This is an image from the Bodleian library in Oxford
This is an image of the first page of the Ship List from the Bodleian Library in Oxford

What did the list contain

The ship list of William the Conqueror provides fascinating insights into the maritime preparations for the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

Let’s delve into the details:

  • Historical Context:
    • The list appears in the Battle manuscript, written down between 1130 and 1160.
    • It likely originated from the monastery at Fécamp in Normandy shortly after the Norman Conquest of England.
    • The document summarizes agreements made between Duke William of Normandy and a number of his mightiest vassals before the invasion of England and explains who were to supply the necessary ships.
  • Vassals and Ship Contributions:
    • Altogether 14 vassals are listed, and they are to turn up with a total of 776 vessels.
    • While not all ships were necessarily longships, they served various purposes, including cargo transport for supplies and weapons.
    • The army also transported horses and much armor, including a whole timber fortress as a “do-it-yourself kit.”
  • Role of Harbor-Towns:
    • All the vassals had rights in harbor-towns, either along the coast of Normandy or on the rivers.
    • Coastal harbors supplied more ships than inland river harbors.
  • William’s Fleet:
    • At the end of the document, it is noted that William had 1,000 ships at his disposal for the invasion, apart from those that each of the vassals might have been willing to supply in addition to the number mentioned in the list.
    • The vassals were rewarded for their participation in the invasion by being granted fiefs in the conquered areas.
    • William likely drew on his own resources, including numerous harbors under his command, to contribute to the fleet.

William the Conqueror's Ship list - a summary

LordShips Knights Ports
William fitz Osbern60 Eure, Pacy and Ivry
Hugh de Avranches60 Avranches
Hugh de Montfort5060 Risle, Montfort
Remigus de Fecamp120 St Valery-en-Caux
Nicholas Abbot de St Ouen15100 Seine, Rouen
Robert comte d'Eu60 Le Treport
Fulk d'Aunou40 Risle, Foulbec
Gerold the Steward40 Epte, Neufmarche, Honfleur, Gonville
William comte d'Evreux80 Itton, Evreux
Roger de Montgommery60 Dives, Orne
Roger de Beaumont60 Risle, Beaumont-le-Roger, Pont Audemer
Odo Bisshop de Bayeux100 Port-en-Bessin
Robert comte de Mortain120 Honfleur
Walter Giffard30100 Scie, Longueville
Duchess Mathilde1 Bethune

Duke William controlled the ports of Dieppe, Etretat, Bruneval, Dives/Cabourg, Caen/Quistreham, Barfleur, Cherbourg, Portbail, Vernon, Le Goulet, Les Damps, Elbeuf and Rouen.

Master Wace

Master Wace records:

'He got together carpenters smiths and other workmen, so that great stir was seen at all the ports of Normandy, in the collecting of wood and materials, cutting of planks, framing of ships and boats, stretching sails, and rearing masts, with great pains and at great cost. They spent all one summer and autumn in fitting up the fleet and collecting the forces; and there was no knight in the land, no good serjeant, archer, nor peasant of stout heart, and of age for battle, that the duke did not summon to go with him to England : promising rents to the vavassors, and honors to the barons. When the ships were ready, they were moored in the Somme at St. Valeri, and there delivered to the barons. Many were the ships and boats in the river there, which is called the Somme, and separates Ponthieu and Vimou.'

'I shall never put in writing, and would not undertake to set down, what barons, and how many knights, how many vavassors, and how many soldiers the duke had in his company, when he had collected all his navy ; but I heard my father say I remember it well, although I was but a lad that there were seven hundred ships, less four, when they sailed from St. Valeri ; and that there were besides these ships, boats and skiffs for the purpose of carrying the arms and harness. I have found it written (but I know not whether it be true) that there were in all three thousand vessels bearing sails and masts. Any one will know that there must have been a great many men to have furnished out so many vessels.'

It would seem that Master Wace's total of 696 is not far from the 777 from the ship list, but the ship list may have been written as the ships left Normandy, so that if a storm swept the fleet into 'St Valerie' then possibly 70 ships were lost between Dives and St Valerie.

Orderic Vitalis

Orderic Vitalis records:

'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.'

'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.'

Orderic doesn't mention any storm or any count of vessels.

The Carmen de Triumpho Normannico

The Carmen records:

'But for a long time your leading fleet across the Channel is barred by storms and constant rain
From antiquity the port of Vimeu has been renown
Above is the fortress of St Valery
For fifteen days you occupied these regions
It remains wet
And the sky is covered with cloud and rain
And the sun shone forth brighter than usual
When Michaelmas was celebrated around the world
While sailors take up their oars and knights their arms
Surely ten times ten times ten and 5 thousand more men'

Fairly limited details relating to the ships, but the number of men is about 6000 which would take about 100 longboats to carry at 60 men per ship. This would leave 600 ships to carry the horses at possibly 10 per ship giving a total of 6000 horses at 2 per knight would give 3000 cavalry .

Norman Ship details link

Williams flagship the Mora
From the Bayeux Tapestry
This is an extract from the Bayeux Tapestry showing William in the Mora, the ship was provided by Mathilde, WIlliam's wife.

Wikipedia details:

'Mora was a ship of Drakkar/Snekkja design and clinker construction built at Barfleur in Normandy, a gift of Matilda of Flanders to her husband William the Conqueror in the summer of 1066. She was a larger ship and carried ten knights with their entourages and equipment. The ship was captained by Stephen Fitz Airard, meaning the son of Airard, who remained her captain until William's death in 1087.
Stephen received lands in Hampshire, Berkshire, and Warwickshire as reward for his services in the English campaign of 1066. Orderic Vitalis describes the ship: "it had for its figurehead the image of a child, gilt, pointing with its right hand towards England, and having in its mouth a trumpet of ivory. Mora carried multicoloured sails and at the top of the mainmast was the papal banner, consecrated and sent to William from Rome. The banner was described as "a square white banner charged with a gold cross within a blue border." '


The ship list gives us about 777 ships and Master Wace 696 so we shall assume 700 ships as a nice round number for the following calculations.

The Carmen records the number of men at about 6000 which would take about 100 longboats to carry at 60 men per ship.

This would leave 600 ships to carry the horses at possibly 10 per ship giving a total of 6000 horses at 2 per knight would give 3000 cavalry .

In summary, William the Conqueror's ship list reveals the intricate organization of maritime power during the Viking Age and the critical role played by harbor-towns in William’s preparations for the invasion of England.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:18:02
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