There are twelve days until Christmas so I thought I’d turn my attention to a few festive posts and where better to start that with William, Duke of Normandy.
The Orderic Vitalis recounts events. Given that the dates for the Orderic are 1075-1142 the chronicler could hardly be accused of penning his words from the front line but it’s the best historians have to go on and it is a reliable source.
So at last on Christmas Day… the English assembled at London for the king’s coronation, and a strong guard of Normen men-at-arms and knights was posted round the minster to prevent any treachery or disorder. And, in the presence of the bishops, abbots, and nobles of the whole realm of Albion, Archbishop Ealdred consecrated William duke of Normandy as king of the English and placed the royal crown on his head. This was done in the abbey church of St Peter the chief of the apostles, called Westminster , where the body of King Edward lies honourably buried.
But at the prompting of the devil, who hates everything good, a sudden disaster and portent of future catastrophes occurred. For when Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey Bishop of Coutances asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their king, all of them gladly shouted out with once voice if not in one language that they would. The armed guard outside, hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot, and rashly set fire to some of the buildings. The fire spread rapidly from house to house; the crowd who had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in frantic haste. Only the bishops and a few clergy and monks remained, terrified, in the sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the king who was trembling from head to foot. Almost all the rest made for the scene of conflagration, some to fight the flames and many others hoping to find loot for themselves in the general confusion. The English, after hearing of the perpetration of such misdeeds, never again trusted the Normans who seemed to have betrayed them, but nursed their anger and bided their time to take revenge.
Source: The Ecclesiastic History of Orderic Vitalis, translated by Marjorie Chibnill (Oxford University Press, 1978)
Now I ask you – you’re a man at arms; your man Bill is getting crowned, you hear a loud noise inside the abbey where the coronation is going down. You panic because of the loud noises. Fair enough, you’re probably aware that you’ve not won friends and influenced people during the last three months but then- and this is the bit I struggle with- instead of checking that Bill isn’t being brutally murdered by some very cross Saxons you set fire to random buildings…why exactly would you do that? It’s not really a terribly logical thing to do – but then I’m not a Norman. There again, perhaps if you set fire to the buildings on either side of the narrow streets it would prevent anyone else getting to the abbey?
Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in Westminster Abbey apart from Edward V and Edward VIII who weren’t crowned at all- the first because he disappeared whilst in the Tower and the second because he became sidetracked by a divorced American. Other monarchs had themselves crowned elsewhere to be certain of the job but had themselves re-crowned at Westminster in due course. Henry I on spotting that brother William Rufus had expired due to a nasty arrow related injury in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100 took himself off to Winchester, secured the treasury and had himself crowned there the next day. The procedure was repeated in Westminster on the 6th. It was normal for medieval kings to hold more than one coronation – it helped remind people who was in charge.
Anyway, that’s the first of my festive posts – William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day 1066 followed, not with the first edition of the King’s speech, by a good old-fashioned medieval riot.