David Howarth’s, “1066: The Year Of The Conquest” Harold of England and William of Normandy were both rulers of great countries, so it stands to reason that they had some similarities in common. They both new how to lead, and they both knew how to survive in a feudal system. That is about where their similarities end. Like their leaders, England and Normandy both had similarities due to the time, and how people lived. They both operated on a feudal system, and they were both prosperous and happy before the Battle of Hastings changed everything.
The feudal system of the time operated on the premise of peasants or serfs, and thanes, or lords. The lords owned the land, and the peasants worked on it. In turn, they received the protection of the lord in hard times. The countries were at peace, and even though the people worked hard, they were happy and prosperous. “…but the labour was rewarded: there was plenty to eat and drink, and plenty of space, and plenty of virgin land for ambitious people to clear and cultivate” (Howarth 11).
Before the Conquest, the small English village of Horstede that the author talks about was worth about one hundred shillings.
After the Conquest, the worth of the village fell by 50 per cent, to only fifty shillings, and the people were starving, because there were not enough men left to work in the harvest. “…one in five of the native population, were killed in William’s ravages or starved by the seizure of their farm stock and their land” (Howarth 198). Even twenty years after the battle, the worth of the village only stood at sixty shillings. The village got a new thane, someone from France who William had promised land. He could not speak the language, and his only desire was to get as much as he could out of the village. This upstart foreigner, lording it over a tiny place like Horstede, is the measure of England’s degradation” (Howarth 201). In Normandy, there were differences to the system, however, because the Normans were just plain meaner than the English. “…no [Norman] lord could survive unless he was able and willing to fight off other predatory lords. But it was also a matter of temperament: they loved fighting, while the English – or at least a significant number of them – had begun to discover the pleasure of having nobody to fight” (Howarth 61).
Afterwards, life in Normandy went on pretty much as usual. Some of their men did not return, but there were always more warriors to take their place. The thanes that had fought for William took over English lands, and got as much out of them as they could, so they were more prosperous than before. The Normans drank their wine, and continued with their violent lives. However, the English never became Norman, and they did get their country back. There is a critical difference between the two countries that seems to have heavily contributed to the reason William won, and Harold lost.
Although his troops were fighting on their home soil, they simply were not as warlike and aggressive as the Normans, and were doomed to failure. One other reason that the English were at a disadvantage, is that they “had refused to fight each other in civil war, even when Edward ordered them to do it; but the unlucky Normans, at almost the same time, were ravaged again and again by wars of every size…” (Howarth 63). Clearly, the English were more used to peace, and the Normans were ready and willing to fight on a moment’s notice. They were more prepared, and had a more aggressive society, so they had an advantage before the battle even began.
William of Normandy is portrayed as power hungry in the book. He is depicted as being extremely upset when he finds that Harold has been crowned King, because he expected the job would come to him when Edward died. It is the whole reason he invades England, to gain the crown he feels he has lost in error. He is also portrayed as cruel, and totally disinterested in the English people, even though when he was crowned, he promised to be a “kind lord” to them, but in reality, he was already giving away the English lands to his lord, and the people spent years revolting against his oppression, taxes, and tyrannical rule.
His background certainly had something to do with his cruelty. He ascended to rule Normandy when he was only seven years-old, but he was still a vassal to the King of France, so unlike Harold, he never really had the authority to rule over an entire country until he captured England. His childhood was filled with violence, and Howarth says, “He began to grow up with precocious signs of a genius for the politics of violence. ” He started at the age of seven, and really did not know any other way of life.
He had long spread the word throughout the courts of Europe that he was a powerful man; he was next in line for the English throne. Now, he had to defend his honor at all costs. Harold on the other hand, must also have been somewhat power hungry, after all, he managed to get himself crowned king, but the author also states that most everyone who met him liked him. “…he was refreshingly normal. He was approachable, a man who would listen to complaints and other people’s troubles, and understand and exchange the jokes of his soldiers” (Howarth 55).
Overall, he sounds like a much nicer man than William does, and perhaps that is another reason why he lost the battle. There were many coincidences that led to the battle’s outcome, including the winds that carried William across the channel, which were unusual at best. After waiting around all summer for an invasion that never happened, Harold was sure William could no longer make it across the channel, and sent his men home for the winter. While he managed to get another army together, he was not ready for William, and did not expect to fight that late in the year.
William on the other hand, seemed to have fate on his side; there were so many coincidences that helped his cause. He had the wind at his back. He had troops who loved to fight. In fact, the wind came the day after Harold’s army had defeated Harald’s at Stamford Bridge, so Harold’s army was busy “counting its dead and nursing its wounds. ” Even William’s landing place is fortuitous, because he landed in Pevensey, where there was no one to stop him. There had been a detachment there, but, like all of Harold’s other men, they left at the end of summer.
Therefore, William’s men met no defense, and they marched straight on inland, where they met Harold’s army at the Battle of Hastings. It seemed like everything was in his favor. The Battle of Hastings changed England forever. Normans created more influence, and the English toughened up and learned how to rebel against oppression. It was not the best of times for the English, but “they remained most stubbornly English, absorbed the invaders, and made of the mixture a new kind of Englishness. ” It could have been much worse. Works Cited Howarth, David. 1066: The Year of the Conquest. New York: The Viking Press. 1977.
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