On this day in 1066, claiming his right to the English throne, William, Duke of Normandy, invades England at Pevensey on Britain’s southeast coast. His subsequent defeat of King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings marked the beginning of a new era in British history.
William was the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, by his concubine Arlette, a tanner’s daughter from the town of Falaise. The Duke, who had no other sons, designated William his heir as ruler of Normandy, essentially a Viking carve-out in France since 911.
Edward the Confessor, the childless English king, promised to make William his heir. On his deathbed, however, Edward granted the kingdom to Harold Godwine, head of the leading noble family in England and more powerful than the king himself.
Herein lies the lesson; in an epic and happenstance pincer movement, the new English king’s lands were attacked from the North by Hardraade of Norway and King Harold II’s own brother, Tostig. Three days after Harold was waylaid repulsing this threat, William and 7,000 troops and cavalry (horses on longboats? Go figure) seized Pevensey and marched to Hastings, where he paused to organize his forces.
On October 13, Harold arrived near Hastings with his army, and the next day William led his forces out to give battle. At the end of a bloody, all-day clash, King Harold II was killed–shot in the eye with an arrow, according to legend–and his forces were defeated.
William then marched on London and received the city’s submission. On Christmas Day, 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned the first Norman king of England.
Annoying Postscript: I am one of many Williams on Mother’s side, including her father, Col. William Grant Cook, U.S.A.; he, I and the others are namesakes and direct descendants of the trouble-maker above. And it is here, the lesson endeth.