Tag Archives: Norman Conquest

Numismatic entertainment

Once I had discovered the coin collection in Leeds University Library and begun to put it to work in my teaching, the convenors of the Leeds Medieval Group were not long in asking me if I might be able to put on some kind of event using the coins for them. We set this up for 25th April 2016, under the title, “Medieval Coins for Beginners: A Workshop”, and I planned it very loosely, because I didn’t at all know what sort of audience to expect: Medieval Group draws people from well outside its host department and indeed from outside the university, so levels of expertise or interest were hard to gauge. After a year at the Barber I was pretty sure I could manage whatever the needs were. As it turned out, basically everybody who came was one of the department’s historians, with one postgraduate looking worried among them. This worked well for me, as I have a sort of undeclared mission to get someone other than me in the department using the coins, so I asked the gathering what they were hoping to get from the workshop, and one of my colleagues whom I will not identify declared loftily, “I want to be entertained.”1 Well, that I could do, but it is of course a trick that can be repeated here, so this post is three of the little stories of coins that I told all that time ago.

Obverse of an Æ3 of Constantine I struck at Rome in 314, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC/TH/ROM/IMP/400

Obverse of an Æ3 of Constantine I struck at Rome in 314, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC/TH/ROM/IMP/400

Reverse of an Æ3 of Constantine I struck at Rome in 314, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC/TH/ROM/IMP/400

Reverse of an Æ3 of Constantine I struck at Rome in 314, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Thackray Collection, CC/TH/ROM/IMP/400

So, let me start with a teaching point of which I never tire. This is a chunk of small change struck for the Emperor Constantine I, at Rome in 314, a couple of years after he had taken over that city by defeating his rival Maxentius, who drowned in the retreat. We don’t know what the small-change coins of this period were called, but these ones are half the size of the biggest, and numismatists unhelpfully call them Æ3s in print and then struggle over how to say that out loud to each other. Anyway! The teaching point is that in the year between his defeat of Maxentius and the issue of this coin in the city where he’d done that, Constantine, along with his colleague Licinius I, had famously legalised the practise of Christianity within the Empire with their 313 Edict of Milan. Many historians will still tell you, faithfully following the testimony of Constantine’s biographer Bishop Eusebius of Cæsarea, that Constantine himself was Christian by this stage.2 These coins show nothing of that, however: on the reverse Constantine is proclaimed Soli invicto comiti, “(to the) Companion of the Unconquered Sun”. It may have been possible to see Sol the sun-god and Christ as somehow reflections of the same divinity, but the type had also been used by the pagan emperors Aurelian and Diocletian, the latter of whom was one of the persecuting emperors whom it seems safe to say was not after an expression of Christian syncretism on his money. Basically, whatever his personal religious convictions were, they didn’t change Constantine’s coinage at all (barring three very very rare types, of which much too much has been made given how drowned they were by continuing pagan issues).3

Obverse of copper-alloy 40-nummi of Emperor Justin II struck at Nicomedia in 574-575, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-BYZ-227

Obverse of a copper-alloy 40-nummi of Emperor Justin II struck at Nicomedia in 574-575, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-BYZ-227 (not to scale)

Reverse of a copper-alloy 40-nummi of Emperor Justin II struck at Nicomedia in 574-575, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-BYZ-227

Reverse of a copper-alloy 40-nummi of Emperor Justin II struck at Nicomedia in 574-575, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Thackray Collection, CC-TH-BYZ-227 (likewise not to scale)

Two hundred and fifty years down the line and the emperors now ruled from Constantinople, while Rome had been lost and won back several times, even in the living memory of Emperor Justin II for whom this 40-nummi coin, which I showed you a few posts ago, was issued at Nicomedia (modern-day Iznik) in 574-575. We can date it because, unlike almost any other ancient or medieval coins, Byzantine small change between 532 and around 700 carried regnal dates; we don’t know why this was done—why are there dates on our coins, after all?—but current explanations don’t seem adequate.4 In any case, the teaching point here is that you will note that there are two figures on the coin. That’s apparently because Justin II, who was not a well man for much of his reign, ruled with the aid of his Empress Sophia, who therefore seems to have got onto the coins. She only appears on the small change, however, and alongside her husband, whereas all precedents for empresses on imperial coins so far had them having coins of their own struck, and mostly in gold. More bewilderingly, a close look at this coin will reveal that the inscription, δN IVζTINVS PP AVC (Dominus noster Iustinus perpetuus Augustus, our Lord Justin Eternal Emperor) names only the emperor. Just one mint, Carthage in North Africa, struck these coins with the empress’s name on too. Otherwise she is visibly there but in some sense unrecorded, and one could make that into a cunning representation of the real political situation but then Carthage’s practice becomes very hard to explain; as far as we know she wasn’t from there or anything. Who made these choices and why is a question that has been keeping people occupied for a good long while, and probably will some time longer.5

Obverse of a silver penny of King Harold II struck at Canterbury in 1066, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Winchester Collection, uncatalogued

Obverse of a silver penny of King Harold II struck at Canterbury in 1066, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Winchester Collection, uncatalogued

Reverse of a silver penny of King Harold II struck at Canterbury in 1066, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Winchester Collection, uncatalogued

Reverse of a silver penny of King Harold II struck at Canterbury in 1066, University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Winchester Collection, uncatalogued

Lastly something closer to home, the above is one of the relatively few silver pennies that there was time for King Harold II of England to issue in 1066, this one struck at Canterbury by the moneyer Eadwine, which is proclaimed abbreviatedly on the reverse. Harold’s presentation here is interesting, not least because of how Byzantine it is, with a cross-sceptre and a diadem. The leftwards profile portrait was normal in England at this time, and would be changed for an even more Byzantine facing one by the Normans, presumably unbeknownst to Harold, though he obviously knew that the Normans were a danger. The coin is involved in some quite deliberate political signalling, therefore; not only are there these signs of royalty attached to someone whose family had never previously been royal, but the reverse message is one simple word, PAX, Peace. Of course, Harold’s promise here would prove empty. Ironically—or not?—William the Conqueror’s coins would also use a PAX legend of a kind, but then he could reasonably say that unlike Harold he’d been able to achieve it. That debate has since continued at least as far as Sir Walter Scott, of course, but it’s interesting to be able to see it happening at the time on one of the few public image tools available to a medieval régime.6

So there you have it, stories to tell with three of the sixteen coins I took with me into that workshop, and I hope that they provide some entertainment for you also!

1. That colleague’s anonymity will be protected, but honourable mention here must go to Dr Alan Murray, who was using the coins to teach with even before I arrived and who is so far still the only other person in the School of History to do so except on my modules. I’ll get them one day though!

2. Eusebius is now best got at in Eusebius, Life of Constantine, ed. & transl. Averil Cameron & Stuart G. Hall (Oxford 1999), and for bigger background my students seem to do best with Charles M. Odahl, Constantine and the Christian Empire, 2nd edn. (London 2010), which does include the coinage as part of its source base.

3. The debate on Constantine’s conversion is almost too tedious to cite, but try Raymond Van Dam, “The Many Conversions of the Emperor Constantine” in Kenneth Mills & Anthony Grafton (edd.), Conversion in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Seeing and Believing (Rochester 2003), pp. 127–151, for an account of it; on the coin types, a dose of quantitative common sense is provided by Patrick Bruun, “The Christian Signs on the Coinage of Constantine”, in idem, Studies in Constantinian Numismatics: Papers from 1954 to 1988 (Rome 1991), pp. 53–69.

4. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Middle Byzantine Numismatics in the Light of Franz Füeg’s Corpora of Nomismata” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 177 (London 2018 for 2017), pp. 514–535 at pp. 515-516 & n. 9 for a short round-up of this question.

5. Leslie Brubaker and Helen Tobler, “The Gender of Money: Byzantine Empresses on Coins (324–802)” in Gender and History Vol. 12 (Oxford 2000), pp. 572–594, repr. in Pauline Stafford and Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (edd.), Gendering the Middle Ages (Oxford 2001), pp. 42–64, gathers the evidence but even they struggle to conclude very much about the thinking behind the coins.

6. You probably don’t need a go-to reference on the Norman Conquest of England and the build-up to it but I think Brian Golding, Conquest and Colonisation: the Normans in Britain, 1066-1100 (Basingstoke 1994) is a good one; Martin Allen, “Mints and Money in Norman England” in Anglo-Norman Studies Vol. 34 (Woodbridge 2012), pp. 1-22, is a good introduction to where we are now with the coinage of the era.

Calls for Papers: ‘Rethinking the Medieval Frontier’ at Leeds IMC 2016, and Conquest: 1016, 1066

I am getting ahead of my backlog somewhat to say it, but the two sessions I ran on Rethinking the Medieval Frontier at this year’s International Medieval Congress in Leeds went well, so well in fact that I/we want to do it some more. Therefore, please see, consider, circulate and publicify the following Call for Papers!

Poster masthead for the International Medieval Congress, Leeds 2016

Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, at Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016

Frontiers and boundaries offer one of the best areas to study societies and polities in their essence, the presence of rival identities allowing and even necessitating definition against them. The Middle Ages was especially rich in such situations, which often struggle within the theories now used to explain them. It is time for medievalists to reevaluate their frontiers and boundaries and to come together in generating new theories to inform both our colleagues and those in other disciplines. After a successful beginning in 2015, we now invite scholars across all fields of medieval studies to join us in Rethinking the Medieval Frontier at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 4-7 July 2016. Particular topics of interest are: what makes frontier societies different from the cores of which they are the edges? Where does that difference begin and end, and how we can detect it? What effects did militarisation have on medieval frontier space? We invite papers especially on these topics, on internal frontiers and on non-physical and non-conventional frontiers, as well as on any other aspects of the frontier from any area and period of the Middle Ages. Please send prospective titles and abstracts of 100-200 words to Dr Jonathan Jarrett at <j.jarrett@leeds.ac.uk> by 15 September 2015.

Masthead image for the conference Conquest: 1016, 1066, Oxford 2016

Meanwhile, I am not alone in trying to organise things; my old colleague and friend Dr Laura Ashe at Oxford alerts me to an event of a couple of weeks later, namely Conquest: 1016, 1066. An Interdisciplinary Anniversary Conference. The Call for Papers looks quite interesting enough to justify its posting here:

Conquest: 1016, 1066


Paper proposals are invited for this interdisciplinary anniversary conference 21-24 July 2016 at the Ioannou Centre and TORCH, Oxford. Papers may be on any topic relevant to the area, though the main suggested themes are listed below. Individual paper proposals (of 20 minutes’ length) are highly encouraged and are anticipated to make up the majority of the programme; proposals are also invited for consideration by a number of session organisers. Sessions which are filled may be replicated if enough paper proposals warrant it.


  1. The Church; monasticism, clerical reform, theology, religious experience
  2. Literature, authors, and patronage
  3. Language and multilingualism, language contact
  4. Institutions and governance; lordship; kingship
  5. Warfare, battles, conduct in war, fighting men
  6. Art and material culture; music; court life
  7. Society and peoples
  8. Trade and commerce
  9. Space, movement, contact, networks; England and Europe, England and Scandinavia
  10. Historiography

SESSIONS CALLING – proposals warmly invited

  1. Economies of Power
  2. The English Language in the Long Twelfth Century
  3. Domesday Debated
  4. The Norman Conquest and its Myth
  5. Representing Gender and Conquest
  6. Rewriting the Narrative: Archaeological methods and evidence
  7. Women and the Conquests
  8. Women and the Legitimization of Succession Revisited
  9. Neither 1016 nor 1066? Key moments in England’s eleventh-century conquests
  10. Conquest 911 – The (proto-)Norman Conquest of Neustria Reconsidered
  11. Stories of migration in a century of conquest

SESSIONS PRE-ARRANGED – further related proposals will be considered for replica sessions, and as individual paper proposals

  1. Saints Alive! Conquest and cult, 1010-1110
  2. Embroidering the Death of Harold: Adela of Blois, Edith Swanneck and the Bayeux Tapestry
  3. Rebels or Collaborators? The conquests of 1016 and 1066 compared
  4. Assandun to Hastings: The Archaeology of eleventh-century battlefields
  5. Landholding and society in Lonsdale and south Cumbria: the impact of 1066
  6. Artefacts in Transition: people and things in the eleventh century
  7. The Structure of Landed Society in England, 1066-1086
  8. Communication between Powers in the eleventh century – The Normans and mainland Europe
  9. Approaching the Conquests of England using Geospatial Analysis
  10. Repercussions across the North Sea: Post-Conquest Relations between Scandinavia and the British Isles


Seminar CC: Old English administration after the Norman Conquest

Moving now toward the end of March 2014 in the seminar report backlog, on the 26th of that month I was back in London for the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, because Professor Julia Crick was speaking. My work crosses very little with Professor Crick’s but despite this she has made a point of remembering who I am, I was still teaching Anglo-Saxon stuff at this point even if from much earlier and, after all, when one sees a paper title like “Who Were the Writers and Readers of Administrative English in the Century after the Norman Conquest?” it implies that there might be an answer and I wanted to know what it was. This was not least because, as Professor Crick made clear at the outset, the answer has until quite recently been basically negative: there were effectively none after about 1070, when central government switched from Old English to Latin for its writing. She exemplified this point of view with three quotes, one of which I’ll re-use:

“After the Norman Conquest the use of English for official, civil and ecclesiastical purposes was generally abandoned in favour of French and Latin, and the status of English as a literary language rapidly declined. Consequently, works from the twelfth century composed in English are exceedingly rare.”1

But the trouble with this statement is that increasingly it looks untrue. Palæographical and prosopographical work, including computer-aided work in both cases and much of that, I have to give them their due sometimes, from KCL’s Department of Digital Humanities, has identified more than a thousand scribes writing in Old English at some time in the eleventh century, by no means all of them in the first half, and several new Old English texts from both eleventh and twelfth centuries.2 What has been counted so far has largely been literary or homilectical (preaching) work, however, and Professor Crick was interested in those bits of this corpus that could be called administrative, glosses in working texts, memoranda, notes and occasional property records. We don’t, in fact, know who most of these writers were, but by their works we can know them at least a little bit.

The so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735

An obvious, if early, example of the kind of marginal writing we’re talking about, the so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735, complete with bonus portrait of Christ.

Saying anything useful about the quantity of this is quite tricky, because it’s one of these things like powerful medieval women where there’s quite a lot of it but proportionally to the rest it’s still negligible (the last fact, I have to say, only becoming clear in questions). It was widespread but rare, common but unusual and these other paradoxes that dog the study of marginal behaviours in the Middle Ages (er, no pun intended). One thing it does show, however, as Professor Crick pointed out, is that the idea that written Old English entered an immediate and terminal decline as soon as the Normans took over has to be abandoned; whatever it was being used for, that didn’t stop till the twelfth century. Perhaps we should have known this: the scribes who put together the legal assemblage known as the Textus Roffensis could copy and translate Old English quite happily and, as Professor Crick pointed out, there is only one twelfth-century cartulary which doesn’t contain any Old English, even if the main text and business is in Latin in all of them.3

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763, with glosses at top right that could be in Old English? They’re so abbreviated I find it hard to tell, but I can’t easily read the abbreviations as Latin…

So what was keeping this going, when the centre was no longer interested in Old English administration? Professor Crick suggested that it might have been the use of the vernacular in court, when witness testimony was required to confirm boundaries, when oaths were made or writs and so forth were read out, when presumably after the switch to Latin they were translated. This would not be at the royal courts, but at hundred and shire courts. This would, Professor Crick argued, keep the language in use at a legal, and thus sort of official, language, though Susan Reynolds contended in questions that the hundred and shire courts were assemblies, not law courts, so not quite that kind of officialdom.4 I don’t think that would stop this being important, however.

St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r.

Closing page of the canon tables from the St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r., with a manumission record (in Latin, but it’s a good image) distributed between the leftover spaces.

More debated, perhaps, were the suggestions Professor Crick made based on her observation that quite a lot of this Old English extranea is to be found in Gospel Books. She thought that this might be partly down to the better preservation of Gospel Books than estate archives, but that it still needed accounting for. The problem I saw, and raised in questions, is that it is by no means just an English practice or a post-1066 one to write documents and administrivia in Gospel books, not even in the vernacular: the earliest written Scots Gaelic is in the Book of Deer, the earliest written Welsh is supposedly that in the Lichfield Gospels that I’d seen earlier that month, we could add Bavarian examples of Old High German too…5 To this Professor Crick answered that the Old English examples are largely in books much older than the writing, so it is obviously new to the English, but that, while true and something I’d never noticed, still needs some explanation, I thought. Professor Crick also saw the Gospel books as repositories for oaths and similar because those oaths would have been sworn on altars, where the Gospels were kept, so it made sense as a way to immortalise testimony (and perhaps new precisely because the change of language at law had removed whatever previous process for this had been employed, I might subversively suggest). Professor Crick saw here a tension between legal practice, conducted in the vernacular, and the liturgy with which these books and ‘Scripture’ more generally were associated, definitively in Latin, but Chris Lewis suggested that there was probably more cross-over of capability here than we might expect. What there isn’t, at least—Stephen Baxter asked and was answered—is any sign of written French in such contexts: whatever was going on here was at least a way of involving the natives, not the incomers. My sense here is, therefore, that Professor Crick has pointed out something large, variegated and potentially quite revealing and informative, but that characterising and explaining it is going to be a work in progress for quite a while still.6

1. Patrick P. O’Neill, “The English version” in Margaret T. Gibson, T. A. Heslop & Richard W. Pfaff (edd.), The Eadwine Psalter: texts, image and monastic culture in twelfth-century Canterbury (London 1992), pp. 123-138 at p. 136.

2. Here was cited Peter A. Stokes, “The problem of Grade in English Vernacular Minuscule, c. 1060-1220″ in Elaine Treharne, Orietta Da Rold & Mary Swan (edd.), Producing and Using English Manuscripts in the Post-Conquest Period, New Medieval Literatures Vol. 13 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 23-47.

3. The stock reference for Old English in manuscripts, so stock it’s not even in Professor Crick’s otherwise comprhensive handout, is Neil R. Ker, English Manuscripts in the Century after the Norman Conquest (Oxford 1960), which is obviously the survey from which the negative picture with which the audience began largely comes but still might be all right for the cartularies. We now have to add to it, however, David A. E. Pelteret, Catalogue of English Post-Conquest Vernacular Documents (Woodbridge 1990), but as he himself freely acknowledged in questions, this is no longer adequate to cover the sample, and Donald Scragg, A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English, 960-1100 (Cambridge 2012) is where most of the evidence presented in this paper could ultimately be found.

4. I would still tend to refer to Henry R. Loyn, The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England, 500-1087 (London 1984), but I should probably cite something more modern like John Hudson, “Order and Justice” in Julia Crick & Elisabeth van Houts (edd.), A Social History of England 900-1200 (Cambridge 2011), pp. 115-123; also probably worth mentioning in this connection are Elaine Treharne, “Textual Communities (vernacular)” and Julia Crick, “Learning and Training”, ibid. pp. 341-349 & 352-372.

5. Arkady Hodge, “When Is a Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe” in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 127-149, DOI:  10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101680.

6. Other references that seem worth emphasising from the handout are Mark Faulkner, “Archaism, Belatedness and Modernisation: ‘Old’ English in the twelfth century” in Review of English Studies New Series Vol. 63 (Oxford 2012), pp. 179-203; Kathryn A. Lowe, “Post-Conquest Bilingual Composition in Memoranda from Bury St Edmunds” ibid. 59 (2007), pp. 52-66; and Elaine Treharne, Living Through Conquest: the politics of early English, 1020-1220 (Oxford 2012), and not from the handout, Julia Crick, “The Art of Writing: scripts and scribal production” in Clare A. Lees (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature (Cambridge 2013), pp. 50-72.

Seminar CLXXIV: debating change around 1066

One of the stranger events I attended while still in Oxford (a category of thing of which I have now told you almost all) was a debate staged at the then-new Ertegun Centre, over the motion: “1066: the most important date in English history?” It was the public-school format, of course, with a speaker for, a speaker against and the option of a reply from each one, but what made it look interesting to attend was that the speaker for was Dr George Garnett, one of my more singular colleagues in the Faculty, and the speaker against was Dr George Molyneaux, repeatedly given first place as lecturer by my pupils on the British History 300-1087 course and also George Garnett’s doctoral pupil. Would the pupil now become the master? and so on.

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

The manuscript of Greater Domesday: the final judgement!

In actual fact, though the debate was not uninteresting, and could probably be said to have been won by George Garnett in as much as he was prepared to throw much more into the rhetoric of the occasion and also had a single point of focus that meant his opponent either had to pick another or be solely negative, the real interest for me and most others there seemed to be the meta-debate of what we as historians would consider significant change and how they could be rated against each other. Both Georges had chosen to rest their cases largely on duration, on changes that endured like cathedrals, language, towns, laws and landholding, and differed primarily on the question of whom these changes affected: in the case for it was everyone, in the case against those changes mentioned in the case for 1066 were dismissed as affecting only the aristocracy. (George Garnett then argued in his reply that if we let Marx set our criteria like that then nothing actually changed in England till the Industrial Revolution anyway.) But many more such arguments arose once the floor was opened. One contention for 1940 was resisted with the idea that only people since 1940 had been affected by it, so that older changes would be more significant by sheer demography of impact. The idea that counter-factuals were a tool for assessing such importance was damned as a trick of Niall Ferguson‘s and defended as being inherent in any historical judgement; and, thankfully, the question was also raised of whether we had enough evidence to make judgements like this anyway and what new evidence could unseat either George’s position. (George Garnett considered his position to be bolstered by so much evidence that evidence of other things couldn’t change it.) Probably this sort of thing could happen nowhere but Oxford, and even its participants questioned its worth as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of provoking conversation about what change actually is it proved unexpectedly stimulating.

Coalition government and the Norman Conquest (new post on Cliopatria)

My apologies for the silence here, I’ve been trying to get big things done and in a very few cases succeeding. Meanwhile various other long-completed endeavours have at last had their outcome, but mainly, I have a lot of new courses to teach this coming term and a vast e-mail backlog. I will put various things here yet, more seminar reports, an explanation and some pictures of the completed endeavours, and a morbid but necessary post of honour for the rather too numerous dead in my various worlds in the last two months; but none of these are ready yet. I did, at least, write the piece of the title for Cliopatria, and will at some point follow it with a post there about the student protests of the last quarter, since I have written about such things there before. But, though it’s rather angry, I’m quite pleased with the Cliopatria piece and maybe you would like to read it.

‘Arold ‘ad an arrer in ‘is aye (except he didn’t)

I seem to have been writing very angrily lately, and it would probably be a good idea to dial that back. So, let me attempt to comment on a historical debate that I have an opinion on without savaging any of the participants. Duller, I know! But I’m really too old for starting fights on the Internet now. So. Two separate sources have put the same question before me and their shared subject this time is the death of King Harold II of England at Hastings. The first of them was an article mentioned at News for Medievalists, which they report uses the Carmen de hastingae prœlio as evidence for Harold being cut down by a group of Norman cavalrymen rather than the legendary death by bowshot in the FACE for which he is, well, legendary.1 Now, I raised my eyebrows at this but not because it is controversial, indeed I think it’s very likely to be right. I was just surprised that this counted as news, because the Carmen, while there are debates over its date, is very far from an unknown source and I ran across this aspect of its testimony in the 1972 translation I read as an undergraduate.2 The first source that attributes the death to an arrow appears to be Baudri of Bourgeuil, writing around 1100 [edit: in fact, as the article in question points out, there is an earlier instance c. 1080 in the History of the Normans of Amatus of Monte Cassino, a work of which I have to confess I’d not heard] and the Carmen is probably earlier than that, though it is undeniably florid and reads like a tall tale to me. So this argument is perfectly viable, I think, and indeed has been for some while, but it is beyond the evidence to decide which is true. Maybe Mr Dennis knows something I don’t, I hope so, but I wonder if NfM have not somewhat distorted his article’s focus; the title (which they don’t give) appears to lead elsewhere than this.1

King Harold II's death in the Bayeux Tapestry

King Harold II's death in the Bayeux Tapestry

But when you dig into the question, up comes this scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, and an entirely more unlikely scenario emerges, and this was why I had to write, because I came across it in the basically-grand textbook I’m currently evaluating and it seems very odd there.3 And then, in looking for the Carmen testimony mentioned above I found it on the useful website from which I link the above image. So I just want to point up a problem with it. As you can see from the above image the Tapestry appears to show both cases; there is someone with an arrow in their eye, whose head actually breaks the caption “hAROLD: REX: INTERFeCTVS: EST”, ‘King Harold is killed’, but also a man under that caption being felled by a horseman’s sword. Since there were evidently two stories around before long (in fact three, as both William of Jumièges and Orderic Vitalis say Harold was killed in the first stages of the battle, which even if they don’t say how he died is clearly at variance with the Tapestry’s chronology) I wonder if the Tapestry-makers were deliberately including both as alternatives.

I don’t think it can show, however, what that textbook and the Dot to Domesday website both say it shows, which is that Harold is both figures in sequence, that is, he was shot then cut down. This is, admittedly, pretty much what Henry of Huntingdon and Wace said, but Wace was presumably, here as elsewhere, trying to synthesize accounts that may have included the Tapestry4, and one presumes that similar things could be true of Henry; they are both late enough to have seen the problem. Anyway, this possibility was dealt with by none other than Simon Keynes in the first-year undergraduate lectures I went to about Anglo-Saxon England, and he pointed out the obvious reason why it is unlikely to have been what the Tapestry makers meant: if both figures are the same Harold, he has found time to change his hat and socks in between the attacks. In a work otherwise so carefully planned and subtly expressed, this seems a very unlikely slip to make and I think we can forget this ‘double whammy’ idea. Which of the two or three stories about Harold’s death is really true, however, I’ve no idea; if I can get hold of Mr Dennis’ article I’m sure I shall enjoy reading it. However, if the NfM report is all of what the article’s about, which seems unlikely from the title I admit, then its argument is already 900-plus years old I’m afraid.

[Edit: thanks to commentator Kath’s ‘mad webz skilling’ the comments now contain a link to Mr Dennis’s article, and I’ve read it. His position is that the arrow story is a later fabrication to shroud the rôle of William himself in the death of Harold at a time when Harold’s position in William’s claim to the throne was still being worked out. I’ll let readers more expert than me decide what they think of this, which seems to involve arguing for a Carmen which is early, semi-official and authentically untrustworthy, but I will note firstly that he makes great play of the fact that the arrow in the Tapestry may be a restorer’s imagination, which I forgot to mention but the Dot to Domesday website covers, and secondly that actually NfM have more or less reported him accurately. So if it seems above that I’m pouring doubt on their summarising abilities I would like to evaporate that doubt right now.]

1. Presumably Chris Dennis, “The strange death of King Harold II: Propaganda and the problem of legitimacy in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings” in The Historian no. 101 (London 2009). I haven’t yet found anywhere I can get this but if, when I do, I find it substantially alters what I say here I shall post accordingly and pingback here. So check the comments!

2. Catherine Morton & Hope Muntz (edd./transl.), The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Guy, Bishop of Amiens, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford 1972), now available in 2nd edn. rev. & transl. Frank Barlow (Oxford 1999), which obviously I didn’t have at the time because I’m ancient.

3. Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran Cruz & Richard Gerberding, Medieval Worlds: an introduction to European history 300-1492 (Boston 2004), p. 326.

4. For example, Wace’s account of the Harold’s voyage to Normandy in 1064 includes the following example of proper scholarly reticence: “So at least I have found the story written. But another book tells me [otherwise]… How the matter really was I never knew, and I find it written both the one way and the other.” (Master Wace, His Chronicle of the Norman Conquest, from the Roman de la Rou, transl. Edgar Taylor (London 1837), pp. 76-78.)

Fleming’s Normans (and her Danes and her English)

Once finished with ‘pope month’ on the course, we had ‘Normans fortnight’, and I used the opportunity to read Robin Fleming’s Kings and Lords in Conquest England, which I’d wanted to do for, er, well more or less since I first read any of her work as an undergraduate I think, so quite a long time, in none of which time had it ever been quite relevant enough.1 But now I have.

The manuscript of Great Domesday

The manuscript of Great Domesday

In some ways I guess this doesn’t read as innovative as it did when it came out, or at least as the author pitches it, but that would be because she’d blazed the trail of using Domesday Book for really big-scale social history of England and a lot of other people also started doing it once she’d shown them how it could be done. I was very conscious while making notes that there has been an awful lot of work since she wrote, but hadn’t been that much on relevant subjects before: a great deal of what’s in her footnotes was thirty or forty years old even then. Anyway, the elevator pitch of it would be: using Domesday over many areas, we can see that the patterns of lay land-holding were hugely changed between 1066 and 1086, and that only a small part of this can be seen as continuity from an Anglo-Saxon landholder to a new Norman one. Small estates were clumped together by means fair and foul, but big ones were broken up and the result was a much more divided and controllable nobility for William I in 1086 than Edward the Confessor had in 1066, when Harold and his brothers actually held more land than the king, a pattern set up by Cnut’s consolidation of the nobility. That process is discussed in the first part of the book, and one of the things that makes this so interesting is the long comparison 1016 to 1086, albeit mainly studied through the 1086 telescope of Domesday.2 It’s at that end where the real argument lies, and figures like this really knock the difference home:

Proportions of land held by Edward the Confessor and his earls as per Fleming

Proportions of land held by William the Conqueror and his barons, 1086, as per Fleming

The timing of all this is also crucial: she sees a turning point around 1075, when the last English landholders to whom a new Norman landholder can be allowed to succeed are dying out. From there on land has to be acquired by other means, although that was never the only one. This means that a lot of estates had probably assumed the form that Domesday shows them in only very recently in 1086, and that we can fit the acquisition of land into a slow change that also appears in William’s domestic and ecclesiastical politics of initial accommodation hardening into subjection. This is all anchored with masses of detail, I mean masses. She never uses two or three examples when six exist, and this is effective. It sacrifices something on accessibility: the language of English land tenure is somewhat unusual and if you don’t already know what soke is or what berewicks are you will need a dictionary because there’s no help coming here, and no glossary either which might have been a kind gesture. But the upshot of it is all to convince, with the sort of mass of data that only Domesday scholars can really marshal for this period.3

Shires in which the different English magnate families dominated in 1066Spread of landholding of William the Conqueror's baronage by family 1086, as per Fleming

Three things only bug me about the arguments here, and these are three carps in a whole pool of beautiful goldfish, if you see what I mean. You know by now that this is my way of showing I really read the thing, to try and argue with details, right? So. The first thing is, a point she makes several times but which is easily lost sight of, that we are dealing here only with lay land, which is between a third and two-thirds of all land in England perhaps. So although if you’re studying the lay aristocracy we have indeed got 100% of their known assets under consideration, if you were interested in the peasantry then we’re looking at rather less. The second thing is another that she admits but I don’t think she really allows the reader time to see how it might affect the argument: Domesday does not record Anglo-Saxon subtenancies in as much detail as it does Anglo-Norman ones, so the fact that tempus regis willelmi land tenure appears to be split between many people and tempus regis eadwardi rather fewer may not all be the fact that Harold of Wessex and brothers and Leofric of Mercia had most of the country sewn up between them, undeniable though that probably is, but partly that we are not seeing the people over who they were lords. That said, it could be argued against that since Domesday is mainly interested in tenants-in-chief, this doesn’t really affect the upper level and might even militate towards better representation of Anglo-Saxon tenancies whose nature didn’t match the categories that Domesday‘s surveyors were working with. So maybe that doesn’t matter.

Peasants at work on a plough team, from the Luttrell Psalter

Peasants at work on a plough team, from the Luttrell Psalter

The question that really seemed uncovered to me is one that I kept asking, especially during the penultimate chapter which tries to document how much of the new lords’ landholdings were simply stolen or extorted. This is a really interesting chapter, and contains fascinating hints of collusion. What happens, I wanted to ask, having had this conversation with Matthew Innes several times in the past,4 when land changes hands? Do we really envisage the people who had owned it packing up their bags and leaving? Was England, or indeed Europe always full of migrants of purchase like this? Well, sometimes perhaps, especially in my area where they sometimes come to the frontier and start a new life, but more often surely they stay put, they just don’t own the land any more. What is happening with some of these cases is surely primarily a change of revenue flow; someone new gets to take the renders and the people working the land stay the same. A lot of the people we’re dealing with here likely weren’t working the land before, of course, and they may now have to. But all the same I think there is not only a great difference between physically expelling people from their lands and simply taking possession, in terms of title, tax and rights, of it while they stay in place with lessened status. I also think that envisaging the latter rather than the former makes it a lot easier to imagine how this whole process could be carried out without the whole of England essentially becoming wasteland and all the English fugitives.

1. Robin Fleming, Kings and Lords in Conquest England, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 15 (Cambridge 1991).

2. In this I think she, as with very many other people in fact, owes a lot to the similar perspective of Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest: a political and social history of England in the tenth and eleventh centuries (London 1978) and I don’t know if this is one of those I-internalised-it-so-good-I-forgot-it-wasn’t-mine things I described the other day but I find it very weird that that book isn’t cited or in this one’s bibliography.

3. It ought to be noted, however, that Fleming’s figures above differ quite a lot from the results that Mark Lawson got doing the same sums, or at least attempting to: see his “Edward the Confessor’s England” in James Campbell, Patrick Wormald & Eric John (edd.), The Anglo-Saxons (Harmondsworth 1982), pp. 226-227 at p. 226.

4. You can find Matthew discussing the like in his “Land, Freedom and the Making of the Early Medieval West” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73.