Throughout 2016, we’ve been posting from eight different Twitter channels, each representing different areas of medieval society. You can look back on the action by searching for #Battle1066, or read a month-by-month round up starting here in January.
Some of our characters met their fate on 14th October at the Battle of Hastings. Others will continue to tell the tale of the rest of 1066. But what happened to the real people who inspired our #Battle1066 accounts?
One 12th century manuscript states that Harold survived his encounter at Hastings and spent years travelling France and England as a hermit, revealing his true identify on his deathbed. If this sounds fanciful, that’s because it probably is – historians are fairly sure that Harold died at Hastings.
Where his body was laid to rest is a greater mystery. One source has it William had Harold buried at an undisclosed location overlooking the sea, perhaps in mockery of Harold’s inability to defend his own coast. Another legend has it Harold was buried at Waltham Abbey and Gatehouse.
The former scenario is more likely. William was pragmatic and he would not have wanted to make a martyr out of Harold, or provide a place for rebellious Saxons to make pilgrimages to in the years to come.
To the victor belong the spoils, but William did not have an easy job of subjugating England.
True, he was crowned king at Westminster within a few months of Hastings, but he spent the rest of his life securing his position and looking over his shoulder. William’s legacy is complicated and he essentially spent the rest of his life fighting.
He died on campaign in France in September 1087 aged 59. Supposedly his body was pillaged of valuable jewels and garments by his followers and he was too fat to fit in his coffin. He is buried at the Abbey of Saint-Étienne and his tomb has been disturbed several times throughout history.
In 1066 Edith lost her husband to age and all of her brothers to war. However, she did not flounder under Norman occupation. The Domesday Book records her as owning a substantial amount of land in 1086, at a time when most of the Saxon elite lost theirs.
She was the author of a new work celebrating the life of her husband Edward the Confessor and she worked hard to promote him as saintly and pious ruler (and herself by association). William’s claim to the English throne rested on his connection to Edward; he could not challenge his widowed wife without besmirching the memory of his predecessor.
Therefore, when Edith died she was rich, secure and comfortable.
Left in charge of Normandy during her husband’s absence, Matilda eventually travelled to England to be crowned Queen.
She survived 9, possible 10, pregnancies during her marriage to William. Their marriage seems to have been a happy one, although she allegedly supplied her eldest son Robert with funds during his rebellion against his father. If this put a strain on her relationship with William it didn’t last; he was said to be at her bedside when she died.
A strong, respected and by all accounts, well-educated individual, Matilda is a celebrated figure in French history.
So much of Harold’s claim to the throne rested on the fact that he had the support of the Witan and most of the Saxon elite. Fyrdsman represents the many individuals whom Harold depended on in 1066 to secure his claim. They were loyal to their king and would have lamented the fact that the man they chose to lead them had been taken away.
In our narrative, Fyrdsman survives at Hastings by fleeing into the night. He likely would have returned to London to rally a response. If he did, he would have been disappointed; William received the submission of the English at Berkhamsted Castle shortly after Hastings.
Fyrdsman was a member of the elite in his own right and a professional warrior. Perhaps he journeyed north to continue the fight with the earls Morcar and Edwin. He might have joined Hereward the Wake, a legendary guerrilla figure who headed Anglo-Saxon resistance in the Fens before fading into obscurity.
William rewarded those that had supporter his campaign well. Veterans from Hastings went on to acquire great lands, wealth and titles. These enterprising individuals replaced the English aristocracy and were responsible for many castles, abbeys and priories that we see today.
Our Knight probably didn’t live to see the fruits of his labours. We had him receive a nasty injury during his attack on the Saxon housecarls to demonstrate how evenly matched the two sides were. In one of his final tweets, he says his wound is ‘festering’ – we can only imagine how many men died at Hastings due to infection.
For all of his bravado, Knight met his fate at Hastings – but his peers were well-compensated. And you can visit the castles and abbeys that the Normans founded.
In writing these tweets we wanted to tell the story of 1066 from the perspective of the ‘common man’ of England – and our poor and hardworking Farmer character was born.
Farmer represents the many thousands of individuals in 1066 that would have feared war and invasion. Farmer doesn’t care who is the king – what do the squabbles of such men mean to him? We had him join the fyrd as we wanted to have an English character lead the ill-fated pursuit of the Norman left-flank. Does Farmer die in the resulting rout? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.
The Normans could be harsh rulers and tens of thousands died as the result of their conquest, but they did stamp out the practice of slavery. Perhaps Farmer found some peace in the years that followed, if he survived.
The inspiration for Chronicler came from William of Poitiers, a priest of Norman origin and chaplain of William the Conqueror. Poitiers recorded events of William’s life, Norman society and 1066. His writings are incredibly valuable to historians.
Like Poitiers, Chronicler is a man of God and the fact that the interests of the Church were politically aligned to those of the Normans means he is unashamedly a supporter of William. Poitiers survived Hastings, like our Chronicler, and likely would have kept himself busy in the following years by bringing the English Church in-line with the Papacy in Rome.[ssba]