Having looked at the Prologue in my previous post we now move to the opening chapter. It might surprise those who have not read the book that I began the actual tale not in Saxon England but on the continent: enter Duke Guillaume of Normandy! The reason for doing this arose from the research that I undertook when I started writing the book. Normally, in tales of conquest there is one side who represents good and one that represents bad, but that is not always the case in real historical events. Duke Guillaume was just a man. He was born in violent times and his life was at risk from almost his first day simply because of who he was. In 1066, Normandy was a duchy that enjoyed considerable independence from the Kingdom of France. It was seemingly in a state of constant war with its neighbours, however, and that included the French.
When I was at school the Norman Conquest was taught as an inevitable event. The Normans were represented as superior to the backwards Anglo-Saxons who were still seen as living in the Dark Ages. That term is no longer used to describe the early medieval period; quite rightly in my opinion. Constant war had molded the Normans into a powerful society of warriors, but it was also taking its toll. I believe that Guillaume was intelligent enough to see that, eventually, the sheer power of France, allied to one or more of his enemies, would finally subdue Norman independence. Normandy had considerable resources of its own, but it was still only a duchy. What they needed was the wealth of a kingdom and Anglo-Saxon England was one of the richest countries in Europe at that time.
Avarice was one of Guillaume’s weaknesses. He liked money and resented spending it on anything that did not promise a return. Although his claim to the English throne was weak the wealth he stood to gain was considerable and the gamble obviously appeared to him to be worthwhile. That is another thing that I noticed in my reading; how much of a gamble Guillaume was taking is often not considered by historians in their books. The fact is that he stood to lose everything. He was a desperate man. Having made known his intent to take the English crown he could not afford to fail. A defeat in England would serve as a rallying call to his many enemies to unite and finally destroy him.
Another aspect of the Norman expedition that is usually glossed over is that it suffered from the beginning by constant delays. The weather worked to make crossing the channel to England too hazardous to contemplate. That is understood, but what often goes unsaid is the impact that this must have had on the Normans themselves. People in the 11th century were superstitious, even the Christians. Although Guillaume had been given a Papal banner it seemed that God himself was not smiling on his enterprise. Morale was dipping and strains were already appearing between the Duke and his barons. The expedition was costing him a fortune and had so far achieved nothing.
In this chapter I set out to represent Guillaume as a man under considerable pressure. His army was in danger of losing its discipline. His authority was being questioned, even if not openly yet. He was very much aware of his enemies watching his every move. In many respects he was frustrated by events and, I think, probably beginning to doubt the wisdom of the undertaking. However, like Caesar before him, Guillaume had passed the point of no return. He could only go forwards, even if it was just a few miles.
Below is a PDF file of the chapter under discussion. Please, click on the link and enjoy.