1066 and All That

OK, the above memorable title was stolen, but it works. The original 1930 book follows British history from the Romans to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and all that, as it says. Funny, in 950 years since 14 October 1066 when the Normans of Duke William conquered the Saxons of King Harold in a dynastic struggle to prove whether a bastard should rule England, the Welsh continued to get the worst of it

William the Bastard,Bayeux Tapestry, aka “the first British comic strip” Bryan Talbot, graphic artist
William the Bastard, Bayeux Tapestry, aka “the first British comic strip” Bryan Talbot, graphic artist

Ah, but history is messy. In short form—Britain after the Ice Age: the paleo diet, new stoned age, Bell Beaker People, Stonehenge, Celts, Romans (including All That which begins with Caesar Salad in 55 BC),  and Saxons with a bunch of Als, Eds, and Ethels— Alfred the Great, Edward the Elder, and Aethelred the Unready. Then William of Normandy in 1066 crossed the channel, not a wall, in the last invasion, or visit, from the descendants of the Vikings, pre-socialist Scandinavians, but then the nasty Norsemen. “O Lord, deliver us from the fury of the Norsemen”—especially those with funny names.

William the Conqueror, aka the Bastard, had a great-great-great-grandfather Rollo, the original Norman conqueror. He was a Norseman or Viking, whether or not he was furious. After raiding and pillaging about the mouth of the River Seine in what was then the land of the Carolingian Franks (from the , Germanic tribe that gave France its name), Rollo, an undocumented immigrant, was allowed to keep what he had stolen and settle down in 911 by Charles the Simple. French passports hadn’t been invented yet.

Rollo married Poppa [sic], daughter of Berenger of Rennes, and begat William Longsword who begat Richard the Fearless, father of Richard the Good, father of Richard…who died before he could get a nickname. He was the brother of Robert the Magnificent who begat William the Bastard with Herleva, daughter of Fulbert of Falaise. But Bob never married Herly, leaving Bill a bastard. Herly married Herluin who fathered Odo of Bayeaux, who later recorded the first album entitled Tapestry at his studio.

Rollo is also named in “The Life of Gyffudd ap Cynan,” an anonymous 12th-century Welsh biography written by someone from the local media elite, in which the genealogy of Prince Gruffud’s grandfather includes Rollo as a brother of King Harald Finehair of Norway, upholding the tradition of funny names. Gruffudd was called the King of All Wales, by his public relations firm of bards if no one else, and was an early border patrol authority against the Normans, who just wouldn’t stop acquiring real estate.

In 1066 after Edward the Confessor, king of England, son of the Unready and Emma of Normandy, died in January, local Earl Harold and foreign Duke William insisted that each was the voice of England in the playoffs. They were also cousins (OK, it’s complicated). In the semis Harold fought off his own brother Tostig who then joined the team of Norse King Harald Hard Rule but died during the Battle of Stamford Bridge. (Check your scorecard.) The finals were fought that October in Hastings. The Bastard won.

In London that December, William Norman gave himself a Christmas present—the English crown. It was huge. As a voracious real estate magnate with an army, he then launched the Norman conquest of England. Wales tried to stay out of it but Normans trumpeted their first tower (or castle) in Wales at Chepstow in 1067.  The next French-speaking ‘English’ dynasties—Normandy, Blois, Anjou, and Plantagenet—took just over 200 years to kill off or otherwise annoy the Saxons, Irish, Scots, and Welsh.

In 1282 Edward Longshanks defeated Llewelyn the Last Prince and presented the Welsh with an offer they couldn’t refuse—a Prince of Wales who spoke no English (shortly after birth, of course not), Edward of Caernarfon. The English family names split into Lancasters and Yorks in their own deadly Parade of Roses, until a Welshman, Henry VII, fixed matters for a while in the House of Tudor, during which time Shakespeare played and, in modern times, begat Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew Rhys.

After Caesar Salad, Hastings Pudding, and Warring Roses, England at least got more drama from Wales.

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