If you ask most people to name a famous date in British history they will probably say 1066, they may even reference the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror. They probably won’t be able to tell you who he fought because history is written by the victors (as in ‘winners’ not Meldrew etc). It was Harold Godwinson. Google image search him now – he apparently looked like a camp He-Man.
After Edward The Confessor died (heirless), there were many ‘rightful’ claims to the English throne. According to ‘He-Man in drag’ Godwinson, King Edward had promised HIM the crown on his death bed so that basically made HIM king. Therefore, he hastily had himself crowned. He must have known that decision was going land him in a load of shit but the lure of complete power, to an already powerful man is sometimes irresistible. Look at Theresa May and the poisoned chalice of Brexit negotiations, she just couldn’t help herself (yes, I know she’s a woman but that still counts cause I’m a massive feminist).
Immediately, another Harold sailed an ocean to steak his claim to the English throne. It was hard as fuck - Harold Hardrada. His army weren’t that hard though as Godwinson totally kicked his Norwegian arse at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (Yorkshire) and Hardrada lost his life. His freedom of movement had cost him, however, despite his death, Hardrada still managed to hold on to his Norwegian fishing rights.
Godwinson rejoiced as surely his right to rule had now been ordained by *God. Nope. After weeks of waiting on the beaches of Normandy for favourable winds, William The Conqueror finally landed on our southern coast just a few days later. It was more than perfect timing. Godwinson’s battle-weary army were immediately forced to march 200 miles to go and fight a bunch of Norman lunatics in a field near Hastings. Godwinson wanted to ‘surprise’ his enemy. If you can imagine going on a crazy murderous stabbing spree for about 3 hours and jogging more than a marathon a day for a week whilst sleeping on a roadside every night then that is what it must have been like. This bold attempt at ‘surprise’ backfired. These exhausted men were mainly farmers, they weren’t trained soldiers. Unsurprisingly, they lost the second battle (Hastings) and Godwinson, our last Anglo-Saxon king, was slain in the slaughter. What a fucking week that must have been. Imagine being a member of Godwinson’s militia and surviving that. Then you have to go back home and plough your field.
“How were the battles love?”,
“Oh, the first one was great, I killed about forty people with this pitch-fork but then we had to run 200 miles straight after. It’s more tiring that you’d think. In the second battle, most of my friends died and I’ve been running through fields and forests for 3 days solid because they are still trying to kill me. That’s why I’m home early. What’s for tea?”
Life was hard. William himself had survived various assassination attempts as a young boy. Imagine having to escape on horse-back in the black of night when you’re about 8 years old because people had come to murder you. It can’t be good for the disposition. That boy grew up to be a blood-thirsty ruler, the likes of which we didn’t see again until George Osbourne. William The Bastard’s legacy cannot be understated - he was the reason that our establishment spoke French for the best part of half-a-millennia. Moreover, his invasion actually helped define the English language as we know it today. Modern English is basically an amalgamation of old English and French (along with loads of other languages). To put it even more simply, it’s basically French but without the ridiculous need for feminine or masculine verb endings. Languages develop all the time, they’re in a constant state of flux. As it happens, the French are currently terrified that their language is becoming obsolete, it is almost being assimilated into the English language. We have over a million words, they only have roughly 100,000. The French language simply can’t keep up, its fading. Good. Admittedly, I do like cliché, rendezvous, touché and guillotine but the rest can perish for all I care. I believe the English language to be far superior; it has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
If you are looking for French words within the English language then you won’t be disappointed, its riddled with them. Take for example the word ‘Parliament’, deriving of course from the French word ‘parle’ which means ‘to speak’. There are probably more examples.
The ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ have had a huge impact on our culture and ‘The Bastard’s’ victories on the battlefield are a big part of why. To be fair, I should mention that William wasn’t actually French, he was of course Norman; a descendent of the great Viking warrior ‘Rollo’ who was hard as fuck. Eventually, the French got so tired of being killed by the Vikings that they surrendered some of their land (a common theme embedded within French military tactics) and a new country was born, Normandy. You will have heard of it before because that area of the continent still retains that name. Operation Overlord (June 6th, 1944) landed on the beaches of Normandy just under a millennia later as allied forces once again rescued the French from their appalling military tactics of ‘here, you can have this land if you want it’. However, the 11th Century Normans were hard as nails. In order to secure his rule, William brutally crushed all further English rebellion, including the ‘Harrying of the North’ which involved his forces setting fire to most of Northern England, the devastation was so complete that even HS2 may still be cancelled.
I think it’s fair to suggest that William was not only a fantastic conqueror but also genuinely a bit of a bastard. What does this small but very defining segment of British history tell us about the present? It tells us that those who seek power should be careful what they wish for and it is also highly likely that they’re a twat.
* the medieval equivalent of Rupert Murdoch