Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

William the Conqueror

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

William the Conqueror

Postby Michy » Wed June 9th, 2010, 7:32 pm

I am currently reading The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer, and have a couple of questions about her portrayal of William. First, she depicts him as being the first military leader (or the first in Europe, anyway) to use cunning tactics and strategy in battle. As she writes it, prior to him battles were simple, straightforward contests with victory going to the side with the most manpower. William, on the other hand, took on larger armies than his own (i.e. France), and defeated them not through brute strength but through cunning and strategy that was theretofore unknown.

Secondly, and more surprising to me, she depicts William as the one who first used arrows as military weapons. She even re-creates the scene where the idea first comes to him (he is in the forest hunting game).

I have no doubt that William the Conqueror was a brilliant and revolutionary leader. But was he really as innovative as she portrays him to be? Or is she perhaps using a little artistic license for the sake of her book?

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Wed June 9th, 2010, 8:40 pm

Clearly organised military strategies were used by many ancient armies- the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans amongst others, and archers, especially mounted archers were used to devastating effect by nomadic tribes like the Scythians, Huns and Mongols.

Where the Normans were particularly innovative was in their use of mounted units called conrois, where groups of knights ranging from 20-50 in number rode knee-to-knee in strict formation, acting rather like a cavalry version of the shield-wall.

William was very organized, with clear objectives, and his planning was impressive. Ruthlessness, the shrewd understanding of King Harold's nature which enabled him to manipulate the response he wanted, and sheer good luck (very important for a military commander) seem to lie behind his success at Hastings.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed June 9th, 2010, 9:14 pm

Heyer doesn't imply that WtheC was the first ever in history to use military strategy, cunning, and arrows, just that those elements were unknown in European warfare until his time. Which I am still skeptical of. It's hard for me to believe that none of William's contemporaries used any military strategy beyond just plain brute force. But maybe they didn't, maybe that's why he was "The Conqueror?" :p

As for arrows, that one's a little hard for me to swallow, also. Again, she implies that he was the first to use these in European warfare. In one of the many battles he fought against the French long before he invaded England, she has him totally routing them throught the "shock and awe" of using arrows. I realize someone had to be the first to use arrows, but I would have thought it was much farther back than WtheC. But maybe not?

User avatar
SarahWoodbury
Avid Reader
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Contact:

Postby SarahWoodbury » Thu June 10th, 2010, 12:20 am

The Normans used bows, and by all indications, it was an effective weapon for the Normans in the Battle of Hastings. Such archers are depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. Vikings used arrows a lot, and as the Normans descend from Vikings . . .

This is a great site for the discussion: http://www.regia.org/SaxonArchery.htm

The first recorded use of the longbow was in 633 AD, in a battle between the Welsh, led by Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd, against the Northumbrians.
http://www.themiddleages.net/longbow.html

The shot killed Ofrid (or Osric?), son of Edwin of Northumbria, who just happened to be Cadwallon’s foster-uncle. Cadwallon had allied himself with Penda of Mercia in an attempt to drive the Northumbrians from Gwynedd, after Edwin had defeated his father and taken over the country. Cadwallon was successful. http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/cadwagd.html

Saxons do not appear to be archers, but again, the jury is still out on that. It is another five centuries before there is any recorded use of a longbow in England. The men of Wales used longbows to great effect against the Normans, when they arrived to conquer Wales, up through the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, indicating it was still not a significant aspect of Norman battle until Edward I adopted them after 1282.

Once he realized the longbow’s full potential, “To ensure a steady stream of bowmen for his army, Edward I banned all sports except archery on Sundays. Shooting ranges were set up on or near church property so parishioners would follow worship services with archery practice.”

http://www.militaryhistory.teamultimedia.com/History%20of%20Weapons/Welsh%20and%20English%20Longbow.html

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu June 10th, 2010, 3:41 am

The Regia Anglorum website is a wonderful resource. Thanks for the link, Sarah.

Description of William's battle tactics at Hastings from Wikipedia:

"William's tactics relied on archers to soften the enemy, followed by a general advance of the infantry and then a cavalry charge. The Norman army was made up of nobles, mercenaries, and troops from Normandy (around half), Flanders, Brittany (around one third) and France (today Paris and Île-de-France), with some from as far as southern Italy.

The Norman army's power derived from its cavalry which were reckoned amongst the best in Europe. They were heavily armoured, and usually had a lance and a sword. As with all cavalry, they were generally at their most effective against troops whose formation had begun to break up. Apart from the missile troops, the Norman infantry were probably protected by ring mail and armed with spear, sword and shield, like their English counterparts.

The large numbers of missile troops in William's army reflected the trend in European armies for combining different types of forces on the battlefield. The bow was a relatively short weapon with a short draw but was effective on the battlefield. Hastings marks the first known use of the crossbow in English history."

The use of archers was not uncommon at the time in Europe, especially in William's neighbour, France, and William used French troops at Hastings (see above). In the early 11th century the Normans also moved back and forth on a regular basis from Italy, where they plied their trade as mercenaries, and would have been familiar with the Saracen archers of southern Italy.

"Archers and archery were a traditional part of the French army during the Middle Ages. The bow was first used by the Franks in the 4th century but did not become a required arm of the Frankish infantry until the time of Charlemagne. These early archers generally were equipped with a short bow of simple wood construction. But in the following centuries bows were improved by the addition of horn, sinew, and glue in a composite construction complete with angled ears to give more pull to the bowstring. By the 11th century, archers had become a designated unit within the French army, differing in responsibility, status, arms, and armor from the regular infantry unit. Rarely were archers mounted, and then only for transportation to and from the battlefield.

With the influx of crossbows, the use of short bows died out in French armies, and by the 13th century they were not considered a weapon of war in most parts of Europe. However, they did persist as hunting weapons. During the late Middle Ages, the crossbow dominated the archery of the French army, although some French military leaders attempted to hire groups of short- and longbowmen from Scotland and mounted archers from Spain and Italy.

Archers were seen as unchivalric participants of battle and frequently were massacred by opposing forces if captured."

Source: Bradbury, Jim. The Medieval Archer. New York: St. Martins, 1985
Last edited by annis on Thu June 10th, 2010, 5:41 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Thu June 10th, 2010, 3:03 pm

William didn't invent the military use of arrows. Vegetius, a Late Roman military writer, complains that the Roman army suffered severe losses to enemy arrows when fighting the Goths:

".... our troops in their engagements with the Goths were often overwhelmed with their showers of arrows. "
--Vegetius, De Re Militari, Book I (translation online here: http://www.pvv.ntnu.no/~madsb/home/war/vegetius/dere03.php#18)

In Beowulf, Wiglaf says in his speech at Beowulf's funeral:

"...who often endured the iron shower
when, string-driven, the storm of arrows
sang over shield-wall, the shaft did its work..."
--Beowulf, line 3116-8 (translation: Michael Alexander)

In The Battle of Maldon, which describes a battle between English and Vikings at Maldon in Essex in 991, the poem says:
"...who through arrow-flight fell dead..."
and later on
"...bows were busy...."
--Battle of Maldon (translation by Michael Alexander in The Earliest English Poems)

There's an archer using what is clearly a longbow from its size in relation to the archer on the Franks (aka Auzon) Casket, which dates from about 700 AD. To be fair, he is defending his house, so one could argue that he has just pressed his hunting bow into service. Similarly, the wooden longbows excavated as grave goods at an early medieval cemetery in Lupfen, Germany, could have been hunting weapons. However the documentary references above are clearly to the use of archery in warfare.

Incidentally, I would be a little cautious about the reference to the use of a bow at the battle of Cadwallon of Gwynedd and his ally Penda of Mercia against Edwin of Northumbria in 633 at Hatfield. The battle certainly took place, and Edwin's son Osferth or Osfrid (spellings vary) was certainly killed in it. However, the primary source for the period, Bede's History, describes the battle and Osferth's death, but he doesn't give any details of exactly how Osferth was killed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the same. I have found the reference to the arrow in Robert Hardy's (excellent, especially on the Hundred Years' War period) book on the longbow (Longbow: A social and military history), on page 30, where he says:
"...in 633, Offrid, the son of Edwin king of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow in battle with the Welsh and the Mercians...."
Hardy doesn't reference the source, and there's no early medieval source listed in the bibliography at the back of the book, so I haven't been able to trace this back to its origin. It isn't from Bede or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which are the major sources (Bede especially) for the seventh century. Google Books has it in a book by William Strutt in 1801 (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=eJwSAAAAYAAJ&dq, page 39), and it isn't referenced there either. If it comes from an antiquary or one of the later medieval historians who were writing centuries after the events, I'd apply a pinch of salt. That said, it's entirely possible that Osferth was killed by an arrow; I just wouldn't take it as known that he was without knowing the original source.

William also wasn't the first to use cunning tactics and strategy in battle. (He might have been the most cunning strategist of his day, but that's not quite the same thing). Off the top of my head: it took considerable strategic skill for Arminius to lure three Roman legions to utter destruction in the Teutoberg Forest in Germany in 9 AD - he set up an inter-tribal alliance in secret, staged a false rebellion to provoke Varus into marching to crush it, set up an elaborate ambush along the Romans' line of march where they would be trapped between a forest, a bog and Arminius' hidden troops, and massacred them. The Vikings' famous lightning attack on Chippenham that nearly captured Alfred the Great was quite clever, too. Not counting assorted Roman generals, who would probably have been rather cheesed off to be characterised as fighting simple contests on the basis of brute strength.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Thu June 10th, 2010, 3:33 pm

"Carla" wrote:William didn't invent the military use of arrows.
There's an archer using what is clearly a longbow from its size in relation to the archer on the Franks (aka Auzon) Casket, which dates from about 700 AD. To be fair, he is defending his house, so one could argue that he has just pressed his hunting bow into service. Similarly, the wooden longbows excavated as grave goods at an early medieval cemetery in Lupfen, Germany, could have been hunting weapons. However the documentary references above are clearly to the use of archery in warfare.


William also wasn't the first to use cunning tactics and strategy in battle. (He might have been the most cunning strategist of his day, but that's not quite the same thing).


Thanks for answering my questions, Carla. Georgette Heyer was known for her research and historical accuracy, so it's hard for me to believe these could have been blatant errors on her part. Perhaps arrows had fallen out of use in Europe (or in William's corner of Europe) to the point that they were all but forgotten to his contemporaries-? So his "resurrection" as it were, of their use in warfare, came as an unexpected shock to his enemies. And the same with military strategy.

Or perhaps Ms. Heyer just took some artistic license to make for a more exciting portrayal of William? ;)

User avatar
SarahWoodbury
Avid Reader
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Contact:

Postby SarahWoodbury » Thu June 10th, 2010, 4:33 pm

I found a reference to the Hatfield Chase incident with the longbow, but as you said, no citation, despite a huge series of them: Sports and Pasttimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt, 1903 (is this a rewrite of the one by William Strutt in 1801?): "Offrid, son of Edwin, king of Northumberland, was killed by an arrow in a battle which was fought near Hatfield, Yorkshire, about the year 633." http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe08.htm

It is stated earlier, in An Archer's Guide, written in 1833: "During the Saxon Heptarchy, we find that Offirid, the son of Edwin, king of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow, in a battle between the troops of that king and the united armies of Mercians and Welsh, which was fought about the year 633, near Hatfield, in Yorkshire."

The same is stated by Walter Mosely in 1792 (and quoted almost word for word in the 1833 book, but with modern spelling). http://www.archerylibrary.com/books/

Just like on the internet! Just slower.

I'll have to hunt around some more in the Welsh sources.

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Thu June 10th, 2010, 5:04 pm

Michy - I'm glad my answer was helpful! I haven't read The Conqueror, so I can't comment on its portrayal of William in detail. However, for what it's worth, I wouldn't say 'errors' so much as 'differences in interpretation', which change over time.

Wikipedia says The Conqueror was first published in 1931. Around that sort of time there was a fashion to regard the Normans as somehow sophisticated, civilised, 'advanced' and so on, while the English ('Anglo-Saxons') were considered as thick, nasty and brutish (if not necessarily short). Some history textbooks of that sort of date have a tendency to present the Norman Conquest as A Good Thing, the end of the 'Dark Ages' and so on and so forth, almost as if the Romans had somehow turned the lights off when they went home and the inhabitants of Britain then sat around in the dark burning cakes for 650 years until William arrived and turned the lights back on. You'll have gathered that I don't subscribe to this view :-) , and I don't think it fits the evidence very well. However, it may well have influenced Georgette Heyer's view of William and his contemporaries, and it may also have influenced the evidence available to her when she was doing the research.

If the story about Harold being hit in the eye with an arrow at Hastings is correct, it supports the idea that archery was an important factor in winning the battle. It's only a short step from there to credit William with inventing it as a military tactic. Edward I is often similarly credited with vast importance in the development of longbow archery, since he used it to devastating effect in some of his Scottish campaigns, although he certainly didn't invent it. Maybe that image of Edward I influenced Georgette Heyer when she was creating her portrayal of William? - perhaps William, who won Hastings with an arrow, was seen as a sort of forerunner of Edward I and his successors, who won Hamildon Hill and Poitiers and Crecy and Agincourt with arrows. I can see the attraction of that as an idea.

It seems very unlikely that arrows would have gone totally out of use in Normandy/Northern France in 1066, given that they were clearly in use at Maldon just across the sea in 991. Maybe archery tended not to be very important in the type of warfare used when the Norman barons were fighting each other - which they did a lot of when William was a child and young adult. As Annis said, the characteristic Norman tactic was the conroi. Maybe the Norman knights who would have been William's immediate companions, and who would have taught him the arts of war as a boy, didn't go in much for archery in a military context, in which case it might be considered innovative if William hadn't been taught it and had to think of it for himself? An expert on Norman warfare could tell you if that might be a credible scenario.

Harold Godwinson had been fighting in Wales with considerable success in 1063 and against Norsemen at Stamford Bridge before Hastings, and both the Welsh and the Norse used arrows, so it seems very unlikely that Harold would have been at all surprised by the use of arrows in war (even if he was unlucky enough to get in the way of one).

Similarly with military strategy. William evidently was a highly effective military leader, and he may well have been more innovative and/or cunning than (some of) his opponents. He got a lot of practice fighting assorted Norman barons when he was taking control of his duchy as a young man, and he may well have learned from that and become a better strategist than many of his contemporaries. I very much doubt that he was the first or the only one, though!
Last edited by Carla on Thu June 10th, 2010, 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Thu June 10th, 2010, 5:23 pm

"SarahWoodbury" wrote:I found a reference to the Hatfield Chase incident with the longbow, but as you said, no citation, despite a huge series of them: Sports and Pasttimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt, 1903 (is this a rewrite of the one by William Strutt in 1801?): "Offrid, son of Edwin, king of Northumberland, was killed by an arrow in a battle which was fought near Hatfield, Yorkshire, about the year 633." http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe08.htm

It is stated earlier, in An Archer's Guide, written in 1833: "During the Saxon Heptarchy, we find that Offirid, the son of Edwin, king of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow, in a battle between the troops of that king and the united armies of Mercians and Welsh, which was fought about the year 633, near Hatfield, in Yorkshire."

The same is stated by Walter Mosely in 1792 (and quoted almost word for word in the 1833 book, but with modern spelling). http://www.archerylibrary.com/books/

Just like on the internet! Just slower.

I'll have to hunt around some more in the Welsh sources.


I meant Joseph Strutt! Sorry, I'd typed 'William' so often in the rest of the post I evidently had the name on the brain. The Google Books PDF has a preface that says it was originally published in 1801 and there was a new edition in 1903.

It's not in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, so he isn't the source.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com


Return to “Later Medieval”