Detail of the manuscript of the
|Several accounts of the events of 1066 that were written within living memory survive as do a number of twelfth and thirteenth century histories. However, none provides a clear, detailed and unbiased account and therefore it is important to review all of them critically.|
The Norman William of Poitiers wrote his Gesta Willelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum around 1071, only a few years after the events he describes. In his youth he was a soldier and only later became a priest. He therefore had a good understanding of the military affairs he relates in some detail. However, he is quite clearly not impartial and can be viewed as giving the Norman argument for the legitimacy of William's conquest of England.
William of Jumièges was a Norman monk and chronicler and wrote his Gesta Normannorum Ducum in around 1070. He provides far less detail regarding the conquest than William of Poitiers but generally follows the same line.
Baudril was abbot of the abbey of Saint-Pierre de Bourgueil in Anjou from 1079 to 1106. About 1100 he wrote a poem, known as the Adelae Comitissae for Adèle, Countess of Blois and daughter of William the Conqueror, in which he describes a tapestry illustrating the events of the Norman conquest of England hanging near her bed.
For many years the similarity between the tapestry described and the Bayeux Tapestry was considered to be coincidence, however, recently detailed analysis of the correspondences between the Adelae Comitissae and the tapestry, together with the reassessment of the nature of the link between the tapestry and Bayeux have led several scholars to conclude that tapestry Baudri describes and the Bayeux Tapestry may well have been one and the same. While the poem gives little detail about the events depicted it may be an important piece of evidence in understanding the history of the tapestry itself.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is in fact a set of related chronicles maintained within several monastic centres in England. Three versions of the chronicle give detailed accounts of some or all of the events of the years 1065-6, these are known as Manuscript C, Manuscript D and Manuscript E (also known as the Peterborough Chronicle).
In 1826 an anonymous untitled manuscript from the 12th century of an 835 line poem about the events of 1066 was discovered. This became known as the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio or 'Song of the Battle of Hastings'. It was initially identified with a poem known to have been written by Bishop Guy of Amiens, the uncle of Count Guy of Ponthieu; Orderic Vitalis, wrote that Bishop Guy had composed such a poem in 1067. If this were the poem to which Orderic Vitalis refers then it would be our earliest source of information on the conquest. However, the attribution is disputed and it is very possible that it was in fact composed much later, between 1125 and 1140 (see Davis).
The poem is one of the earliest sources of several apparently literary devices that became prevalent in later histories of the conquest including the presence at the battle of the minstral Taillefer who juggled with his sword in front of the Norman army, inciting the English to attack him, killing the first man to do so, and cutting off his head so as to display it to the Normans as a good augury for the battle.
Amatus was a monk at the abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy. He was a Lombard from Salerno but was enthusiastically pro-Norman. He wrote his eight volume L'Ystoire de li Normant or 'History of the Normans' in about 1083. He originally wrote in Latin however only an Old French translation from about 1300 survives. He is the first source to mention Harold having been wounded in the eye.
The Chronicon ex Chronicis or 'Chronicle of Chronicles' was composed by a monk in Worcester. It was previously believed to have been written by a monk called 'Florence' until 1118, thereafter by a second monk called 'John', although it is now generally have been composed entirely by 'John'. It comprises a history of the world from creation until 1140. The history of the conquest is derived from earlier material, possibly including another, now lost, version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Orderic Vitalis was a monk, English by birth but writing in Normandy. His Historia Ecclesiastica, or 'Church history' written between 1123 and 1131, includes a description of the events of 1066, largely based on the works of William of Poitiers William of Jumiège. However, he is farr less partisan than either of these sources and includes some additional material from other sources.
William was a monk at Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire and is considered the foremost scholar of his age. He completed his Gesta regum Anglorum or 'Deeds of the Kings of the English' in 1125. His father was a Norman and his mother English and he generally provided an unbiased account, albeit he is writing about events some 50 years before.
Henry of Huntingdon was Archdeacon of Huntingdon in Lincolnshire. He wrote his Historia Anglorum or 'History of the English' around 1130.
Wace was a 12th century poet originally from Jersey, later a Canon at Bayeux cathedral. He is believed to have composed his Roman de Rou et des ducs de Normandie between 1155 and 1170. The poem was commissioned by King Henry II and deals with the history of Britain; in total it runs to some 16,000 lines.
Eadmer was an English monk at Canterbury. He wrote his Historia Novorum in Anglia or 'History of recent events in England' around 1095. He wrote in some detail and effectively provides the English version of the events of the conquest.
The Morkinskinna, or 'mouldy parchment', is history of Norwegian kings from approximately 1025 to 1157 in Old Norse. The saga was written in Iceland around 1220 and has been preserved in a manuscript from around 1275.
Snorri Sturluson was an Icelandic historian and wrote his Heimskringla or 'History of the kings of Norway' around 1230. He deals only briefly with the conquest, being more interested in Harold Hardrada's invasion, and makes a number of significant errors, however, he has the advantage of being a 'neutral' early historian of the conquest.
The Vita Ædwardi Regis or 'Life of King Edward' is an anonymous incomplete manuscript believe to originally date from the late 1060s. It is believed to have been commissioned by Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor and sister of Harold Godwinson.