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Unhappy Battle of Hastings Day

October 14, 2013
Sometimes the bad guys win.
On this day in 1066, England’s last elected head of state met his grisly end.

We can’t get too sentimental about Saxon England. It was not a democracy and the “witan” was not a properly representative parliament. Nevertheless, in 1066, England was one of the most prosperous and cultivated nations in Europe and enjoyed an elective rather than a hereditary head of state. Harold Godwinson was ruler as a consequence of popular consent derived from available elective and deliberative mechanisms.  It is said that Harold’s advisers told him not to fight William in person, since Harold’s personal survival was key to the survival of Saxon England.  But Harold felt that he had only been approved as king because he was known as a “lead from the front” kind of a guy.  To have delegated such risks would have undermined the popular and charismatic basis of his rule.  Saxon England fell when the Normans, having failed to breach the Saxon shield wall, resorted to the “Parthian” tactic of pretending to run away so as to encourage the Saxons to chase them – breaking their defensive formation.

As for William? Well, it’s always wrong to judge distant historical figures by 21st century moral standards, which is why it’s useful to be reminded of the fact that EVEN by the standards of 11th century Norman warlords, William was STILL regarded as an evil bastard. Not content with stealing the whole country, tearing up its constitution and imposing the hereditary principle upon the kingdom, he treated threats to his rule with a kind of proto-Stalinist savagery, deliberately engineering a famine upon the north of England that may have killed as many as 100,000 people -a significant percentage of England’s entire population.

When I was at school I was told that William the Conqueror was King of England “by right of conquest” – a meaningless phrase if ever there was one – a phrase that causes the very word “right” to explode in an oxymoronic puff of suicidal despair.  If William had the “right” to conquer a foreign people, then every schoolkid has the same “right” to beat up the kid next to them and steal their lunch money.William was of course, illegitimate, the grandson of a tanner.  The same illegitimacy that would preclude the vast majority of his descendents from succeeding to the throne  was not considered a bar to the succession of 11th century Normandy.  People who made fun of William’s parentage, for example by waving bits of leather in his general direction, did have a tendency to die in very horrible ways.  If people were still allowed to inherit the throne via the illegitimate line of succession then David Cameron would have a better claim to the throne than Elizabeth Windsor, but they’d both be shunted aside by someone you and I have never heard of.  There’s nothing “natural” or “naturally English” about hereditary monarchy.

It was imposed upon the country at the point of the sword by William the tanner’s grandson, proud ancestor of every subsequent English and British monarch.  This man’s crimes represents the ultimate basis on which the current family claims its hereditary “right”.  Here’s a statue of William the Bastard’s descendent, the equally anglophobic Richard I outside Westminster, sword raised aloft, ready to smite any Englishmen, women or children who stray within reach.


Of course, the cities of the world have, at various points in history, been festooned with statues of invading foreign overlords.  Generally speaking, however, when a nation achieves a measure of self governance and confident self respect, these emblems of subjugation are removed.  Who knows, maybe even London may some day  achieve such a measure of postcolonial self-actualisation, given a generation or two.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    One in the eye for Harold again…

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