Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Coronation of William the Conqueror

As much as the events surrounding the Battle of Hastings, it was the coronation of William the Conqueror (on this day in 1066) that was intended to secure his tenure as King of England through a not-so-subtle show of strength; seated on the throne which earlier that year had been occupied by England's last Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, the Duke of Normandy exacted an oath of fealty from a native aristocracy which would be largely wiped out, thanks entirely to his own efforts, over the next generation.

PhotobucketHaving defeated the Harold's army of Saxon volunteers in October, he waited for a formal invitation to become King, which anyway he believed had been promised to him by Edward the Confessor; instead, the Witenagemot, proclaimed a boy - Edgar Ætheling - the new King, albeit without the benefit of a coronation.

So William's forces marched on London, passing first through Dover (a major port) and Canterbury (even then a major religious centre); he met strong resistance at London Bridge and so turned back to approach the city from the northwest, crossing the Thames at Wallingford. Forcing the capitulation of Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, he arrived at Berkhamsted and personally received both the crown from the erstwhile boy-king and the fealty of the assembled Saxon nobility.

It is apt, then, that he was crowned by Aldred, Archbishop of York; it would take the new King six years to subdue his rebellious northern lands, in what used to be the Kingdom of Mercia. To this day it remains one of the great what-ifs of English history: what if disease or battle had carried him off sooner, an all-too-common occurrence in the lives of medieval warrior kings, and not allowed him a generation's time to impose his will upon his conquered realm?
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