Why 1066: is it just about Hastings?

by max ashley
Jan 22, 2016

Anglo-Saxon king with his witan. Biblical scene in the Illustrated Old English Hexateuch (11th century), portraying Pharaoh in court session, after passing judgment on his chief baker and chief cupbearer. ED: please note the term “Pharaoh”

Ask any native English speaker what 1066 is and you’ll get a correct answer. It’s in game show questions, board game questions and pub night trivia questions. You may not get much in the way of depth in the answer but as to date there has been only one person who didn’t know the answer and this happened only recently and in an English speaking country by a native English speaker.

While living abroad in a non English speaking country I started to wonder why so much significance is put on the date and for quite awhile I considered it was just part of the curriculum of all English educational systems and after all, it is a major event in the course of English history. It seemed that this date was a common denominator of all English speakers regardless of which colony or continent they came from, or which level of education the English speaker had or had not achieved.

This “common limited knowledge” played on my critical mind and drove me to question the 1066 common denominator question, which the more I looked at it and the more people I questioned it began to appear to me more as marketing or branding than history. Maybe it is but I’ll get to that later.

So, naturally we all know the answer to the question is The Battle of Hastings, which resulted due to the death of Edward the Confessor and the subsequent crowning of Harold Godwinson and with the blessing of the Witenaġemot, also known as The Witan, thus setting in motion a three way dual for the throne that was contested by William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, both claiming title to the throne due to previously made promises, pledges and sacred oaths. (Click for a pronunciation of Witenaġemot.)

This three way dual resulted in attacks from both of the other parties; Hardrada attacked on September 25th at Stamford Bridge and William attacked at Hastings on October 14th. The result; apart from more blood shed in a country that was already drenched in blood and the decimation of English nobility, was the crowning of William now know as William The Conqueror on December 25th 1066.

All wrapped up very simply and with far more names of players and locations than one would normally get in an answer from any native English speaker and relatively clean-cut for a rather confusing and murky part of our history that includes sacred oaths and promises, which are hard to substantiate when the main player, Edward the Confessor, is dead.

What initially caught my attention though was the council that had placed Harold Godwinson on the throne after the death of Edward, the Witenaġemot or Council of Witan or simply the Witan? A council that placed kings on the throne? I had never heard of this council before or of its functions. The more I looked the more I was puzzled to the limited and conflicting information of a council that supposedly had so much clout. Their roles and functions and status differ considerably depending on the expert being asked.

The initial page pf the Peterborough Chronicle Translation.

Witangemot
Witenaġemot, or Witan as it became more commonly known when Christianity reached England in circa 600. It means “meeting of wise men” and its origins can be traced to ancient Germanic principles, which means the origins of this societal body is directly connected to Odinistic Law and the Nine Pillars of Virtue. Comparisons are often made to the ancient Germanic general assembles or Folkmoots although this comparison debases the power and status of Witenaġemot although it is a valid description when comparing the Witenaġemot after the crowning of William in 1066.
After Christianity slaughtered the majority of wise men and wise women of the United Kingdom and forced the population into renouncing their faith and their laws the Witan then consisted of the main players of society; noblemen, clergy and merchants, which interestingly didn’t necessarily represent the political will of the time and seems to still have strong connections to their origins. The function of the Witan varies dramatically depending on your source from simply advising the Crown on decisions that were to be made for the people to being able to crown and de-throne Kings depending on the political and Geo-political climate at the time. This is quite a variance in description of roles and functions and status.
It is sad to write that our present day Parliament is often said to have evolved from Witenaġemot. I can not find any comparison between Parliament, past or present, and the original Witenaġemot as Parliament complies with only 2 of the 9 Noble Virtues; self reliance; for themselves and not the people, and industriousness; (for themselves and corporations) and in its present modern form can in no way be considered to operate for the people.

Before and After
As our history is taught in a “cherry picking” style of giving dates and events and more often than not omitting the events leading up to the date or the short and long term results it pays to take a look a both ends of the date of 1066.

Looking at the lead up to 1006, Edward the Confessor had succeeded his half brother Harthacnut, son of Cnut the Great, in 1042 until his death in 1066. Even though there is once again conflicting judgments to his rule, it seems that he was a considerate and charitable king that stood for his people as the Witan stood by him and then after his death crowned Hararold Godwinson who had been Edward’s closest adviser. Edward was celebrated with a St Edward’s Day celebration, which suggests be was a benevolent ruler. William the Conqueror changed this day to St William’s Day after he claimed the crown.

After the Battle of Hastings William the Conquer demanded to be King of England, something I thought was already decided when he won the Battle of Hastings and the subsequent death of Edward the Confessor, but no, he had to ask the Witenaġemot, which turned him down, after all they had placed Edward on the throne in the first place. William then began razing England, starting in the south and moving north burning all in his path. After being turned down again by the Witenaġemot he continued his razing, moving around London and continuing north, hence the void of old wooden structures in southern England today. Eventually the destruction and suffering of the people was too much for the Witenaġemot and they agreed to hand the crown to William who was crowned on December the 25th 1066.

The Precedents
What then transpired is what I perceive to be the basis of the “common denominator of limited knowledge” or the marketing of the date 1066.

Once crowned, one of the first official actions of William was to disband the Witenaġemot and replace it with curia regis, or the King’s Court, a body that had limited status and power that made decisions on behalf of the people for the people. In this form, with its decreased power and status, it can be compared to a Folkmoots.

William then set two incredible precedents that still affect us to this very day.

Firstly, by royal decry he announced that the crown would now be hereditary to forever follow his Merovingian bloodline.

Secondly and most importantly he declared that all the land, and that is ALL THE LAND, was now and will forever be Crown Land thus removing the rights of all indigenous Britons from their land, which had been a basic right up until this moment. This also severed spiritual and cultural connections enabling the crown to be able to move groups of people ie the Picks and it has lead to the present land lease of England today. One could also say that it was the basis of the violent occupation of Northern Ireland by English forces.
In Australia where there is a high percentage of land ownership per capita the Crown can still claim any land at will. Unbeknownst to most of the population is that when you purchase land you are actually only buying the top 30cm of soil. What about the rest? That of course belongs to the Crown, which therefore owns all minerals. It makes a mockery of the term now used for the former British Empire, The Commonwealth. Common-Wealth…yeah, right. On the lighter side it also suggests that swimming pools should be renamed “crown pools”.

So, how many cultures and people does this 1066 affect? All the countries under the former British Empire now known as The Commonwealth for a start and they are:
•        Antigua and Barbuda
•        Australia
•        Bahamas
•        Bangladesh
•        Barbados
•        Belize
•        Botswana
•        Brunei
•        Cameroon
•        Canada
•        Cyprus
•        Dominica
•        Fiji
•        Ghana
•        Grenada
•        Guyana
•        India
•        Jamaica
•        Kenya
•        Kiribati
•        Lesotho
•        Malawi
•        Malaysia
•        Maldives
•        Malta
•        Mauritius
•        Mozambique
•        Namibia
•        Nauru
•        New Zealand
•        Nigeria
•        Pakistan
•        Papua New Guinea
•        Rwanda
•        Saint Kitts and Nevis
•        Saint Lucia
•        Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
•        Samoa
•        Seychelles
•        Sierra Leone
•        Singapore
•        Solomon Islands
•        South Africa
•        Sri Lanka
•        Swaziland
•        Tanzania
•        Tonga
•        Trinidad and Tobago
•        Tuvalu
•        Uganda
•        United Kingdom
•        Vanuatu
•        Zambia

There could be more as I am not too sure of the Land Laws and Rights of the United States .

Why Marketing or Branding
In selling 1066 as just the victory of William The Conqueror all references to the Witenaġemot and its roles and power and connection to the people are ignored in the fanfare of just one battle in 1066, and are thus kept from their actual history. Yes, history is told by the victor and in acknowledging this one assumes that not all that is told is factual or better said; not all the facts are told.

In a similar way this can be seen in the retelling of WWI. We, in Australia, are constantly bombarded by the story of Gallipoli. Every year as we approach ANZAC day it’s always the same when it comes to the lame stream media; “We have a compelling and insightful documentary of WWI” and wouldn’t you know it, another documentary about Gallipoli. This marketing or branding of History always approaches an event from a predetermined stance or perspective while neglecting and ignoring all of the surrounding facts and issues, then it’s wrapped up in a thick and luxurious coating of emotion to dull and befuddle any cognitive ability.

It’s time we start questioning the story and the storyteller and reclaiming what is rightfully ours.

Sources:
http://www.worldcat.org/title/witenagemot-in-the-reign-of-edward-the-confessor-a-study-in-the-constitutional-history-of-eleventh-century-england/oclc/59014504
https://maldencapell.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/before-parliament-the-witenagemot/
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/bayeux.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/normans/1066_01.shtml
http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=su%3AGreat+Britain+History+Edward%2C+the+Confessor%2C+1042-1066.&qt=hot_subject
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_Chronicle
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/normans/overview_normans_01.shtml
Witenagemot – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1066
http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/1066-the-year-that-changed-everything.html

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