Saint Michael and the Norman Conquest of England

[2] [2]
He is efenrixiende; he is swiðe mihtiȝ mid                     He is a fellow ruler; he is very mighty
þam heahenȝlum þa standað dæȝes ⁊ among the archangels who stand day and
nihtes beforan þrymsetle dryhtnes; se is night by the throne of the lord; he is the
eallra haliȝra fultum, ⁊ he is reccend eallra helper of all holy men, he is the governor
haliȝra saula, ⁊ he is nerȝende ȝodes folces, of all holy souls, he is the saviour of God's
⁊ he is stronȝ on ȝefeohte... people, and he is strong in battle...

The personalities most involved in fostering worship of St Michael in Normandy and post-Conquest England were Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror, Robert of Mortain, and Leofric, Bishop of Exeter. Their motivations must be set in their wider spiritual, political, historical, and social contexts.

St Michael made his first appearance in France before the Norseman settled in what would become Normandy. Evidence suggests that Irish missionaries and later Anglo-Saxon monks introduced the archangel to the inhabitants of Gaul and France in the fifth and sixth centuries.[1] The first reference to Michael in Frankish territory and surrounding lands is to a sixth-century chapel supposedly rededicated by a Burgundian princess to commemorate the archangel's aid in arresting the spread of a plague. The next reference is found in another church dedication of c. the seventh century.[2] Michael appeared in early French literature, most notably in a reference found in Gregory of Tours' The History of the Franks, which notes Michael's conveying the soul of the nun Disciola (d. 583) from the monastery of Sainte-Croix, Poitiers, to heaven in despite of the Devil; one possessed of the Devil says as she dies:

‘Ecce anima puellae Michahel angelus suscepit, et ipsi eam ad caelos evexit. Princeps vero noster, quem vos diabolum nominatis, nihil in ea participatur.’[3]

Beyond these few references little else can be found regarding the worship of Michael by the Franks, although the increase in the number of church dedications in Frankish territory and the surrounding areas implies an increased interest in Michael.[4] Evidence does suggest that during the next three centuries one could find numerous churches throughout what would be France, including Normandy, that were dedicated to Michael.[5] While their exact number and dates of dedication are unknown, it would appear that the French were more interested in Michael than the Anglo-Saxons, who seemed much less interested in dedicating churches and especially monasteries to the archangel.[6]

Prior to the arrival and settlement of the Norsemen in Normandy, the Christian community on Mont-Saint-Michel was established. Mont-Saint-Michel began as an outcropping of the Norman coast, a veritable island known originally as Mont Tombe, a great granite rock in the bay at the mouth of the River Couesnon near Avranches; other blocks of granite in the bay include Lillemer, Mont-Dol, and Tombelaine, the island just to the north of what is now Mont-Saint-Michel.[7] An Armorican fortification and centre of Romano-Breton and trans-channel culture in the sixth and seventh centuries, it was pillaged by the Franks and the islet remained a backwater until the eighth century.

According to legend, as recorded in the tenth-century Revelatio ecclesiae sancti Michaelis (also entitled Apparitio Sancti Michaelis in Monte Tumba), the Archangel Michael appeared before Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches,[8] early in 708 and demanded that a church be dedicated to him on the site on which he appeared so that he whose memory was kept at Monte Gargano would also be honoured in the open sea. The bishop had apprehensions regarding this apparition and did not commence the building of Michael's church. In 709 Michael appeared a second time to press his demand, destroying the Scissy forest surrounding the rock with high waves from the sea that isolated the rocky outcropping from the rest of the Norman coast. After this miraculous event, the bishop sent envoys to Monte Gargano for relics of the archangel, and the returning envoys found the topography of Mont-Saint-Michel completely changed:

Un ancien manuscrit du Mont Saint-Michel rapporte que saint Aubert, évêque d'Avranches, avait envoyé en Italie, au Monte Gargano, des messagers à la recherche de reliques peu de temps avant l'inauguration d'un sanctuaire qui eut lieu en octobre 709. A leur retour, les messagers s'étonnent des métamorphoses du paysage qui entoure le Mont. Ils entrèrent comme dans un monde nouveau car ils avaient laissé les lieux pleins d'épaisses broussailles. Le même document évoque la forêt qui, alors, ceinturait le Mont. Ce lieu...était à l'origine entouré d'une très épaisse forêt, éloignée des flots de l'océan d'une distance que l'on évalue à 6 milles.[9]

Miraculous signs appeared in increasing numbers. They are reported on a tenth-century parchment: a stolen bull was discovered on the top of the Mount, a rock bore a fingerprint, a child managed with the ‘weaker of his feet’ to overturn a menhir that recalled a pagan cult, a spring of fresh water burst forth.[10] Aubert still hesitated, so Michael appeared yet again and drove his finger into Aubert's skull,[11] commanding the bishop for the third time to build him an oratory on the new island and to celebrate Michaelmas on October 16th, the date when Michael had first appeared before him to command the building of the monastery.[12]

The cult of Saint Michael, patron saint of Normandy, came from the East. He had already appeared several times in Italy, in Monte Gargano and Rome (San Angelo), and was venerated both for his role as warmonger and prince of the heavenly host, and as arbiter and weigher of souls. And so Aubert built an oratory on a site which was known to be a place of miracles, for a stolen bull had been found at the very top of the rock and, moreover, the morning dew had marked out the circumference of the area required for the building's foundations.[13]

Building began with all haste and, within a short period of time, Benedictine monks inhabited the new building, which was dedicated on October 16th, 709. Aubert died in 720, and was reputedly buried in the new oratory. Arnold confirms that Aubert's model was Mount Garganus:

According to the Revelatio ecclesiae, Autpertus consciously patterned his ‘round crypt’ after the archangel's renowned cave shrine at Monte Gargano in Apulia, even dispatching an embassy to that place to acquire angelic relics. Furthermore, the anonymous monastic author of the Revelatio obviously modeled his text on the Liber de apparitione Sancti Michaelis in Monte Gargano, the hagiographical account of Michael's apparition at the Apulian mountain.[14]

Aubert's vision is preserved in an illuminated drawing in the Cartulary of Mont-Saint-Michel (MS 210 Bibliothèque municipale d'Avranches) in the section dealing with the translation of the relics of Saint Aubert:

...c'est le moment où l'Archange, apparaîssant pour la troisième fois à l'évêque d'Avranches pour le convaincre de lui élever un sanctuaire sur le Mont Tombe, afin de lui prouver que sa vision n'est pas due à un songe, lui imprime la marque de son doigt sur le front.[15]

The Mount-of-Saint-Michael-in-peril-from-the-sea soon became a popular pilgrimage destination, and when the Vikings harried the coastal settlements from 840 onwards, the people fled to shelter with the monks and established the first village on the Mont. Although the monastery had this auspicious beginning, it remained unfinished and the number of monks dwindled by the middle of the ninth century. At the close of the century, the remaining monks planned to abandon the island and move to a mainland monastery. Their number is unclear, but one legend suggests that their transfer would not be difficult, as there were only a handful remaining.[16]

The arrival of the Norsemen in Frankish territory occurred late in the eighth century and particularly in the ninth. By the middle of the century, the Norsemen had sacked Nantes and Rouen, and The Annals of Saint Bertin tell of Danish pirates raiding Rouen and besieging Paris in 885-86. Ermentarius of Noirmoutier is graphic in his despondency:

The number of ships grows: the endless stream of Vikings never ceases to increase. Everywhere the Christians are victims of massacres, burnings, plunderings: the Vikings conquer all in their path, and no one resists them: they seize Bordeaux, Périgueux, Limoges, Angoulème and Toulouse. Angers, Tours and Orléans are annihilated and an innumerable fleet sails up the Seine and the evil grows in the whole region. Rouen is laid waste, plundered and burnt: Paris, Beauvais and Meaux taken, Melun's strong fortress levelled to the ground, Chartres occupied, Evreux and Bayeux plundered, and every town besieged. Scarcely a town, scarcely a monastery is spared: all the people fly, and few are those who dare to say, ‘Stay and fight, for our land, children, homes!’ In their trance, preoccupied with rivalry, they ransom for tribute what they ought to defend with the sword, and allow the kingdom of the Christians to perish.[17]

Other places affected by Norse raids included Boulogne, Lympne, and Appledore, and a direct result of the raids was the building of a large number of castles.[18] In 911 after the Norsemen's defeat at Chartres by Charles III's army, Rollo agreed to be baptized by the archbishop of Rouen and to marry Charles's illegitimate daughter Gisele. As a reward for his conversion and homage, Rollo was granted an area that would be later called Upper Normandy.[19] The charter of St-Clair-sur-Epte instituted the Duchy of Normandy, which would have such a great influence in both French and English history.[20] Rollo and his successors continued to expand their territory, and by 930 Rollo's son had added Lower Normandy to his father's territory. By the end of the tenth century the ‘Dukes of Normandy’ had established themselves as the rulers of their Duchy who owed feudal obligations to the French kings.

The role Michael played in the newly settled Norse, and mainly non-Christian, territory is uncertain,[21] but as the Norsemen converted to Christianity Michael's popularity in the Duchy grew. His role as a heavenly warrior may have appealed particularly to a Norman mindset that celebrated warfare and the warrior. There is evidence that the Normans first conceived of Michael as the Christian ‘Woden,’[22] a comparison possibly the result of the early missionaries' attempt to convert the Germanic tribes. Unable to force these non-believers to refrain from warfare, a central tenet of their society, the missionaries emphasized warfare that supported the Christian cause. Nonbelievers were encouraged to fight battles in which the church believed, and a figure who would appeal to the warlike Germanic ethos was Michael, the armour-wearing leader of the angelic army who, Wallace-Hadrill suggests, was ‘Woden under fresh colours.’[23] This argument is countered by Arnold:

When archaeological investigations failed to sustain late nineteenth-century assertions that Michael had displaced the Gallic Mercury, Jupiter, or Mithras, an equally fallacious insistence on insular monastic diffusion superseded it. The insular thesis proved particularly attractive in the aftermath of World War I, countering as it did the prevalent opinion that Michael had gained spiritual renown by replacing or assimilating to the Germanic warrior figures of Thor or Wotan.[24]

As the Normans slowly converted to Christianity, Michael acquired more attributes that were based on the Irish perception of the archangel and in particular his image as a supreme warrior whose main task was to protect all believers from evil. Michael also took on the attributes of the Norman god of the sea, another belief that may be attributed to Celtic tradition. Celtic traditions regarding Michael and the sea connect Michael with control of ocean squalls and waves, and as a result sailors would pray to Michael to ensure a safe trip and return.[25]

Dedication to the Archangel Michael in Normandy was heavily dependent upon the good will of the Norman rulers. The Mont-Saint-Michel lies right on the border of Brittany and Normandy, but the mount increased in importance when William I (‘Longsword’), Duke of Normandy, annexed the Cotentin Peninsula and the Mount firmly into Normandy. The future of Mont-Saint-Michel remained uncertain until its plight came to the attention of Richard I, a descendant of Rollo (Hrolf the Ganger), the founder of the line of the Duchy of Normandy, in 966.[26]

The planned desertion of the monastery at Mont-Saint-Michel was reversed with the appearance of Richard I, and there has even been some suggestion that Richard should be credited with actually founding the monastery, although evidence does suggest that a monastery existed prior to Richard's receiving the Duchy. Whether or not he founded the monastery, Richard donated money for its repair, and transferred another group of monks to run the monastery and complete its building.

In 966, he decided to replace the collegiate church by a monastery. Cluny had been founded in 910 and had been responsible for the Peace of God, restoring power to the Church; thus Richard wanted to impose this reform on the canons, who put up a strong resistance. A show of strength soon overcame their opposition. They were replaced by Benedictine monks from St Wandrille and St Ouen of Rouen, under the leadership of the Abbot Maynard. Henceforth, the ordinance of St Benoit ruled the monks' lives.... Popular fervour among pilgrims to the Mont was increased by the arrival and installation of famous men: Norgod, bishop of Avranches, who one night saw ‘the brightness of St Michael’ appear to him, and Néel de Saint Sauveur, a warrior.[27]

Richard also donated manors to ensure that the monastery had a continual source of funds, thus allowing the monks to support themselves and expand the monastery's library. Whatever the Duke's motivation for his sudden interest in the monastery, his donations provided for its expansion and for the creation of a large library and scriptorium. Anglo-Saxon scribes were imported from English monasteries so that Mont-Saint-Michel could have a scriptorium worthy of a Duke's interest and financial support. Richard's death in 996 did not end the family's interest in the monastery, for his son Richard II and grandson Robert I continued the tradition of donating manors and funds to the monastery:[28]

Duke Richard I of Normandy replaced the community with Benedictine monks from Fontanelle under the guidance of Mainard. The Abbey was founded; the church of Our-Lady-Underground is the earliest part of the building. At the beginning of the 11th century, Duke Richard II and William de Volpiano, the monk from Lombardy... decided on the construction of a Romanesque monastery.[29]

Norman devotion to Michael may have been involved in Duke Robert I's offer of sanctuary to Prince Edward, son of Ethelred II of England, when Edward was forced to flee England upon the death of his father in 1016.[30] Edward's devotion to Michael before his arrival in Normandy is unclear, but it is apparent that he developed a fondness for the heavenly figure. Saint Michael's Mount in England and numerous churches were dedicated to the archangel following Edward's return to England.[31]

In 1066, Mont-Saint-Michel supported William of Normandy in his ‘crusade’ against Harold Godwinson, and sent William ships:

Ranulphe, then Abbot of the Mount, curried favour with the Duke-King by sending him six ships under the command of Ruauld: the people of the Mount arrived just when the spoils were being distributed: four monks became counsellors to Odon, the regent of England, and the Mount was given a Priory in Cornwall, mills, forests, pastures, salt-mines: a vast wealth of land. On the death of Ranulphe in 1084, William appointed his own chaplain Roger I as Abbot.... The abbot, responsible for the Mount, a vassal of the Duke, had to define the policy of the monastery; it was his task to strengthen and develop the cult of St. Michael, to see that the ordinance of St Benoit was respected, to arrange and beautify the buildings, to organize a welcome for the pilgrims, to guarantee the smooth running of the monks' daily life, and to manage the wealth of the monastery.[32]

In addition to St Michael's Mount and other fiefs in England granted by the Conqueror, the Abbey annexed more lands along the Channel coast and was the recipient of much wealth from patrons and pilgrims who came to the Mont seeking the archangel's help:

Richard II donated a great deal of property to the Mont on the occasion of his marriage to Judith of Brittany which was celebrated here. The Abbey reached the peak of its prosperity in the 12th century and, with it, came widespread religious and cultural influence. Henry II Plantagenet, one of the Western world's most powerful monarchs, took as his counsellor the Abbot of the Mont Saint-Michel, Robert de Torigni, a man of excellent taste and a skilful administrator. He it was who built up a rich library of illuminated manuscripts and created the ‘city of books’ where Guillaume de Saint-Pair wrote his Story of Mont Saint-Michel.[33]

Representations of the Mont-Saint-Michel are to be found on the Bayeux Tapestry of the eleventh century and in Les Très Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry of the fifteenth:

In this miniature, belonging to the cycle of Offices of the Saints, the Limbourgs represented the war in heaven as a war between only Saint Michael and the beast. The bodies of the large reddish dragon and of Michael seem made of fire; the edges of Michael's wings are tipped with flames and he leaves clouds of smoke in the sky. The saint has just wounded the dragon, drawing blood and making the creature turn away its head in anger. Characteristically, the Limbourgs set the battle in a well-known landscape. It takes place above Mont-Saint-Michel, a famous sanctuary and place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.[34]

Across the English Channel from Mont-Saint-Michel lies the corresponding and very similar St Michael's Mount, five kilometres east of Penzance at Marazion.[35] Also a vast rock of granite, the Mount is surrounded by water and accessible only at low tide by a narrow causeway. Its Cornish name, ‘Karrek Loos y'n Koos’ means ‘the grey rock in the woods,’ however, and it seems the Mount was originally five or six miles from the sea until Cornwall was inundated in 1099 (according to John of Worcester and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). The archangel appeared to some fishermen in 495, a church dedicated to him was erected on the Mount, and his ancient stone chair sits at the entrance to the present castle. A few centuries later the island dedicated to St Michael was the site of a Celtic monastery. It was Edward the Confessor who linked the Mount to its Norman counterpart when he built a chapel on the Mount and handed over the abbey to the Benedictines of Mont-Saint-Michel. Edward's charter grants to St Michael the Archangel, for the use of the brethren serving God there, St Michael by the sea with all appurtenances:

Ego EDVVARDUS, dei gratia rex anglorum, dare uolens pretium redemptionis animę meę, uel parentum meorum, subconsensu & testimonio bonorum uirorum, tradidi sancto MICHAELI archangelo in usum fratrum deo seruientium in eodem loco, sanctum MICHAELEM qui est iuxta mare, cum omnibus appendicijs.[36]

In 1067 the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel supported William's claim to the English throne and was rewarded with properties and lands in England. St Michael's Mount of Penzance thus continued its existence as a Norman priory, the Confessor's grant being confirmed after the Conquest by Robert of Mortain. St Michael's Mount is also the starting point for the infamous St Michael's ley, a broad line linking the Mount, St Michael's Church Brentor, St Michael's Church Burrowbridge, St Michael's Church Othery, St Michael's Church, Glastonbury Tor, and Stoke St Michael.[37]

After the death of Duke Robert I on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1035, the dukedom passed to William, his bastard son. William's rise to power and his consolidation of his Norman kingdom are well documented. Less well known is the role that the archangel and Mont-Saint-Michel played in William's life. As had his forefathers, William donated manors to the monastery. One could claim that William was only continuing a family tradition, but a surviving charter indicates that William was personally devoted to the archangel and donated manors to ensure that the monks would pray to Michael to intercede for both William's and his wife's souls.[38] William's interest was initially limited to donating land and seeking absolution for his sins, but this all changed with events in England and William's plans for invasion:

By any historical standard 1066 is memorable. Contemporaries gave the disturbances of the year a cosmic setting, and modern astronomers record 1066 as one of the years in which ‘Halley's Comet’ made its appearance. Within twelve months three kings of mature age reigned over England, as was not to happen again until the very different circumstances of 1936.... The year started with the death of an old king and ended with the coronation of a vigorous newking.[39]

Edward the Confessor sought refuge in Normandy during the reign in England of Cnut of Denmark (who died in 1035) but returned to England in 1041 and became King Edward I in 1042 upon the death of Hardicanute. The Confessor being childless, the complicated series of events leading to the Norman Conquest of England began with that pious monarch's search for an heir to the English throne.

Duke William of Normandy visited England in 1051 during the brief exile of Godwine of Wessex and his son Harold Godwinson, and Norman chroniclers claim that the Confessor then designated William heir to the English throne (a power the King did not actually possess). Gibbs-Smith continues the story:

But in the very next year, 1052, Godwine and Harold made a violent and triumphant return to England. Godwine demanded and obtained the dismissal of most of the hated Normans from their official positions; and, from then onwards, he became the supreme influence in English affairs. Godwine died in 1053, and was succeeded as Earl of Wessex by his son Harold. As Professor Stenton has said, ‘for the next thirteen years, the central theme of English history is the rise of Harold to a position which enabled him to secure recognition as king when Edward the Confessor died’. Indeed, Harold attained a quasi-royal status, and became by far the most powerful noble in the land.[40]

Surviving records suggest that Edward sent Harold Godwinson to Normandy sometime in or just after 1064, but the records are all Norman; English chronicles are silent about the events of 1064. Whether the original intent of Godwinson's alleged mission was to inform Duke William that he would be the heir to the English throne is questionable, but following Godwinson's mission William apparently believed that he had such a claim.[41] Why Edward would choose William over the numerous Anglo-Saxon or Danish nobles in England is also uncertain; Edward's decision could be linked to his friendship with William's family during his Norman exile or his dislike for the Anglo-Saxon nobles who were making his life difficult in England. It is unlikely that scholars will ever know the exact reasons for Edward's decision. Gibbs-Smith comments:

The only contemporaries who wrote on the subject were the sycophantic followers of Duke William: William of Jumièges and William of Poitiers. The former tells us that Harold was sent by King Edward to renew the promise of the English Crown made to William by Edward in 1051; and the latter says that, as Edward felt death coming upon him, he wanted his promise to William to be confirmed. The measure of such writers may be taken when it is realized that, when Harold went to Normandy, Edward was in perfect health, and remained so till the end of 1065 when he suddenly became ill; he died on 5 January 1066. There is, of course, no earthly reason why the slightest credence should be given to either of these writers, as both were simply propagandists for William.[42]

Whatever the reasons, Edward's choice of William did disturb many Anglo-Saxon nobles.[43] Particularly perturbed was Harold Godwinson, who felt that he had just as legitimate a claim to the throne as William. Edward may have had a more personal reason for ensuring that Harold did not gain the throne as the Godwin family was responsible for the blinding and subsequent death of his brother Arthur before Edward inherited the throne. Harold's belief that he deserved the throne and his dislike of Normans resulted in his and other Anglo-Saxon nobles' rebelling. The results were the exile of numerous Norman bishops and Edward's loss of control over the government. Harold had become the de facto ruler of England during the last years of Edward's reign and did not intend to relinquish his throne to an outsider:

Between 1063 and 1065 the English kingdom was at peace. The overwhelming power in the hands of the sons of Godwine, and their harmonious relations with the court, gave the English state unity, stability, and strength.[44]

Harold had allegedly sworn fealty to William on a previous visit to Normandy and had told the Duke that he, William, was Edward's heir. William may therefore have considered himself the rightful heir to the English throne and Harold a traitor.

Much of the speculation that surrounds the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and its aftermath comes from the Bayeux Tapestry. It was commissioned by William of Normandy's half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and is of English work probably carried out at Canterbury, ‘for the three insignificant personages depicted and named on it—Vital, Wadard and Thorold—were all retainers from the Bayeux area who were given lands by Odo near Canterbury during the fifteen years when he was also earl of Kent.’[45]

The Tapestry is on display in Bayeux, in the Centre Guillaume le Conquérant, formerly the theological seminary in the Allée des Augustines. Strictly an embroidery rather than a true tapestry (Gobelin), the pictorial hanging is 70 metres (230 feet) long and half a metre (20 inches) wide, and once was even longer. It is described in the Inventory of Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux in 1476:

...a very long and very narrow strip of linen, embroidered with figures and inscriptions representing the Conquest of England, which is hung round the nave of the church on the Feast of relics and throughout the Octave.[46]

Whatever the nature of Harold's mission of 1064, a storm forced his ship to land on the Norman coast, where he and his crew were captured by one of William's ruthless vassals, Guy of Ponthieu. Gibbs-Smith suggests several reasons for Harold's trip from Bosham; he could have been heading for London or Flanders, fishing in the Channel, or intending to hunt in Sussex or Kent:

There are, in addition, two significant clues, or ‘give-aways,’ contained in the Tapestry, pointing to the purely accidental nature of Harold's presence in Normandy in 1064: (a) Harold is shown landing in Ponthieu on the north bank of the Somme—far from Normandy—in the territory of Guy, a notoriously ruthless vassal of William's. If he had intended to go to Normandy, Harold would have waited for favourable weather and set sail for the far more southerly mouth of the River Seine, on which river lay William's capital of Rouen. Even if a storm had blown up when he was half-way across, Harold could not have failed to reach some part of the very extensive coast-line of Normandy, and thence travel inland; (b) if Harold had gone as Edward's ‘ambassador’ to William to offer him the Crown, the very last thing William would have done, or Harold agreed to—in view of Harold's status—would be to have him swear an oath of allegiance, which forms one of the key scenes in the Tapestry.... Whatever Harold's intentions, it must remain perfectly obvious that the one thing Harold did not intend, on that unlucky day, was to land anywhere in France, let alone in Normandy.[47]

William led his army back into Normandy, to Bayeux,[48] where at an open-air ceremony William supposedly honoured Harold for his help on the expedition against Conan II, Duke of Brittany, by ‘giving him arms.’ At Bonneville-sur-Touques Harold had allegedly sworn fealty to William over the holy bones of two British saints, Rasyphus and Ravennus, and sworn that William was to succeed Edward. William may therefore have considered himself the rightful heir to the English throne and Harold a perjurer and blasphemer for breaking his oath and taking the throne for himself. William of Poitiers notes that before the battle on Senlac Hill William hung around his neck those very bones of SS Rasyphus and Ravennus in memory of Harold's ‘oath’ of 1064.[49]

As pictured in the Norman-commissioned Bayeux Tapestry, the events surrounding the storm and Harold's forced landing are the stuff of legend. It is even possible that the ship's grounding was seen not as an accident but as divine intervention on the part of the Norman saint of sailors, the Archangel Michael, since his monastery makes an unusual appearance in the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the main sources for the events preceding the Conquest.[50]

Mont-Saint-Michel is the only Norman ecclesiastical building of the three depicted in the tapestry, the other two being an unidentified Anglo-Saxon parish church and Westminster Abbey, where William was crowned.[51] It is not known who composed the Latin rubrics on the tapestry, but it seems that Mont-Saint-Michel is of sufficient significance to the rubricator to lead him to say, ‘HIC WILLELM DUX ET EXERCITUS EJUS VENERUNT AD MONTEM MICHAELIS.’ That Mont-Saint-Michel is the only Norman church building does seem odd, since Bishop Odo, who historians believed commissioned the tapestry, apparently had little if any contact with Mont-Saint-Michel and the monks within.[52]

The tapestry shows two soldiers being rescued from the quicksand that surrounds the island. The soldiers' identities are unknown, nor is it known why Harold, William, and other nobles surrounded them when they fell into the quicksand. David Wilson suggests that it was Harold who rescued the unidentified soldiers, which act won him praise from William and other Normans at the scene;[53] Harold seems to have one soldier over his shoulder and to be pulling the second one by the arm. One is left to ponder the exact meaning of the soldiers and quicksand event in the tapestry, but it is apparent that Mont-Saint-Michel is central to the scene.[54] The monastery's name is embroidered into the depiction of the building, ensuring that all who view the tapestry would know the exact building being depicted.[55] One must wonder why the creator of this tapestry cared so much about the Mont.

Another event depicted in the tapestry and mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the appearance of Halley's comet. First noted by the Chinese in 240 BC, this comet visits our solar system every 75-77 years, and was last seen here in 1985/6; the 1066 appearance in the southern sky was between the earth and the sun, and consequently much brighter than the 1985/6 flight round the far side of the sun. Both the Anglo-Saxons and Normans interpreted the comet's appearance as a portent of great events to come; in England the ‘long-haired star’ was seen as a warning of a great tragedy to follow King Harold's coronation on January 6th,[56] but it is unclear what the comet was thought to signify in Normandy prior to the Conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offers the following record:

<O>n þisum geare com Harold kyng of Eoforwic to Westmynstre to þam Eastran þe wæron æfter þam middan wintran þe se kyng forðferde, ⁊ <wæron> þa Eastran on þone dæig .xvi. Kalendas Mai . Þa wearð geond eall Engla land swylc tacen on heofenum gesewen swylce nan mann ær ne geseh. Sume menn cwædon þæt hyt cometa se steorra wære, þone sume menn hatað þone fexedan steorra<n>, ⁊ he æteowde ærest on þone æfen Letania Maiora, þæt ys .viii. Kalendas Mai , ⁊ swa scean ealle þa .vii. niht.

[1066] In this year came King Harold from York to Westminster the Easter following the Christmas of the king's death, Easter being on 16 April. At that time, throughout all England, a portent such as men had never seen before was seen in the heavens. Some declared that the star was a comet, which some call ‘the long-haired star’: it first appeared on the eve of the festival of Letania maior, that is on 24 April, and shone every night for a week.[57]


After the Norman success at Hastings, the appearance of the comet was linked to the archangel, following the Irish tradition that Michael took the form of a bright light in the sky. This image of Michael as a star is supported by the Corpus Christi 41 text [21], which states that Michael is a bright star in the sky:

[21] [21]
Þis is se halȝa heahenȝel Sanctus Michæl                     This is the holy archangel St Michael and the
⁊ þæt beorhte tunȝel þæt bið ascinende bright star which shines forth by day and night
dæȝes ⁊ nihtes on hefonum betwexh ðam in heaven among the spiritual stars in the presence
ȝæstelicum tunȝlum beforan ðam ȝod- of the divine king.
cundan cyninȝe.

Aside from the appearance of Mont-Saint-Michel and Halley's comet in the Bayeux Tapestry is the depiction there of Robert Comte de Mortain, William's half-brother and Bishop Odo's younger brother; Robert would play an important role in the conquest of England and the expansion of the veneration of Michael in the new Anglo-Norman kingdom. Few details of the relationship between Robert and William have survived. Little is known of Robert's life prior to 1050, when he received, at age twenty-four, the dukedom of Mortain in the Contentin.[58] Mortain borders Brittany, Maine, and Bellême, and is very close to Mont-Saint-Michel; on a clear day, Mont-Saint-Michel is visible from the porch of the chapel of Mortain. The former Duke of Mortain, William Werlenc, and his family were threats to William's plans to consolidate power, so he exiled the duke and replaced him with a man he could trust, his half-brother.

Aside from his enjoying William's trust, little is known of Robert of Mortain's personality. Orderic Vitalis does comment that Robert was intellectually slower than his brother, Odo, and his half-brother William, lacking in initiative and not clever enough for politics.[59] Wikipedia notes:

He is described by William of Malmesbury as a man of a heavy, sluggish disposition, but no foul crimes are laid to his charge. He had evidently the courage of his race, and his conduct as a commander is unassociated with any act of cruelty. Scandal has not been busy with his name as a husband. No discords are known to have disturbed his domestic felicity.[60]

Robert's participation in events in Normandy prior to the Conquest are unknown, although he is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry at a meal with both William and Odo.[61] Robert's other contribution to William's quest for the English throne was the donation of a large number of ships and men for transportation of troops to England and the following battle.[62] His reward for his support of William at Hastings was a massive granting of lands and revenues that made him second only to William as a land-holder in the new Norman England:

Robert's contribution to the success of the invasion was however regarded as fairly significant by William who awarded him a large share of the consequent spoil. He was granted the rape of Pevensey in Sussex and a total of 549 manors scattered across the country; 54 in Sussex, 75 in Devon, 49 in Dorset, 29 in Buckinghamshire, 13 in Hertfordshire, 10 in Suffolk, 99 in Northamptonshire, 196 in Yorkshire, and 24 in other counties. However the greatest concentration of his landed wealth was in Cornwall (where he held a further 248 manors at the time of the compilation of the Domesday book, together with the castles of Launceston and Trematon) although these Cornish estates were not granted to him until after 1072 when Brian of Brittany decided to return home. His position of authority in the south west has therefore led many to consider him as the Earl of Cornwall, although it appears uncertain whether he was formally created as such.[63]

Robert's connection with Michael was possibly stronger than William's; he carried a banner of Saint Michael at Hastings and credited the archangel with both the Norman success at Hastings and personally with the safe arrival of his son. It may be assumed that the banner of St Michael came from Count Robert's own lands near Mont-Saint-Michel. His grant of St Michael's Mount to Mont-Saint-Michel is confirmed in three post-Conquest (fourteenth-century) charters in the Cartulary of St Michael's Mount, which read, ‘Ego Robertus dei gracia Mortonij comes... habens in bello sancti Michaelis vexillum.’[64]

The aged Edward the Confessor died on January 5th, 1066 and was buried the next day in the newly-completed Westminster Abbey (he was canonised in 1161 by Alexander III, and England was the only Western European nation to have a saint for a king until Louis IX of France in 1297). Now the cat was truly among the pigeons, as Sir Winston Churchill notes in his grand manner:

The lights of Saxon England were going out, and in the gathering darkness a gentle, grey-beard prophet foretold the end. When on his death-bed Edward spoke of a time of evil that was coming upon the land his inspired mutterings struck terror into the hearers.[65]

By way of contrast, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are bluntly factual:

Ā Her forðferde Eaduuard king, ⁊ Harold eorl feng to ðam rice ⁊ heold hit .xl. wucena ⁊ ænne dæg, ⁊ her com Willelm ⁊ gewann Ængla land...⁊ her atiwede cometa .xiiii. kalendas MAI.


In this year passed away King Edward, and Earl Harold came to the throne and ruled for forty weeks and a day. In this year came William and conquered England.... And a comet appeared on 18 April.[66]


E ⁊ se cyng Eadward forðferde on twelfta mæsse æfen. ⁊ hine mann bebyrgede on twelftan mæssedæg.


King Edward passed away on the vigil of, and was buried on, Epiphany [6 January].[67]

After Edward's death it became apparent to William that he was not going to be crowned King of England, so he began planning a military conquest. One of his first duties was to raise sufficient funds, equipment, and manpower for an invasion, and William turned to his vassals for ships and men. He also solicited outside support for his planned conquest:

His negotiations with rulers of states are somewhat obscure: apparently he met King Philip of France personally, sent embassies to the Emperor Henry III and the king of Denmark, and approached his father-in-law, Baldwin of Flanders. Neither Philip nor Baldwin would, as rulers, give any help; but the fact remains that a large number of volunteers came from both their states; and these, with those collected by Eustace, count of Boulogne, brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor, were formed into a division under the command of the Norman, Roger of Montgomerie. The most that William seems to have obtained from the emperor was a promise not to hinder recruitment of volunteers in the Empire, and from the king of Denmark his neutrality. The latter was apparently not kept, as Danish volunteers are said to have formed part of Harold's army. From Brittany, the neighbouring and nominally vassal state, came the largest contingent of troops which was not Norman; and these were organized as a division under the command of Alan Fergant, cousin of Conan, the reigning count. It has been suggested that the eagerness of the Celtic Bretons to invade Britain was due to a desire to avenge their ancestors whom the Saxons had driven from the island.[68]

Edward's Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert of Jumièges, Bishop William of London, and Bishop Ulf of Dorchester, alongside numerous foreign bishops, had been forced to flee England and return to the Continent during the Anglo-Saxon uprising against Edward;[69] Robert fled so quickly he left his pallium behind! Since Robert was still alive, Godwinson theoretically did not have the right to appoint an archbishop to replace him, but he appointed the Bishop of Winchester, Stigand, regardless; Stigand did receive papal blessing as the new archbishop, so he could accept the post, but Stigand had been excommunicated by five successive pontiffs and his appointment was by the schismatic Pope Benedict X. Benedict X was declared an antipope after his death, with the result that any papal decrees, including any ordination of archbishops during his tenure, could be and were rescinded. The Bayeux Tapestry purports to show Stigand crowning Harold, but (possibly to avoid problems) the coronation was performed by the Primate of Northumberland, Archbishop Aldred of York. The next legitimate Pope, Alexander II, was concerned about matters in England and wanted church reform, but did not have sufficient influence in England to complete the task himself. William offered the perfect solution; if he received papal support for the invasion, he promised to remove Stigand and reform the English church. The Pope agreed, and William received a consecrated Papal Banner in recognition of the agreement, which turned the expedition into a crusade.[70] This could explain why William did not, like Robert of Mortain, fight under the banner of St Michael, for the Papal Banner would, of course, be that of St Peter. Harper-Bill notes, ‘Pope Alexander II had endorsed the Conqueror's cause by conferring the Papal Banner upon him “as a sign of St Peter's approval.”’[71] According to William of Poitiers, William did not carry the Papal Banner into the battle; it was probably carried by Turstin son of Rollo and later by Eustace of Boulogne.

Accounts of the events of 1066 differ according to nationality, with the victors as ever writing the histories. The English side is taken by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum Anglorum, and by Florence of Worcester's Chronicon ex Chronicis (completed by John of Worcester). Although reliable in detail, the Bayeux Tapestry has a strong Norman bias, as have William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum, William of Jumièges' Gesta Normannorum Ducis, Guy of Amiens' Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, Ordericus Vitalis' Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, and Robert Wace's Roman de Rou.[72] Nowhere does the Norman bias show more clearly than in assessment of Harold; Wright quotes William of Poitiers as calling him ‘stained with vice, a cruel murderer, purse-proud and puffed up with the profits of pillage.’[73] That this view of Harold was generally held throughout Europe is shown by the German historian Adam of Bremen in his History of Hamburg Archbishops: ‘After the very pious English King Edward was dead, the thanes quarrelled over mastery of the realm and during this struggle an Anglo-Saxon Earl, Harold, an ungodly person, usurped the throne.’[74] Orderic(us) Vitalis is equally damning:

This Englishman was very tall and handsome, remarkable for his physical strength, his courage and eloquence, his ready jests and acts of valour. But what were these gifts to him without honour, which is the root of all good?[75]

In the face of such universal denigration, the kinder words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are unavailing, as is the admiration of the chronicler of Vita Edwardi Regis:

So say the Englishmen that Harold Godwinson has been the boldest man found in England; and that he was the best knight, both of old and new times.[76]

Yet it appears that at one time Harold was considered worthy of marriage to a daughter of William of Normandy! It is sometimes difficult for modern readers to realise how closely so many figures in earlier history were related; William was Edward's first cousin once removed, Harold was Edward's brother-in-law, but then so was Eustace of Boulogne. It is therefore not altogether surprising to read of Harold's alleged betrothal:

ADELIZA (d. 1066?) was the daughter of William I. The continuator of William of Jumièges (lib. viii. cap. 34) states that ‘Adelidis,’ a daughter of William I, was betrothed to (King) Harold, and remained single after his death. Orderic (573 c.) states that she took the veil, but makes her sister Agatha the betrothed of Harold. William of Malmesbury mentions that one of William's daughters was betrothed to Harold, but makes him speak of her to William as dead in 1066 (Gest. Reg. lib. iii. c. 238). Mr. Planché asserts (but gives no authority) that she was born in 1055, was betrothed to Harold in 1062, and was dead by 1066.[77]

Had William and Harold made love rather than war, the crowns of England and Normandy would have become one without the battle whose date every schoolboy knows.

With papal support and sufficient manpower organized into a unified troop in Normandy, all that remained was to sail the Channel and confront Godwinson. When exactly William wished to sail for England is unknown, since contrary winds apparently kept him and his fleet of 700 warships trapped on the Normandy coast;[78] yet it seems unlikely that no favourable winds blew from January to September, and it has been argued that William was waiting to find out which Harold he would face—Godwinson or Hardrada—or else waiting for Harold Godwinson to be weakened by his conflict in the north. The fleet was assembled by August 24th at the mouth of the River Dives to await a favourable wind from the south—none came. A storm from the west on September 12th forced William to move the fleet from Dives-sur-Mer up the coast to the mouth of the River Somme, off St Valéry, in Ponthieu. William's problems were compounded with the foundering of several ships and the loss of all on board; fearing news of the foundering would have a disastrous effect on morale, William had the dead secretly buried. The fleet was still delayed so long due to the lack of suitable winds that William was forced to take action; he insisted that the relics of St Valéry be brought to him, donned the relics, and supposedly stalked the beach praying to the Saint to bring favourable winds.[79]

While this evidence may suggest a diminution of Michael's role in William's thinking, there is a sound reason why William chose St Valéry as opposed to the archangel as his saint of choice for divine intervention; Michael lacked a corporeal form and did not have relics that could be used to request a miracle. Michael's role as the guardian of sailors and controller of seas meant that he should have been asked to intervene; however, no tradition has ever honoured Michael as controller of winds, and William may have been more confident in using the actual relics of St Valéry, which were nearby and easily accessible to the fleet.[80] Interestingly, even though William prayed to St Valéry for the needed winds to sail, he chose to cross the ocean on September 29th, the official feast day for the worship of St Michael in the Roman tradition. According to one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, William sailed on the eve of Saint Michael's feast day while another version of the Chronicle suggests that William departed on the feast day itself. Whatever the exact time and date of the fleet's departure, it is apparent that William timed the departure so that it would be on the most auspicious day possible since the fleet faced adverse weather and a night crossing of the channel.[81] MSS D & E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle read thus:

D Ða com Wyllelm eorl of Normandige into Pefnesea on Sancte Michæles mæsseæfen.


Then duke William sailed from Normandy into Pevensey, on the eve of Michaelmas [28 September].


E ⁊ þa hwile com Willelm eorl upp æt Hestingan on sancte Michaeles mæssedæg.


Meanwhile Duke William landed at Hastings on St Michael's day [29 September].[82]

Upon his arrival in England, William did not immediately muster his troops, but settled in the area of Pevensey and began building fortifications. For almost two weeks, William appeared uninterested in confronting Godwinson, who was occupied with the Scandinavian attempt on the English throne. MS D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is blunt and brief:

D ⁊ sona þæs hi fere wæron, worhton castel æt Hæstingaport. Þis wearð þa Harolde cynge gecydd, ⁊ he gaderade þa mycelne here, ⁊ com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran, ⁊ Wyllelm him com ongean on unwær, ær þis folc gefylced wære...Þis gefeoht wæs gedon on þone dæg Calesti pape.
As soon as his men were fit for service, they constructed a castle at Hastings. When King Harold was informed of this, he gathered together a great host, and came to oppose him at the grey apple-tree, and William came upon him unexpectedly before his army was set in order.... This battle took place on the day of pope Calixtus [14 October].[83]

Winston Churchill is more expansive, and is somewhat hard on the fyrd:

On September 28 the fleet hove in sight, and all came safely to anchor in Pevensey Bay. There was no opposition to the landing. The local ‘fyrd’ had been called out this year four times already to watch the coast, and having, in true English style, come to the conclusion that the danger was past because it had not yet arrived had gone back to their homes.[84]

A possible reason for William's delay was that he was attempting to ensure that his army was adequately prepared for battle, but he may have been delaying for another reason. At first William would not know which Harold he would confront, Godwinson or Hardrada, though it could be argued that his tactics suggest he knew it would be the Englishman. The Bayeux Tapestry shows William seated and holding the Papal Banner while a knight (possibly Robert the Staller) brings him news of the result of the northern conflict. Evidence demonstrates that William did attempt to negotiate with Harold after Harold's success at Stamford Bridge with regard to who should be crowned King of England, which suggests that William was attempting to end the matter before a battle ensued.[85] Even after the negotiations stalled, William delayed his attack; it appears that he was waiting for a specific event or date to fight Harold, and a most auspicious date was October 16th, the date on which the saint of both warriors and seafarers, the Archangel Michael, had appeared in Normandy. William's tactics delayed the battle for approximately two weeks, but on October 14th Harold's surprise arrival forced William to engage in the famous battle on Senlac Hill that led to the Norman Conquest of England.[86] Senlac Ridge is a few miles from Hastings, which is why some prefer to refer to the Battle of Senlac Hill rather than the popular Battle of Hastings; to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it was ‘The Battle of the Grey Apple-Tree.’

Various colourful tales, apocryphal and documented, adorn the build-up to battle and the battle itself—William's ship, ironically named the Mora (‘delay’) and given him by his wife Matilda, outstripped the other invading vessels and had to anchor in mid-Channel; some ships were wrecked in the Romney Marsh and the occupants slaughtered, including William's obviously incompetent astrologer; upon landing in England, William fell flat on his face, etc., etc. And Loyn notes that the first Norman into battle was the minstrel Tallifer, Incisor Ferri, advancing to his death singing songs of Charlemagne and of Roland and Oliver at Roncesvalles.[87]

HR Loyn gives an excellent assessment of the actual battle:

The traditional view of the battle as a whole has been that it was a triumph for up-to-date continental tactics and techniques, for mobile cavalry warfare and skilful use of archers against the inflexible shield-wall and battle-axe slogging of the infantry warfare of the North. The tendency now is not to underestimate the strength of the Old English army, nor to overestimate the importance of cavalry, notably the cavalry charge, either at Hastings or in subsequent warfare during the remainder of the eleventh century. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for the substance of the traditional view. Skilful use of mounted knights, notably in guaranteeing freedom of movement for the army as a whole, seems to have been a very important element in William's success. The military triumph was complete. William of Malmesbury, writing two generations later, said, with pardonable exaggeration, that the Normans had won all England in a single battle. The contemporary William of Poitiers expressed the same view: ‘William in a single day so crushed the English that afterwards they never dared again face him in battle’.[88]

Wright notes, however:

This battle, the date of which is still etched on our consciousness, was paramount in the making of England as we know it. It was a battle fought on a knife edge throughout the day and it is questionable whether the best man won.[89]

The greatest canard about the Battle of Hastings concerns the manner of King Harold's death. It is now generally agreed that he was not struck in the eye by an arrow, a misconception arising from a tear in the fabric of the Bayeux Tapestry and first promulgated in Amatus of Montecassino's L'Ystoire de li Normant of c. 1096 and in a poem by the Abbot Baudri of Bourgueil between 1099 and 1102. So farewell to Churchill's sentimental comment:

William now directed his archers to shoot high into the air, so that the arrows would fall behind the shield-wall, and one of these pierced Harold in the right-eye, inflicting a mortal wound. He fell at the foot of the royal standard, unconquerable except by death, which does not count in honour. The hard-fought battle was now decided.[90]

It seems Harold was cut down by a single mounted Norman knight and dropped the great Danish-type battleaxe he could no longer wield, as is shown in the Bayeux Tapestry.[91] Loyn notes that Harold was slain by four Norman knights named by Guy of Amiens in his Carmen de Hastingae Proelio as Eustace of Boulogne, a son of Guy of Ponthieu, Walter Giffard, and Hugh de Montfort. Twelfth-century rumours even had Harold survive the battle to live to a ripe old age in Chester.[92]

Evidence of Michael's involvement in the events leading to the Battle of Hastings is more than the dates on which William chose to sail the English Channel or his delay in fighting Harold. Michael also appeared on Robert of Mortain's standard at the Battle of Hastings.[93] One may wonder why William, considered a faithful worshipper of Michael, did not carry the archangel's standard himself; but his own standard had been given him by Pope Alexander II to show support for William's actions in England, so personal choice may not have been involved here. The Papal Banner was first carried into battle by Turstin son of Rollo and later by Eustace of Boulogne, incidentally, and not by William himself.

Post-Conquest worship of the archangel by the Normans is a problematic area of study. The surviving evidence, as limited as the sources are, does not suggest an awakening of a passion for the archangel, such as occurred with Edward the Confessor, who was canonized after the conquest. It is also difficult to ascertain how those Normans remaining in Normandy regarded the archangel. This is not a surprise. Michael, as an archangel, already had a place in the calendar and, depending on which dates one chose to follow, more than one day that could be celebrated as a feast day. Normandy already had a great pilgrimage site for those dedicated to the archangel with Mont-Saint-Michel and for those English pilgrims Saint Michael's Mount, the sister house to the larger Norman site.

Michael's position in the Anglo-Norman church was not affected by Lanfranc's ‘supposed’ purge mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. One may be able to argue that there was waning interest in the archangel as there is little evidence of new and exciting liturgical works dedicated to the archangel; one could argue, however, that the lack of any new liturgical material does not denote a lack of interest but a willingness to utilize literature already in existence.

Other evidence does suggest an increased interest in the Archangel Michael, the most significant being the number of church dedications to the archangel. Traditional scholarship has argued that Anglo-Saxon church dedications point to widespread dedication to the archangel, but an in-depth exploration of surviving church dedications suggest there were relatively few dedications to the archangel in comparison to other Saints such Mary or Peter/Paul. What is more interesting is the dramatic increase in church dedications to the archangel in post-Conquest England, even with problematic source material.

Other evidence for Anglo-Norman interest in Michael comes not from the island but from the traditions surrounding the Norman invasion of Sicily. Legend has it that the Normans who invaded Sicily based their plan for invasion on a love for the land after a visit to Mount Garganus to see the shrine of the archangel.

Michael's role in the Norman Conquest of England did not disappear with William's success at Hastings. The new Norman rulers of England would use Michael's role as a messenger of war and peace in their attempts to unite the recently conquered people under their new rulers. Finding connections between the Norman conquerors and their Anglo-Saxon subjects with regard to their worship of Michael is difficult. At least one Old English scholar has argued that the new Norman rulers removed many of the Anglo-Saxon saints from the new Anglo-Norman calendar, and that while Michael could not be removed from the calendar, the Normans allowed the Anglo-Saxon traditions surrounding Michael to wane. However, scholars have recently taken issue with the theory that the Normans attempted a wide scale eradication of Anglo-Saxon saints, and it is argued that the Normans were selective and removed only those saints whose sanctity and actual existence were in doubt.[94] As Harper-Bill points out, in religion as in law, the Normans may not have had much choice:

The Normans were obliged to respect the pronouncements of all English kings except those of Harold II, by virtue of the Conqueror's claim that he was Edward the Confessor's true heir.... The Conquest does not seem to have been followed by the effective suppression of any established cults. Richard Pfaff has shown as much by comparing calendars produced at five centres before and after 1066: none of the leading feasts observed before the Conquest was extinguished in the long term.[95]

Further, it can be argued that there were motives on both sides for maintaining the cults of Anglo-Saxon saints:

These saints' cults may well, in short, have been the most formidable weapon left to the English in their resistance to Norman attempts to deprive them of their offices, one which they deployed with tenacity and courage. For their part, the colonists were to have their own triumphs when and where they attempted, as became increasingly common from the 1090s, to convert English cults into symbols of their own legitimacy.[96]

Evidence suggests that the Normans reawakened English interest in the archangel who was not a favourite of the Anglo-Saxons if one goes by the sparse numbers of church dedications or surviving liturgical material. There is no surviving information regarding any rituals surrounding Michaelmas prior to the Conquest. The Corpus 41 text, the one surviving piece of Anglo-Saxon literature dedicated exclusively to Michael's functions, has been the main source for modern arguments regarding the existence of the veneration of Michael in Anglo-Saxon England, but by itself this document does not prove that the Michael cult was widespread. Indeed, evidence suggests that this text was used more by the Normans than the Anglo-Saxons in promoting devotion to the archangel and as a way of reconciling the conquerors and the conquered. [97]

So, while St Michael could not be removed from the calendar, it would appear that the Normans allowed the Anglo-Saxon traditions to persist and used the cult of St Michael to effect accommodation and reconciliation, as witness such new post-Conquest churches associated with Norman settlement as St Michael's in Southampton, or Tara Gale's map of Anglo-Saxon and Norman church dedications:

Church Dedications to the Archangel Michael.jpg

In short, St Michael may well have seemed a shrewd choice for Norman purposes, and that the Michael cult was being used to smooth relations in the south-western peninsula. This may have involved not only the establishment (or confirmation) of a permanent community of monks at St Michael's Mount, but also the construction of a significant number of parish churches dedicated to the archangel or just generally the promotion of a saint who seemed to suit the temperament and topography of the region.[98]

After William's success at Hastings, his and his immediate family's personal interest in the archangel is hard to prove, although there is surviving, albeit problematic, evidence, which suggests a closer link between William's half-brother, Robert of Mortain, and the archangel.

Evidence for the process of accommodation between Anglo-Saxons and Normans in the south-west (specifically Devon and Cornwall, the western outpost of the kingdom) in the decade or so following 1066 is fragmentary, but seems to suggest a combination of military/political firmness and an appeal to pious sensibilities that transformed what could have been a major site of Anglo-Saxon/Danish rebellion to one of enduring loyalty to William and his successors. The surviving evidence also helps to possibly explain the actions of two key figures—Leofric, Bishop of Exeter, and Robert, Count of Mortain, each man keenly interested in the Archangel Michael:

The presence of a strong leader (Robert of Mortain), a very supportive clergy (headed by Leofric and then Osbern fitzOsbern), and a sensitivity to local conditions (as exemplified by a shrewd use of the Michael motif) may have had a remarkable success in south-west England in the early 1070s. The need for a strong presence in the region was palpable after 1069, and Robert of Mortain and Leofric were the most plausible figures to provide the calming influence the region needed. It would go a long way to explaining the regard in which Leofric, one of the few bishops from the previous reign who was not eventually deposed, was held, and it provides a strategic role for Robert of Mortain commensurate with his position in the Norman hierarchy and helps to explain his seeming inactivity after 1069. The evidence for the Michael connection between Robert and Leofric is more fragmentary, but the promotion of the cult is at least logical given the area.[99]

Leofric and Robert are linked in a charter in The Cartulary of St Michael's Mount, fols. 1v-2v, which purports to record Leofric's confirmation of Robert's grant of St Michael's Mount to Mont-Saint-Michel under the following rubric: ‘Confirmacio et roboracio carte donacionis Roberti comitis Moretonij per Luricum Essecstrie episcopum jubsione et exortacione domini reuerentissimi Gregorij pape regisque regine omniumque optimatum tocius regni Anglie.’ Dated at Pevensey in 1070, the charter was copied in both Avranches and Exeter, the new Norman overlord ostensibly confirming the earlier action of the English Edward the Confessor. The authenticity of this and other charters in the Cartulary has been questioned,[100] but it can be seen that in the minds of the people the two monastic institutions dedicated to St Michael are linked to the Michael devoté Robert of Mortain and Bishop Leofric in the margins of whose Old English Bede manuscript the Anglo-Saxon panegyric on St Michael appears.

In Exeter, the policy of leniency certainly worked for William. The south-west of England withstood two incursions by Harold's relatives in 1068 and 1069, and when the region round Exeter rose up in rebellion in 1069, the city's inhabitants actually held out in favour of the king, withstanding a siege that was dramatically ended when, as Orderic wrote: ‘[t]he garrison of Exeter suddenly broke out, surprising the besiegers and driving them away.’ [101]

The mechanisms of William's agreement with Exeter merit close attention. Round cleverly interprets the statement concerning the notables of the city, including the clergy, carrying out 'their sacred books and treasures' to the king as the city's insistence that William swear upon their relics to abide by the terms that had been fashioned in his agreement with the city:

...the real object of their coming forth was to make the king swear upon their relics to the observance of the terms they had obtained. It was indeed the irony of fate if William, who was ever insisting on the breach of Harold's oath, was driven, by the force of circumstances, to take such an oath himself.[102]

Accepting the plausibility of this interpretation still leaves uncertain the issue as to the key personalities in the city who negotiated the settlement and who were instrumental in the city's good behaviour afterwards. The clergy, as the traditional promoters of peace in mediaeval society, would seem critical here, and, as a result, a key candidate for this sort of role must have been the highest ranking ecclesiastical figure in the city: Leofric, Bishop of Exeter.

When William came to Exeter to cede Leofric his estates and to thank him for his involvement in the Norman Conquest, there is no evidence that William made any gifts or grants to the monks of St Michael's Mount on that occasion, though such beneficence would not be unlikely as part of the process of accommodation and reconciliation. ‘William, victorious King of the English’ as he called himself in the document in the Library, visited Exeter in 1069 and confirmed Leofric in his office, and permitted him to endow his Cathedral with certain of his manors. One of these was Bampton in Oxfordshire, the benefice of which is still in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter, and is spoken of as ‘Exon in Oxon’ because it is served by clergy from Devon.[103] As Barlow notes of grants by Edward the Confessor in another context, ‘Maritime estates were the obvious reward for a Norman monastery,’[104] and who better to strengthen the Norman bridgehead already existing in the link between Mont-Saint-Michel and St Michael's Mount and to effect the accommodation and reconciliation of both his monasteries than St Michael the Archangel?

[12] [12]
Þis is se halȝa heahenȝel Sancte Michael This is the holy archangel St Michael, who
se ðe a onƿeard fultum þurhƿunode ever remained as a present help for the lord's
drihtnes ƿitiȝan mid him in æȝhƿilcere stoƿe. prophets and [remained] with them in every place.

NotesEdit

  1. Francois de Beaurepaire. ‘Toponymie et Évolution du Peuplement sur le Pourtour de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel.’ Millénaire Monastique du Mont Saint-Michel II (Paris: P Lethielleux, 1966-1971), pp. 50-52 (henceforth MM).
  2. Beaurepaire. MM II, pp. 50-51.
  3. Bruno Krusch, ed. Gregorius episcopus Turonensis, Libri historiarum x, 6. 29, De puellis monasterii Pictavensis. (rev. ed. Hannover, Impensis bibliopolii Hahniani, 1951), p. 168. See also Lewis Thorpe, trans. Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks. (London: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 357. St Diascola's feast-day is May 13.
  4. Beaurepaire. MM II, pp. 51-60.
  5. Beaurepaire. MM II, pp. 51-65.
  6. Beaurepaire. MM II, pp. 51-70, and ‘Saint Michael.’ Catholic Encyclopedia. (15 Aug. 2000) http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/10275b.html.
  7. On June 16th, 2006 the French government announced a €164 million project to dam the river Couesnon to make the Mont an island again by 2012. See Wikipedia, s.v. ‘Mont Saint-Michel.’
  8. Aubert is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, and his feast-day is September 10. On the Revelatio, with an English translation, see John Charles Arnold. ‘The Revelatio Ecclesiae de Sancti Michaelis and the Mediterranean Origins of Mont St.-Michel.’ The Heroic Age 10 (May 2007).
  9. Henri Elhaï. ‘La baie au cours des dix derniers millénaires: l'insularisation du Mont Saint-Michel.’ MM II, p. 21. The manuscript is MS 212 Bibliothèque municipale d'Avranches. See also G Weill. ‘Le culte de Saint Michel à Saint-Mihiel.’ MM III, pp. 325-328.
  10. Gilles Henry. Mont Saint-Michel, Wonder of the Western World. (Genève: Editions Minerva SA, 1984), p. 9.
  11. The relic of Aubert's skull, complete with hole, is to be seen in the Saint-Gervais Basilica in Avranches, though nowadays the relic is taken to be evidence of prehistoric trepanation. Wikipedia, s.v. ‘Aubert_of_Avranches.’ See further Abbé M Lelegard. ‘Saint Aubert.’ MM I, pp. 29-52.
  12. David Keck. Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 178-179.
  13. Lucien Bély and Marie-Bénédicte Baranger. Wonderful Normandy. (Rennes: Ouest-France, 1986), p. 106. The bull motif is, of course, in imitation of the Mount Garganus legend.
  14. Arnold. Revelatio, § 3. See also Revelatio ecclesiae de Sancti Michaelis in Acta Sanctorum (September 8), pp. 76-79; Apparitio Sancti Michaelis Archangeli in partibus occiduis in Patrologia Latina 96:1, pp. 387-1394; and G Waitz, ed. Liber de apparitione de Sancti Michaelis in Monte Gargano et ex Vita Laurentii Sipontini. (Hannover: Hahn, 1878), 1: pp. 540-543.
  15. François Avril. ‘La décoration des manuscripts au Mont Saint-Michel (XIe-XIIe siècles.’ MM II, p. 230; and JJG Alexander. Norman illumination at Mont St. Michel. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970). See also Abbé Lelagard. ‘Saint Aubert.’ MM I, pp. 29-52.
  16. Jacques Hourlier. ‘Les Sources Ecrites de l'Historie Montiose Anterieure.’ M M II, pp. 121-126.
  17. Ermentarius of Noirmoutier writing in Aquitaine in the 860s about the 120 Viking ships under Ragnar Loðbrok, which sailed up the Seine to attack Paris in 845, quoted by Holger Arbman. The Vikings. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 79-80. See Ermentarius' Miracula sancti Filiberti, ed. R Poupardin. Monuments de l'histoire des abbayes de St. Philibert. (Paris, 1905), pp. 19-69.
  18. Jack Lindsay. The Normans and Their World. (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1974), pp. 14-15.
  19. David Bates. Normandy Before 1066. (London and New York: Longman, 1982), pp. 15-20.
  20. The authenticity of this charter is questionable but it does provide scholars with an understanding of how the Norseman eventually won the right to rule Normandy (Bates. Normandy Before 1066, pp. 8-9).
  21. Bates. Normandy Before 1066, pp. 32-37.
  22. JM Wallace-Hadrill. The Barbarian West: The Early Middle Ages, A.D. 400-1000. (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 40.
  23. Wallace-Hadrill. Barbarian West. (1962), p. 40.
  24. Arnold. Revelatio, § 5.
  25. For a detailed discussion of the Celtic traditions regarding Michael, see Alexander Carmichael, ed. Carmina Gadelica Hymns and Incantations. (Hudson: Lindisfarne Press, 1992), Appendix I, p.589; and Arnold. Revelatio, §§ 5-8.
  26. Lindsay. Normans and Their World, pp. 14-15.
  27. Henry. Mont Saint-Michel, pp. 9-10.
  28. Hourlier. MM I, pp. 120-125.
  29. Bély & Baranger. Wonderful Normandy, p. 106.
  30. C Warren Hollister. The Making of England, 55 B.C.-1399. (Lexington, Mass: DC Heath, 1983), pp. 90-95.
  31. On Edward's interest in Michael see PL Hull, ed. The Cartulary of St. Michael's Mount. (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, new series 5, for 1958, Torquay: The Devonshire Press Ltd, 1962), pp. vii-xi.
  32. Henry. Mont Saint-Michel, pp. 10-11; italics editorial.
  33. Bély & Baranger. Wonderful Normandy, p. 106.
  34. MS 65, fol. 195r, of The Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, Musée Condé at Chantilly (New York: George Braziller, 1969). The date is around 1413-1416, and the manuscript is now in The Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  35. J Hull. ‘The foundation of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.’ MM I, pp. 703-712.
  36. MS Bibliothèque municipale d'Avranches 210, fol. 32v (the cartulary of Mont Saint-Michel). Text from PL Hull. Cartulary, pp. 61 and x-xiii.
  37. http://www.allinsongallery.com/hughes/wstmichaels.html.
  38. These prayers were to include William's wife and were directed at Michael in order that he would personally intervene for William and his wife. Hourlier. MM, pp. 120-122.
  39. HR Loyn. The Norman Conquest. (London: Hutchinson, 1965), p. 85.
  40. Charles H Gibbs-Smith. The Bayeux Tapestry. (London: Phaidon Press, 1971), p. 10.
  41. Hollister. Making of England, p. 80. The number of visits Godwinson made to Normandy is uncertain. The tradition is that there was at least one visit prior to his appearance in the Bayeux Tapestry and it was during this visit that the discussion of William's inheritance of the English throne began; however, the surviving evidence is problematic enough to suggest this may not have occurred.
  42. Gibbs-Smith. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 10.
  43. For a more detailed discussion of Edward's life prior to reaching the throne and after, as well as the events surrounding Godwinson's swearing of fealty to William, see the previous chapter and Frank Barlow. Edward the Confessor. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), pp. 42-53.
  44. Frank Barlow. The Feudal Kingdom of England. (New York: Longman, 1988), pp. 58-63.
  45. Dorothy Whitelock, David C Douglas, Charles H Lemmon, and Frank Barlow. The Norman Conquest: Its Setting and Impact. (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966), p. 12.
  46. Mogens Rud, ed. The Bayeux Tapestry and the Battle of Hastings 1066. (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, 1983, 2002), p. 9. There are reproductions of the Tapestry by Gibbs-Smith, Wilson, and Rud.
  47. Gibbs-Smith. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 11, Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 42-49.
  48. Thus the tapestry, but William of Poitiers gives the site of the alleged oath-taking as Bonneville-sur-Touques.
  49. Wright. Hastings, p. 106.
  50. David Wilson. The Bayeux Tapestry. (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1985), pp. 197-99.
  51. See Wilson. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 142; and Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 49-50 for the depiction of Mont-Saint-Michel in the Bayeux Tapestry.
  52. Wilson. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 197-199.
  53. Wilson. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 178-179; Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 50-51. The incident occurred during William's battle with Conan II, Duke of Brittany.
  54. Kenneth Macleish in a National Geographic article on Mont-Saint-Michel suggests that Godwinson swore fealty to William at the Mont. His source was a resident monk and historian who may have had access to primary sources not available to the lay-person. No other source, primary or secondary, supports this monk's claim. Kenneth Macleish, ‘Mont-Saint-Michel,’ National Geographic (June, 1977), p. 235.
  55. Wilson. Bayeux Tapestry, p.178; Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 51. See Appendix IV for Mont-Saint-Michel's appearance in the Bayeux Tapestry.
  56. Barlow. Feudal Kingdom, p. 77.
  57. Thus C [Abingdon Chronicles BL Tiberius A vi & B 1] and D [Worcester Chronicle, BL Tiberius B iv]. C text from online XML edition, translation from GN Garmonsway, trans. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. (London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd, 1953, 1960), p. 194. See also Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 59.
  58. According to the sources Robert's donation was the largest amongst those of all the Norman nobles. Brian Golding. ‘Robert of Mortain.’ Anglo-Norman Studies xiii, 1990 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1991), pp. 119-121.
  59. Frank Barlow. The English Church. (New York: Longman Group Limited, 1979), pp. 113-116. Orderic(us) Vitalis (1075–c. 1142) in books iv and v of his Historia Ecclesiastica offers accounts of William's activities in Normandy and England; before 1067 he draws on two surviving sources, William of Jumieges' Gesta Normannorum Ducum and William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillemi; from 1067-1071 he follows the last portion of the Gesta Guillemi alone, and in books vii-xiii he deals with Duke Robert of Normandy, William Rufus, and Henry I. See Marjorie Chibnall, trans. The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis. 6 vols (Oxford Medieval Texts, 1968-1980).
  60. Wikipedia, s.v. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert,_Count_of_Mortain.
  61. See Wilson. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 142; Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 71; and Gibbs-Smith. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 33 for the depiction of Robert of Mortain, Odo of Bayeux, and William sharing a meal. Odo sits on William's right, Robert on his left; William holds an upright sword.
  62. Brian Golding. ‘Robert of Mortain.’ Anglo-Norman Studies xiii, 1990 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1991), pp. 119-144, notes that according to the sources Robert's donation was the largest amongst those of all the Norman nobles—120 ships.
  63. Wikipedia, s.v. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert,_Count_of_Mortain. Loyn. Norman Conquest, p. 124 notes that Robert held nearly 800 estates in 20 counties but on p. 178 confirms that he was almost certainly not known as the earl of Cornwall.
  64. PL Hull. Cartulary, pp. 1-2. [MS Hatfield House 315.]
  65. Sir Winston Churchill. ‘The Birth of Britain.’ A History of the English-Speaking Peoples 1 (London: Cassell and Company Ltd, 1956-58).
  66. Parker Chronicle. CCCC 173; trans. Garmonsway. AS Chronicle, pp. 194, 196.
  67. Laud (Peterborough) Chronicle, Bodleian Laud 636; trans. Garmonsway. AS Chronicle, pp. 195, 197. See also Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 56-57 for a depiction of Edward's death and funeral.
  68. Charles H Lemmon in Whitelock et al., eds. Norman Conquest, pp. 83-84.
  69. Barlow. English Church, pp. 113-114.
  70. Barlow. Feudal Kingdom, pp. 78-79.
  71. Christopher Harper-Bill. Anglo-Norman Studies xxi: Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies xxi 1998 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1999); 90 citing Gesta Guillelmi, ii. 3, p. 154 and Ordericus Vitalis, ii, pp. 142-3.
  72. This most useful list is indebted to Peter Poyntz Wright. Hastings. (London: Orion Books Ltd, 2005), pp. ix-x.
  73. Wright. Hastings, p. 8, citing English Historical Documents. vol. 2 (1953), p. 222.
  74. Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 58.
  75. Wikipedia, s.v. ‘Harold Godwinson.’
  76. Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, p. 24.
  77. John Horace Round. ‘Adeliza (d. 1066?).’ Dictionary of National Biography 1 (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1885-1900), p. 137, quoted in Wikisource, s.v. ‘Adeliza (d. 1066?).’
  78. Terence Wise. 1066: Year of Destiny. (London: Osprey Publishing Limited, 1979), pp. 134-135.
  79. Wise. Year of Destiny, p. 135; Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 64-65.
  80. Lindsay. Normans and Their World, p. 219.
  81. Anne Savage. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. (London: Phoebe Phillips/Heinemann Books, 1982), p. 194-195.
  82. Worcester Chronicle, BL Tiberius B iv, trans. Garmonsway. AS Chronicle, p. 199; Laud (Peterborough) Chronicle, Bodleian Laud 636, trans. Garmonsway. AS Chronicle, p. 198.
  83. Worcester Chronicle, BL Tiberius B iv; trans. Garmonsway. AS Chronicle, pp. 199-200.
  84. Churchill. History.
  85. The fact that the battle occurred on a hill is interesting as St Michael was associated with high places. One must wonder if William intended to fight Harold at a high spot in an attempt to ensure heavenly intervention. Barlow. Feudal Kingdom, pp. 81-82.
  86. Barlow. Feudal Kingdom, pp. 81-82.
  87. Loyn. Norman Conquest, p. 120, on the authority of Bishop Guy of Amiens, Carmen de Hastingae Proelio.
  88. Loyn. Norman Conquest, p. 96.
  89. Wright. Hastings, p. 1.
  90. Churchill. History.
  91. For illustration in the Bayeux Tapestry, see Gibbs-Smith. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 15, 54; and Rud. Bayeux Tapestry, pp. 86-87.
  92. Loyn. Norman Conquest, p. 95.
  93. Golding. ANS xiii, p. 143.
  94. Richard Pfaff. ‘Lanfranc's Supposed Purge of the Anglo-Saxon Calendar.’ Liturgical Calendars, Saints, and Services in Medieval England. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 99-106.
  95. Harper-Bill. ANS xxi, p. 92.
  96. Harper-Bill. ANS xxi, p. 93. See also SJ Ridyard. 'Condigna veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons.' ANS ix (1987), pp. 179-206.
  97. Förster claims the text was preserved by a Norman monk, not an Anglo-Saxon one, which suggests that the Normans were the ones interested in the text and not the Anglo-Saxons. Other evidence is linked to the number of treaties between the new Anglo-Norman leaders and Saint Michael's Mount. Max Förster. ‘The Donations of Leofric to Exeter.’ The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry: With Introductory Chapters by RW Chambers, Max Förster, and Robin Flower. (London: P Lund, 1933), pp. 11-12.
  98. Tara Gale, John Langdon, and Natalie Leishman. ‘Piety and Political Accommodation in Norman England: The Case of the South-west.’ in Stephen Morillo, Diane Korngiebel, eds. Haskins Society Journal 18 (Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2007), p. 130.
  99. Tara Gale et al. Piety, pp. 130-131.
  100. Golding. ANS xiii, p. 126; PL Hull. Cartulary, pp. 2-3.
  101. Orderic(us) Vitalis. Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. EMC van Houts (Oxford Medieval Texts, 1992-95), 2: p. 229.
  102. JH Round. Feudal England: Historical Studies on the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. (London: Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1895, 1964), p. 344. As noted earlier, in a moment of crisis regarding the lack of wind needed for the sailing of his fleet, William had used relics in an attempt to win God's intervention, and hung relics round his neck at Hastings. One wonders which relics were paraded at Exeter—‘relics’ of Michael? Leofric's donation list in MS Bodleian, Auct. D. 2. 16 mentions one such, but vaguely, together with a list of relics given to the monastery in Exeter by King Æthelstan.
  103. Arthur Huxley Thompson, Archdeacon of Exeter. The Story of Exeter Cathedral; the Cathedral Church of St. Peter in Exeter. (London: Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1933), pp. 7-21.
  104. Barlow. Feudal Kingdom, p. 63.

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