By wining the Battle of Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy, acceded to the English throne he felt promised to him by his cousin Edward III the Confessor, and so began an era of Norman hegemony. But it was not the start of England.  That story rolled back to 871AD and King Alfred the Great.

But the date of 1066 has become one of the 'must learn' pit stops of English history. Rather tragically it obliterated any real understanding of the creation of England.  It ignores the amazing and dogged work of 200 years of Saxon Kings in establishing the country we live in today. I believe it should be '871AD and all that' - the creation of England by King Alfred the Great.


Unfortunately for our history and for King Alfred's legacy, the date 1066AD was underwritten by the Doomsday Book, illuminated by the Bayeux Tapestry, enforced by a jigsaw of motte and bailey castles, and gradually superseded by a determination of stone keeps across the land.

We are taught that Hastings and 1066AD was a victory by Norman force and then a ruthless culture was super-imposed over the unwilling Saxon ruling-class and population.

In fact, 1066AD saw the overthrow of Harold II, himself a usurper, and the throne taken by force by William Duke of Normandy.  William was proclaimed as King and was a  cousin and realistic claimant to succeed the last legitimate King of England, Edward III the Confessor. Indeed, William did not institute a mass elimination or arrest of the Saxon nobles and ruling-class, but instituted a series of reforms and codexes that established his claim and his own court. Had Hastings not occurred and William peacefully succeeded to the throne, as he claimed was his right, then we would see 1066AD as just the start of a new energetic reforming king.  Because of the battle, we have elevated it into something else to suit an island mentality.

It is clear that following 1066AD the Saxons nobles and ruling-class were pushed aside.  Tax, wealth and land favours were granted to William's followers, soldiers and associated religious clergy (Bishop Odo amongst them), but the principal Saxon claimant, Edgar the Aetheling, or Edgar II was allowed to live on.  Edgar and William of course were second cousins, great grandsons of King Athelred.

Edgar was 14 at the death of his great-uncle Edward III the Confessor and 15 at the time of Hastings, His lived through the overthrow of his claim by Harold Godwinson and elevation as Harold II, but then saw Harold defeated and killed. Instead of Edgar's own coronation, his second cousin, William of Normandy was installed as King. The Saxon Witan did proclaim Edgar as King Edgar II, but lacked the authority and force needed to press the claim.

Did Edgar resent not taking the throne himself? As grandson of King Edmund Ironside (d.1016) and the great nephew of Edward III the Confessor (d.1066) he had a strong claim. Surely he and his sisters Margaret and Cristina resented being pushed aside? But Edgar had been born in exile in Hungary, was only 15 in 1066AD and had no army to support his claim. Despite the support of the Saxon Witan (court), Edgar II renounced his claim and in December he paid homage to his second cousin William I at his coronation in December 1066. Indeed Edgar was used to this, his great-uncle Edward III the Confessor had not asserted him as his heir, the Witan and English army had supported Harold Godwinson and made him Harold II.  William, Duke of Normandy, crowned King of England, was but the next chapter in this disappointment for Edgar.

And so the kingdom of England so effectively established by Alfred and ruled over by the House of Saxon Kings for 160 years, with a Viking Norwegian intervention of 30 years, was succeeded by a Norman house from 1066. Edgar himself lived on to the age of 75 dying in 1126AD.

Perhaps, with hindsight, the ultimate Saxon victory was the defeat of the usurper Harold II, the Viking Norwegian threat kept at bay, Edward III the Confessor's cousin William became king, Edgar the Saxon claimant allowed to live on and William's son and subsequent English heir Henry I married to Edgar's niece Matilda (christened Edith).  This all had the effect of uniting Saxon and Norman royal houses. The throne of England continued...

1066AD and all that? I didn't think so!  More like 871AD and all that... 1066AD was just the succession of the House of Normans to rule over long established England. 871AD and all that.

Postscript: the Church of England (note, not the Norman Church, not the Saxon Church) has published a fairly mixed, well intended, but actually lovely but fundemantally silly prayer.  It is given some helpful analysis here by the ever perceptive Kevin Holdsworth  Should we await a paean of regret from the Catholic Church next?