Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Harald Hardrada in Constantinople, Alfred the Great in Rome

Three weeks before he was defeated at the Battle of Hastings, Harold Godwinson - the last Anglo-Saxon king of England - had defeated Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

That's Stamford Bridge the town to the east of York, not Stamford Bridge the football stadium, though fixture congestion was obviously a thing in the 11th century too.

Reading Cat Jarman's River Kings - one thing being a carer has done is give me time to read - I learnt something extraordinary: as a young man Hardrada had spent around 15 years in Constantinople and had commanded the Byzantine Empire's elite Varangian Guard

This should not be suprising - it is in Hardrada's Wikipedia entry - but it is does not fit with the picture we have of British history before the Norman Conquest. We are equally gobsmacked to learn that Alfred the Great was educated in Rome.

I once blogged about an appearance by David Starkey on Richard and Judy's television show: 
Starkey said the idea that 1066 is the most important date in British history is a recent one. In fact it dates from 1914 - the year when all things French became good and all things German bad. German Shepherd Dogs turned into Alsatians and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha turned into the House of Windsor. 
Until then we had been very aware of our Saxon heritage and believed that the roots of our democracy lay in that era. After 1914 the Norman Conquest became almost a Year Zero and the Saxon kings were relegated to become a faintly embarrassing pre-history.
It's only Daniel Hannan who makes the point, so all my Twitter followers laugh at it, but it remains remarkable that the most famous date in English history - 1066 - marks our conquest by a foreign power.


Anonymous said...

I hate being pedantic but Harold Godwinson was not the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. He was succeeded by Edgar II who (though never crowned) was King from October to December 1066.

Matt Pennell said...

It's often stressed by historians that the major kings of the late-Saxon period - Athelstan, Harold, Arthur - were presiding over an increasingly sophisticated culture with established seats of learning and good links to Germanic & Frankish kingdoms and of course the papacy. The 930s could be argued to be the key period here as this is when Athelstan unites England under one rule for the first time since the Romans left in 410.

These kings do have one thing in common though - they were all well up for a ruck :)

Matt Pennell said...

Sorry meant to say Alfred, not Arthur!

Picky said...

Well, Anonymous, I’ll accept your Edgar if you accept my Louis. He wasn’t crowned either, but he was king longer than Edgar.