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William the Bastard at War

William the Bastard at War

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"William the Bastard at War" by John Gillingham appearing in Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher J. Holdsworth, Janet L. Nelson (Boydell, 1989)
"William the Bastard at War" by John Gillingham appearing in Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher J. Holdsworth, Janet L. Nelson (Boydell, 1989)

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WILLIAMTHEBASTARDATWAR
JohnGillingham
AsAllenBrownobservedattheendofhispaperonhisbattleathisconference,almosttheonlythingabouttheNormanConquestthatisn'tcontroversialisthefactthattheNormanswontheBattleofHastings.Howandwhytheywonremainmattersofopinion.InAllen'sview-and,characteristically,hedescribedhimselfasbeing'atleastasunbiassedasWilliamofPoitiers'-theyowedtheirvictorytotheir'superiormilitarytechniques'andtoWilliam's'superiorgeneral-ship'.'Nowmuchhasbeenwrittenaboutmilitarytechniquesandorganisation,bothNormanandAnglo-Saxon,butalmostnothinghasbeenwrittenaboutWilliam'sgeneralship.Althoughwhathedid-andwhatHarolddid-in1066itselfhasbeenendlesslydiscussed,norealattempthasbeenmadetoputthatdecisivecampaignintothecontextofWilliam'swholecareerasawarleader.EvenWilliam'smilitaryexperienceintheyearspriorto1066-theexperienceonwhichhepresumablydrewashecontemplatedthegreatestenterpriseofhislife-hasbeenoftenmentionedbuthardly'analysed."Thisomissionisallthemorecuriousinviewofthefactthatthematerialsforsuchastudyarereadytohand.Oneoftheconqueror'sownchaplainswroteanaccountofhismaster'slifeinwhichheconsciouslychosetoportrayhimasamodelofgeneralship.TimeandagainWilliamofPoitierscomparesWilliamwiththegreatgeneralsofantiquity,andtimeandagainheconcludesthatWilliamwasthegreatersoldier.Hisaccountofthecampaignof1066culminatesinasustainedcomparisonbetweentheNormaninvasionofEnglandandtheRomaninvasionofBritain,demon-strating-atleasttotheauthor'sownsatisfaction-thatWilliamhadfacedgreaterdifficultiesthanJuliusCaesarandyethadachievedamuchmoreimpressivedegreeofsuccess."Sincethechaplainwaswritinginthe1070s,andwritingaworkclearlydestinedforhismaster'sears,thiswaspresumablyademonstrationverymuchtoWilliam'staste.ThroughouthisworkindeeditisevidentthatWPwassayingwhathefelthislordwouldliketohear.HewasproducingajustificationofWilliamtheConquerorand,attimes,anauseatinglysycophanticone.Oneofhisearliestknownreaders,OrdericVitalis,sonofanEnglishmotherandaNormanfather,wasclearlyshockedbyWP'saccountoftheharryingoftheNorthandwasmovedtocomment:'WhenIthinkofthehelplesschildren,theyoungpeopleintheprimeoflife,andthosewhosehairwas
I
R.
AllenBrown,'TheBattleofHastings',
Battle
iii,21.
2
Exceptintheexcellentbutbriefchapterentitled'MilitarySocietyandtheArtofWar'inF.Barlow,
WilliamIandtheNormanConquest,1965.
3
GestaGuillelmi,
68,156,162,168,232-4,246-54;probablyalsoOrdericii,234.
 
142
StudiesinMedievalHistorypresentedtoR.!AllenBrown
nowgreywithage,allalikecondemnedtodieofhunger,thenIamsostirredtopitythatIwouldsimplylamentwhatwasdone,ratherthanvainlyattempt,withemptyadulation,toflattertheperpetratorofsuchinfamy'."
It
isalsoevidentthat
WP
was,as
R.
H.C.Davishasputit,'intentonproducingaworkofgreatliterature',aself-consciousstylist,insistentlyparadinghiseasymasteryofawiderangeofclassicalLatinliterature,'flatteringhimself'aswellastheConqueror."ReadinghimindeedIamirresistiblyremindedoftheopeningwordsofGeoffreyParker'schapteronwarfareinthethematiccompanionvolumetothe
NewCambridgeModernHistory:
'PartofthecharmofRenaissancewritersistheirfirmconvictionthat....theheroesofantiquitywouldhavebeenmiserablefailuresasRenaissancemen,evenasRenaissancesoldiers'."BythesecriteriaWilliamofPoitierswasaRenaissancewriterandWilliamtheBastardaRenaissancesoldier.Andsoindeedtheywere.Butthereisnoneedtodismisstheworkonthisaccount.'Onthecontrary.Thesefeaturesaresoobviousthattheyarerelativelyeasytomakeallowancesfor.Moreoverfromthepointofviewofthestudentofwar,thehistoryofWPhastwogreatadvantages.First,itwaswrittenbysomeoneclosetothecourt,amember,asitwere,oftheduke'sheadquartersstaff.Second,itwaswrittenbyanauthorwhohadhimselfbeenasoldier.
In
Orderic'swords,'beforeheenteredthechurchhehadhimselfbeenkeenlyinvolvedinthebusinessofwar.Hehadbornearmsintheserviceofhisprinceand,havinghimselflivedthroughthedireperilsofwar,wasallthebetterplacedtogiveanaccuratedescriptionoftheconflictshehadseen'."HisaccountofWilliam'scareermaybeabiassedone,butitisthebiasofamanwho,onthesubjectofwaratleast,knewexactlywhathewastalkingabout.SinceIhavehadthegoodfortunenevertohavebeenmorethananarmchairsoldier,IshallfollowverycloselyinthefootstepsofWilliamofPoitiers.Myintentionthenistwofold.FirstlytotakeDukeWilliam'smilitarycareerasamodelofeleventh-centurygeneralship."Secondlytoputthe1066campaignintothecontextofmid-eleventhcenturywarfare.ThismeansthatinthispaperIshallhaverelativelylittletosayaboutthelastperiodofWilliam'scareer,theyearsafter1075whenhenolongerenjoyedthefortunateconstellationofpoliticalcircumstanceswhichhadcharacterisedthe1060sandearly1070sand
4
Ordericii,
232.
5
R.
H.C.Davis,'WilliamofPoitiersandhisHistoryofWilliamtheConqueror'inR.H.C.Davisand
J.
M.Wallace-Hadrill,eds.,
TheWritingofHistoryintheMiddleAges.EssayspresentedtoR.
W.
Southern,
Oxford
1981,71-100,
esp.72.G.Parker,'Warfare'in
TheNewCambridgeModernHistory
xiii,CompanionVolume,ed.P.Burke,Cambridge
1979,201.
7
Anymorethanitwouldberight,onsimilargrounds,todismissRicherofRheimsasasourceforlatetenth-centurywarfare.Seethecomments,valuableonthisandonallaspectsofwarinthisperiod,ofJohnFrance,'LaGuerredanslaFrancefeodale
a
lafinduIXeetauXesiecle',
RevueBeiged'HistoireMilitaire
xxiii,
1979,177-198,
esp.
179,192-3.
Ordericii,
258.
Inthisrespectanexerciseverysimilarto
J.
Gillingham,'RichardIandthescienceofwarintheMiddleAges',
J.
Gillinghamand
J.
C.Holt,eds.,
WarandGovernmentintheMiddleAges.Essaysinhonour
rif
J.
O.
Prestwich,
Woodbridge
1984,78-91.
 
WilliamtheBastardatWar
143
when,inconsequence,hisgeneralshipfaltered.!"InOrderic'swords,'Inthelastthirteenyearsofhislifeheneveroncesucceededinputtinganarmytoflightorcapturingbymilitaryskillanyfortresstowhichhelaidsiege."!WP'staskaspanegyristwasmadedistinctlyeasierbythefactthathehappenedtobewritingatatimewhenWilliam'smilitaryreputationwasatitspeak.PBearinginmindthedefeatsandsetbacksofWilliam'slatercareeritisdoubtlesseasierformetobealittlemoredetached.Ibeginwithanexampleofthepanegyristatwork:WP'streatmentofthebattleofVal-es-Dunes
(1047),
thefirstmilitaryincidenttobereportedinthesurvivingportionofhistext.HereWPgivestheimpressionthatDukeWilliamwasinoverallcommandofthe'loyalist'troops,withKingHenryIofFrancemerelylendinguseful
assistance."
Butsincein
1047
thekingwasthegreatermaninrank,inageandinexperienceofwar,commonsensealonesuggeststhatWPwasbeingmisleading,probablydeliberatelySO.14AndinthiscasecommonsenseisconfirmedbythelanguageofWilliamofjumieges'accountofthebattle,writtenhalfadozenyearsearlierthanWP'S.15If,infact,itwasKingHenrywhowasthearmycommanderatVal-es-Dunes,thenitbecomespossibletodrawaratherstrikingconclusion.In
1066,
asFrankBarlowpointedout,Williamhadnopreviousexperienceofcommandinaset
battle."
Whetherornotitisquiterighttogoontosay,asBarlowdoes,thatuntilhefacedHarold,Williamhadneverdeployedhisownarmyinthefaceofalarge
I.
Thehighdramaof1066ratherobscuresthefactWilliam'smilitarycareerfallsquitenaturallyintothreeparts:theperiodupto1060whenhewasgenerallyonthedefensiveagainstbothinternalandexternalenemies;theyearsofexpansionbetween1060and1075;andfinallytheperiodbetween1076and1087whenhewasonceagainonthedefensive.
II
Ordericii,350.InviewofthedefeatsandsetbackswhichWilliamsufferedatDolin1076,Gerberoiin1079,LaFlechein1081andStSuzannein1084-5,Orderic'sjudgementseemsbettergroundedthanBarlow's'oncehehadcaughtthewindhenevergotbecalmed',Barlow,xvi.
12
Someideaofhisreputationinthemid-1070scanbegatheredfromtherumourthathewasplanningtoattackAachenandseizetheempirereportedbyLampertofHersfeldundertheyear1074.LampertofHersfeld,
Annales
ed.O.Helder-Egger,ScriptoresRerumGermanicaruminusumscholarum,Hanover1894,195.
13
GestaGuillelmi,16-18.
14
Theking,inWP'swords,was
virstrenuusetnominatusinrebusbellicis,
acompetentandcautiousadvisortotheyoungsoldier,
GestaGuillelmi,
24,82.
15
'rexcumduce',Jumieges,123.Despitethismosthistorians,e.g.MicheldeBoiiard,
GuillaumeleConquirant,
Paris1984,205,or
R.
AllenBrown,
TheNormans,
Woodbridge1984,44-5,orDavidBates,
Normandybefore
1066,
1982,73,continuetofollowWPinimplyingthatWilliamwasinchargeatVal-es-Dunes.MoreinlinewithWJ'semphasisisD.C.Douglas,
WilliamtheConqueror,
London1964,49.IwouldliketoemphasisethatimpressedasIambyWP'squalitiesasahistorianofwar,IamalmostequallyimpressedbyWJ,monkthoughhemayhavebeen.Perhapsindeedinasocietywherenomonasterywasimmunefromtheconsequencesofwar-usuallydestructive,butsometimesinthemoreacceptableformofgiftsfromthecontritewarrior-itwasnaturalforobservantmonkstobewellinformedaboutwar.OnWJseeE.M.C.VanHouts,
GestaNormannorumDucum,
Groningen1983,andontherelationshipbetweenWJandWP,Davis,'WilliamofPoitiers'76-80.
I.
Barlow,33.Oneimplicationofthisisthattheengagementin1057whichisconventionallyreferredtoasthe'battleofVaraville'wasinfactnotabattle.HereIentirelyagreewithBarlow,33anddeBoiiard,205,thatitwasnot.Seebelowp..153.OfcourseifweeliminateVal-es-DunesandVaravillefromtherollofWilliam'sbattlehonoursthenitbecomesalittlehardertoseehimasthegeneralwho,whenherodeintothefieldofHastings'hadneverfoughtabattlewhichhehadnotwon',Brown,
TheNormans,
45.Cf.
R.
AllenBrown,
TheNormansandtheNormanConquest,
1969,49.

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