Picture: The Battle of Hastings.
A spear thrown by Gurth, the brother of King Harold at William the Conqueror narrowly missed him and killed his horse throwing William to the ground. His helmet was crushed over his face making it difficult to breath, a companion of the Conqueror called Truelove removed his helmet thereby saving his life and William said, "Thou shalt hereafter, from Truelove, be called Air or Eyre, because thou hast given me air to breathe." Another legend tells that a Knight named Eyre fought with Richard the Lion Heart during the Crusades and lost a leg while defending his king. It is recorded that William Eyr of Hope was Keeper of the King's Forest of High Peak during the reign of Henry III in 1216. They were Lords of the Manor of Hathersage.
THE HARROWING OF THE NORTH
Needless to say the Anglians didn't take the Norman invasion lying down and because of the understandable resistance of the Anglo-Saxons William the Conqueror in 1069-70 set about with grim determination to extinguish all human and animal life in the north of England. He destroyed or seized all of the cattle, crops, farming implements and the personal property of those who opposed him for a distance of one hundred miles along the east coast and sixty miles inland. The Conqueror pursued his favourite scorched earth policy and burnt everything to the ground, the houses were reduced to ash; the cattle were seized and driven away. Agricultural implements were destroyed, as were the crops. He paid special attention to anything that could be used against him so he destroyed the iron smelting works at Ecclesfield which were the preserve of the monks of Kirkstead Abbey as the steel produced there had made many of the wepons used at the Battle of Hastings, he destroyed Waltheof's manor house and the Domesday Book confirms that Whitby which was a place of importance and is near Robin Hood's Bay was virtually wiped out.
Picture: The Halifax Gibbet introduced by William the Conqueror.
It continued to be used right up until 1650AD.
DESTRUCTION OF THE NEW FOREST
The New Forest is a tragic example of how life changed for the average English/Saxon after the Norman Conquest and it illustrates the mentality of William the Conqueror who created the “New Forest” for his own pleasure of hunting. He laid waste fifty-two parishes, destroyed the villages and pulled down twenty-two churches so that he could roam freely over “his” forest. If anyone was caught poaching, which they had to do to live, they were punished very harshly for example by castration, amputation, or blinding in one eye and were branded “outlaws.”
The whole population had to flee or perish either by the sword or by famine. Many people died of starvation and it is reckoned that at least a hundred thousand people were sacrificed to this barbarous policy. The Evesham chronicler records great crowds who came to Abbot Aethelwig for succour.
Those that avoided violent death fled, the wealthy to the north of the Earldom or Scotland, the rest to the Camp of Refuge at the Isle of Ely where Hereward the Wake was defying the Norman’s. Few made it through the winter weather dying from exposure or starvation and their unburied corpses littered the countryside. People near to death from hunger had no option but to turn to cannibalism. The bloodletting did not prevent William from celebrating Christmas at York complete with a feast served on a silver platter specially brought up from Winchester. Christmas over, William continued his offensive and hunted the men of Tees around the Cleveland hills.
Picture: The destruction of homes and churches in the
New Forest for the pleasure of William's hunting.
It is estimated that between half to three quarters of the male Anglo-Saxon aristocracy died as a result of the Conquest and many of their widows and daughters fled to nunneries to avoid being forced into “marital relationships” with William’s soldiers and other women were taken to Normandy as slaves or worse. Ordinary people too suffered as many lost their houses due to the demolition of whole wards in towns like Winchester, Wallingford, Exeter, and Cambridge. In Norwich, the Domesday commissioners justified non-payment of customs at the borders, on the grounds of poverty caused by this very reason.
Picture: A little girl sold into slavery so the family could buy food.
William, on his deathbed, referring to the harrowing of the North said: “I have persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason. Whether gentle or simple I have cruelly oppressed them; many I unjustly disinherited, innumerable multitudes perished through me or by my sword. I fell on the English of the northern shires like a ravening lion. I commanded their houses and corn, with all their implements and chattels, to be burnt without distinction and great herds of cattle and beasts of burden to be butchered wherever they are found. In this way, I took revenge on multitudes of both sexes by subjecting them to the calamity of a cruel famine, and so became the barbarous murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of that fine race of people. Having gained the throne of that kingdom by so many crimes I dare not leave it to anyone but God.”
Fructolf of Michelsberg in Bamberg condemned William the Conqueror for having sent almost all the bishops of the kingdom into exile and the nobles to their death. He forced the middle-rank soldiers into servitude and the wives of the Anglo-Saxons into marriage with the newcomers. Even William’s ally, Pope Gregory VII reminded him in a letter of 1080 of the great moral anguish both had faced in 1066. He writes: “With what zeal I laboured to advance you to your royal state. So much so that I had to bear from certain of my brethren the almost infamous charge of having lent my aid in bringing about so great a sacrifice of human life. In consequence so serious a scarcity was felt in England, so terrible a famine fell upon the humble and defenceless populace that more than 100,000 Christian folk of both sexes young, and old alike perished of hunger. My narrative has frequently had occasion to praise William, but for this act, which condemned the innocent and guilty alike to die by slow starvation I cannot commend him. I am so moved to pity that I would rather lament the grief’s and sufferings of the wretched people than make a vain attempt to flatter the perpetrator of such infamy.” Orderic Vitalis.