Tag Archives: Bayeux Tapestry

Was the Papacy involved in the Norman Conquest?

In 1066, the Normans invaded England.  Did the Papacy support the action?  There are numerous accounts of the invasion and the events that led up to it?  Multiple reasons are given for William’s invasion: Edward declared William heir while in Normandy; his rival Harold Godwine, swore an oath on holy relics to so support William and then usurped the throne; Harold’s coronation was illicitly performed by Stigand; William was Edward’s kin; Harold was Edward’s kin through marriage; and, William unlawfully invaded as Harold was named successor while Edward was on his death bed.  Of course, we cannot really know definitively, but we can evaluate the accounts of the situation made by authors and scholars.

Anglo-Saxons long had a very tight relationship with the Papacy, but there is an element of Norman diplomacy, particularly in this age of the 11th century reform, that begins to explain the startling change in relations with the Papacy and the Anglo-Saxons.  Furthermore there are the questions of the papal banner, or gonfanon, with which the Normans went to war: Did it exist?  Presuming it did, what does it imply about the Papacy’s perception of the events?

I found the implications of the Papacy’s involvement have been largely left unstated despite the copious literature written about the Conquest and its aftermath in England.  Consider that in 1066 the Papacy may have endorsed a military campaign by a Norman against a church that had long been its darling in Europe with the presentation of a papal banner.  In the following pope’s reign, Gregory VII’s (Bishop Hildebrand was consecrated Pope Gregory VII after the Norman invasion) more military campaigns will be conducted under a papal banner and against Christian laity threatening church lands.  In 1098, the First Crusade is called and the Crusade institution is begun.  The Norman Conquest, thus, potentially contributes to an important evolution of thought.

Beginning with Gregory the Great’s mission in England, to Bede and the missions of Boniface and down to the invading Danes in the beginning of the 11th century, Anglo-Saxons had a revered relationship with Rome.  James Campbell, Henry Mayr-Harting and John Blair all demonstrate the friendship, reverence and devotion which the young Anglo-Saxon Church paid to the Church in Rome.  The tradition was of such strength and durability that even the invading Danish king, Cnut, sought to comply with the traditions of building churches devoted to Rome’s saints and become thoroughly indoctrinated in Christianity.  In The English Church and the Continent, Veronica Ortenberg describes presence of an Anglo-Saxon community within Rome itself, which received special privileges from taxation.  This neighborhood tended to the large number of English pilgrims from every rank in its society.  Under Alfred, and possibly Offa, the crown levied a Peter’s Pence, or Romscot, to be sent to Rome.

The Bayeux Tapestry: The Anglo-Saxon Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury

The first culprit to indicate a separation from this love is the Bishop Stigand.  Stigand, a simoniac, is a focal point for a new papal movements set on reform.  He was appointed by the king and does not go to Rome to receive his pallium from the rightful pope, Pope Leo IX who refused to consecrate him, but to the anti-pope Benedict X.  Eric John points out that King Edward was able to further undermine the rival Godwine family’s position in England when Spearhafoc was refused the episcopal see of London by Rome and Archbishop Robert because he was a simoniac, as well.  Not only did he lose the see, he lost his abbey at Abingdon, despite having been the canonical abbot there.

Stigand appears in the Bayeux Tapestry and the image is considered by H. E. J. Cowdrey’s paper, “Towards an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in particular with the placement and occupation of his hands.  Cowdrey’s interpretation focuses on the negative connotation of Stigand’s left hands and he hypothesizes his inclusion on the tapestry—especially with his left hand when holding the maniple—is intended to discredit him as bishop and Harold as king.  It is an ironic representation as the maniple is taken by the recipient with a prayer asking God to cleanse one’s hands.  Stigand and Spearhafoc represent a clergy which would raise the ire of the Church’s reformers in the eleventh century.

This segues nicely into the next point, that of the relationship of William, Duke of Normandy, and the Papacy of Alexander II, itself highly influenced by the reform bishop Hildebrand.  First, as Margaret Gibson points out, William had done everything he could in order to gain control over his own bishops.  This sort of lay interference was being targeted by the reformers, but William endeared himself to many influential clergymen, nonetheless, through other reforms, finance and defense.

The Bayeux Tapestry: Harold swearing allegiance to William on holy relics before King Edward's death

Frank Barlow indicates that William had welcomed the Truce of God movement which had been put forth by leading reform clergy.  The Truce, itself an extension of the Peace of God movement which declared that certain persons were never to be harmed, was intended to restrict violence during certain days and seasons.  William’s intent as expressed to his vassals was to have disputes among them settled in the ducal court instead through arms.  Both the Peace and Truce aimed to curtail lay violence since little central authority existed following the (gradual) collapse of the Carolingians.  As Kathleen Cushing has suggested, this measure was in no small way intended to protect the clergy and Church lands from lay violence, often in the form of heirs taking back land that had been given as donations and by ancestors.  In order to defend the Peace and maintain Truces, oaths were taken and the Church enlisted portions of the warrior laity to enforce it.

Gregory VII later coined the term milites Sancti Petri, refering to knights fighting on behalf of the Papacy in the years following the Conquest and leading up to the First Crusade.  Jonathan Riley-Smith has pointed out that this was in keeping with the trends of the clergy who blessed their defenders as milites of their patron saint.  Did Hildebrand in a sense do this with the Norman Conquest?  Hildebrand established himself as a leader in Church sanctioned violence, especially against Christian Europeans.  Carl Erdmann stresses that Hildebrand’s involvement can best be seen in the case of the Norman Conquest.  Erdmann quotes Gregory VII to William (from the collected Register of Gregory VII), who stated, “You know how zealously I exerted myself that you might obtain the royal office.  I was reviled for this by some brothers, who blamed me for the pains I took over such a bloodletting.”

For William’s part, R. Allen Brown credits him for doggedly pursuing diplomacy, especially with the clergymen in his domain.  Brown writes,

[B]y his own considerable efforts, the Conqueror won his reputation as the champion both of orthodoxy and reform, so that, when the time came, the Papacy was the chief prize of Norman diplomacy, and the expedition to England was undertaken by this favoured son of the Holy Church with papal blessing and a papal banner.

Gregory VII took the credit in the letter quoted by Erdmann.  There was a clear connection established and fostered between the two camps.

So, the question then remains, what is the significance of the Papal banner?  This is not easy to establish under Alexander II.  While some claim he sent a military mission to Spain under a Papal banner other scholars resist the notion.  Erdmann in particular stresses the banner’s importance.  Other than Gregory’s letter, this is the most formal demarcation we have of Papal approval.  It is not mentioned in the texts we have from  Alexander II, but numerous other sources surrounding the Conquest attest to it.  Many scholars, though not all, believe this to include the Bayeux Tapestry, in scene 46.  J. Bard McNulty does not include it in the body of his commentary of the tapestry but does include it in the appendix, interpreting; “[the lettering] HIC NUNTIAM EST WILLELMO DE HAROLD.  Here news of Harold is brought to William,” he writes, “William holds the banner, or gonfanon, sent him by Pope Alexander II, who endorsed the invasion.”

Is this evidence of a papal banner being granted to William?

The implication, therefore, is that the Papacy is sending William to defend the Church in England from the likes of simoniacs such as Stigand, elsewhere discredited in the tapestry as noted by Cowdrey above.  This presentation of a banner is generally understood to imply some obligation of a feudal type to the Papacy, but William and more so his son William Rufus will staunchly resist this.  For example, Stigand, still Archbishop of Canterbury at the conclusion of the conquest and denied the right to crown William king, is not immediately removed from his uncanonical position.

This feudal obligation to the Papacy will be altered in the calling of the First Crusade as the Crusaders are called to take up arms as milites Christi, creating new theological challenges for the laity and the clergy.  Regardless of this change, it is worth noting that, while William Rufus refused aid, a number of William the Conqueror’s family and dependents will answer the call to the First Crusade, including one of his sons who will grant the duchy of Normandy to William Rufus to acquire the necessary funds for the enterprise.

Additional and fresh study is warranted on the exact nature and implications of the papal banner.  Erdmann (who published in the 1930s) points out that the only visual representation we have is that of the Bayeux Tapestry, and the artist may never have seen it.  Its significance remains enigmatic in terms of the evolution of the Church’s regard for violence despite Erdmann contributions.

Further work must be done in characterizing this campaign as a Church authorized power play or something more in line of a proto-Crusade.  Additionally, the actions of the Anglo-Saxon laity and clergy deserve to have greater comparisons drawn (or contrasted) with others who similarly fell victim to the Papacy’s authorization of violence.  To what degree did a failing relationship with a reforming clergy justify endorsing this measure against them?  Is the simony of its clergy and oath breaking (a problem for reformers in the Peace ot Truce) of its king enough to warrant the actions of Alexander II, Hildebrand and William?  These questions require more research and have not been adequately answered in light of the evolution of sanctified violence.  One thing is clear, the Conquest had a part to play in contributing to new ideas of violence and hopefully its part will be fully understood in coming research.


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Lessons for History Teachers: How To Tell a Story Through Photos

How To Tell a Story Through Photos.

The how-to link above sparked a reflection on my part about how I can make better use of imagery in class–a challenge that has remained illusive since I started teaching.

While I use a large number of visuals in my classes, there are two things I do not necessarily do as well as I could: 1) use the images to help specifically break something down into an enlightening learning point; 2) create a narrative arc with available imagery to aid in student learning.

It is not my contention that every use of imagery in a history class should automatically accomplish those things, but I think there is real value in making use of such methods at least occasionally.  These are my reasons:

  1. It mixes things up a bit and gives the students something fresh, now and again.
  2. I sat as a TA in a history class, in which the instructor guaranteed that the PowerPoints would be available every morning before class and still watched students copy the slides by hand while the instructor covered important and interesting material to which they were not fully attentive.
  3. Engage the familiar and the unfamiliar in foreign cultures (foreign because of distance, be it chronological, geographical or both).  This can be as simple as a strange object that serves a familiar purpose or as complex as a story with symbolism that meant one thing historically and means something completely different now (i.e. the ostrich).
  4. Dale’s Cone of Experience.  Make imagery contribute to useful and usable retention!

There are other reasons but I find these most compelling.  When we get too ridgedly into a routine we can lose touch with our students, who simply glaze over or find other distractions.  But, if we occasionally take advantage of a narrative set of paintings to tell a story we can create a remarkably personal or residual experience that sticks out for the students down the road.

A guide for how people remember and how they can apply that memory.

If a concept is discussed in class, augmented by imagery and concluded with reflective class and online discussions (the latter which have the benefit of being written).  A student is far more likely to retain it and be able to use that information later–essential for successful scaffolding!

One of the ways in which images could be used better toward this end is in this post supplied above.  While it is written for photo-journalistic purposes and media, it has some useful points that history teachers can steal for their classrooms.  Some thoughts leapt to mind immediately for classroom application, covering different periods:

  • James Meredith.  I first heard James Meredith’s story when I read about it in the Smithsonian Magazine’s “Indelible Images” column, in the 2005 February issue.  He had been a serviceman, graduated from the University of Mississippi, despite gubernatorial opposition, and now he was walking through Mississippi for Civil Rights.  The featured images taken by rookie AP photographer Jack Thornell took a series of photos of Meredith walking, jerking violently from gun fire and falling to the ground.  The opportunities for a photographic narrative that I just described are fantastic for learning.  1) Service photo; 2) university photo; 3,4,5) walking and being shot in Mississippi.  The students connect to his professional military service, his hard and successful completion at a university with plenty of hostility, and finally we connect the students to his brave crusade and his wounded humanity.   A sixth photo from his hospital and Civil Rights leaders is also possible.  He would survive.  He would finish the “Meredith March” through Mississippi.  A student will not forget that moment in time even though he was not alive when it originally happened.

One sweltering morning in June 1966, James Meredith set out from Memphis with an African walking stick in one hand, a Bible in the other and a singular mission in mind. The 32-year-old Air Force veteran and Columbia University law student planned to march 220 miles to the Mississippi state capital of Jackson, to prove that a black man could walk free in the South. The Voting Rights Act had been passed only the year before, and his goal was to inspire African-Americans to register and go to the polls. “I was at war against fear,” he recalls. “I was fighting for full citizenship for me and my kind.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Down_In_Mississippi.html#ixzz1Dm7CmP3D

In the modern era where photography has captured so many moments, and caught them in rapid fire motion, it should not be difficult to collect images for a photo narrative–one that may even be enhanced by audio, such as speeches or radio reports.  But, going further back in time it may not be as obvious how one should proceed.  I suggest a few possibilities for story telling without photography.

  • Saints’ Lives (also known as Vitae from the Latin word for “lives”), an essential part of Christian literature, are often recorded in visual form for illiterate Christians to learn, if for no other reason–and other reasons do exist for the genre–about the examples they set.  These are not required to be historically accurate to be of value–especially when captured in pictorial form!  A good medieval art book would be a huge help, as would museums, particularly if you can visit a local museum’s library and consult with their experts.
  • The same goes for Biblical stories.  One approach would be to  analyze the artist’s contemporary culture through the presentation of such stories.
  • I already use the Bayeux Tapestry to tell the story of the Norman Invasion of 1066 in addition to various written accounts.  Part of the task is to highlight the different interpretations of the invasion and what elements are actually included in the tapestry itself.
  • Of course, there is also the use of photography/pictures from reenactments/reconstructed images, maps, portraits and images of the landscape–archaeological source may assist in this–but, it is perhaps less compelling than some of the other examples I mentioned.

View the article and see if the means and methods may in some way be applicable to teaching history!


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