William the Bastard at War
By John Gillingham
Studies in Medieval History Presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher Houldsworth and Janet L. Nelson (Boydell, 1989)
As Allen Brown observed at the end of his paper on his battle at his conference, almost the only thing about the Norman Conquest that isn’t controversial is the fact that the Normans won the Battle of Hastings. How and why they won remain matters of opinion. In Allen’s view – and characteristically, he described himself as being ‘at least as unbiassed as William of Poiters’ – they owed their victory to their ‘superior military techniques’ and to William’s ‘superior generalship’. Now much has been written about military techniques and organisation, both Norman and Anglo-Saxon, but almost nothing has been written about William’s generalship. Although what he did – and what Harold did – in 1066 itself has been endlessly discussed, no real attempt has been made to put that decisive campaign into the context of William’s whole career as a war leader. Even William’s military experience in the years prior to 1066 – the experience on which he presumably drew as he contemplated the greatest enterprise of his life – has been often mentioned but hardly analysed.
We thank Professor Gillingham for his permission to republish this article. It can be found in Anglo-Norman Warfare: Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Military Organization and Warfare, edited by Matthew Strickland, which is published by Boydell & Brewer.