WILLIAM OF JUMIEGES ( Gesta Normannorum Ducum 1070 app.)

Part Two
This manuscript is taken from the seventh book of the Gesta Normannorum (1) and is considered to be important in representing Norman sentiment at that time. However it has very little detailed information, translating into just under two A4 pages of text, covering the complete period from Edward the Confessor's death (2) to William's coronation (3). In consequence it bears no serious comparison with the far more detailed account of other manuscripts which follow. It was probably written very close to the events, in the region of 1070, and has therefore assumed an importance that might otherwise be difficult to justify.

Jumieges does state the size of the fleet, giving little other useful information upon which to base a judgement for the search for the landing site. He writes

"He therefore hastily built a fleet of three thousand ships.." and continues "..and crossing the sea he landed at Pevensey where he immediately built a castle with a strong rampart. He left this in charge of some troops, and with others he hurried to Hastings where he erected another similar fortress"

The reference to 3,000 ships is accepted by most historians to be romantic rhetoric of the day. Major General J.F.C.Fuller goes into great detail concerning the logistics of such an operation in his book The Decisive Battles of the Western World 480BC - 1757 (4). No-one knows for certain how many ships were involved, because until now no evidence has been found. I propose that 3,000 ships is far too many to be a correct figure, this is endorsed by Fuller's own conclusions in which he states that William's army could not have exceeded 5,000 men, because the time taken from departure at St Valery to the landing was only twelve hours. Fuller explains from a military point of view that it is impossible, from a logistics point of view, for any more than this to have been involved. The claim that 3,000 ships were involved therefore undermines the authority of the narrative in at least one major respect that can be proven to be incorrect on logistics alone. It appears from the most recent observations on the matter, albeit earlier this century, that no less than 5,000 and probably no more than 10,000 men accompanied William on his conquest (5) . To provide 3,000 ships would not be viable bearing in mind the logistics of the day (6).

The authority of the Jumieges account is further eroded by the claim that William built a castle at Pevensey with a strong rampart at the time of the invasion. It has been assumed that this defence must have been at Pevensey castle, since no other site in the area has any archaeological profile which could fit this description and the text appears quite specific in the claim. Pevensey castle was in fact built by the Romans at least 600 years before the Norman Invasion in the 4th century (7). In consequence the towering walls of that fortress, known as Andereida, already existed, stretching to a height of over forty feet and occupying a site of at least ten acres. Since Pevensey castle was constructed of stone the claim that the Normans built it in a day is clearly an error, or the text needs to be interpreted differently. As a result of taking Jumieges text and looking at it in conjunction with another manuscript called The Carmen of Hastingae Proelio, which we shall look at later (8),the anomaly can be explained. This is upon the grounds that William must have used the existing walls of the Roman fortress upon, or within which, to build the first defence. However this disregards the fact that any wooden structure would not have been needed, when the massive structure of the walls were already in place. It contradicts the Bayeux Tapestry evidence which clearly details a wooden fort on top of a mound and flies in the face of any logic when neither Jumieges or any other contemporary writer details such a massive building at the site of the landing. Only one chronicler, as stated above, provides the weakest possible conjecture that could mean that the camp was upon the site of a ruin (9) . However that ruin is stated by the same chronicler to be at Hastings, by virtue of the fact that he states that the Norman camp, which was built there, was at Hastings. This provides an ingenious, if not convoluted explanation of why no evidence or remains of the invasion have been found at Pevensey, because the evidence was effectively destroyed by the Norman building work after the invasion was complete.

No other alternative offers a realistic explanation of what amounts to a fundamental flaw in Jumieges naming Pevensey as the landing site. It is my view that there has been no realistic evaluation of these issues in recent history, mainly as a result of the growth of the tourist industry in the area and the consequent need to match this very thin hypothesis to the commercial benefits to the local community. Using one line out of context, from the Carmen, in order to justify Jumieges statement, which on its own does not stand scrutiny, is in my view an error of judgement. The two statements when read in the context of both manuscripts clearly refer to different places(10) and in these circumstances one cannot be used to justify the other. Jumieges makes the point that the defence was built quickly and therefore taken in conjunction with other reported eye-witness accounts could not have been anything other than the normal type of wooden structure expected at an invasion bridge head. I propose therefore that upon the evidence rendered by Jumieges that the landing could not have taken place at Pevensey castle. If that is the case, given the unreliable number of boats and the error relating to the fortifications, it is more than likely that naming Pevensey, as the landing site, may also be an error.

There is however a small item of information to be found in the text that may have important implications for identifying the correct site of William's camp and in consequence the landing site. It is my belief that Jumieges is being quite specific in differentiating between a castle in the case of Pevensey and a fortress in the case of Hastings, if the translation we have studied is correct. If it was intended to identify a castle at each site then I believe different terminology would have been used. Jumieges appears to describes two different defences and if he had personal knowledge of events would have known that there was a castle at Pevensey. He certainly appeared to believe that William built it, but we know this to be incorrect(11).

Jumieges states that Pevensey was left with some troops in charge and

"with others he hurried to Hastings where he erected another similar fortress".

This may, upon first examination, appear to endorse current historical thinking and at the same time provide a reason why the camp was at Hastings whilst the landing was at Pevensey. However there are a number of further flaws in both the logic and ability of the invasion force to act in this way.

Firstly the invasion was a unique adventure for the Norman knights who accompanied William. They were following in their Viking ancestors footprints by taking to water in boats for the first time. These were men accustomed to fighting on horseback, who had probably never before been to sea. Sailing across open ocean in the 11th century was a high risk enterprise even by standards of the day. In fact the risk was considered so great that the wives of those involved are reported in Orderic Vitalis(12) to have written begging letters to their husbands to seek their return on account that they themselves would not come to England because the sea journey was new to them. However William was not only a good commander, but he knew the value of man's weakness for wealth, offering those who came great riches should the enterprise be successful.

Taken in this context, with the absence of any statement that the troops re-embarked to sail back to Hastings along the coast, it must be assumed that the Norman troops were on foot and horse. Given the successful unopposed landing it is highly unlikely that William would risk his troops in open sea unnecessarily. The question must also be asked why would they return to sail or march back down a coast they sailed past the previous day, having come from St Valery in northern France. Sailing would allow the possibility of having to fight at a second landing and give the enemy an unnecessary opportunity to form a defensive bridgehead. The Bayeux Tapestry makes the point clearly that the troops landed and no further sailing was involved. There is no attempt by any other writer of the time to suggest that the Normans re-entered their boats to move to Hastings. I must therefore conclude that if the Normans did land at Pevensey, as Jumieges claims, they must have moved to Hastings by land.

The problem with this alternative hypothesis is that this too does not stand scrutiny on account of the manorial value evidence provided in the Domesday book. This is examined in detail in a later chapter dedicated to the Sussex edition. It is further undermined by the geography of the coastline, as it was known to be at that time. This shows that two major obstacles stood between Pevensey and Hastings which cannot be satisfactorily explained. The first of these was Pevensey Bay itself requiring a 30 mile detour in order to cross from the West to the East. If Hastings was the ultimate destination sailing to Pevensey, on the West side of what was then a vast expanse of water, was totally counterproductive. In order to find Hastings the army would need to firstly move en mass, in order to be prepared to meet Harold's army. Secondly they would need to move through open countryside, to avoid ambush, and thirdly they would need to follow the coast to avoid getting lost. This last point is the most obvious, but in fact the least likely. This is because the sea inlet to the west of Hastings, known as the Combe Haven, would cut any invading army off and leave it stranded on the peninsula where Bexhill now stands. This point appears to have been overlooked by many historians, most probably because Bulverhythe and the lower part of the Combe Haven Valley are no longer flooded, as they were in 1066 (13) . Hence marching along the coast from Pevensey to Hastings was also impossible. The probability that they came that way, or in fact any other after landing at Pevensey first, without leaving an identifiable record, is a theory that in my view is untenable when the known facts are examined.

It could be argued that I am reading too much into little more than a paragraph. However it should be remembered that this particular paragraph has immense implications in underwriting what we currently are led to believe is the Norman invasion story. At this point we have only looked at one of a number of different manuscripts, each of which tells the same story from a different perspective. If it is to be believed that Jumieges account should stand sway over much longer and detailed texts it is necessary to take on board each element of these manuscripts, both in isolation, and in conjunction with what other writers tell us. In consequence given the lack of credible individual evidence in this case I must ask the reader to keep an open mind and weigh what has been written here with those others that follow.

In conclusion it would seem that Jumieges story is unreliable and probably suspect, even though written very close to the events. The size of the fleet is certainly inflated, possibly for political reasons or to flatter his readers of the day. The claim relating to Pevensey castle is more than likely to have been made for the same reason, whilst the journey from Pevensey to Hastings is unsubstantiated and given the circumstances impossible if taken along the coast. However he does confirm that William embarked on a massive operation, involving a large number of ships and accompanying men. He also confirms in this manuscript that Hastings and Pevensey featured in the events of the landing, although the references to who built the castle or forts, and when, does not stand up to scrutiny.