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MASTER WACE (Roman de Rou 1160 app.)

Part Six
This manuscript (43) is believed to have been written around the year 1160. The author tells us that Wace was born in Jersey and educated at Caen. The account appears to name his father as the authority from which the information comes. Yet at one point in the text, when speaking about the comet preceding the Conquest, he refers to the report of eye-witnesses as his personal authority (44). The manuscript has additional verification as an authentic document of the time by its inscription naming it as a copy from the library of Saint Martin at Battle Abbey, dating from about 1200. In consequence the story that it contains was likely to be in the possession of those monks who drew up the Chronicle of Battle Abbey. It is by far the most detailed manuscript of the era (45) , accepted as a definitive version of events until the middle of the nineteenth century in the UK and still considered such in France.

The story starts with how William became Duke and the Barons revolted against him. It goes into great detail concerning the battle at Val des Dunes, how William foils the King of France and how Harold came to Normandy and swore allegiance on the bones of the saint. In many ways the text acts as an accompaniment to the same story told in the Bayeux Tapestry and it could be more than coincidence that Wace was given a prebend at the cathedral of Bayeux. The Bayeux Tapestry was at this time probably still being made, so the chronology and content would be expected to match. What is of great interest is that great amounts of additional detail have been added by Wace and he is not afraid to tell what he believes to be the truth, even if this runs contrary to earlier versions of events.

The first interesting example of this is regarding the circumstances where William secures Harold's oath of allegiance - a central issue concerning the reason for the Invasion. In Wace's version the text runs

"To receive the oath, he caused a parliament to be called. It is commonly said that it was at Bayeux....He sent for all the holy bodies thither, and put so many of them together as to fill a whole chest, and then covered them with a pall; but Harold neither saw them, nor knew of their being there; for nought was shewn or told to him about it......When Harold placed his hand upon it, the hand trembled, and the flesh quivered; but he swore, and promised upon his oath, to take Ele to wife, and to deliver up England to the Duke.... after the death of Edward, if he should live, so help him God and the holy relics there! Many cried "God grant it" and when Harold had kissed the saints, and had risen upon his feet, the duke led him up to the chest, and made him stand near it; and took off the chest pall that had covered it, and shewed Harold upon what holy relics he had sworn; and he was sorely alarmed at the sight."

It is clear that Harold has been tricked, by hiding relics at the site of the oath and producing them after the event, to secure bondage to them. These matters could only be incorporated into the story once sufficient time has passed (46) and would only have been included if it was believed to be true by the readers of the day. Such a matter would be verging upon an insult to the crown, if incorrect, and that is not the type of mistake that a scribe of the day would make more than once. Wace had no reason to invent such a plot and would only have included it if he felt secure in its truth. The fact that he relates the story of the hidden relics in such detail indicates a willingness to relate the whole story, as he knew it, without pandering to political niceties.

It continues covering the period between Harold being crowned and the preparations for war, how William persuades the Barons to support his claim to the English throne and how William engages the support of the Pope. Chapter 11 starts the period that we are interested in, concerning the preparations for the Invasion. In it he says

"..but I have heard my father say - I remember it well, although I was but a lad - that there were seven hundred ships, less four, when they sailed from St Valery; and that there were besides these ships, boats and skiffs for the purpose of carrying the arms and harness. I have found it written (but I know not whether it be true) that there were in all three thousand vessels (47) bearing sails and masts. Any one will know that there must have been a great many men to have furnished out such vessels."

It has been argued that Wace's father could not have the personal knowledge referred to in this paragraph because of the time scale. However, if the text was written in 1160 it is more than likely that his father could have been present at the time the Invasion departed. I believe that he could have related this to the young boy in the early years of that century, without stretching credibility too far. Wace makes the point that he was a young lad at the time. Here is the first hand account of a witness who is in direct contradiction of what other earlier authorities have said. Rather than ignore this matter Wace makes the point that it is his father's word, leaving the conclusion to the reader. In any event the conclusion is correct that whether there were 696 ships or 3,000 this was a great event, by the standards of the day.

The story continues

"They waited long at St. Valery for a fair wind, and the barons were greatly wearied (48) Then they prayed the convent to bring out the shrine of St.Valery, and set it on a carpet in the plain; and all came praying the holy relics, that they might be allowed to pass over sea. They offered so much money, that the relics were buried beneath it; and from that day forth, they had good weather and a fair wind. The duke placed a lantern on the mast of his ship, that the other ships might see it, and hold their course after it. At the summit was a vane of brass, gilt. On the head of the ship, in the front, which mariners call the prow, there was a figure of a child in brass, bearing an arrow with a bended bow. His face was turned towards England, and thither he looked, as though he was about to shoot; so that which ever way the ship went, he seemed to aim onwards.

Wace does not mention that the fleet sails at night, but does so indirectly referring to the fleet being able to follow the lantern. The text is further authenticated by the collaboration of the description of the child figurine with that shown on the poop (not the prow) in the Bayeux Tapestry. The same figuring is described in Taylor's anonymous manuscript (49) to have pointed to England with his right forefinger, and to have held to his mouth an ivory horn with his left. It is stated there that William's ship was called the Mora and was a gift from his wife Matilda. Which of these versions is correct may never be known, but it is in my view certain that William's personal ship was differentiated by a distinguishing figurine or would have been differentiated in some other way.

Wace continues

"The ships steered to one port; all arrived and reached the shore together; together they cast anchor, and ran on dry land; and together they discharged themselves. They arrived near Hastings, and there each ship ranged by the other's side.......and they scoured the whole shore, but found not an armed man there.

This text is in some ways more detailed than Poitiers or the Carmen since it is making the point that the landing was in unison and probably organised that way, as well as being unopposed. As we discussed earlier this is the most likely way that an accomplished commander would arrange such a venture. Wace confirms that they landed as a great fleet in unison, that they all make to one port near Hastings and that they were tied up along side each other. In practice this means the landing took place over an extensive area of shore.

Upon the basis that at least 700 ships were involved, it would take over two miles of shore line, if each took only five meters when beached. On the assumption that the previous texts are correct the calm bay where this took place would have to accommodate at least two miles of shore line.

At this point "They formed together on the shore, each armed upon his warhorse. All had their swords girded on, and passed into the plain with their lances raised" indicating that the area next to the Invasion site was flat. This appears to contradict the present Hastings Castle site since it is a steep sided valley and the shore of the cove beneath the castle was too small to accommodate a large number of boats.

There then follows an important passage where Wace describes the landing procedure in great detail. It appears to be a first hand report from his father and confirms exactly the visual image given by the Bayeux Tapestry, a full analysis of which will follow:

"Then they cast out of the ships the materials, and drew them to land, all shaped framed and pierced to receive the pins which they had brought, cut and ready in large barrels; so that before evening had well set in, they had finished a fort. Then you might see them make their kitchens, light their fires, and cook their meat. The duke sat down to eat, and the barons and knights had food in plenty; for he had brought ample store. All ate and drank enough, and were right glad that they were ashore"

The final statement that they were "right glad" that they were ashore confirms my belief that given the dangers of the crossing in such small craft the likelihood of re-embarkation was remote. Having survived the rigours of the voyage to re-embark would have been the height of folly. The story gives a clear impression that upon achieving a safe landing at the port of Hastings a meal was consumed to celebrate the event.

At this point Wace supports the Carmen claim that William ordered his ships to be incapacitated.

(23a) Then he ordered proclamation to be made, and commanded the sailors that the ships should be dismantled, and drawn ashore and pierced, that the cowards might not have ships to flee."

This is in my view a confirmation of the Carmen reference to rendering the fleet immobile and seems a prudent move, having left it under the protection of their fort. Whilst not apparent in the text it has been suggested by a colleague that the Bayeux Tapestry might show dismantled boats being used for the construction of the fort portrayed at the site (50). I agree that this is a possibility and believe this statement by Wace confirms the probable use of timbers for that purpose. Having sailed with at least 600 ships the obvious way to transport timbers for a fort was in the frames of the vessels carrying them.

Wace then makes a further point that due to so many things happening his chronology requires him to move backwards and forwards through events

"All cannot be written at once; but, passing backwards and forwards to each matter in turn, I have now to tell the duke immediately after his arrival made all his host arm themselves.

The implication being that we are being taken back to the point where they landed because there is an important element of the story that has been omitted. Lacking the power of word processing it appears that this has been added to allow the inclusion of the following paragraph.

"The first day they held their course along the seashore; and on the morrow came to a castle called Pevensey. The squires and foragers, and those who look out for booty, seized all the clothing and provisions they could find, lest what had been brought by the ships should fail them; and the English were to be seen fleeing before them, driving off their cattle, and quitting their houses. All took shelter in the cemeteries, and even there they were in grievous alarm."

Wace claims that Pevensey was sacked the day after the landing. This reference to "first day" refers to the day of the landing, since there is no mistaking "morrow" meaning the following day when they went to Pevensey This appears to be a wholly logical and probable explanation, given the failure of any other manuscript to provide a satisfactory explanation of how Pevensey features in the landings at all. Up until this point the only place named had been Hastings.

Scholars (51) have proposed in the past that Pevensey was probably sacked first and then the fleet moved on to Hastings. In order to explain Poitiers and Jumieges account. I do not believe this to be the case because there is overwhelming evidence pointing to the landing and camp at the port of Hastings. Wace provides the only logical and viable explanation of events, since the evidence indicates that the first day was spent consolidating the ground and erecting a fort. Having done this a raiding party would have consolidated their position with the nearest garrison and this is exactly what Wace reports them as doing. It is noticeable that he does not say how they got to Pevensey, but it was not with the 700 ships they bought with them, because by then most had already been beached or dismantled. It could have been on horseback, detouring around the 30 mile estuary or via a small number of boats on the following day's tide. However, given the difficulty of negotiating tide and wind between Hastings and Pevensey horseback would be wholly reliable and most likely, as it was the only form of warfare that most of these men knew. Sailing was not natural to the vast majority of the troops and so I believe it unlikely that they would willingly risk life and limb, on a further sea venture, after reaching their objective safely. Having secured a beach head the men would be ready to engage in the consolidation process, that was second nature to men at arms of that time, plundering the neighbourhood on horseback seeking provisions to feed the army.

Wace is the only Chronicler to provide a logistically plausible explanation as to how Pevensey and Hastings feature in the invasion story. This is further endorsed by evidence provided in the Domesday Survey. (52)

There now follows the story of how King Harold came to hear of the landings mentioned in the Carmen.(28a)

"A knight of that country heard the noise and cry made by the peasants and villains when they saw the great fleet arrive. He well knew that the Normans were come, and that their object was to seize the land. He posted himself behind a hill, so that they should not see him, and tarried there, watching the arrival of the great fleet. He saw the archers come forth from the ships, and the knights follow. He saw the carpenters with their axes, and the host of people and troops. He saw the men throw the materials for the fort out of the ships. He saw them build up and enclose the fort, and dig a fosse (53) around it. He saw them land the shields and armour. And as he beheld all this, his spirit was troubled; and he girt his sword and took his lance, saying that he would go straightway to king Harold, and tell the news. Forthwith he set out on his way, resting late and rising early; and thus he journeyed on by night and by day to seek Harold his lord.

As stated earlier I believe this story has important implications for confirming the landing site, since both the Carmen and Wace recount the same event. Here is another witness account of the landing, with the building of what appears to be a transportable fort, complete with a ditch and a hill near by. A remarkable feat of engineering for such primitive times confirming William's undoubted organisational skills.

The most important item that has been overlooked is the final three words of the paragraph "Harold his lord". This gives a direct clue to the origin of the witness. It would be expected for the man to be a local of the area and to report to Harold his king.(54) Yet Wace uses the expression lord inferring a special feudal lord and master relationship. I do not believe this to be purely coincidental but indicates that the witness was a knight who knew Harold as his lord and was from a manor where Harold was indeed his actual lord, otherwise the text would have addressed Harold as his king .In these circumstances I interpret the use of the expression lord as significant, confirming a more detailed knowledge of events than had previously been given credit.

When the knight arrives at Harold's camp Wace restates the landing site

"The Normans , he cried, are come! they have landed at Hastings.."

There is no reference to Pevensey in this context and further justification for a Hastings site.

Wace now starts detailed description of the events of the night before the battle leading into the battle scene itself. The night before the battle is spent in the Normans camp

"The priests had watched all night, and besought and called on God, and prayed to Him in their chapels which were fitted up throughout the host."

Indicating that the camp was at this stage large enough to accommodate a number of chapels, most probably in the form of tents.

It goes on to say

"The duke stood on the hill, where he could best see his men.."

confirming the Chronicle of Battle Abbey's conclusion that the site was a hill rather than a ridge. After giving the pre-battle pep talk William gets into his armour and at that point is offered the hauberk the wrong way round.

"The hauberk which was turned wrong, and then set right by me, signifies that a change will arise out of the matter we are now moving. You shall see the name duke changed to king."

This is of course the same story that is told in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey

Although Wace devoted numerous chapters to the actual battle there is nothing further of assistance to us relating to the landing site and camp. Wace names the site firstly at a port near Hastings and later at Hastings when the knight describes events to Harold. There appears to be a realistic indication that in the region of 700 ships were required. This would mean that the landing site would need somewhere in the region of two miles of beach to accommodate such a number of ships for a unified landing allowing only 5 meters per ship. In common with the Carmen, part, if not all of the fleet, is decommissioned either by dismantling or drawing ashore. He maintains that they bought parts of a fort with them, but does not detail whether the timbers from the ships are used, even though there does appear to be a clue in the description of the ships as dismantled. For the first time a plausible reason why Pevensey features in the story is given and the probability arises that the witness to the landings may be the resident of a manor with a personal knowledge of Harold as his lord. Wace gives a detailed description of the landing that confirms events in the Bayeux Tapestry. Lastly Wace confirms that the site upon which the camp is held is a hill site, where the deed with the hauberk was witnessed. Most probably the same hill site called Hedgeland in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey.


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