On Both Sides of the Channel

Posted by mae on Thursday Apr 5, 2012 Under General

The Normans cross the Channel to kick the Anglo-Saxons into shape for a 1000-year old career of annoying the French 

1000 Years of Annoying the French: Chapter 1.

Stephen Clarke‘s second non-fiction work delves deep into the history of the French and the Brits, as early as the ninth century, in a studious effort to explain the tension and partial hatred between the two that have existed for centuries; from where did they stem from, and why do they last for so long.

While highly ambivalent most of the history is, the Paris-based British author was determined to set the record straight and to give out the most balanced historical view, which, he explicitly stated, will irritate French people a lot all the same.

The first chapter focuses mainly on confuting the French claim that they were the last people to successfully invade the British Isles during the Norman Conquest of England, led by William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy. Clarke first pointed out that a Dutchman, William of Orange, did become the King of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1688, via a largely peaceful occupation, not as exciting an invasion as the one carried out by the other William before him.

Moreover, not many realise how not-french the Normans were, and that they actually originated from a group of frustrated Vikings, who, having failed to defeat King Alfred‘s England and as a result generated a huge amount of losses, opted to sail further south and raid inland, the area in the northern France. Which, apparently, was a much easier task, and they began settling down along the coast. Eventually the then King of France decided to give up a slab of territory to the Vikings through a treaty. The concerned region is now known as Normandy – the country of the Norsemen. Anyway, as Clarke put it:

…Normandy owed its existence to an Englishman who deflected invaders away from Britain and over to France. 😆

De plus, William the Conqueror was born out of the wedlock to Robert the Magnificent, a Duke of Normandy, and Heleve of Falaise. That points out two facts: he was not as French as the French might have wished for, and he was, excusez-moi, a bastard. People even called him William the Bastard (Guillaume le Bâtard) before he ruled the land on the other side of the channel.

Then came the English conquest. Much of the story revolving around the conquest is depicted by a 70-metre long embroidered cloth called the Bayeux Tapestry. It is, though, by no means a reliable source of history because it is believed to be commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s brother. Regarding this, Clarke likened it to a film about Iraq commissioned by ex-president of the US George W. Bush. How would that turn out to be eh?

While the tapestry is, without even the slightest of doubts, largely biased in favor of William and the Normans, there are little features of it that seem to undermine the Conqueror himself, which is why the Bayeux Tapestry is itself very much intriguing – no one really knows who was behind its creation. One example is the consistent reference to King Harold II of England (who is depicted as a brave man) as “Rex (King)” even during his final moments in the Battle of Hastings, after which England fell into the hands of William and co. Of course, you can find out more by doing little research on the net. 😀

“HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST” – Harold the King is Killed.

After winning the battle he almost lost, William embarked on a journey of pillaging and raiding the villages and cities en route to London for his coronation as the new King of England.

At the end of the first chapter Clarke even added that the Norman conquest was also linguistically important and significant in shaping the present-day English, the very language that the French people more or less despise.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Au fait, joyeux anniversaire to PIH! 😀

Leave a Reply