• Zoe Porphyrogenita

    The newsletter mentions William Malet. He was one of several of the Conqueror’s soldiers or kinsmen who resided in Edward the Confessor’s England, some of whom were presumably exiled by Harold. Others include Walter d’Aincourt at Derby, Alan Rufus at Wyken Farm in Suffolk, Ralph the Staller in Norfolk, and Robert fitz Wymarc whom Harold allowed to remain.

    We know a few of these Edwardians from Domesday Book. Robert, a kinsman of both Edward and William, probably also appears with the dying King Edward on the Bayeux Tapestry, but he did not participate at Hastings (divided loyalties and too old?)

    Alan Rufus was certainly a companion of Duke William: he was a (double-second) cousin who issued a charter donating two churches (St Sauveur and St Pelletier) in Rouen to the Abbey of St Ouen between 1066 and 1067 attested by the Duke himself who had previously given Alan at least the latter of those churches.

    Moreover, Alan appears numerous times on the Bayeux Tapestry: twice holding a Breton shield marked by the maximum twelve points of rank (as a member of the ducal family that ruled both Brittany and Normandy). He first clearly appears standing with spear and shield immediately behind Harold’s nephew Hakon in William’s palace. It looks like Alan commands the guards. Note his attire: Norman-style back-shaved yellow hair, orange tunic with yellow v-neck and yellow belt.

    Hakon is identified by an English rebus of a “hacking” man in the lower margin. The figure’s axe is directly below Alan, prefiguring a later incident.

    Alan recurs as the man pointing at the word “sacramentum” as Bishop Odo appears to shush him so Harold won’t know what he’s swearing on.

    At the “last supper” before the great battle, Alan is pointing again, this time at the name “Odo” as the Bishop blesses the meal.

    Bishop Odo and his brother, then Viscount, Robert (later Count of Mortain and later still second Earl of Cornwall) witnessed a charter in Rennes by Alan’s father Eudon Penteur (better known to us as “Odo, Count of Penthievre”) back around 1050. Eudon, Duke Robert of Normandy’s double-cousin, was then Duke Regent of Brittany.

    The Breton campaign was in support of Eudon’s side against his aggressively expansionist nephew Duke Conan II. The intervention was only a temporary success. While Duke William was assailing London in November-December 1066, Conan was conquering northern Anjou with a vast army and entering Mayenne, en route for Normandy.

    At Edward’s funeral there is a red fox with shorn tail mourning the king. “The red fox” is a Breton rebus for “Alan Rufus” (“Alan ar-Rouz”) whose father Eudon was an older maternal first cousin of Edward’s. (Eudon’s mother Hawise of Normandy was a sister of Queen Emma.)

    How do we know that Alan of Wyken in Suffolk was Alan Rufus, since he did not hold this Wyken (but others) afterwards? Aside from this Breton name being unique among landlords in the Confessor’s England, separate contemporary monastic documents record that Count Alan Rufus was buried in the same parish circa 1093.

    Incidentally, Peter of Valognes, who did hold Wyken Farm in King William’s time, was one of Alan’s men. It is a curiosity of the time that the names used in eastern Brittany and western Normandy, always extraordinarily diverse, often favoured biblical apostles and heroes: the names John, Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Samson and others familiar to English speakers today were abundant there, in a medieval Western Europe where otherwise Germanic and Latin names prevailed.

    Domesday records that Alan received at least 32 of Earl Gyrth’s estates, a comparable number to King William’s lion’s share. The most valuable manor, Washington in Sussex, went however to William de Braose.

    In the Bayeux Tapestry we can see why. Earls Leofwine and Gyrth – who Bishop Guy of Amien’s Carmen de Hastingae Proelio says led a successful attack on the Norman front lines, unhorsing Duke William and causing the Normans to panic and begin to retreat – are beset on both flanks by Breton cavalry, identifiable by their white shields.

    Some think they had been serving as the Norman Rearguard; so, as the rest of the centre withdrew they would have charged to the front to engage the English, sacrificing themselves to allow the rest of the army time to escape. You can see dead Breton officers and men and severed heads in the margin. It was a deed fit for a second “Song of Roland”.

    This desperate counter-attack, while costly, took the English by surprise. On the left, Leofwine was killed, while on the right Alan confronts Gyrth. Alan, riding a black stallion with multi-coloured legs, is holding his 12-point shield and raising his sword, as Gyrth axes the stallion between the ears. Behind Gyrth an English soldier’s axehead is broken off as he tries to warn the Earl of a foot soldier pointing his sword at Gyrth’s back.

    The foot soldier is surely William de Braose. The warner may be the royal thegn Almaer who served both Leofwine and Gyrth. Perhaps he is Almaer of Bourn, son of Colswein, both of whom survived to serve Alan Rufus.

    Alan’s horse was not so fortunate as Almaer or Alan himself: Alan seems to have dismounted in a hurry, but the stallion is last seen doing a headstand of death.

    Why are so many horses shown falling here? Some analysts believe that the marshy ground (there are pools in this area today) caused horses to stumble, or that the English had prepared pits into which the cavalry fell, or were pushed.

    The advanced English were surrounded, and you can see some defending a hillock. Odo “encourages the boys”. Duke William, now rescued and on a fresh mount, rallies the Normans by showing his face as Count Eustace of Boulogne points him out.

    The crisis is over, and with the loss of two experienced commanders the English are on the back foot. From now on, Harold has little choice but to try to simply maintain the shield wall.

    Norman feints, English indiscipline despite Harold’s warnings, and arrows clearing the thinning lines, gradually wear the English down.

    Eventually the Bretons and men of Anjou, Maine and Poitou break the western shield wall that had been weakened by the first feint around the time Duke William lost his first horse. These troops reach the hilltop and press inward, so Harold moves his command post away to the east.

    When the French, Flemings and men of Ponthieu breach the eastern shield wall, a group of them charge Harold’s huscarls to reach the king. Whether or not he is already wounded by an arrow to the eye or brow, they hack him to pieces.

    Some English fought to the last; many others fled with William’s men in pursuit.

    The Bayeux Tapestry is tattered and ends there. I wonder whether Bishop Odo tore off William’s coronation in a fit of pique during one of his terms of exile?