Thursday, September 2, 2010

WOW#1 Fall 2009

This blog is not really about me, or my family. It's about this.

BUT, I do want to brag about my guys sometimes, and that is what this post is about: Moments that have made my jaw drop. I'm going to keep a running collection of pictures, comments, videos or writing that shines the spotlight on them. Posts to be tagged with "WOW"

WOW#1 Fall 2009
My oldest son was 11 when he started on his first real essay. We homeschool our 4 kids and this was the first full paper we had encountered, as it was under the direction of a 1/2 day a week academy that he attends. After not seeing much progress and substantial tension between him and his mom, I stepped in to guide the project. I don't contribute much to the day-to-day teaching, and have adopted the role of "special projects guy". This essay certainly fitted the bill. After several months of hard slog and a steep learning curve, starting with HOW to go about tackling such as project, he was done. Now, for his first effort, he got a lot of help. But, I was amazed at how, once he got the bit between his teeth, he stuck at it and ground it out. Looking back, some of the biggest thrills (yeah, education can be a thrill) were those "Ah-ha" moments where he put 2 and 2 together and something, somewhere, clicked in a very intelligent way. The biggest thrill was the father/son bonding that took place, over text books, in libraries, in learning where Halley's comet was in 1066, and in affirmation of his talent, perseverance and future.
Have a read & enjoy.
(I think this might be the penultimate version, but quite close to the final).

Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson’s reign was one of the shortest of English Kings, but it was also one of the most significant. His death resulted in major changes in the political and social structure of England.
Harold was born in 1020 A.D. and died October 14th, 1066, at the battle of Hastings. He was King of England for nine months and was the last Anglo-Saxon monarch.[7] A powerful warrior and a shrewd politician, Harold rose to control the country and nearly established a family dynasty. Since most of the records about him were written by his conquerors, it is important to consider balanced accounts of his life. Two major sources on Harold are the Bayeux tapestry, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[4,6] The tapestry is an embroidered pictorial of the Norman Conquest. It is half a yard high and seventy yards long, and it hangs in the city of Bayeux. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is an official record of the history of England from the departure of the Romans until after the Norman Conquest. It was commissioned by Alfred the Great in approximately 890, and presents an Anglo-Saxon view of Harold.
There is little known about the background of the Godwin family. Harold was the second son of Gytha, who was the sister of a Danish Earl, and Godwin, an Anglo-Saxon commoner who rose to prominence during the reign of King Knut.[2,4] Knut was the Danish conqueror of England, who made Godwin an advisor and granted him estates. After Knut’s death and the death of two kings in between, Edward the Confessor, became King. Realizing Edward could be manipulated, Godwin became the power behind the throne. He obtained Earldoms for Harold and most of his other sons, and arranged for his daughter to marry the King. In 1048 however, an armed fight between a visiting French Count and the people of Dover, a town on Godwin’s estates, caused a significant dispute with the King. A power struggle between the King’s advisers left Godwin, Harold, and their families dispossessed of their lands and sent into exile.[2] Harold became Godwin’s heir during the exile, as his older brother Swein died while on a pilgrimage of repentance to Jerusalem. Only one year later, Godwin and Harold returned to England with an armed force, and fought to regain their lands. The King restored their titles to avoid an open civil war.[4]
            Harold had obtained his first Earldom, East Anglia, in 1044, and continued to increase his political influence. Land was the basis of wealth and power, providing: food, clothes, and income. Tenants worked the land in return for protection, and were duty-bound to serve in the lord’s militia, which would be called out aslevies at times of crisis. Harold inherited all five of Godwin’s Earldoms in 1053, and by 1065 Harold owned fourteen Earldoms, predominately in the South of England. He controlled practically one fourth of the country and was tremendously wealthy.[4] The King awarded Harold additional Earldoms for his brilliant military service. Harold first demonstrated his genius by defeating the Welsh in 1063 using unconventional tactics.[4]He relied on rapid movement to gain initiative and surprise throughout his military career.
            Harold’s first wife was Edith Swanneshals (Swan-neck), a commoner, whom records describe as very wealthy and beautiful. They were married for twenty years and had six children in what was termed a “Danish marriage”.[2,4] These were marriages that were not formalized by the Church. A noble was allowed to marry for love in his youth, and if needed, for political or family reasons, divorce without complicated church involvement. It was not surprising that Harold followed this custom because his mother was Danish. When he ascended the throne, he divorced Edith to marry Alditha, sister of the Northern Earls, which was a calculated move to bring unity to the country.[2,4] There is some question if this marriage took place, but Aditha is clearly referred to as Queen by some writers and they had a son who was born after Harold’s death.[4]
            Three great adversaries who were rival claimants to the throne marked Harold’s career. The English crown was not strictly hereditary at that time, but an assembly called the “Witan” elected the King. Complicated succession battles were common. Tostig, Harold’s own brother and the third son of Godwin became a problematic rival. While a reasonable man when younger, Tostig had grown cruel and bitter as a Northern Earl. While away from his Earldom in 1065, the Northumbrians revolted. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “The thanes in Yorkshire and in Northumberland gathered themselves together at York, and outlawed their Earl Tostig; slaying all the men of his clan that they could reach.”[6] The rebels claimed that: “Tostig had despoiled their churches, taxed them unjustly, and twisted the law to rob and murder his enemies”.[2] Edward first attempted to help Tostig, but the rebels demanded that the King expel him, and marched south to Oxford to emphasize their threats. In desperation, Tostig accused Harold of stirring up the revolt, but Harold swore a solemn oath that he did not. To prevent a civil war, Harold convinced the King to depose and exile Tostig.[2] Tostig was furious and thereafter became a mortal enemy of Harold. His second great adversary was Harald Hardrada, King of Norway. Hardrada had a weak claim to the throne as the conqueror of Denmark and heir of Knut.
            Harold’s greatest rival was William, the Duke of Normandy, and a distant cousin to Edward. William believed that Edward had named him his successor, and he wanted the throne.[2,4] In 1064 Harold suffered an unfortunate turn of events, as he was shipwrecked on the coast of France, at Ponthieu.[4] Whether he went to bargain for family members who were being held hostage, arrange a marriage, or entirely by accident, it is not clear. The trip was however a grievous mistake. Harold and his companions were sized by Count Guy of Beaurain, and imprisoned, a common practice at the time to extort ransom. William used threats and promises of rewards to acquire Harold from Count Guy.[4] William treated Harold seemingly well, as a “guest” at Rouen, his capital. Harold even joined William on a campaign against the Bretons. The tapestry records these events and even shows Harold hunting with falcons and hounds in Normandy.[4] William was also skilled at politics, and extracted a binding promise from Harold in exchange for his release. Harold swore an oath to help William become the next King of England. Unfortunately, William revealed that the oath had been taken on a hidden box of holy relics, which meant the power of the Church could enforce the oath.[2,4] William now believed he had political and religious control of Harold and released him, while holding his brother Wulfnoth hostage to ensure Harold kept his word.[4] This visit to Normandy was a political disaster for Harold, but he was now fully aware of William’s desire for the throne.
1066 was the final and most turbulent year of Harold’s life. King Edward died on the 4th or 5th of January.[2] Harold was by his bedside and Edward nominated him as his heir with the words: “I commend this woman and all the kingdom to your protection.”[2] That same day, the Witan elected Harold King. Although only a brother-in-law to Edward, and not of royal blood, Harold had all the other desired qualities. He was English, and not a foreigner, was well known and had governed well for years. He had no notable English enemies, except for the exiled Tostig, and he was a proven soldier.[2] At the coronation ceremony, Harold pledged oaths of peace to the people, to render justice and mercy, and was given the symbols of power, including a ring, sword, crown, scepter, and a rod.[2] To establish his authority he rode to the northern city of York with a few of his men to a meeting of the Earls, where they acknowledged him as King and swore oaths of fealty. It was at this time that it is said he married Aditha.[2] Exiling his own brother, and remarrying to strengthen alliances, indicates the lengths Harold was prepared to go to gain the throne.
            After the coronation, William at once sent two messages to secure the fulfillment of Harold’s promises.[2] The first was probably a direct appeal to support William’s claim. Harold’s reply was that the Witan had chosen him as King. The second letter was likely an attempt to secure the throne for his descendants and was a proposed betrothal to one of William’s daughters. This was also refused and made William a determined enemy, who would in all likelihood, invade and attempt to take the throne by force. King Harold tried to convince the people of a sense of danger, at least in the most vulnerable Southern part of England. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle indicates: “He gathered so large a force, naval and military, as no king before collected in this land; for it was credibly reported that Earl William from Normandy, King Edward's cousin, would come hither and gain this land.”[6] The populace believed that an omen of doom for England then appeared in the night sky, Haley’s comet. “Then was over all England such a token seen as no man ever saw before. Some men said that it was the comet-star.”[6] An invasion fleet arrived without warning off the Isle of Wright. Tostig had returned, bringing Harald Hardrada of Norway with him. They had joined forces in Scotland and made an alliance to attack England; Tostig attempting to take back his lands, and Hardrada wanting the plunder that a successful invasion would bring, as well as having his own claim on the throne. The Northern Earls failed to defeat them near York, but sent word to King Harold, who called out his army.[2]The army was comprised of two types of fighting forces, the house-carls, which were the professional English soldiers of the era, and the levies.[2,4] In a bold move, Harold called out the levies and assembled his army as he marched nearly two hundred miles North in ten days to fight the Norsemen.[1]
Harold arrived at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. “In terms of sheer slaughter this was the greatest battle that had ever been fought in England; lasting from morning to dusk, it was the longest. It was also the most complete of victories; an untold number of Englishmen were killed, but the Norsemen’s army, refusing to surrender, was destroyed.”[2] Harold completely surprised the enemy, who were not prepared for battle. As was customary, the leaders came out of their ranks and negotiated possible settlement. For a while Harold’s army could not cross the bridge because of a single berserker Viking who held it against many. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it says: “And Harold, king of the English, then came over the bridge, followed by his army; and there they made a great slaughter, both of the Norwegians and of the Flemings.”[6] Of the 5,000 that invaded only 500-1,000 Vikings survived. Harold showed mercy to the survivors and let them return home after they swore oaths of peace. This battle ended the age of the Vikings.[2] It was also the summit of Harold’s career: he had slain Tostig and Hardrada: Hardrada being one of the deadliest warriors of the age. Critically, however, the casualties the English suffered weakened them seriously in the following conflict.
            Immediately after Stamford Bridge, Harold received news that the Normans’ had landed. He marched his men nearly 200 miles South and arrived near Hastings on the 13th of October. He positioned himself on the top of Senlac Hill overlooking William’s army, and in contrast to previous battles, in a defensive posture.[1] The English fought on foot, but the Normans had archers and cavalry in addition to infantry. In a major development, the Norman cavalry had stirrups, which allowed a knight to stay on his horse while charging with his lance.[1] In William of Malmesbury’s account of the battle he relates: “All on foot, armed with battle-axes, and covering themselves in front by the juncture of their shields, they [the English] formed an impenetrable body which would assuredly have secured their safety that day had not the Normans, by a feigned flight, induced them to open their ranks, which till that time, according to their custom, had been closely compacted. King Harold himself, on foot, stood with his brothers near the standard in order that, so long as all shared equal danger, none could think of retreating”.[3] The battle ebbed and flowed all day and could have gone to either side.[1] Within half an hour of sunset, certain victory was Harold’s, as fighting would have ceased at night. The English would have been reinforced overnight, while the Normans had no reserves and would have been forced to withdraw.[1] It was at this moment that Harold was felled: “But when he fell, his brain pierced by an arrow, the flight of the English ceased not until night.”[3] Multiple sources, including the tapestry, indicate that Harold was shot through the eye. There is some debate whether this legend is true because losing an eye was the Norman punishment for perjury, and they possibly wanted to depict Harold as an oath-breaker. By nightfall the Normans had control of the hill and proceeded to conquer England and crown William as King.[1]
Unfortunately, Harold is remembered mostly for his death: “This was a fatal day to England, and melancholy havoc was wrought in our dear country during the change of its lords.”[3] The successful Norman Conquest was the greatest watershed in the last one thousand years of English history. The forced introduction of Norman views, customs, language, and traditions completely changed the nature of England. William designed a new type of feudalism, and greatly increased the power of the throne.[1] This change eventually led to the Magna Carta and the establishment of the constitutional monarchy and centuries later, the English Empire.[1,2] However, there are many indicators of the personal characteristics of Harold that can be gained from his long career in public life. As a wealthy Earl, then King, Harold was skilled in wielding military power and political authority, as well as enforcing the law. In The Kings and Queens of England, he is described as: “Tall, strong, handsome-on his mother’s side, he was one of the beautiful Danes- wise, temperate, industrious. Firm, equitable. Loyal. Kind. Religious. Frank. Courteous. Brave, if also rash and hasty.”[5] As a career soldier he was evidently very strong: “No one could approach him with impunity, for straightway both horse and rider would be felled by a single blow”.[3] Indeed there is a scene in the Bayeux tapestry where he pulls two men out of quicksand single-handedly.[4] More evidence for his hardiness is clear from the battles of 1066, where he marched his army close to 400 miles and fought with his men in two brutal battles, within a one-month period.[1,6] Despite his freakish death at Hastings, and his remarkable rise to the throne as a commoner, Harold’s major achievements were his military campaigns.
            Harold was the King at the crossroads of English history because if he had not died, the following centuries in Europe could have been completely different. England would likely have remained politically unstable. It is not clear that the English Empire as we know it could have arisen without the Norman Conquest, and other countries such as France, Germany, Spain or Portugal may have taken England’s prominent place in world affairs.

1.  Davis, Paul K. 100 Decisive Battles. From Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford University Press, New York, 1999. Print.
2. Howarth, David. 1066 the Year of the Conquest. Penguin Books, London, UK, 1977. Print.
3. Robinson, James Harvey, Readings in European History, Vol. 1: From the Breaking up of the Roman Empire to the Protestant Revolt. pp 224-229. Ginn & Co., Boston, 1904. Reproduced at Accessed 09/17/09.
4.  Walker, Ian W. Harold. The last Anglo-Saxon King. Sutton Publishing Ltd., Phoenix Mill, Gloucestershire, UK 1997. Print.
5.  Murray, Jane. The Kings and Queens of England. pp 233-236. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1974. Print.
6.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Eleventh Century. Yale Law School, Lillan Goldman Law Library. Reproduced at Accessed 09/17/09.
7.  The Encyclopedia Britannica 15th Edition. Vol. 5, pp 714. 1997. Print.

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