327 – Sail Away Sail Away Sail Away

Now that we’ve checked in with the rest of the world, let’s get back to our story…which lately hasn’t been going so well. In the space of 70 years the Kingdom went from a preeminent power in the West to little more than a viking hunting preserve.

By the year 1000, things had become so bad that the Viking armies were now just wintering on the island. The English nobles, unable to oust them, were essentially paying for the invader’s room and board via danegelds. Which were pulled from local peasantry. Essentially, the English rulers were so incompetent, they were pillaging their own countryside.

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  1. Indeed, most “Normans” weren’t Norse, they were mainly either Gauls or Bretons. Trace their family trees, even the ducal family tree, in all directions and that quickly becomes clear.

    Poppa of Bayeux may have had Breton descent, Sprota was Breton, Judith of Brittany of course, and Herleva is a British-sounding name. Herleva’s husband Herluin had a distinctly British name and numerous Breton political and ecclesiastic connections. (Yes, this means that Robert of Mortain and Odo of Bayeux were Brits, by descent.)

    What’s the relationship between Bretons (or Britons generally) and Vikings? It’s very complex. Notoriously, the Franks and Bretons used to hire Vikings as allies when conducting raids against each other. The last of the Loire Vikings were led by Bretons. (After all, Viking is a vocation, not an ethnicity.) As you noted in this podcast, the Strathclyde Britons supported the Vikings against the Anglo-Saxons. The DNA evidence is intriguing: not only is much of the Icelandic DNA British, many of the Norwegian fjords are populated almost exclusively by genetic Britons.

    The captain of William II of Normandy’s palace guard was his Breton double-second cousin Alan Rufus, who appears in many different guises on the Bayeux “Tapestry” and whose prowess at Hastings was extolled by Gaimar and Wace.

    One of the most famous songs collected by the 13th century kings of Norway was the Lay of the Beach, composed by the Red Lady of Brittany and commissioned by King William I to commemorate his stay at Barfleur circa 1978.

    PS: Even Rollo’s name sounds suspiciously like the Breton names Rouallo and Rouello (shortened forms of Roenwallon, meaning “valorous lineage”).

  2. Not sure if this is in the pipeline or not:

    Most of those peasants on the Cotentin peninsula in Lower Normandy weren’t Norse descendants, they were far more dangerous: they were Bretons, militarily savvy commoners who’d humiliated army after army led by King (later Emperor) Charles the Bald.
    Despite being engaged in a long, multi-sided civil war, the Bretons eventually destroyed the Loire Vikings.
    The Breton alliance with Athelstan and Louis IV had contributed to the collapse of the Normandy of William Longsword (the immediate cause of which was Flemish treachery).
    Richard I, who revived Normandy, was the son of William’s Breton concubine Sprota.

  3. Emma wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak Old English. I doubt anyone in southern England did. Anglo-Saxon was to English monks as Latin was to continental ones: an archaic language with great prestige. William I issued an edict to all of England which has survived in two forms: for the north, it was written in Anglo-Danish, which is not dissimilar to the Old English of Beowulf. But for the south, the text reads like Early Modern English – it’s easily readable, though the spelling is almost as odd as Chaucer’s.

  4. I’ve just come across this podcast and am dumbfounded by it’s scope and breadth. Amazing. Well done. Thank you. Did you cover Kenelm of Mercia? I didn’t see anything in the indexing. Will you cover Hereward The Wake post 1066? I use the term Anglo-Saxon more broadly that here, but this will take you to my contribution: https://thethinkingwasp.wordpress.com/

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