The most recent analysis of all the literature is covered in the opening chapter of the project report.
Literature was only ever going to provide one strand of evidence and a useful guide to point towards the arena where the battle took place. The scarce references have been analysed to identify features that can be related to the ground or other events.
Heimskringla or Saga’s of the Nordic Kings, was written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. This provides a rare narrative of the battle. Recent scholarship allows the text to be reassessed. The Orkney Saga provides a tragic footnote.
Local charters and records of disputes provides useful data about the landscape, location and use of the land to hel develop a picture from around the time of the battle.
French sources are silent about Fulford.
You can read a description of a contemporary battle in the Song of Maldon
Finding Fulford by Chas Jones looks at some of the issues raised by the landscape and the literature.
Eadmer was a young man in 1066 and sets out the role of a historian and the importance of recording events:
This passage provides a manifesto for all of the historians where the role of the written record as a guide for future actions is expounded. However, it should be noted that Eadmer talks about writing ‘with a good motive’ rather than a strict adherence to the facts. Eadmer had a political agenda so we cannot regard him as a good historian.
William of Malmesbury is keen to record how good his library of material is. In his prologue to Gesta Regum Angulorum he discusses his education:
The task of recording events was taken seriously. So once an error, such as the identification of the Norwegian king as Harald Fairhair, had been recorded, it was probably reiterated by other historians. Harald Fairhair [Harfagri] ruled Norway from 880 to 930 and was unknown to English history having only ventured once to the Orkney Islands, while the Harald who we know as Hardrada should be recognised as the King of Norway throughout the Fulford narrative. Harald Hardrada has a 'walk-on' part in the bigger story of the English. His invasion lasted just one week. But the confusion over the nicknames applied to Norse kings cannot have a definitive explanation.
I take two lessons from this. The first is that the writers had faith in the accuracy of their sources. My second conclusion is that these errors enhance the credibility of the sources since the historians had evidently set out to make an accurate record of the recorded ‘facts’ and did not seek to amend them.
So when the historian, William, includes material that is not part of the recognised texts, I assume that he is clear about its provenance and so does not deny us access to knowledge gained or the received wisdom of the generation that followed the conquest. Speaking of the capture and blinding of Alfred, Edward ‘The Confessor’s’ brother:
William was not a story-teller but was a good political commentator. His views were those of the Church, the establishment and the English. He is harsh in his views about all matters ‘Danish’ and sees the judgment of the divine in all failed enterprises and he is my favourite recorder of the medieval history. He did have some near-contemporary detractors of his habit of expressing some personal views. This is from an unknown Waltham scribe, writing the Life of Harold Godwinson in Three Lives of the Last Englishmen, (translated and edited by M Swanton, Garland 1984).
So criticism of other writers methods was already practiced which enhances ones respect for the credibility of these scribes.
In his work on the English bishops, William of Malmesbury displays a fluency in capturing the machinations and personalities of that era. He provides a wonderful insight into the people as well as the events. We hear how Archbishop Anselm ‘could not hold to the direct route home’ after a Papal Council because ‘Wibert had sent an artist to Rome to paint a picture of him [which was then used by those searching in order to detain Anselm] so that however he disguised himself he could not hope to avoid detection’. [History of English Bishops I,55] Is this the earliest recorded use of a ‘Wanted’ poster?
Turning to the Norse sources, we find a similar rigour being attached to the matter of recording history. Snorri, an aspiring skald himself, recognised that the stories would become inaccessible as the style of recording events changed with the spread of literacy and skaldic comprehension declined. He opens his chronicle of the kings with the following observation on his own methodology.
Snorri also encapsulates the dilemma of every historian when he recognizes the need to exercise his judgment.
But, referring to the many tales surrounding King Harald of Norway, Snorri notes “these came not as history and these were not included, because we will not put unsubstantiated stories into this book.” Happily he felt some were well attested and could be included to give us our portrait of a remarkable warrior.
[i] William of Malmesbury Gesta Regnum Angulorum Mynors, Thomson & Winterbottom book 2,228
[ii] ibid book ii prologue.
[iii] Ibid book i,188.5
[v] William of Malmesbury
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The author of the content is Charles Jones - firstname.lastname@example.org Last updated April 2015
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