Saturday, 15 October 2011

1066: The Norman Conquest

It was October 14th, 1066.

The day of the Battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold Godwinson and brought the feudal system into England, along with many other social changes to this country.

Tiger has been fascinated by this event eversince we started studying British History last autumn, and he had studied the Bayuex Tapestry many times so we are very familiar with the stories that led up to the event.

And he had waited patiently to attend the annual re-enactment of this historical battle

Norman knight all dressed up and ready for battle.
Last weekend, we drove a long way down to Battle to attend the event.  I must say that all of us were blown away by how fantastic this event was put together by the re-enactors.  There must have been at least 1,000 re-enactors from UK, Europe and North America.  We have been to Battle a few times in the past but yesterday was the most crowded day we have seen at the site.

The entire day was activity filled.  If nothing else, just walking around the Norman camp and the Saxon camp (both camps were on opposite sides of the battlefield) was enough to learn about the way people lived, dressed and worked at that time.


Our first stop was the Naval Battle stop where a Norman boatman showed the children a replica Norman boat that would have been used by William I's army to sail over the English Channel.  The boatman also gave a detailed description of how the boats would have been built, the materials that were used to build, paint and maintain them.

Holding a jar of tar that would have been used in Norman times to paint boats.
Being a family-oriented event, there was a chance for the children to be engaged in the naval battle by pretending to be Norman soldiers on board the invading boats that were about to cross the channel.  The children were taught how to steer the boat, what to do if they met bad weather (as one would expect while crossing the channel), and how to fend off a Viking ship they would meet on the way.

There was also storytelling.  We heard the story of The Battle of Maldon which involved the Vikings and the Saxons.

The Norman Calvary and Infantry Display was very impressive.  During the one hour display, the commentator and re-enactors did a marvellous job at helping us understand the weaponry and training that the Normans had in preparation for the battle.

Tiger could not wait to get involved in the Kids' Battle of Hastings!  Actually, none of the boys (I didn't see any girl taking part in this activity) could wait.  The man who ran the programme had only 10 minutes to explain what the rules of the battle were (no hitting on the face or anywhere on the neck, or jabbing into anyone's sides) and to divide the children into Saxons and Normans, before he handed out the foam swords, which promptly led to his losing control of the mob.

After the carnage of the kids' battle, we headed over to the Novices' Room in the abbey ruins to listen to a very knowledgeable man explaining the history of Western music and performing music of the Norman period.  He also gave a short but detailed explanation and demonstration of the instruments used during that time: bells, harp organistrum, psaltery, claves and horn.

The lady's voice was gorgeous, as they sang and performed music that would have been familiar to the monks who lived in Battle Abbey.  Hear it for yourselves below:

After the calm of the music, the actual battle took place on the battlefield where Saxon England was lost to the Normans 945 years ago.
The re-enactment was truly excellent.  We have been to very many historical re-enactments and this one was particularly spectacular and engaging.  While the battle scene unfolded before our eyes, a commentator gave a concise yet very thorough narration of the events leading up to the battle, from King Edward to King Harold's accend to the throne, to the 2 other battles Harold had to fight before meeting William on this battlefield.
The commentator who did a wonderful job narrating the historical event.
You can catch the atmosphere of the re-enactment by following the official video made by English Heritage in 2006: part 1 and part 2. As far as I am concerned, King Harold's was a tragedy.  Often times, people just gather one side of the story from the Bayuex Tapestry and only concentrated on the winner, William I.  However, if one were to search a little deeper into the story and read different sources of the events that led to this battle, as well as looking into the backgrounds of both men, you can have a pretty good guess at their characters.
An article in a history magazine about Matilda, William I's wife, and their relationship as a couple.
At the present moment Tiger is keen to align himself with the winning side (hence him choosing to dress up as a Norman rather than a Saxon for the event), while Tortoise and I both sympathise with King Harold.  In Tiger's 7-year-old mind, there is no question that he wants to be with the winner -- who doesn't?  The complexities of the situation is beyond his understanding at this age, but I look forward to having more complex and indepth discussions with him in our second and third rounds of studying the Norman period. It is very easy to align oneself with the victor, but the truth is often not so straightforward, as the following documentary will show:
David Starkey's documentary continues the story of William I after the conquest. This post is linked up to several blog hops, where you can visit to see what other homeschoolers have been busy with.

1 comment:

  1. We've vaguely thought about going but this sounds like something we should definitely plan to do another year. Thank you.


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