Sunday, October 14, 2012

William the Conqueror and 1066

You just have no idea what you will learn on any given day by actually reading the newspaper.  Yes, I am an old dog.  I still get a daily newspaper.  The Durham Herald-Sun.  I used to write a monthly food column for it before I was dumped in favor of a new writer who got a weekly column.  I am still a bit bitter about that.  Oh well.
Anyway, I discovered that today, 14 October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the defeat of the King Harold of England by William the Conqueror (1028-1087) in 1066.  I actually talk about this event quite a bit in French class.  I turned to Google to help me with my facts.  (I am always a bit afraid, though, that I have been misleading my little darlings, though, so I researched with a bit of trepidation.)
He held several titles- William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and William II.  His fight against the English was immortalized in the Bayeux Tapestry.  (I haven't seen this yet.  One of these days I will visit Bayeux.  I did go to St. Malo once and there is a marker on the beach that states that William left from that spot to sail across the English Channel.)  He was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey.  He is buried in Caen, in northern France.
I did find quite a bit of additional interesting stuff.  Using the format of's article, I will present 10 of these tidbits--

1.  He was of Viking origin:  Norman- Norseman- Man of the North

2.  Behind his back he was called William the Bastard.  He was illegitimate, the product of an affair.

3.  His wife, Matilda of Flanders, wanted nothing to do with him at first.  He was head over heels in love and she finally gave in.  They had 9 or 10 children.  There was never any evidence that he had any affairs, most uncommon at the time.

4.  It didn't pay to diss his mama.  When some folks decided to make fun of him for being the grandson of a tanner, referring to his mama's daddy, he had their hands and feet cut off.  Ouch.

5.  He tried for many years to master the English language but never managed to do so.  He was illiterate.  However, because of the invasion, French became the language spoken in English courts for about 300 years.  It is estimated that about 80-85% of the English language comes from French (and Latin).  Ever wonder why we have cows but eat beef?  Sheep but eat mutton?  Pigs but eat pork?  The first words are Anglo-Saxon and the second ones, oui, you guessed it, French.

6.  In the Battle of Hastings, William's jester died first.  He was the precursor to books-on-tape, CDs, and iPods because he rode alongside William to keep him entertained by telling stories and singing.  When they encountered the English troops, M. Jester taunted the English and they killed him on the spot.

7.  He was described as "burly and robust" and was evidently quite fat in his later life, although he was reportedly in good health and died from a fall from his horse while still fighting the enemy.  Only his femur bone survived and it is thought that he was 5'10, tall for a Frenchie at the time.  Some made fun of his weight (probably not to his face, just like the bastard thing).  He even made up his own version of a fad diet that consisted of only wine and spirits.  Nope, didn't work.  He was so large that he had to be stuffed into his coffin.

8.  At his funeral, his dead body exploded.  Seems he had an infection and that stuffing into the coffin thing caused his abdomen to explode.  Really, really gross and smelly.

9.  At least 25% of the English population claim to be descendants of William.  Quite a few Americans of British ancestry claim the same.

10. His name became the most popular name for English males by the 13th century.  According to  my research, it is the third most popular name of 2012.  In French it is Guillaume, an old French name with Germanic origins:  wil- desire +  helm- protection.
One of my favorite actors, William Shatner, comes to mind.  With a crown and a beard...?  Who knows?

So, what did William eat?  We already know about his unsuccessful attempt to diet by wine.  The lords of the manor ate well back in Medieval times.  Peasants not so much so.  William traveled with quite a large household and expected to be fed wherever he went.  It is said that in just a few days of Christmas feasting, he and his companions consumed 6,000 chickens, 1,000 rabbits, 90 boars, 50 peacocks, 200 geese, 10,000 eels, thousands of eggs and loaves of bread, and hundreds of casks of wine and cider.  Water wasn't sanitary or safe back then so not much of it was directly consumed.  Wine, cider, ale, and mead were the drinks of choice.  By all accounts, William did love to hunt.

In honor of all those chickens, I will post one of our favorite chicken recipes.  It is from Bistro Chicken: 100 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes with French Flair by Mary Ellen Evans.  It was given to me by my 2004  advisees.

Chicken Scaloppine with Parmesan
4 servings

Four 6 to 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloin portions removed
5 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 large egg whites
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Lay each breast flat on a cutting board; cut in half horizontally to form two thin pieces; set aside.  Stir the cheese and flour together in a shallow bowl; stir in the basil.  Set aside.  Stir the egg whites and 1 tablespoon water together in a shallow bowl with a fork until slightly foamy; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  When hot, working quickly, dip 4 breast pieces, one at a time, into the egg white mixture, then into the cheese mixture, turning to coat..  Add to the hot skillet.  Cook until browned and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove to a platter; cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet; repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken.  Season with pepper and serve.

*Truc:  Buy the best quality Parmesan, preferable authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, you can afford and grate it fresh just before using for optimum taste.

My sources:

I can't resist adding these videos to the post.

Bon appétit, Guillaume and all history buffs!


Jennifer said...

I keep meaning to write about William the Conqueror... so glad you did! I have a special interest as I found he is my 42nd(ish) Great Grandpa! I also love the fact that you included a Horrible Histories...I use them all the time in class. They are hilarious! Thanks for such an interesting post!

Zoe Porphyrogenita said...

William sailed from St Valery in the Somme. St Malo being in Brittany it’s possible that some of the Breton ships sailed from there to join his forces at Barfleur before heading east.

Around 1078 William went hunting on the Cotentin and had a beach party at Barfleur to celebrate. The Red Lady of Brittany composed “the Lay of the Beach” there in honour of the occasion. It must have been a fine poem, because over a century later, a translation of it was made for the King of Norway.