Pearl Harbor Day, 75 Years on

uss_arizona_memorialWe often talk of World War II, it was a major series of events in American and world history, as long as those survivors were in charge, things were better than ever, as they leave the stage, we are seeming to come face-to-face with the fact that they went too easy on us, and the discipline to succeed in the real world appears to be lacking. We need to look back and take the lesson that America was taught starting today, 75 years ago.

75 years ago today, America was attacked at Pearl Harbor. We were thus thrust onto center stage of the 20th Century’s biggest conflict and the most clear-cut war for liberty in the history of the world. It’s a day to remember the sacrifices made by that generation, who are now leaving us at a very rapid pace. They saved the world for freedom, this would be a very good day to thank them. In this video, I want you to listen to the resolve of Franklin Roosevelt, in it, you will learn much about leadership in a free country.

This is how an American President responds to an attack on the homeland.

The forward magazines of the U.S. Navy battles...

The Arizona at Pearl Harbor: Image via Wikipedia

We all know (or should) that behind them the Japanese attackers left 2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleships. One of them the USS Arizona is still there, minus her hull, still to this day leaking oil and designated as both an American Military Cemetery and the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The Japanese fleet also left behind it the most implacable foe there is, the determined and united people of the United States. ADM Halsey’s comment is an indicator: “When this war is over, Japanese will be spoken only in Hell”. It nearly came to that. The casualty projections for the invasion of Japan ran to over 1 Million American casualties only, the only other alternatives were for the Navy to starve the entire country while the Air Force burned it down. Every American (and Japanese) should thank their God for the Atom Bomb for this was the future it prevented. And as the Confederate Air Force has said: “There would have been no Hiroshima without Pearl Harbor”.

It probably should be noted that nearly the entire Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Australian Navy, as well as the US Atlantic Fleet, were in the process of joining the US Pacific fleet, which had long since become (by far) the most powerful fleet in the history of the world. Also transhipping were the Allied armies that had defeated Nazi Germany. Götterdämmerung had come for the Japanese as it had for the Germans before them. The implacable free people of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, the Philippine Islands, and even Soviet Russia had made the world (mostly) free, again.

We live in a world shaped by tragedies inflicted on the United States, 9/11 has been very influential in our lives but, Pearl Harbor is even more so. It taught us again that freedom is never free, if we don’t defend it, it will pass as it did, for a time, for many of our allies. It also taught us that when America leads anything is possible.

English: General Douglas MacArthur signs as Su...

The Surrender in Tokyo Bay: Image via Wikipedia

The Pacific Campaign was marked by a series of terrible battles in some of the most inhospitable of climates. Who can forget the battles that followed Pearl Harbor: Guadalcanal, the Coral Sea, The Mitchell raid, Corregidor and the Bataan Death march, Midway, the Marianas, Tarawa, the Liberation of the Philippines, Iwo Jima and the flag, Okinawa, and that final scene in Tokyo Bay, where MacArthur and Wainwright accepted the Japanese surrender on the deck of one of the most powerful battleships ever built: The USS Missouri.  All of this happened in only 44 Months.

English: "Remember December 7th" US ...

Image via Wikipedia

People my age knew the men who fought all those battles, they were our heroes. Combat may not have been realistic but it fired our admiration. Ensign George Gay, the sole survivor of Torpron 8 at Midway, grew up about 10 miles from where I did. They deserve our memories today because 75 years ago they started the counterattack that built the free (and mostly peaceful) world we have known all our life. We seldom remember that the Pax Americana has mostly held since 1945, we owe a debt to those men (and women), our parents (and mostly grandparents now) that we will never be able to repay except by keeping the peace and freedom they won.

153 Years Ago, Yesterday

gettysburg-addressA sick man stood hatless for three hours on a platform in a field, in freezing Pennsylvania, listening to the greatest orator of the age. Then he made a few remarks, that he said few would note, or long remember. Well, those remarks are the greatest speech in American history. From that day forward, they have defined America, to America, and to the world. Often, we don’t live up to them, our greatness is that we try to.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

St. Crispan/Crispians Day

It’s St Crispin’s Day again, and that makes it a day to speak of the bravery of English and American armed forces, not that there is ever a bad day for that. St. Crispin’s Day is a pretty good encapsulation of our military histories, though; always brave, sometimes badly led and more often than not, victorious.

The martyrdom of Sts Crispan and Crispian

The martyrdom of Ste Crispin and Crispian; from Wikipedia

From Wikipedia: “Saint Crispin’s Day falls on 25 October and is the feast day of the Christian Saints Crispin and Crispinian , twins who were martyred c. 286.” That’s where the day gets its name. What it’s famous for is the battles of the English-speaking peoples that have been fought on it.

The first we will look at took place during the “Hundred Years War”. Henry V of England with a small army was on his way to Calais, getting chased all over northern France by Constable Charles d’Albret of France. The French King (Charles VI) was mentally incapacitated. Henry was heavily outnumbered and decided to arouse his exhausted army before the battle by giving a speech.

The English won the battle with ridiculously low casualties while wreaking havoc on the French forces. The reason for this was the English (and Welsh) longbowmen, making this the first battle since Roman times when infantry was anything but a rabble for the knights to ride down.

For this reason, Agincourt is often cited as a victory for the freemen of England over the aristocracy.

Battle number two for the day wasn’t so kind to the British.

This one was a cavalry charge against Russian Artillery. It was commanded by Lord Raglan (Yes, the sleeves are named for him). The orders he issued were vague and Lord Cardigan (Yes, he designed the sweater) executed the worst possible interpretation of them. The charge was carried out by the British light cavalry brigade which consisted  of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, whose bravery we have never forgotten. It was too well immortalized.

Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Here’s a visual version.

It should be added that Great Britain didn’t do a great job of taking care of their veterans (neither did the U.S.) in those days.  Rudyard Kipling had this to say:

The Last of the Light Brigade

There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
“You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call an’ tell.

“No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

OK, that’s two, only one more to go, 90 years later, to the day, half way around the world

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

This time, it’s the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Japanese realizing that losing the Philippine Islands meant losing the war put everything they had left into this battle. Here a chart that shows the relative strengths.

Navy Large carriers Small Carriers Aircraft Embarked Battleships Cruisers Destroyers
United States 8 24  1712 12  24 141 
Japan 1 117 9  20 34

from: http://www.angelfire.com/fm/odyssey/LEYTE_GULF_Summary_of_the_Battle_.htm

From the chart, you can see how amazingly the USN had recovered from Pearl Harbor and the early battles of the war. You should also note that if the ship is not engaged in the battle it doesn’t count for much, so here we go.

The Japanese had a complicated plan depending on close timing between forces coming from various ports and operating under what we call EMCOM now. Essentially radio silence; meaning they couldn’t coordinate their attacks.

The Japanese carriers which had essentially no planes or pilots were used as a decoy force to try to pull Halsey’s 3d fleet away to the north. This worked, although it took them a long time to attract the Americans attention. When they were finally spotted Halsey went charging off after them until he was almost in gunshot and then turned around to help 7th fleet (which we are coming to). This also ended up being too late, so America’s premier naval force mostly sailed around burning oil and accomplishing not much of anything.

The Japanese Centre Force was first spotted in the Palawan Passage by the submarines Darter and Dace. Darter sank the Heavy Cruiser Atago which was Admiral Kurita’s flagship and Dace sank the Takao and severely damaged the Maya, which was forced to withdraw.

Halsey’s force made 259 sorties against the Centre Force eventually sinking the battleship Musashi with her 18.1-inch guns. They also did damage to some other ships. But Kurita made for the San Bernadino Strait at night with 4 battleships and 6 heavy and 3 light cruisers all fully operational.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Southern force including two elderly battleships under Admirals Nishimura and Shima were spotted on the morning of the 24th and Admiral Kincaid who realized they would attempt to attack the landing through the Surigao Strait was preparing to meet them. Kincaid’s 7th fleet had plenty of power for this.

The Battle of Surigao Strait

Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had 6 old battleships (5 of which had been sunk at Pearl Harbor), 4 Heavy and 4 Light Cruisers, 26 destroyers and 39 PT Boats. He deployed his lighter ship along the side of the strait and formed his battle line. PT 131 made the first contact and for 3 and a half hours the squadron attacked the Japanese force without a hit but, providing contact reports to the force. As Nishimura’s forces entered the strait the American destroyers attacked; hitting both battleships, the Yamishira was able to continue but, Fuso blew up and sank. Admiral Shima with the 2d Striking Force was much discouraged when he came upon the burning halves and other wreckage of the destroyer attack and decided to withdraw. So as Admiral Nishimura emerged from the strait to engage Oldendorf’s battle line, he had 1 Battleship, 1 Cruiser, and 1 Destroyer. Oldendorf crossed his “T”. Parenthetically this is what Lord Nelson risked with his battle plan at Trafalgar that we talked about a few days ago. The American Battle line started firing as they got range information (some had radar rangefinders and some didn’t) at about 30,000 yards. The Battleship was sunk, the Cruiser wrecked and somehow the Destroyer escaped. This was the last surface gun action in history.

The battle off Samar

USS Hoel

USS Hoel, from Wikipedia

The 7th fleet had 18 escort carrier divided into three task units. They were equipped for fighting submarines and providing air cover to the landing, not for full on naval battle. These are usually referred to by their radio call signs Taffy 1, Taffy 2, and the most northerly, Taffy 3 under Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague. It was a routine morning until at 0647 Ensign Jensen from the Kadashan Bay sighted (and attacked) a force that he accurately reported as 4 Battleships and 8 Cruisers. The surprise was complete. A few minutes later heavy shells began falling around the carriers.

Admiral Sprague was in trouble. He was being chased by heavily armed warships which were considerably faster than his escort carriers and were already in range. He also had very few weapons that could hurt them. He started chasing shell splashes, making smoke, running away, and yelling for help, from 3d fleet, 7th fleet, a merciful God, or somewhere. At 0716 he also ordered his three destroyers, the Hoel, the Herrmann, and the Johnston, to counterattack the Japanese which they did with incredible bravery. At 0750 the Destroyer escorts also attacked. Remember these are anti-submarine ships with 5 in and 3-inch guns going on the attack against Battleships and Heavy Cruisers. Not terribly different from charging the Russian guns 90 years before. They attacked with torpedoes and guns and managed to disrupt the Japanese formation enough to give Sprague a chance to get away. All the available aircraft also attacked even though they weren’t carrying the proper (if any) ordnance for this work, they strafed and buzzed and annoyed the Japanese though.

By 0945 the Johnston, the Hoel and destroyer escort the Samuel B. Roberts had been sunk. and the escort carrier Gambier Bay was hit repeatedly by 8-inch shells and sank at 0907.

But Kurita had lost control of his formation (and was probably worrying about when 3d fleet would turn up) and broke off the action at 0911.

While Taffy 3 was doing all this, Taffy 1 was subjected to the first organized use of that new weapon: the Kamikaze, Taffy three would be so attacked in the afternoon.

And so we have St Crispin’s Day, a day of mostly victorious battle for the English-speaking peoples. The English win one with a “Band of Brothers”; the British lose one heroically and gloriously, and the Americans win one part easily, live through a terrible nightmare, while the American varsity is off hunting empty carriers.

The Immortal Memory

The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oi...

Image via Wikipedia

The British Empire got its start as a Tudor Enterprise as Henry VIII established the Royal Navy and as men increasingly saw how England could challenge Spain on the sea. Britain was well placed for this as an island off the coast of Europe. And so St Vincent made the now famous remark: “I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.” And so it has always proved. And part of that was one of the Earl of St. Vincent’s protegé. This is his story.

I referred several times to President Jefferson’s open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark”. This is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English-speaking peoples with their concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea. We have never relinquished it.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the southwest coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleons most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar, there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British, on the other hand, had been blockading the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind, they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory , HM Naval Base, Portsmouth

The Admiral in command is Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

And so tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places will be drunk the one naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is Rule Britannia.

In a remarkable coincidence, the other remaining warship of the period USS Constitution was christened on this day in 1797 at the Boston Navy Yard. While HMS Victory is the oldest ship in commission, USS Constitution (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) is the oldest warship still afloat and able to sail on its own. Victory is in permanent drydock.

Assandun

dsc00985Another battle that we should take notice of, this one before the Battle of Hastings that made the phrase “1066 and all that” so famous. This one was exactly 1000 years ago today. Amazing thing is that for the participants it was likely just as important as Hastings.

This is the battle where Cnut, King of Denmark, about whom an old Norse poem says this:

Skjöldungr, vannt und skildi
skœru verk, inn sterki,
(fekk blóðtrani bráðir
brúnar) Assatúnum.

Strong Skjöldungr, you performed a feat of battle under the shield; the blood-crane [raven/eagle] received dark morsels at Ashingdon.

There are some wonderful takeaways here, Skjöldungr refers to Cnut’s heritage, his ancestors were the  legendary Skjöldung dynasty – the Scyldings of Beowulf. And the blood-crane here might refer to the legendary Raven banner of Denmark, which is mentioned in the Encomium Emmae Reginae, which says this.

Now they had a banner of wonderfully strange nature, which though I believe that it may be incredible to the reader, yet since it is true, I will introduce the matter into my true history. For while it was woven of the plainest and whitest silk, and the representation of no figure was inserted into it, in time of war a raven was always seen as if embroidered on it, in the hour of its owners’ victory opening its beak, flapping its wings, and restive on its feet, but very subdued and drooping with its whole body when they were defeated.

Now that’s a banner fit for a warrior race! It must be said though that the Encomium is quite unreliable. And besides, I think the author might protest a bit too much.

On the other side was Edmund Ironside, son of Æthelred the Unready (actually, I think Unraed, which means “without counsel”) but both seem to be true, he had died in April 1016, and Edmund his son succeeded him, finally uniting (most) of the English.

via A Clerk of Oxford: The Battle of Assandun: Three Sources

And so these were the sides that met at Assandun, the Danes (and likely some of the English as well) against the English under the leadership of another legendary captain Edmund Ironside.

And so, as The Clerk of Oxford tells us, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

[The [Danish] raiding-army turned back up into Essex, and went towards Mercia, and destroyed all that they overtook. Then when the king [Edmund] heard that the army was inland, he gathered all the English nation for the fifth time and travelled behind them, and overtook them in Essex at the hill which is called Assandun, and there they fought a hard battle together. Then Eadric the ealdorman did as he had so often done before, and first began the flight with the Magonsæte, and so betrayed his king and lord and all the English nation. There Cnut had the victory, and won for himself the whole nation of the English. There Bishop Eadnoth was killed, and Abbot Wulfsige, and Ealdorman Ælfric, and Ealdorman Godwine, and Ulfkytel of East Anglia, and Æthelweard, the son of Ealdorman Ælfwine, and all the best of the English nation.]

England had a new king, a Dane, in whose train was a young Dane by the name of Godwine, who would go far, and whose son Harold Godwineson would become the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, killed at Hastings.

But before that would come to pass, Edmund, who had retained Wessex in the settlement after Assundun, died a few months later, and Cnut became King of all England. In a few years, he would dedicate a minster at Assundun in Essex, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us:

[In this year the king and Earl Thorkell went to Assandun, with Archbishop Wulfstan and other bishops, and also abbots and many monks, and consecrated the church at Assandun.]

And the Clerk explains:

The people named in this entry indicate the importance of this church to the new Danish regime. Wulfstan is the great archbishop of York, whom we last encountered in 1014 railing against the disloyalty of English people who collaborated with the Danes; he had by this time had quite a change of heart, and become one of Cnut’s chief advisers and law-makers. (A lot can happen in six years!) Wulfstan presided at the consecration of the church at Assandun, and one of his surviving sermons, ‘On the Dedication of a Church’, may well have been preached on this occasion. The other person named by the Chronicle is Earl Thorkell, who was remembered as the hero of Assandun, and whom Cnut had recently made Earl of East Anglia. Any event which could bring these two men together must have been pretty extraordinary. We can also populate the Chronicle‘s crowd with various people likely to have been there, standing beside Cnut, Thorkell and Wulfstan: Cnut’s new wife Emma, Earl Godwine (and his new Danish wife, Gytha?), Æthelnoth (soon to be made Archbishop of Canterbury), the Norwegian earl Eiríkr, newly appointed earl of Northumbria, and more. The church was entrusted to Stigand, a priest probably of Anglo-Danish origin, who though very much a winner after the Danish Conquest was very much a loser after the Norman Conquest. With hindsight, there are many tantalising connections and ironies to be drawn out from this disparate collection of people – English, Danish, Norwegian and Norman – who were between them to shape England’s fate throughout the eleventh century: the following year Thorkell would be outlawed, three years later Wulfstan would be dead, and fifty years later the young priest Stigand would be Archbishop of Canterbury, crowning the upstart Godwine’s son King of England.

There are (at least) two choices for this church, this is one of them:

hadstock-church

Again quoting from The Clerk of Oxford

All that said, let me show you what I saw at Ashdon. If Ashdon is Assandun, Cnut’s minster would be this church, St Botolph’s, which is actually in the nearby village of Hadstock. Why not Ashdon itself? I’ll quote the guidebook: “While it is just possible that evidence for an Anglo-Saxon building is encapsulated in Ashdon church, there is nothing to suggest a structure of minster-proportions; hence historians have turned to Hadstock where a large and imposing Anglo-Saxon church cannot fail to command attention. There is no doubt that it was a minster, and of the period in question; it stands on the same ‘Hill of the Ash Trees’ as Ashdon.”

The core of the present church is late Anglo-Saxon, and thus plausibly of the date of Cnut’s minster. It’s worth noting that St Botolph, the dedicatee of the church, was one of the saints in whom Cnut took an interest; Cnut was responsible for the translation of Botolph’s relics to Bury St Edmunds, where he founded a church on the anniversary of the Battle of Assandun in the 1030s. There’s some suggestion there was a shrine to Botolph here, not just a dedication – the archaeologists talk about traces of an empty Saxon grave in the fabric of the south side of the church.

All in all, quite an important anniversary, which would likely be more important still if St. Edward the Confessor hadn’t died childless only 50 years later. Such are the ways of history.

[More, and more pictures, today from The Clerk of Oxford. Yay!

Battle: 950 Years Ago, Today

ccjma2rxeaehvtm-jpg-largeYou know that I like to commemorate events in history, and October is a rich month for that. I’ve often said that American history is a niece of British, especially English history. This month is a prime example of why. Today is the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings. The Norman Conquest is one of the pivots of our (and perhaps world) history. Don’t think so? Let’s look at it, but first a short history of it.

In January St. Edward the Confessor, the last King of England of the House of Wessex, which we have spoken of several times with regard to Alfred the Great, died, and eventually was borne in state to the new Westminster Abbey (which he built) where he was buried. Incidentally, his feast day is 13 October.

The succession was a disputed one, it settled out as having three claimants, Harold Godwinson,  The nobles of the realm offered him the crown, although he had a pretty weak claim to it, being the brother-in-law of King Cnut

Amongst the other claimants, King Swegn Estrithson, of Denmark and Edgar Aetheling (Atheling actually means throneworthy) and he was of the House of Wessex, the Grandson of Edmund Ironside, he was also a minor. Neither of these seems to have been considered at all.

But there was also King Harold Hardrada of Norway acting on behalf of Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, and King Harold’s brother. Tostig has always seemed to me to be a very troublesome younger brother, and it looks like Harold thought so too. But this was a serious claim.

Then there was William, Duke of Normandy, whose claim was based on a promise made ears before by Edward, and backed by the Pope.

And so, Harold was crowned at Westminster by Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury and Archbishop Ealdred of York. I also note that Halley’s comet was visiting that year, all seemed to think it a bad omen for Harold and a good one for William.

To contest this matter, William had to convince his nobles to help, and not demand, which he did and got the support of the Pope as well. William was a planner and took his time with his preparations, which worked to his benefit.

And so, in May, Tostig made his first, abortive try to invade England, which caused Harold to call out the Fyrd, which was peasants who were required to serve at his pleasure, and he kept them out, waiting for William.

Meanwhile, William was preparing including calling his magnates to help him dedicate his wife Mathilda’s new abbey of St Etienne, in Caen, on 18 June 1066, and get his people to support him.

On 20 September Tostig and Harold  sailed up the Ouse river and fought Earls Edwin and Morcar at Fulford outside York. The Earls were defeated and badly and took no further part. Following this Harold came up with a scratch force consisting mostly of his own Housecarls and thegns, He then marched 180 miles in four days calling out shire levies as he went. He offered Tostig his earldom back if he would change sides, and when he didn’t the forces met at Stamford Bridge on 25 September.

Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed in the battle beneath the Raven banner but, it was a hard battle and the King’s force was beat up and tired.

At this point, William landed probably at Pevensey from his 700 ships. And then he proceeded to burn and pillage to force Harold to come south and fight him. Which worked. Harold raced his forces back south down the Roman road called Ermine Street and on 14 October they met in battle, at where else, the place now called Battle. A friend mentioned the other day that Harold stopped at Waltham Abbey. She writes:

In the run-up to 14 October, an intrepid group of re-enactors are currently retracing the likely route of Harold Godwineson’s march from York to Battle, via Lincoln,Peterborough and the Weald of Kent. Today [6 Oct] they will be passing through Waltham, where (according to the abbey’s twelfth-century chronicle) Harold stopped on his way to Hastings, and prayed before its Black Rood for a victory which would not come:

[Harold] had entered the church of the Holy Cross in the early morning, and placing upon the altar relics which he had with him in his chapel, he made a vow that if the Lord granted him success in the outcome of the war he would endow the church with a large number of estates as well as many clerks to serve God in that place, and he promised to serve God in the future like a purchased slave. Accompanied by the clergy, and with a procession leading the way, he came to the doors of the church where, turning towards the crucifix, the king in devotion to the holy cross stretched himself out on the ground in the form of a cross and prayed. Then occurred an event pitiable to relate and incredible from an earthly point of view. When the king bowed low to the ground the image of the crucified one, which had previously been looking directly ahead above him, now bowed its head as if in sorrow, a sign portending what was to happen.

Turkill, the sacristan, testified that he had seen this while he was himself collecting together and putting away the gifts which the king had placed on the altar, and that he told many people about it. I heard this from his very lips, and it was confirmed by many bystanders who with their eyes saw the head of the figure upright, though none of them except Turkill knew the moment it had bowed.

The Waltham Chronicle: an account of the discovery of our holy cross at Montacute and its conveyance to Waltham, ed. and trans. Leslie Watkiss and Marjorie Chibnall (Oxford, 1994), p.47.

This powerful miracle-story feels as if it was born of the same impulse of historical imagination as prompts re-enactors to retrace Harold’s route today. To me one of the most poignant images of 1066 is the thought of that grieving marble figure, and Harold’s unanswered, though miraculously acknowledged, prayer.

Via: The Danish Conquest, Part 12: Otford

It’s an interesting battle, and the linked article gives a reasonable description but the short form is: William won and Harold died. You may have heard of Battle Abbey, it marks the site.

And so for the last time (so far) in history was England conquered by an outside force.

BBC – History – British History in depth: 1066.

It is beyond doubt, one of the most pivotal moments in our, and the world’s history.

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