William the Conqueror (1035-87)
for a larger image click here
AR denier, 21mm, 1.25gr. Obv: CO/O-, three fontons. Rev: degenerate legend, central cross with four besants. Mint is Rouen. Legros 384 as William the Conqueror and notes this type was found in a hoard laid down 1050-60 at St-Paul-hors-les-Murs (Italy). PdA 153 (V-18) as anonymous with the title of duc of Normandy. Dep 27v as Richard II and successors.
The battle description relies heavily on several sources. One is “The Conspiracy of the Norman Barons against William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy” by Abbe Le Cointe, Caen 1868 and translated in 1887 by Edmund Goldsmid. The second is a 12th century history of William the Conqueror written by Master Wace (The Norman Conquest from the Roman de Rou) translated by Edgar Raylor in 1837. Both are available in digital form online. Sur les pas de Guillaume en Val es Dunes by the local Syndic d'Initiative was very helpful. I also appreciate the comments and additional images provided by Jean-Paul Hauguel, one of the authors of Sur les pas ..
Val es Dunes
is located SE of Caen. The country is
generally flat, with a slight downward tilt to the east. Henri and
William gathered their forces in the area circled in red on Map 1,
which generally runs from Argences in the north to Mezidon in the
battle actually occurred over a fairly large area to the left of this
circled land. In its final stages the fighting ended within the
peripherique. This IGN map shows the meta scope of the fighting area.
The size of the forces involved in the conflict vary, with lots of
exaggeration. It is generally agreed that the forces of the revolting
barons were larger than those of Henri and William. Likewise, Henri
supplied most of the forces on his side, with a fairly small contingent
from William. Like all early battles, estimates of the forces involved
vary widely. Common estimates are that Henri and William marshaled
about 10,000+ troops, knights and men at arms, against a larger but
less organized opposing force. On the other hand, Sur les pas de Guillaume gives an order of battle that has William and Henri outnumbering the
barons. It says William and Henri had about 260 cavaliers and over 1000
foot troops, for a total of 1300 men against the barons 170 cavaliers
and 680 foot troops, for a total of 850 men on the field. Of the larger
estimates, it notes "Ces chiffres sont certainement tres excessifs" and
goes on to give estimates for each of the combatants. William had about
350 men, Henri 950, Raoul Tesson 225, and for the rebels, Grimoult
200, Hamon le Dentu 175, Neel 150, Renouf 150 and Gui de Brionne 175. At the outset Raoul was aligned with the rebels, boosting their numbers, but ended up fighting with Henri.
The Franco-Norman force traveling with Henri entered the valley from Billy and Navarre,
small communities on this map (A on Map 2) directly to the right of the
blue line. This IGN map also shows the contour of the land, generally
sloping (modestly) downward to the east. Henri prepared for battle by
having a mass said. He then “gave the signal to start, and marched
Val es Dunes, resolved to dare and do in the fierce struggle that was
ensue. Having reached Beneauville, he drew up his troops on the left
bank of the
little river Semillon, and there awaited the Duke's army. At the same
William, encamped at Argences, was preparing to effect his junction
French army. At an early hour, he was giving his orders in the midst of
troops. When all was ready, his arms were brought to him. The two
their junction at Beneauville. The two armies then turned to the West,
that direction was the enemy massed." They met at point B. Had they
aligned just somewhat south of this position, a fold in the terrain
would have limited Henri's complete view of the field. Had that been
the case, the * marks the only spot from which Henri would be able to
see both flanks of his line.
"On the one hand the viscounts besought him, and made him great promises; and he had before pledged himself, and sworn upon the saints at Bayeux, to smite William wherever he should find him. But all his men besought and advised him for his good, not to make war upon his lawful lord, whatever he did; nor to fail of his duty to him in any manner. They said William was his natural lord; that he could not deny being his man; that he should remember having done him homage before his father and his barons; and that the man who would fight against his lord had no right to fief or barony."
"That I cannot dispute," said Raoul; "you say well, and we
will do even so." So he spurred his horse forth from among the people
whom he stood, crying TUR AIE; and ordering his men to rest where they
went to speak with Duke William. He came spurring over the plain, and
his lord with his glove, and said laughingly to him, "What I have sworn
do that I perform; I had sworn to smite you as soon as I should find
as I would not perjure myself, I have now struck you to acquit myself
oath, and henceforth I will do you no further wrong or felony." Then
duke said, "Thanks to thee!" and Raoul thereupon went on his way back
to his men." Ralph later entered the conflict with an attack on the
rear of the barons. If the smaller number of combatants is accurate,
Raoul's 225 troops would have definite impact of the fight, perhaps
Map 4 (Wikipedia)
Recently there have been a number of markers added to the area of the battle, aimed at helping the visitor understand the nature and scope of the engagement. M. Hauguel has generously provided several images that I missed or are new to the area. The first is another map, similar to Map 3 but clearer. This is followed by pictures of a panneau providing historical background and, very helpfully, an orientation table at Bellengreville offering an over view of the site.
Today the battlefield is still farmland, although the image is broken by the presence of a number of wind turbines. The baron's view looked like this:
They are looking generally east and the tree line in the distance is between Navarre and Beneauville. They had woods at their back and Chicheboville on their left flank. This next picture is the baron's left flank.
Unlike later battles such as Crecy and Agincourt, where one force attacked a well entrenched force, Val es Dunes was a series of mounted skirmishes over a fairly wide area. One source describes it as "a tourney of horsemen on an open table land." The Franco-Norman forces benefited from better leadership and more organizational cohesiveness, so even though, by most accounts, the smaller force, they had the organizational advantage. The barons experienced several defeats and the death of one of their leaders (Haimo de Creully). Master Wace describes it like this: "Against the King of France and the Frenchmen came up the body of the Costentinese; each party closing with the other, and clashing with leveled lances. When the lances broke and failed, then they assailed each other with swords. Hand to hand they fight, as champions in the lists, when two knights are matched; striking and beating each other down in many ways; wrestling and pushing and triumphing whenever any one yields. Each would be ashamed to flee, each tries to keep the field, each one boasts of his prowess with his fellow; Costentinese and French thus contending with each other. Great is the clamour and hard the strife; the swords are drawn, the lances clash. Many were the vassals to be seen there fighting, serjeants and knights overthrowing one another. "
The major event was that Henri was unseated, but recovered. From Master Wace: "The king himself was struck and beat down off his horse. A Norman whom no one knew had come up among them; he thought that if the king should fall, his army would soon be dispersed; so he struck at him 'de travers,' and overthrew him, and if his hauberk had not been very good, in my opinion he would have been killed … There was great press to raise the king up, and they soon remounted him. He had fallen among his men, and was no way hurt nor injured: so he arose up nimbly and boldly; never more so. As soon as he was on horseback, many were the vassals who were again to be seen striking with lance and sword…” If you go back to Map 2, the blue circled area behind the baron's line is supposedly the place Henri was unhorsed. Today this locale is possibly named for the event: La Malcouronne. This is possibly a 19th century attribution. Today it is also largely inaccessible, being behind a fenced power generating facility. From the distance it looks like an area of small knolls and much rougher country that the plain on which the battle started.
The term 'malcouronne' also has a different meaning in Normandy. Monks wore a tonsure, or had a 'bare crown,' and certain bare hilltops were reminescent of a monks head, or malcouronne. M. Hauguel observes "when you look at this place from the main road, you see a field on top of the hillock surrounded with trees and bushed looking like a monk's head, still today." Hence La Malcouronne is a possible, but not certain site where Henri was unhorsed.
The rebels broke and fled. It turned into a rout and many (thousands say some sources) of them were slaughtered. They were caught by the difficulty of fording the Orne and many died at this point. Map 5 offers another view of the site and the paths of the respective forces and the baron's path of retreat. Today Fleury sur Orne is within the Caen peripherique.
When I visited Val es Dunes I was unable to find a second stele commemorating the battle, or the site Henri celebrated mass before the battle. Today (Fall 2011) these have been better marked and I appreciate the pictures M. Hauguel has shared. First is the ruin of the church tower in Valmeray, the site of Henri's mass, and second is the new commemorative monument located at Bellengreville, alongside the orientation table.
Winston Churchill, in A History of the English Speaking People, notes the significance of this battle in William's (and England's) life. It allowed him to consolidate his hold in Normandy, and over the next 20 years to build a powerful duchy, by marriage and military success. It therefore left William in a strong position to claim the English crown when Edward the Confessor died in 1066.
* As with so many medieval battles, the dates are often uncertain. This is a traditional date given for the battle. Sources place the battle variably between January and October. Arguing against the earlier dates, war in the winter was not common. More commonly, sources place it later in the summer or even into the fall 1047. There is agreement it was in 1047. M. Hauguel suggests that some time during the summer is the most probable time frame. He says (private correspondence) "C’est pourquoi je pense qu’on a moins de chances de commettre d’erreur en plaçant la bataille en été 1047," most likely between late May and late September. Given the uncertainty I will leave this traditional date, which falls within the summer time frame, with the proviso the jury is still out on the accurate date.
http://www.archive.org/stream/conspiracyofnorm00leco/conspiracyofnorm00leco_djvu.txt Full text of the Conspiracy of the Norman barons against William the bastard, Duke of Burgundy, by the Abbe le Cointe, Caen 1868, translated by Edmund Goldmid, Digitized by the Internet Archive 2008.
http://www.1066.co.nz/library/master_wace/chap02.htm Master Wace: Chronicle of THE NORMAN CONQUEST from the ROMAN DE ROU, Translated By EDGAR TAYLOR ESQ. F. S. A., LONDON, WILLIAM PICKERING, 1837. This electronic edition was prepared by Michael A. Linton, 2004 www.1066.co.nz
Hauguel, J-P, Lechevalier, C., and Wavelet, T., Sur les pas de Guillaume en Val es Dunes, Syndicat d'Initiative, Argences, 2003'
Hauguel, J-P, personal correspondence, Nov 2011
IGN Carte de Randonnee 1613O