On this day, October 14, 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated the Saxon King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, becoming known to history as William the Conqueror (as well as King William I of England).
Although it has become politically correct in recent years to celebrate the “noble Saxons” and condemn the “greedy, avaricious Normans”, the simple fact is, those of us with English heritage undoubtedly have both Saxon and Norman blood running through our veins. So why not honor both sides of our ancestry? After all, if it weren’t for the Normans, we would be eating cow and swine (Saxon) at our tables, rather than beef and pork (Norman). Our police would be fighting “firen” (Saxon) instead of “crime” (Norman), and we would all have “eams” (Saxon) instead of “uncles” (Norman). Furthermore, we would be spelling words such as “question” (Norman) as “kwestion” (Saxon…although generations of English speaking school children might have thanked the Saxons for that one!)
Every year I celebrate Norman Conquest Day by buying cake and decorating it with knights from my pewter collection. This year, the blue rose symbolizes the hill near the town of Hastings where the native English Saxons took up their defensive position against the Norman invaders. The Normans utilized a relatively new military tactic—armed knights fighting on horseback, while the Saxons clung to their traditional “fighting on foot” strategy. You might think this would give the Normans an overwhelming advantage, but the Saxons held off the invaders for most of the day. In the end, it was not a charging knight, but a lowly Norman archer who successfully shot an arrow over the shields of the Saxons and killed the Saxon King Harold, more or less by sheer “good luck”. (Or “bad luck”, if you happened to be King Harold!) Hence, the “knights” standing on foot on my cake represent the Saxons, while the knights on horseback represent the Normans. Unfortunately, I don’t have an archer in my pewter collection. And if the knights on my cake look a little blurry, just remember—it’s hard to snap a clear photo when knights are in motion, riding into battle!
So tonight, I’ll be sitting down to a nice piece of Norman Conquest Day Cake. And since cake simply cries out for a goblet of milk, I’ll also be using my Norman Soldier coasters to set my goblet on.
You can read more about the Norman Conquest if you’d like on EyeWitnesss to History.com.
For Saxon vs Norman words, see: A Very Brief History of the English Language (scroll down to The Norman Conquest and Middle English) and Everything2: Anglo-Saxon Words for Animals, Norman Words for Meat.