Everyone knows what happened in 1066 – at least, they know the main parts. There was an almighty saga arising from the contest for the much-coveted crown of England, featuring some very juicy soap opera-esque plot elements of misunderstandings, betrayal, casual death threats, and unforgiving family feuds. Three immense pitched battles were fought that year in order to decide who would ultimately succeed the childless Edward the Confessor, culminating in the fabled titanic clash known as the Battle of Hastings – so called because it was fought in the English town of Battle (There, one might well speculate as to the reasons why the Normans won: could the existence of road signs bearing the word “Battle” perhaps have been too much of a giveaway from the Saxons’ point of view…?).
The battle of Battle, to give the event its geographically proper name, took place over most of Saturday 14 October, and the lazy assumption is: that was the end of that for Anglo-Saxon England. To assume this, though, is to ignore the fact that not all of the country’s battle-ready soldiers were present on the field on that day. While Saxon reinforcements were arriving all day during 14 October, there was no sign of any soldiers from the earldoms of Mercia, led by Earl Edwin, or of Northumberland, led by Earl Morcar. Even though Harold had saved Morcar’s bacon by riding to the rescue against the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge just three weeks before, Morcar held back from committing his men to the task of fending off the Normans in Sussex. There was, in other words, the potential for another showdown with Duke William, whose knights would surely not have been looking forward to yet another desperate battle with the English.
So, if the Saxon leaders were determined to go on resisting the invaders after Hastings – and the Church leaders’ nomination of Edward’s cousin Edgar the Aetheling as Harold’s successor proves this – what went so wrong that the Duke of Normandy would be crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day? Over the next two months the Normans took to intimidating the English establishment into surrendering by setting fire to villages, homes, and crops, and by preparing to put London under siege. The establishment flinched, and the key surviving decision-makers – Archbishops Stigand (Canterbury) and Ealdred (York), prince Edgar, and Earls Edwin and Morcar – agreed to meet William at the town of Berkhamsted on 10 December, where they knelt before him, renounced Edgar’s royal claim, and swore the usual oaths of loyalty and obedience.
It has been called the Submission, but it might just as well be termed the Surrender, at Berkhamsted, since it amounted to pretty much the same thing. It is from this date, not the Battle of Hastings, that the Norman Conquest really began, and from which time the new king would be termed William the Conqueror, whereas hitherto he had been known as William the Bastard (though presumably only while he was out of earshot…).