I see that today is the anniversary of the landing of William and his Normans as Pevensey in Suffolk.   He would meet Harold and his Saxons at Hastings a few weeks later, of course, and the rest, as they say, would be history.

It occurs to me as I ponder this particular milestone that I have not heretofore really studied the Normans enough for my own satisfaction.  Of course I know that they represented a last eruption of the Vikings that lodged itself in western France much to the annoyance of the natives and that they went on to raise tandem and tallywhack across a pretty fair sized chunk of the Continent, but I’m not as up on the particulars as I’d like to be.

One thing that has always intrigued me in contemplating this subject is the beginning of Act III, Scene V of  Henry V  in which the French nobles rant about King Harry’s invasion and the initially feeble French response:

  • King of France. ‘Tis certain he hath pass’d the river Somme.
  • Constable of France. And if he be not fought withal, my lord,
    Let us not live in France; let us quit all
    And give our vineyards to a barbarous people.
  • Lewis the Dauphin. O Dieu vivant! shall a few sprays of us,
    The emptying of our fathers’ luxury,
    Our scions, put in wild and savage stock,
    Spirt up so suddenly into the clouds,
    And overlook their grafters?
  • Duke of Bourbon. Normans, but bastard Normans, Norman bastards!
    Mort de ma vie! if they march along
    Unfought withal, but I will sell my dukedom,
    To buy a slobbery and a dirty farm
    In that nook-shotten isle of Albion.
  • Constable of France. Dieu de batailles! where have they this mettle?
    Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
    On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
    Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water,
    A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth,
    Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?
    And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine,
    Seem frosty? O, for honour of our land,
    Let us not hang like roping icicles
    Upon our houses’ thatch, whiles a more frosty people
    Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields!
    Poor we may call them in their native lords.
  • Lewis the Dauphin. By faith and honour,
    Our madams mock at us, and plainly say
    Our mettle is bred out and they will give
    Their bodies to the lust of English youth
    To new-store France with bastard warriors!

Now it’s always fascinated me that Bourbon identifies Hal’s army not as Englishmen but as Normans, while the other nobles make various references to their barbarous northern origin.  Agincourt was fought about 400 years after the Norman Invasion and Will wrote his play another 200 or so years after that.   Would the old racial hostilities between Normandy and France still have been on the minds of the French nobles in the 15th Century to the point where they thought of Harry and his band of brothers not as Anglo invaders but as returning Vikings?  And would a 17th Century English audience also have picked up on this?  Or was the Bard just showing off his own historickal knowledge, or perhaps getting in a little dig at the French and indulging a bit of pride at his own antecedents?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I enjoy noodling them.