Manuscript is the earliest to describe Battle of Hastings

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The Independent Online
HISTORIANS have identified the earliest known manuscript describing the Battle of Hastings. The Latin manuscript, which has just been dated to the late 1090s, was among thousands of historic documents in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The account is in a copy of a history of the Dukes of Normandy originally written between 1050 and 1070. Other copies - all slightly different from the newly examined 1090s one - date from 1110, 1113 and 1135.

The discovery has important implications for medieval English history, as it proves for the first time that the Kingdom of England and William the Conqueror's Duchy of Normandy were put under separate management during the first half of William's rule in England.

The manuscript indicates that Duke William of Normandy, King of England after the Battle of Hastings, gave his duchy to his eldest son Robert 'Short Trousers' (Curthose in Anglo-Norman) just a year after the battle.

It means that England and Normandy were initially united under a single ruler from only 1066 to 1067, which historians had until now thought unlikely.

Normandy and England only came back under united royal control in the mid-1070s, after Robert quarrelled with his father.

The early nature of the manuscript was discovered by a Cambridge University historian, Dr Elizabeth van Houts, who was hunting for early versions of the History of the Dukes of Normandy. The newly-identified text and the later manuscripts have just been published. It is the first time that any version of the Norman dynastic history, including the Battle of Hastings - the Gesta Normannorum Ducum - has been translated into English, and none of the medieval versions has ever even been translated into modern French. The newly-dated 1090s manuscript of the History is unsullied by the alterations made to later copies. By the early 12th century, copyists were doctoring their texts to produce copies less offensive to native English sensitivity over the question of the Norman conquest. One version produced in 1113 inserted phrases praising the English, and toned down the more pro-Norman aspects.

The 1090s manuscript includes eight chapters describing the early 11th-century relationship between Normandy and England. Evidence from this newly identified early copy suggests that most of the original was written in the 1050s, with the Battle of Hastings entry being added in the late 1060s. Until now, historians had thought that all the extant manuscripts of the ducal history had been copied from a revised version written in the late 1080s or early 1090s.

The new early - 1050s - date for the original Gesta Normannorum Ducum means that important historical details pertaining to pre-conquest England and Normandy are probably more accurate than scholars had previously thought.

The History also gives an account of the foundation of the principality (later called duchy) of Normandy by Viking settlers in the ninth century.

The Gesta (literally the deeds or actions) of the Dukes of Normandy were originally written by a scholarly 11th century monk, William, at the monastery of Jumieges in Normandy, with later amended versions being produced by a 12th-century Shrewsbury- born, Anglo-Norman monk called Orderic, and a 12th-century Norman monk, Robert, who became Abbot of the monastery of Mont Saint Michel.

Numerous copies, including the Bodleian one, have long been known to exist, but only now has the early date of the Bodleian manuscript been realised.

The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumieges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni, edited and translated by Elizabeth van Houts, Oxford University Press, pounds 40.

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