Companions of William the Conqueror

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Companions of the Conqueror fighting at Hastings, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. The Duke is on the right, and shows his face to encourage his followers. Legend above: Hic Est Dux Wilel(mus) ("Here is Duke William.") At the left is Bishop Odo. Legend above: Hic Odo Eps (Episcopus) Baculu(m) Tenens, "Here (is) Odo the Bishop holding a club" (see detail below). To the far right, holding a standard, is Eustace, Count of Boulogne (see detail below), with legend above, in upper margin: E[...]TIUS, standing for Eustatius, a Latinised version of "Eustace."[1] The figure is said by others to be Turstin FitzRolf, said by Orderic Vitalis to have carried the Norman standard: Turstinus filius Rollonis vexillum Normannorum portavit, "Turstin son of Rollo carried the standard of the Normans," The Tapestry however depicts it as the Papal Banner, a cross, granted to the Duke by Pope Alexander II to signify papal approval of the Conquest of England.

William the Conqueror had men of diverse standing and origins under his command at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. With these and other men he went on in the five succeeding years to conduct the Harrying of the North and complete the Norman conquest of England.

The term "Companions of the Conqueror" in the widest sense signifies those who planned, organised and joined with William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, in the great adventure which was the Norman Conquest (1066-1071). The term is however more narrowly defined as those nobles who actually fought with Duke William in the Battle of Hastings.[2] This article is concerned with the latter narrow definition.

Proof versus legend[edit]

This knight depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry (detail of above) appears below the marginal legend E[...]tius, a Latinised version of Eustace. He has therefore been identified as Eustace, Count of Boulogne.[3] His finger pointing to Duke William seems to depict his urging the Duke to retreat, as the account in William of Poitiers relates. However, others state the figure to be Turstin FitzRolf, due to its carrying of a standard depicting a cross, apparently the Papal Banner. Turstin was described as having carried the "Standard of the Normans," by Orderic Vitalis.

Over the centuries since the Battle of Hastings, many people in England have claimed that an ancestor fought on the Norman side. While there is sound evidence of extensive settlement in England by people of Norman, Breton and Flemish origin after 1066, the fact remains that the names of only 15 men who were with Duke William at the battle can be found in reliable sources.[4]

This group is sometimes called the "proven companions,"[5] Many lists and so-called "rolls" of other alleged companions have been drawn up over the ages but, unless new evidence turns up, all are conjecture of no historical value. The three unchallenged sources remain as follows:

Reliable contemporary sources[edit]

Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, fighting at Hastings, holding a club. Legend above: Hic Odo Eps (Episcopus) Baculu(m) Tenens Confortat Pueros, "Here Odo the Bishop holding a club gives strength to the boys." The club may reflect his clerical status which might have precluded the shedding of blood by sword,[6] yet in the same scene Duke William himself also holds a club (Bayeux Tapestry)

The following three sources constitute the only generally accepted reliable contemporary evidence which names participants at the Battle of Hastings. Between all three sources only 15 names result.[7]

  • Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum ("The Deeds of William II, Duke of the Normans"), by William of Poitiers, written between 1071 and 1077. The author was born in about 1020 in Les Préaux, near Pont-Audemer, and belonged to an influential Norman family. After serving as a soldier he studied at Poitiers then returned to Normandy to become chaplain to Duke William and archdeacon of Lisieux. He died in 1090. His work is a eulogistic biography of the Duke. The earlier and concluding parts are lost, but the extant part covers the period between 1047 and 1068 and contains details of the Conqueror's life, although untrustworthy with regard to affairs in England. It gives a detailed description of the preparations for the Norman Conquest of England, the Battle of Hastings and its aftermath. The work forms the basis for much of the writing of Orderic Vitalis.
  • Historia Ecclesiastica (The Ecclesiastical History), by Orderic Vitalis, particularly books 4 & 5.[8] Orderic was born in England in about 1075, the son of a Norman priest, and at the age of 11 became a novice monk in Normandy in the monastery of St Evroul-en-Ouche. He started his great work, commissioned to be primarily a history of his monastery, in about 1110 and continued it until his death in 1142.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry, an annotated pictorial representation of the Norman Conquest. It was probably made in Canterbury, shortly after the event in the 11th century (many figures on the tapestry can be shown to have been copied from figures on manuscripts known to have been in Canterbury at the time). It may have been taken to Bayeux by Bishop Odo, William's half brother, when he returned there in the 1070s.

These three sources are unfortunately manifestly inadequate,[citation needed] as all are primarily from a Norman perspective. William of Poitiers, chamberlain to Duke William and a trained knight, who provides the most detail, was absent in France during the battle, and betrays severe prejudices in respect of Breton culture and their role at Hastings. Both William and Orderic state that the Bretons were a major component of the battle array, but neither names any of the Bretons present.

Proven companions[edit]

The order in which names are listed below is that given in the respective sources:

"A certain Norman, Robert, son of Roger of Beaumont, being nephew and heir to Henry, Count of Meulan, through Henry's sister Adeline, found himself that day in battle for the first time. He was as yet but a young man and he performed feats of valour worthy of perpetual remembrance. At the head of a troop which he commanded on the right wing he attacked with the utmost bravery and success."[9]

"With a harsh voice he (Duke William) called to Eustace of Boulogne, who with 50 knights was turning in flight and was about to give the signal for retreat. This man came up to the Duke and said in his ear that he ought to retire since he would court death if he went forward. But at the very moment when he uttered the words Eustace was struck between the shoulders with such force that blood gushed out from his mouth and nose and half dead he only made his escape with the aid of his followers."[10]

"There were present in this battle: Eustace, Count of Boulogne; William, son of Richard, Count of Evreux; Geoffrey, son of Rotrou, Count of Mortagne; William FitzOsbern; Haimo, Vicomte of Thouars; Walter Giffard; Hugh of Montfort-sur-Risle; Rodulf of Tosny; Hugh of Grantmesnil; William of Warenne, and many other most renowned warriors whose names are worthy to be commemorated in histories among the bravest soldiers of all time."[11]

"His (King Harold's) corpse was brought into the Duke's camp and William gave it for burial to William, surnamed Malet, and not to Harold's mother, who offered for the body of her beloved son its weight in gold."[12]

"Hic Odo Eps (Episcopus) Baculu(m) Tenens Confortat Pueros." ("Here Odo the Bishop holding a club strengthens the boys.")[13]

Additional companions[edit]

These five were agreed upon by both David C. Douglas and Geoffrey H. White and are from the Complete Peerage XII-1, Appendix L.

Since the time of these lists, J. F. A. Mason in the English Historical Review adds one additional name:

Sources of secondary merit[edit]

  • Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings), a poem, said to be by Bishop Guy of Amiens and written shortly after 1066.
  • Roman de Rou (The Romance of Rolf), written by Wace, about 1160-70. Lists 116 names.
  • Cronicques de Normendie, by William Le Talleur. Published at Rouen, Normandy, in 1487.[17]
  • Collectanea by John Leland (d.1552). Based on a Roll of Battle Abbey.
  • Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, by Raphael Holinshed (1529–1580), first published in 1577, in England. Said to be based on Le Talleur, and Leland.[18]
  • Roll of Battle Abbey, various in number, date and reliability, surviving from 16th century. The original version, now long lost, is said to have been placed in Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror on the spot of King Harold's death, shortly after the Battle.
  • Roll of Dives-sur-Mer, Normandy, 1862. Names were engraved in 1862 under the auspices of the French Archaeological Society, on the wall of the nave of the Norman church (11th century) of Dives-sur-Mer. Four hundred seventy-five names are listed, based mainly on names contained in the Domesday Book. The names are therefore merely those of Normans holding land in England in 1086, many of whom may have fought at Hastings.
  • Roll of Falaise, Normandy, 1931. This consists of a bronze plaque erected on the initiative of the French government in 1931 in the Château de Falaise. It lists 315 names, based on the Roman de Rou and one of the Battle Abbey Rolls.



  1. ^ Attribution to Eustace of this person depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry given by Douglas (1959), p.238, re plate LXXIII
  2. ^ As for example defined by Cokayne's Complete Peerage, revised edition, vol. 12, postscript to Appendix L, pp.47-48: "Companions of the Conqueror"
  3. ^ Douglas (1959), p.238
  4. ^ While Douglas (1959) wrote: "Express evidence vouching the presence of particular persons at Hastings can be found in the case of less than 35 persons." (p.227, footnote 2), he gave no names.
  5. ^ Cokayne's Peerage, op.cit.
  6. ^ This explanation of the club was proposed by Douglas (1959), p.238
  7. ^ Other names are provided which feature before or after the Battle
  8. ^ Histoire de la Normandie, éd. Guizot, Caen, 1825-1827. Accès en ligne BnF (4 vol.); Tome I, Tome II, Tome III, Tome IV
  9. ^ Wm. of Poitiers, per Douglas (1959), p.227
  10. ^ Wm. of Poitiers, per Douglas (1959), pp.228-9
  11. ^ Wm. of Poitiers, per Douglas (1959), pp. 227-8
  12. ^ Wm. of Poitiers, per Douglas (1959), p.229. Malet is not described by William of Poitiers as active during the battle, but rather as present in the Duke's camp after the battle. This should suffice to deem him a participant in the battle.
  13. ^ Bayeux Tapestry, embroidered annotation above and forward between horses' legs
  14. ^ Fitzrolf/FitzRou means son of Rou/Rolf. Said to have come from Bec, Pays de Caux
  15. ^ a b c d e Complete Peerage, XII-1, App. L, 47-8
  16. ^ Mason, Additional name, EHR 71, 278, 61-69
  17. ^ Les cronicques de Normendie, Guillaume Le Talleur, Rouen, 1487. En ligne sur, voir paragraphe cxxxviii, p.115-116.
  18. ^ Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, first published in London, 1577. Further edition of 1587 : Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and IrelandJ. Johnson & Co., London, 1805: le projet Gutenberg.

Works cited[edit]

  • Cokayne's Complete Peerage, Revised edition, vol.12, Appendix L, pp. 47–48
  • Douglas, David C. & Greenaway, George W. (Eds.) English Historical Documents 1042-1189, London, 1959. "William of Poitiers: the Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English," pp. 217–232 & "The Bayeux Tapestry," pp. 232–279.
  • Mason, J.F.A., "The Companions of the Conqueror: An Additional Name," The English Historical Review, Vol. 71, No. 278 (Jan., 1956), pp. 61–69.

Further reading[edit]

  • Camp, Anthony J. My Ancestors Came With the Conqueror: those who did and some of those who probably did not. Society of Genealogists, 1990, pp89.
  • Douglas, David C. Companions of the Conqueror, Jnl of History, vol.28, 1943, pp. 129–147
  • Planché, J.R. The Conqueror and his Companions, 1874
  • Moriarty, G. Andrews, "The Companions of The Conqueror," published in The American Genealogist, Vol.21, No. 2, October 1944, pp.  111–113

External links[edit]