Readers Letters
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Letter 10

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Dear Glen

I really enjoyed your site, as I am in the process of writing a book on the First Crusade, and was struck by how often the same great families participated in both enterprises. I had no idea, for instance, that the House of Boulogne played such a prominent role in William's force. I do have a few questions/comments however:

1. Williams gaining Papal support was likely influenced as much by the political situation in Italy as by a personal relationship with the Pope's teacher. The support of the Italian Normans, in particular the d'Hautevilles, was vital to the Pope's struggle against the German Emperor. While this relationship had its ups and downs, in the 1060s the Pope was supporting Robert and Roger d' Hauteville in their battles with the Byzantines and the Sicilian Arabs, and strongly desired to keep on good terms with the Duke of Normandy, on the hope that more Normans would come south. From the Pope's point of view, support for William cost little, but could potentially result in significant benefits.

2. The oath that William compelled Harold to swear was probably less about modifying Harold's future actions/ambitions, than it was about providing others with a legal "fig leaf" to justify their future actions against the Saxon king. As with the Pope, others who wished to support William for their own reasons now had moral justification, and a legal excuse, to do what they wanted. A similar thought process probably drove Alexius Comnenus when he compelled Bohemond d'Hauteville to take an oath of fealty. Alexius must have known that Bohemond would disregard the oath as soon as it suited his purpose, but it figured strongly in the arguments of other Crusaders who opposed Bohemond's ambitions.

3. While the real retreat/feigned retreat question will probably never be resolved, the evidence indicates that Norman armies were able to conduct feigned retreats when they thought them useful. The Normans seemed to take war a little more seriously that many of their contemporaries, and the great Norman warlords (like William I, Robert Guiscard, and Bohhemond) were capable of organizing effective and disciplined armies that could pull off such maneuvers. Feigned retreats were used by Bohemond during the seige of Antioch in order to draw Turkish relieving forces onto ground better suited to the armored knights. On the other hand, there are also numerous instances of these leaders rallying their troops after very real battlefield crises. I'm inclined to think that it was a real retreat, and William and his Norman knights were just flexible and disciplined enough to respond to the situation.

Thanks for making the effort to put out a very informative and interesting site.

Fred Graf


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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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