1. Signs in the heavens.
It began in the heavens, when on the 24th of April 1066, before the Kalends of May and on the eve St Mark’s day, a cursed light was seen to creep into the night sky. The next day was a rogations day given over to prayer and fasting known commonly as the “Feast” of Letania Major, and a penitential procession would mark the occasion. For 7 nights this “long haired star” distracted worshipers from pious thoughts and redirected their gaze to its brilliant long trailing flare. It travelled over the dome of the world, so bright that it seemed to extinguish those lesser stars that got in its way. It turned eyes from the message of forgiveness and repentance to introspection and endless discussion of what it might mean. The ravenous object had come at a portentous time for signs and wonders. King Harold had not been on the throne a year yet, nor the sainted king Edward in his grave much longer, before this javelin of white fire slowly glided over in the mystic void above the heads of the watchers below.
At doorways, windows and rooftops, around campfires, and on lonely town ramparts and broad city walls the people of England gazed with quiet horror at this glimmering messenger from a world beyond. It was a haunting sight, disaster comes from the Greek for bad star, these messengers of the cosmos were set in motion to warn mortals of coming calamity and those who saw them never forgot them.
“Thou art come!” Old brother Eilmer of Malmsbury had cried at the spectre, falling to his knees and continuing to call out with almost frantic terror, “A matter of lamentation to many a mother art thou… I have seen thee long since; but I know behold thee much more terrible threatening to hurl destruction on this country”. To men like the venerable Eilmer, this was an evil sign, that had dogged his footsteps since childhood. Something as personal as a shadow and just as hard to describe. Participation with the cosmos was rare and frightening, in that inky realm the universe was at work and affected the doing of mortal humanity, to see one of its heralds in motion was a mighty and fearful thing to behold. It’s indifference to the misery it wrought plain in its remorseless and uncaring path through the stars. This herald took his time, no shooting star was this, a brief flash of transient light, this vain busybody wished to be observed. For why should a messenger care for what he imparts? His only duty is to pass on what he has been told and leave.
King Harold had been at Westminster to celebrate Easter, the great embroidered cloth at Bayeux, shows him at court, being told of the mysterious sign by a servant who whispers the news in his ear. What Harold thought of it is anyone’s guess but he’d have known it would upset the people. The brothers of Malmsbury knew well enough that the scriptures told of wonders in the heavens and signs in the earth below, of blood, fire and columns of smoke. In France it was thought to portend the overthrow of kingdoms. Meanwhile through the dark vigils of the last week of April, the people of England star gazed with unspoken trepidation at the phenomenon. Some watched with wonder, others thumbed rosary beads, while the pagans clutched their totemic neck charms, until slowly the brilliance began to fade and on the 8th night disappeared from the sky as if it had never been there, ending the brief interaction between Earth and the powerful force that guided it. On the “tapestry” ghostly ships begin to collect in the bottom margin. The year of invasions had begun.
Anglo Saxon Chronicle.
Gesta Regium Anglorum. William of Malmsbury.
Campaigns of the Norman Conquest. Matthew Bennett.
Hastings 1066. Christoper Gravett.
Millennium. Tom Holland.
Normand Conquest. Marc Morris.