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A Christmas Day Coronation

Probably the most significant medieval Yuletide season event was the coronation of William, Duke of Normandy as King of England. William's path to claim the English crown was brutal and bloody, beginning with the Battle of Hastings. Christmas Day was sacred to the humiliated Anglo-Saxons. He could think of no better way to rub the noses of his newly conquered subjects in the bitterness of defeat.

The ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey, newly constructed by Edward the Confessor. Understandably, the Norman knights in attendance were nervous about the whole affair. They feared angry Anglo-Saxons would try to stop the coronation.

The hero of my book, Conquest was there with his wife, Mabelle.

Ram de Montbryce describes the chaos that erupted when Norman soldiers mistook shouts of jubilation for cries of rebellion.

"In the presence of the bishops, abbots, and nobles of the whole realm, Archbishop Ealdred of York consecrated William as King of the English and placed the royal crown on his head. The Archbishop of Canterbury had refused to officiate. The coronation robe was ornamented with gold and costly gems. Hundreds of amulets of gold and silver hung from it.

“Each amulet contains a saint’s relic,” Ram whispered to Mabelle.

When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, asked the Normans if they would accept William as their king, all proclaimed their agreement with one voice, but not in one language. Ram shouted proudly with a resounding Oui, thrusting his fist into the air in salute to William, filled with conflicting emotions at the memories of the horrific battles, and what the victory had cost him. His other hand held Mabelle’s tightly.

The Archbishop led William to the royal throne in the presence and with the assent of the bishops and abbots gathered there.

Suddenly, Ram smelled smoke.

Several voices shouted Fire!

Many in the crowd took fright, rushing out of the church.

“Ram?” Mabelle cried, clutching his arm as smoke billowed.

Her obvious terror tore at his heart. “I won’t let any harm come to you. Hold on to me. We must stay together.”

He led his trembling wife to safety, his arm firmly around her, sword drawn. He delivered her to his men-at-arms with instructions to take her back to the palace.

To their credit, the bishops and a few clergy remained in the sanctuary to complete the consecration. Ram decided his duty was to remain close by William in case the fire was a diversionary tactic.

After a quarter hour of anxious confusion, a Norman captain appeared from the rear of the church to inform William the fire had been extinguished. The new king reassured and thanked those who had stayed.

Ram elbowed his way through the phalanx of nervous clerics. William looked pale and seemed shaken by the course of events. “You will scarcely believe, my friend, that my own cavalry caused the commotion,” he explained hoarsely. “When they heard the harsh English accents, they believed treachery was afoot. They set fire to some of the buildings surrounding the Abbey, putting people to the sword.”

Statue of the Conqueror in Falaise, France


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