14th Century – Popular Rebellions

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Peasants’ Revolt, also called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, (1381), first great popular rebellion in English history. Its immediate cause was the imposition of the unpopular poll tax of 1381, which brought to a head the economic discontent that had been growing since the middle of the century. The rebellion drew support from several sources and included well-to-do artisans and villeins as well as the destitute. Probably the main grievance of the agricultural labourers and urban working classes was the Statute of Labourers (1351), which attempted to fix maximum wages during the labour shortage following the Black Death.

The uprising was centred in the southeastern counties and East Anglia, with minor disturbances in other areas. It began in Essex in May, taking the government of the young king Richard II by surprise. In June rebels from Essex and Kent marched toward London. On the 13th the Kentish men, under Wat Tyler, entered London, where they massacred some Flemish merchants and razed the palace of the king’s uncle, the unpopular John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. The government was compelled to negotiate. On the 14th Richard met the men of Essex outside London at Mile End, where he promised cheap land, free trade, and the abolition of serfdom and forced labour. During the king’s absence, the Kentish rebels in the city forced the surrender of the Tower of London; the chancellor, Archbishop Simon of Sudbury, and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, both of whom were held responsible for the poll tax, were beheaded.

The king met Tyler and the Kentishmen at Smithfield on the following day. Tyler was treacherously cut down in Richard’s presence by the enraged mayor of London. The king, with great presence of mind, appealed to the rebels as their sovereign and, after promising reforms, persuaded them to disperse. The crisis in London was over, but in the provinces the rebellion reached its climax in the following weeks. It was finally ended when the rebels in East Anglia under John Litster were crushed by the militant bishop of Norwich, Henry le Despenser, on about June 25.


National wars exacerbated already existing tensions in society, which themselves eventuated in civil strife. The traditional scholarly consensus is that the first half of the fourteenth century was not half so bad as the second half. This is in some ways a misinterpretation or at least a simplistic generalization, as we shall see when we turn to Flanders and summarize the results of recent research on that region. But before we do so, we need to take a look once more at Flanders’ neighbour to the south, the kingdom of France

In 1320, the famine had not yet abated in northern France when King Philip V made known his intention to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. The fervour the declaration excited was enormous. If anything, this would be the gesture that would reconcile God and the Christian people. Around Lent and Easter, before the Crown could assemble its forces for the expedition (in fact, it never did assemble them), groups of would-be crusaders, many low-born, began to gather in the extreme north of the realm. Their inferior status and the presence of herdsmen among them gave rise to contemptuous references to them as pastoureaux, shepherds, men hardly fit for war.

The leaders in this Shepherds’ Crusade are a shadowy group, perhaps including some defrocked priests, who justified their taking up of arms as any commissioned crusader preachers would have done. But the contingents, poorly disciplined and bearing grievances against the upper orders of society and the state for failing to raise a crusading army, soon turned their wrath on other Christians. In Paris some of the would-be crusaders attacked the Châtelet, the headquarters of the royal official who governed the city. They continued to garner support from the lower and sometimes middle classes, although their enemies slurred their male supporters as ne’er-do-wells and the women as whores.

Violence spread throughout the kingdom, even into the deep south. Hundreds of Jews, only recently (1315) readmitted for a price to the kingdom after their expulsion in 1306, were massacred at various places or forced to convert. And although a number of princes and, of course, the Crown ultimately brought forces to bear to eradicate the crusade-turned-rebellion, the final remnants of the pastoureaux escaped into Spain. It was to be only a minor breather, for there they were efficiently dispatched by troops loyal to the Crown of Aragon.

The uprising of the pastoureaux was brief; that of the lower classes in Flanders was not. Social violence of a limited sort had already occurred during the Great Famine in Flanders, because of perceived violations of the moral economy, the deeply embedded view that, despite the profits to be made, the exploitation of less well-off citizens by wealthy ones, particularly in crisis times, was illicit. Hoarding in order to inflate prices artificially was a clear violation of the moral economy. The existence of under-supplied urban markets, the high price of food, and the necessity of lower-class townsfolk to go into debt to meet their minimal material requirements gave rise to suspicions, especially with regard to middlemen. Rumours of river barges full of grain and granaries stuffed to the rafters provoked deadly riots and, then, reprisals against the rioters, as for example in the town of Douai, where the ring-leaders, among whom women figured prominently, had their tongues cut out for having instigated the violence.

Incidents of this sort, bloody and disturbing to social peace as they were at the local level, were isolated in the famine years. What happened in Flanders in the aftermath of the famine and the dislocations occasioned by the long series of Franco-Flemish wars and the economic repercussions of the Anglo-French wars (blockades and piracy) were two periods of more sustained social movements that rent the fabric of urban and rural culture, changing it forever. The first was the Peasant Revolt of 1323–8, the second, the movement that culminated in the van Artevelde regime from the 1330s onwards.

The succession of agreements that had brokered the oft-shattered peace between France and Flanders early in the fourteenth century imposed both mandated and unexpected burdens on the Flemish peasantry. Indemnities intended to placate the ultimately victorious French and redeem captive Flemish nobles fell hard on the rural dwellers already severely hit by natural disasters. In addition, the returned nobles naturally set about to bring their estates back into productivity, a process that incurred suspicion and outright hostility from many peasants. However bad the period before 1322 had been, what it had provided, in the deaths of so many Flemish lords and the captivity of so many others, was a relief from or relaxing of traditional seigneurial rents and other forms of exploitation. Moreover, the return of the count of Flanders from captivity in France had a similar effect on the towns, most especially Bruges. The count expected to regain (perhaps to strengthen) his authority and powers and curtail urban privileges, or so it seemed to the lower and middle classes. Revolt flared briefly in the winter months of 1323.

Efforts to contain the violence and reach a negotiated settlement seemed successful at first, but the calm established was more apparent than real. More than two decades of deepening social cleavages between the aristocracy on the one hand and the lower and middle classes on the other came to the surface once again in late 1324. With it came the seizure of power by the lower orders in Bruges from both comital authorities and the urban patriciate, whose position in other towns, too, was increasingly precarious. No attempts by the count to turn the tables seemed to succeed. Indeed, he was captured by the rebels, and thereafter other towns, like Ypres, came under the control of revolutionary governments claiming to represent the interests of the lower classes – weavers’ governments, they have been called.

Forces hostile to Bruges, marshalled by the patrician oligarchy in Ghent in particular and its aristocratic allies, counter-attacked, but with little evident success, and the rebellion-cum-civil war persisted. Even Ghent went through a phase in which its weavers tried to orchestrate a coup, although fruitlessly. Through all the vicissitudes of 1324 and 1325, there were incidents of arson, especially directed at aristocratic residences, and there were massacres of suspected and would-be enemies on both sides.

Needless to say, France intervened. The weapons it used were multiple. The Church served by interdicting the rebel regions. The Crown tried to split the rebels, seeking to strike a deal with those who were in favour of releasing the count. This succeeded; it also responded to overtures for a compromise settlement that would forgive some of the leaders of the revolt if they agreed to lay down their arms, allow their fortifications to be razed, and repent of the introduction of new anti-aristocratic modes of governance, like the rebel captains (hoofdmannen), who had achieved considerable power in Flanders.

There were a great many rebels who were willing to go along with this. There were many others who were not. In those regions under the control of the latter, a reign of terror ensued. Mass executions took place of those either hostile or simply indifferent to the aims of the rebellion. Particularly targeted were nobles who fell into the extremists’ hands. The stories that some of them were forced to execute their own families seem well substantiated. Conditions continued to deteriorate during 1327.

The French then felt they had no choice but to intervene and assembled a huge army. There is little doubt that if the Flemish rebels had concentrated their forces they would have been a match for the French, but they could not be sure where an attack would come from, and they had to be alert for their enemies in Flanders itself who might fight rear actions against them. In the event, a large, but not overwhelming assortment of rebels took up a hill-top position in Cassel in August 1328. The French arrived, having laid waste the lands in their path. Surveying the difficulty of attacking uphill, they delayed, a tactic that proved to be greatly to their benefit, as the Flemish decided to try to annihilate them with a sweep down the hillside which proved disastrous. When the bodies were counted, at least 3,185 rebels lay dead. In the aftermath, their property was confiscated and other rebels taken into custody elsewhere in the county were executed and/or lost their property as well.

The rebels had sought ‘a world without corruption’, ‘a world without privilege’ (TeBrake, 1993). At their ideologically most lofty, these were surely the aims of the rebels. On the ground, they sought relief from taxes and the heavy indemnities that had become a recurrent fact of life in Flanders, as France or some set of aristocrats had to be paid off to seal every truce in the long war. Most of the peasants were already free in a legal sense, but they also wanted to prevent the imposition of financial obligations that would have reduced them to a form of financial servitude. Weavers, finally, may have wanted equality, but they would probably have settled for something like greater respect, better wages, more opportunities for advancement, price controls, etc., if the situation had not otherwise got out of hand.

The forces arrayed against the rebels were no less high-minded. They read their enemies’ sloganeering as nothing less than a threat to overturn society and hierarchies otherwise sanctioned by God, and they called on the Church to denounce the rebels and their usurpations and to do everything it could to sanctify the violence carried out to re-establish social order. The forces of repression considered themselves virtually equivalent to the holy crusaders of the century before.

The bitterness and hatred had a lingering impact on Flanders. Rebels and their descendants remembered the vicious repression; nobles and patricians remembered their humiliation, the almost ritualistic imposition of violence against their families. No longer was there basic trust among the constituent groups of medieval Flemish society. Indeed, it might be argued that Flemish society ceased to be medieval at all, as all traditional organic metaphors of political co-ordination failed to articulate the real loyalties of real people in Flanders.

This helps explain the other, less violent phase of Flemish revolutionary activity, the establishment of the van Artevelde regime. Ghent had remained ‘loyal’ to the comital party in Flanders during the troubles, but the loyalty was conditional, in the sense that the city expected its relative autonomy and economic position to be respected by other cities, its hinterland, and the count. No one seemed wholly willing to accept Ghent’s vision of itself as the head of Flanders. Nonetheless, the city was in the fortunate position in the 1330s of coming under the inspired leadership of Jacob van Artevelde, who managed to reconfigure internal urban alliances in the face of the count’s attempted encroachments on the city’s privileges.

International politics also allowed van Artevelde a role. Strategically located for the receiving of imports from England, raw wool mainly, the city’s support seemed crucial to the French, who were intent on injuring England’s export trade during the opening years of the Hundred Years War. In fact, despite some significant French gestures to the burghers of Ghent, van Artevelde came more and more under the spell of the English, ultimately welcoming Edward III to the city and recognizing his claim as king of France. In other ways, too, partly by playing an international game, partly by his astuteness in local comital politics, and partly because Ghent was supplementing its precarious income from cloth-making by becoming a major grain staple city, van Artevelde brought Ghent to a tentative hegemony in Flanders.

The long-term outcome of this story is beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that the terrifying violence in Flanders in the 1320s and the destabilization and strange political formations of the 1330s and 1340s were early harbingers of what was to come in many places in Europe: rural and urban violence on a scale nearly unimaginable – the French Jacquerie of 1358, the Florentine Revolt of the Ciompi of 1378, and the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, among them. However, what happened in Flanders was not only the first but the most sustained of all fourteenth-century revolutionary disturbances. Its human cost was also certainly the highest – by several orders of magnitude.

The Ptolemies

Ptolemy II’s chief concern early in his reign was to secure his rule against the possibility of any interdynastic disputation of the throne. When his sister Arsinoe arrived in 280 or thereabouts from the northern Aegean, in flight from her disastrous marriage to Ptolemy Ceraunus, he made her marry him and adopt his children, so that there were no loose ends. Marrying his full sister was an extraordinary step for Ptolemy to take. There were only faint traces of such a practice in Egyptian and Persian pasts (though Mausolus and other fourth-century dynasts of Caria had married siblings), but Ptolemy gloried in it: around 272 he inaugurated a joint cult of Alexander and the Sibling Deities—himself and Arsinoe, though both were still alive (she died in 270). Nor were these minor cults: in both the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms, the priests of dynastic cults were always important men, and royal appointees. There came to be several such cults in each kingdom, often conjoined with those of Alexander, and the Greek cities followed the kings’ lead.

Brother–sister marriage was supposed to guarantee the purity of the bloodline, to advertise the solidity of the royal family, and to secure stability by eliminating the possibility of rival claimants to the throne; the king was effectively cloning himself, and so every generation of Egyptian kings took the same name. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no real evidence of genetic deterioration over the more than two hundred years that the Ptolemies, or some of them, practiced sibling marriage. Strife within the royal family became increasingly savage, but savagery has characterized many courts throughout the ages. Sibling marriage was a symbol of power, a way for the Ptolemies to claim that conventional morality did not apply to them. If the satirical poet Sotades’ reaction is typical, the Greeks were appalled: “Unholy the hole into which you push your prick.” Sotades paid for the quip with his life.

The mainspring of Ptolemaic foreign policy was the need to keep intact the extensive buffer zones that the first two Ptolemies had put in place around Egypt by the middle of the third century. Apart from their defensive function, these overseas possessions made up for Egypt’s deficiencies in minerals and ship-quality timber, and enabled them to control the trade routes of the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Black Sea approaches. They were the major suppliers to the Greek world of grain and other commodities, and they needed to make sure that their cargoes were safe.

In Greece and Anatolia, as we have seen, the Ptolemies supported whichever state or states seemed best able to check Antigonid and Seleucid ambitions. In the Aegean, they did their best to retain their possessions against a strengthening Macedonian navy. In Palestine, Coele Syria, and Phoenicia, they fought a series of wars against the Syrian kings. In Cyrenaica, the earliest Ptolemaic external possession and one of the most important, they used diplomacy to keep the peace and allowed the rulers to think of themselves for a while as royalty. In Africa, they extended south into Nubia, especially to safeguard the provision of war elephants and gold.

From the moment he ascended to the Syrian throne in 223, Antiochus III intended to recover the entirety of the kingdom when it had been at its greatest extent, under Seleucus I, as though he still had rights to it. He was delayed by Molon’s rebellion, but once it had been put down, Antiochus drove the Ptolemaic forces out of Coele Syria and coastal Phoenicia. This task occupied the first two years of the Fourth Syrian War. But Ptolemy IV, who had come to the Egyptian throne in 221, belied his reputation for being more interested in poetry than politics, or took the advice of his powerful chief ministers. Having restructured his army and greatly increased the number of native Egyptians serving in it, he inflicted a massive defeat on Antiochus at the battle of Raphia in 217. With over 140,000 men (and 175 elephants) between the two sides, which were fairly evenly matched, this was the greatest battle since Ipsus. After acknowledging defeat, Antiochus withdrew to northern Syria, and over the next few weeks almost every single place that he had gained or regained returned to Ptolemaic control.

This was a great victory for the Egyptians, but it proved to be a peak from which they could only fall. Trouble had been brewing for a long time, with occasional outbursts, since a good number of Egyptians, especially in the south, resented being a subject race and the exploitation of their land by foreigners. Before the battle of Raphia, the Ptolemaic governor of Coele Syria had gone over to Antiochus, and Ptolemy’s queen is said to have offered every soldier in the Egyptian army two gold minas. Even with the exaggeration, it seems that the Ptolemies were finding it hard to retain the loyalty of their men.

To judge by the concessions that were made when the troubles were over (reductions in tax, for instance, and concessions to the priesthood), social discontent was the major factor. Very probably, Egyptian priests were behind the disturbances; during the decades of Persian rule, the temples had grown hugely powerful, forming a kind of nationalist underground, much as the Greek Orthodox Church did during the Turkish rule of Greece, and the Catholic Church did in Ireland under British occupation. When the Ptolemies arrived, they did their best to appease the powerful priesthoods, by performing all the rituals appropriate to their position as pharaohs, by allowing the temples to prosper, and by personally funding the building and rebuilding of temples. Many of the monumental Egyptian remains that survive today date from the Ptolemaic era.

Nevertheless, it was clear that this velvet glove concealed an iron fist. There were garrisons everywhere; soldiers were a common sight on any town or city street, especially since the country was so often on a war footing; the kings presented themselves as warriors. Polybius described the inhabitants of Alexandria as Egyptians, Greeks, and mercenaries, “heavily armed, numerous, and coarse.” Ptolemy II’s far-famed parade, held in Alexandria perhaps in 278, included eighty thousand soldiers; even Adolf Hitler’s fiftieth birthday in 1939 was celebrated by only fifty thousand.

Disturbances began not long after Raphia, both in the Delta and in Upper Egypt, and the Egyptian soldiers who had fought in the battle were right at the center of them. Although the kings were never seriously threatened, and probably retained control of the Nile valley, there were occasions between 205 and 186 when men in Thebes were calling themselves pharaohs, or perhaps were being allowed to call themselves pharaohs. The country was seriously weakened by two decades of internal strife, and, as we shall see, only Roman intervention stopped it falling to the Seleucids.


Egypt was a relatively self-contained unit, geographically speaking; it consisted of the Nile Delta on the Mediterranean and a thin strip of fertile flood plains a thousand kilometers (620 miles) south up the river valley to the First Cataract (the first stretch of shallows), never wider than thirty kilometers (twenty miles) at any point and bounded by desert to east and west. The kingdom comprised about 23,000 square kilometers (about 8,880 square miles) and had a population of four or five million.

Settlements along the river were perched on high ground, to avoid the annual mud-depositing floods, the source of the country’s great fertility and wealth; at the time of the floods, they were turned into islands. There were three main areas of settlement. Lower Egypt, the Delta region in the north, was densely settled; it was on the far west of the Delta that Alexander chose to site Alexandria. To the southwest of the Delta lay a large, fertile depression called the Fayyum, where the arable land was hugely increased by a massive drainage and canalization project initiated by the Ptolemies. Then Middle and Upper Egypt sprawled up the Nile, and included two great cities: Memphis in the north, the religious center of Egypt, and Thebes in the south, famous for the temples of Karnak and Luxor. The many-streamed and marshy Delta was hard to cross, so Memphis (near modern Cairo) was the usual gateway to Egypt from the east—though there was the Sinai Desert to cross first.

Egypt had been a major center of culture for hundreds of years before the Macedonians arrived to form its thirty-first and final dynasty, and Ptolemy I had less city-building to do than the Seleucids. Many Egyptian Greeks therefore lived in non-Greek environments, in close relationships with the native populations. Ptolemy’s only large foundation (or refoundation: it replaced a smaller Greek settlement) was Ptolemais in the southern Thebaid, which, with its different dialect and ethnic makeup, had a perennial tendency to regard itself as a separate state, and so needed a regional administrative center.

The Ptolemies, like all Hellenistic kings, also founded many smaller settlements (for instance, by settling mercenaries on the land, like the Seleucids), but there were only ever the three Greek cities in Egypt itself (not counting Egypt’s overseas possessions)—Alexandria, Ptolemais, and Naucratis. But Alexandria by itself was an enormous project. Founded in 331, it was still largely a building site when Ptolemy designated it his capital, perhaps in 313, and marked the occasion by moving Alexander’s body there from Memphis, where he had first laid it to rest after the hijacking. The city was divided into three sections: one for Greeks and Macedonians (who were the only full citizens and were privileged with tax exemptions), one for Egyptians, and one for everyone else, who were mainly Jews—the second largest Jewish population after Jerusalem. Until the growth of Rome, Alexandria was the greatest city in the Mediterranean. Even in the first century, one visitor could say: “It leaves all other cities a long way behind in terms of its beauty, size, financial liquidity, and everything that contributes to graceful living.” But it was also beset with all the usual urban problems, from corruption to ethnic tension.

Deutsche Reichsbahn: Strength through Standardization I

One logical end of the Deutsche Reichsbahn Einheitloks (unified locomotive types) programme of 1923 was the class 52 2-10-0s, first steamed at Borsig works on 12 September 1942 in the presence of Albert Speer, Hitler’s minister for armaments and production. The class 52 Kriegslok (war locomotive) was designed for mass production in factories in Germany and in territories conquered through Blitzkrieg, the ‘lightning war’ of 1939–41 which brought much of Europe under the Nazi yoke. Between 1942 and 1945, a total of 6,239 class 52s were built, in twenty factories across Europe. This side of the Russian 0-10-0 standard freight locomotives, it was the biggest class of steam locomotives ever built.

The principal purpose of these brutally functional locomotives was to work freight and troop trains through the eastern front. Until the headlong German retreat of 1944, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s track mileage had increased by 16,000 miles during the war. The class 52s were also used for the transportation, at a stipulated 45 kph (28 mph), of three million Jews, and others who fell foul of the Nazi regime, to concentration and extermination camps. Perhaps no other class of locomotive has been built for such savage purposes.

Such was the efficiency of the Borsig works that the first of the class was completed three months ahead of schedule. Speed was, of course, of the essence in wartime, yet the drive and ability to build so quickly was the result not just of the Einheitslok programme, which made locomotive building in Weimar and Nazi Germany a model of efficiency, but also of the creation of the Gemeinschaft Grossdeutscher Lokomotivfabriken (GGL) in 1942, as part of Speer’s new ministry founded earlier that year. The Nazi regime had taken absolute control of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, which had been established in 1922 as an independently run state business, able to raise its own finances. Now the GGL was to determine locomotive design and production. Perhaps it is not surprising that, in the wartime imagination, the class 52 had more than something of the look of a Nazi stormtrooper about it.

Detailed design work on the class 52s was led by Friedrich Witte. His predecessor, Richard Paul Wagner, architect of the Einheitloks programme, was forced to resign his responsibility for centralized Deutsche Reichsbahn locomotive design and production in the summer of 1942, as the Nazis tightened their grip on the railways. Hitler and Speer believed that the Deutsche Reichsbahn had been slack in its response to war demands, the Führer calling for steam locomotive production to be upped to 7,500 per year. This was an impossible figure, although production did increase from 660 in 1939 to a peak of 4,533 in 1943. Wagner, who had the responsibility of building up the Deutsche Reichsbahn fleet after some five thousand German locomotives had been packed off to the country’s former enemies as part of the war reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles, had been happy with an annual production of 800 new steam locomotives. Even so, that was only possible because of the standardization of design and construction. Significantly, perhaps, Germany built more steam locomotives in total – approximately 155,000 – than any other country except the USA, which produced around 177,000. Britain, a small country with a big empire, built 110,150, Russia around 50,000, and France 39,000. No other country came anywhere near these figures. According to Philip Atkins, former librarian at the National Railway Museum, York, 205 were built in South America, thirty-one in Africa, and, rather charmingly, just one in Portugal.

E. S. Cox, who visited Germany in the 1930s to inspect Wagner’s latest locomotives, said that he ‘seemed a very perfunctory adherent of the Nazi party . . . and unlike some of his henchmen, his “Heil Hitler” greeting to colleagues and subordinates, then obligatory, lacked a good deal in precision and zest’. Cecil J. Allen accompanied other members of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers on their trip to Germany in 1936 – during which Stanier rode on the footplate of a streamlined 05 class 4-6-4 at 118 mph – and had the same recollection of the cigar-smoking Wagner, whom Cox also described as a big, friendly, bear of a man. The British party, said Allen, were quite unsure how to behave when railway officials and party functionaries greeted them with Heil Hitler salutes and tiresome renditions of ‘Deutschland über Alles’ and the ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’; the embarrassed British engineers returned the salutes in ‘willy-nilly’ fashion. Their feeling, shared by Wagner and many of his team, was that the railways were an apolitical service and that politics was at best an unavoidable nuisance. Neither the British nor Wagner could have imagined the ends to which the Deutsche Reichsbahn and its locomotives would be put in the following decade. As it was, Wagner would be invited by the Allied authorities in 1946 to help with the reconstruction of the railways, while Witte, despite his close association with Speer and the regime, would become responsible for the development of post-war steam locomotives.

It seems a shame, however, to begin a chapter on late German steam design with Hitler, Speer, the Nazis, the Second World War, and the Holocaust – and not least because Hitler himself had no real interest in railways. He was to become excited about them, but only after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, when the movement of men and materiel began to stretch across Poland and the vast plains to the east. And yet, Hitler and Speer, despite their criticisms, were well served by a locomotive industry which had gone from strength to strength since the founding of the Deutsche Reichsbahn in 1922 and the appointment of Wagner the following year as the instigator of German locomotive design policy.

The idea behind Wagner’s 1923 programme was technocratic and politically innocent. Perhaps politicians and soldiers had already seen potential advantages for future struggles in the design of highly standardized machines; and, indeed, there was a military-like precision in the way that Wagner pushed ahead with a policy that had no counterpart in any other country. A part of this was down to that old cliché, German efficiency. Born in Berlin in August 1882, Wagner was educated at the Charlottenhof Technical High School, before joining the Prussian State Railways. There he would have witnessed the development of the legendary P8 class two-cylinder 4-6-0, a notable general purpose passenger locomotive of which 3,948 were built between 1908 and 1924. Its original design was by Robert Garbe, and some P8s were still in service as late as 1974.

But his experience as a transport officer during the First World War had showed Wagner the limitations of many indigenous designs. At the time, various German states and the Kingdom of Bavaria had built an array of locomotives as varied as that found in Britain. So, when the Deutsche Reichsbahn was created and he was made national head of design (Bavaria became a part of Germany in 1918), Wagner was intent on shaping a unified fleet of passenger and freight locomotives with standardized components, which could be serviced and repaired locally. Interchangeable parts – boilers, cylinders, driving wheels – would mean optimum manufacturing efficiency. He was not a revolutionary – far from it. Wagner built steadily on the work of his predecessors, whose standard Prussian State Railways designs were built in huge numbers. The basis of those designs was two-cylinder simple-expansion drive, relatively low boiler pressure, and outside Walschaerts valve gear, combined with relatively high superheating. They included the G8 class 0-8-0, of which 5,155 were built between 1913 and 1921, and the G10 class 0-10-0, of which 2,677 were produced between 1910 and 1925 – two freight locomotives that were worth far more than their weights in coal.

Wagner’s ideal, then, was for simple, two-cylinder locomotives that, while neither notably powerful nor particularly fast, would provide an overall high standard of performance, economy, and reliability throughout Germany. Prussian efficiency remained the key, not publicity or record-breaking. In any case, unlike in Britain where speed limits were set by the civil engineers of each railway according to the specification or state of the tracks, in Germany, as in France, strictly imposed maximum speeds were set by both the government and the railway authorities for each class of locomotive, up to a general limit of 120 kph (74.5 mph). So, while in Britain trains could sometimes be found whistling downhill at 90 mph a quarter of a century before the First World War – and often climbing hills painfully slowly – in Germany, the fastest trains were timed so that the locomotives ran at moderate, but as far as possible uniform, speeds uphill and down.

In Prussia in particular, there was no call for very high power outputs because the railways ran mainly across the great plain that stretches across northern Europe from the Urals to the English Channel. Here there were no Shaps or Beattocks. The idea of a kind of steady-state locomotive emerged, although Wagner was forced to accept that something more powerful was needed further south in Germany, especially in Bavaria where the landscape erupts into magnificent hills, mountains, and valleys.

Thus Wagner continued the production of proven, non-standard, Bavarian locomotives, including the four-cylinder S3/6 compound Pacific, designed at Maffei by a team led by Anton Hammel. The first of these engines, with their distinctive conical smoke-box doors, suggesting great speed even though they were in fact limited to 120 kph, emerged from Maffei’s Munich works in 1908, the same year as Churchward’s The Great Bear. These strong (1,800 dbhp on test) and efficient compounds were made by Maffei until 1931. Some were rebuilt in 1953 with combustion chambers giving more power and were able to match the performance of Wagner’s larger-boilered, two-cylinder 01 class Pacific of 1925. Although keen on uniformity, Wagner could see the merit of purpose-built machines designed for specific lines.

As Garbe and Lubkens’s P8 had been the basis for a number of Prussian standard designs, so Wagner’s 01 was the building block for many of the larger passenger and freight locomotives made throughout Germany between the two world wars. Although heavier than a contemporary Gresley Pacific, the German 01s were generally worked at lower power outputs than the LNER engines and were never asked to run as fast. Built between 1925 and 1938, these rugged, functional locomotives were designed for optimum efficiency at moderate rates of working. With a large boiler pressed to 235 psi, a high degree of superheating, long-lap, long-travel valves, and two big 650 × 660 mm (25⅝ × 26 in) cylinders, the 107 ton 01s were able to deliver a tractive effort of 43,000 lb, coping well with moderately timed 600 ton express trains, and lighter, faster ones, yet restricted to a maximum of 120 kph – raised to 130 kph (81 mph) in 1934. They were rated at 2,210 ihp; this was an official figure, intended as a guide to the operating management as to what these locomotives were capable of on a regular basis. Again, Wagner was more concerned with consistency of performance than with high power output. With running boards set clear of the 2 m (6 ft 6 in) driving wheels, all-enclosed cabs, and clear lines, the 01s aged very slowly in terms of both looks and performance. Immaculately clean 01s could still be seen at work at the head of express trains in East Germany until 1982.

Not that the 01s dominated express passenger services in the 1920s, as Gresley’s A1s had. Wagner had to wait until the main lines were rebuilt in the early 1930s, to withstand greater axle-loading weights, before the 01 with its 20 ton axle load became a universal type. Concurrently with the first 01s, Wagner experimented with a four-cylinder compound variant, classified as 02, before 01 production got into its stride. In fact, he built ten two-cylinder and ten four-cylinder compounds in 1925–6, pitting the two variants against one another. However, detailed design of the compound 02s was out of his hands, and their valve gear and design of the steam-flow circuit were poor, resulting in severe throttling of steam at speeds higher than 75 kph, while the 01 was more economical. The compound 02s were converted to 01s in 1941–2.

On the basis of this comparison, Wagner seemed to have proven that a well-designed, two-cylinder Pacific could do the job of a more complex and more expensive compound. (This ‘evidence’ had a marked effect on British engineers like Cox and Bond when they were considering standard British post-war designs.) And yet, back in the 1920s, Deutsche Reichsbahn chief mechanical engineer Friedrich Fuchs and chief testing engineer Professor Hans Nordmann continued to investigate the potential of compound drive, no doubt inspired both by the performance of the French Nord railway Super Pacifics, which were appreciably smaller than the 01s but exerted power outputs in daily service well above the rated power of the 01, and, from 1929, by the remarkable work of the Chapelon rebuilds.

In 1932, four separate experimental high-pressure compound types were introduced, while in 1935, at Fuchs’s instigation, Adolf Wolff at Borsig prepared project drawings for a four-cylinder compound 4-8-0 derived directly from Chapelon’s design, but substantive work on this was prevented by the Second World War. Eventually, 231 standard 01s were built. Between 1950 and 1957, and again from 1957 to 1961, two batches of 01s were rebuilt with combustion-chamber boilers under Witte’s direction for the Deutsche Bundesbahn, the West German state railway, and rated up to 2,417 ihp. It was a delight to see these and other 01s hard at work, and in spotless condition, on expresses in the early 1970s. From 1962 to 1965, the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the East German state railway, rebuilt thirty-five 01s at Meiningen works in a more radical fashion. With new, larger fire-boxes and higher-set, combustion-chamber boilers, a continuous, Soviet-style dome cover running the length of the boiler, clipped Witte smoke deflectors, new cabs, and more powerful brakes, these 01.5s were superb and highly distinctive machines. Rated at 2,500 ihp, these red and black Pacifics – half of them oil-fired – were kept busy on the Berlin to Dresden route until 1977, and the class survived for a further five years on express duties before finally being replaced by Soviet diesels.

The 03 class, a lighter version of the 01, appeared in 1930, with 570 × 660 mm (22½ × 26 in) cylinders and rated at 1,943 ihp. With an axle loading of 18 tons, compared to 20 tons for the 01s, these light Pacifics were able to operate many of the secondary main lines from which the earlier Wagner Pacifics had been banned. A total of 298 engines was built, up until 1938, by Borsig, Krupp, Henschel, and Schwartzkopff. Unlike in Britain, where locomotives were built mostly by railways in their own works, German engines of the 1920s and 1930s were the product of commercial manufacturers working in collaboration with Wagner’s design team. In fact, it was the British way of building steam locomotives that was unusual – a product, perhaps, of the craft-based engineering culture that emerged with the Industrial Revolution, which took hold in Britain quite some while before it shook up Germany.

The sheer power demanded by heavy freight duties saw Wagner turn to three cylinders for his first 2-10-0s, the class 44 of 1926. Only ten of these giants, known as ‘Jumbos’ to German crews, were built that year. Production resumed in 1937, with more robust frames, when the demand for very powerful freight locomotives was clear, and continued through the Second World War until 1949, by which time there were 1,989 class 44s at work in East and West Germany. The last scheduled steam service on the Deutsche Bundesbahn, on 26 October 1977, was worked by 043 903-4, one of thirty-five two-cylinder derivatives of the class 44s that were built in 1927–8. Mass production of 2-10-0s, as characteristic of German steam in the mid-twentieth century as Wagner’s Pacifics, really began with the two-cylinder class 50s in 1939. These machines, adopted by the Nazi government as Kriegslok war locomotives, were built throughout the war, with production continuing in West Germany until 1948, by which time 3,164 class 50s had been built. Many, however, had been destroyed by allied bombing.

So successful were the class 50s that a new batch with all-welded boilers, designated 50.40, was built at the Lokomotivbau Karl Marx in Babelsberg for the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn between 1956 and 1960. These were the last brand-new German steam locomotives. They were withdrawn in 1980, seven years before a number of the original 50s that remained in service in East Germany.

Locomotive developments in Germany had been steady and rational, yet in the 1930s the quest for speed was to make Wagner think anew. From designing 120 kph locomotives, the Deutsche Reichsbahn was now set on creating the world’s fastest trains. This development had begun in the late days of the Weimar Republic, with the launch of high-speed diesel services, beginning with the Fliegender Hamburger in 1932. The need for heavier trains able to run at speeds of 150 kph (93 mph), and even above, led to a new generation of streamlined steam locomotives which, superficially at least, were everything that Wagner seemed to have stood against.

The genius of the high-speed German steam locomotives of the 1930s was that, despite a few experiments along the way (see Chapter 6), they were basically simple, if meticulously built, machines beneath their wind-cheating skirts. The first of the high-speed German locomotives was 05 001, built at the Borsig works in 1935. Nothing quite like this stunning three-cylinder machine had been seen on rails before. Painted a deep red, all moving parts were hidden, with side-skirts falling to barely inches above the track. Only the whistle and chimney rising from the sloping front of the engine, set above a large, faired-in headlamp, made it in any way evident that this was a steam locomotive. The ten-wheeled tender was all of a piece with the engine. In fact, 05 001 looked more like a submarine than a machine that ran on rails.

Beneath the voluptuous cladding was a beautifully proportioned and exquisitely crafted 4-6-4, all but guaranteed to be a record-breaker. The design was by Adolf Wolff, chief locomotive design engineer at Borsig. Born in Goslar, in Lower Saxony, Wolff was educated at the Technical University of Hanover and worked for Hanomag, where he designed some impressive and long-lasting compound 4-8-2s for the Norte railway in Spain. Some 40 per cent of Hanomag’s locomotive production – it was well known for its cars and tractors too – was exported. Precociously talented but modest, ‘kleine Wolff’, as he was known, moved to Borsig in 1929. After the Second World War he was employed by Krauss Maffei as technical director, where, among other projects, he rebuilt the 05s into non-streamlined 4-6-4s. This, though, is jumping the gun.

There was nothing complex in the specification of 05 001 or its one sibling, 05 002. Everything, however, was done (this side of fitting a combustion-chamber boiler, which was rejected by Wagner) to give these engines the best possible steam-flow circuit, with piston valves 30 per cent greater in diameter than those of Gresley’s A4s. The large boiler was pressed to the then high figure of 294 psi, heated by a firebox with a 50.6 sq ft grate. Superheated steam flowed, at speeds of up to 200 mph, to three 450 × 660 mm (17¾ × 26 in) cylinders, driving 2.3 m (7 ft 6½ in) coupled wheels. The design speed was 175 kph (109 mph) and nominal power rating was 2,360 ihp, although a maximum of 3,400 ihp was attained on test.

Wolff’s masterpiece made its debut in March 1935, six months ahead of Gresley’s A4 for the LNER and six weeks before the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad’s streamlined Atlantic, specified by Charles H. Bilty, broke through a ribbon at the Alco works in Schenectady, New York. Wolff’s 05 001, with its advanced technology and aerodynamic cladding, was proof – if proof were needed – that the speed bug had infected railways around the world.

Streamlining could certainly help locomotives to run faster, as a smooth casing reduced wind resistance, but it was often as much a styling fashion, introduced to make steam engines look as futuristic as the latest monocoque aircraft, speedboats, and racing cars. Indeed, a year before 05 001 steamed for the first time in Berlin, the South Manchuria Railway had introduced its streamlined and air-conditioned Asia Express between the port of Darien and Hsinking, the capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, carved in 1932 out of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia – where the last great Chinese steam locomotives, the QJ class 2-10-2s, were to rule the great passes of the newly built Jitong Railway until 2005. To haul the train, the South Manchuria Railway commissioned twelve streamlined two-cylinder Pacifics, following American design practice, from Kawasaki and the railway’s own Shahekou works. Complete with observation cars and cocktail car, the Asia Express, a symbol of presumed Japanese technological superiority, had beaten the Americans and Europeans at a game that should have been theirs. The Pashina class locomotives, however, were not as fast nor as powerful as they looked. Their highest recorded speed was 83 mph. Nevertheless, this was a revolution in China. The locomotives survived war and revolution and were still at work in the 1980s. At least one has been preserved.

By the time of the Second World War, streamlined locomotives could be found on the least promising lines. In 1941, a new railway connection between Iraq and Syria meant that the Taurus Express could run direct from Istanbul to Baghdad. This was the route – much of it built to the highest specification by German engineers of the Second Reich – that was supposed to have linked Berlin with Baghdad. To celebrate the new through service, in 1941 Iraqi State Railways took possession of four streamlined two-cylinder oil-burning Pacifics, designed by the railway’s own William Ikeson and built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn’s. One was lost in a convoy on the way, but three made it to Iraq, where they ran until 1960. From a distance, they might have looked a bit like a Stanier Coronation crossed with a Gresley A4 – but did they ever get above 60 mph?

Wolff’s 05s, however, were in a different camp altogether. Their streamlining was scientifically researched. Wolff claimed, not without justification, that the streamlined casing of engine and train lessened air resistance to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in the power needed to work a 250 ton train on the level at 150 kph (93 mph). The 05s proved to be very fast engines indeed. German and other enthusiasts describe them as the fastest steam locomotives in the world, despite Mallard’s 126 mph. The claim is an interesting one, and, in certain ways, justified. On 7 June 1935, 05 002 sprinted up to 191.7 kph (119.1 mph) on the line between Berlin and Hamburg. It went on to make six further runs with speeds above 177 kph (110 mph). On 11 May 1936, pulling a 197 ton train, it soared to just over 200 kph – 200.4 kph to be exact (124.5 mph) – not downhill but on level track, near Friesack. The speed was maintained for long enough to be measured precisely; it required an output of 3,400 ihp. Mallard travelled at 125 mph for just 305 yards; if it really did get above that speed, the last 1 mph must have been over a very few yards indeed. Gresley himself never claimed 126 mph, and, in railway enthusiast circles, the debate continues today. It is also possible that 05 002’s 124.5 mph was an average speed over between 1 and 2.5 kilometres, in which case it might have beaten Mallard’s 126 mph anyway. In charge of testing on the Deutsche Reichsbahn, Professor Nordmann erred on the side of scientific caution.

Deutsche Reichsbahn: Strength through Standardization II

A letter in Railway World in April 1969 from John F. Clay, a member of the Stephenson Society, argued the case for Mallard: ‘The difference between the maximum speeds for Mallard and 05.002 is so small as to be in the range of uncertainty present even with the most sophisticated of dynamometer car equipment.’ Clay went on to help gauge the particular merit of Mallard’s record run:

An A4 was built to a much more restricted loading gauge than the larger and more specialised 05. It would be impossible in this country [Great Britain] to build an engine with 7 ft 6 in driving wheels and an adequate boiler. Mallard’s load of 240 tons, light at it seems, was heavier in proportion to the size of the engine than the 200 tons behind the 05. Although Stoke Bank is downhill the initial acceleration from 24 mph at Grantham to 74 mph at Stoke Box up 1-in-200 would, in itself, have winded a lesser engine even before the high-speed attempt could begin. The smaller wheels of the A4 had to reach a higher rotational speed to equal the road speeds of the German engine. Although we must be sensible about Mallard, we still have every justification for a little national pride.

Quite what it was like to ride on the footplate of the German 4-6-4 at 2 miles per minute was vividly described by Paul Roth of the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s locomotive testing department at Grunewald. In an article published a year after his death in Lok (Locomotive) magazine, Roth explained that Wagner had been hoping to break the 200 kph barrier with the 05s. Despite 05 002’s free running and reserves of power, whenever the engine was worked up to a tantalizing 195 kph problems arose, now with broken springs, now with loose tyres due to the high lateral forces between tyre and wheel rim at very high speed.

On 11 May, 05 002, pulling one coach less than on previous runs, had been delayed by signals and speed restrictions. Leaving Wittenberge for Berlin, every attempt was made to regain time, meaning that long stretches would have to be run at 180 kph (112 mph). Roth recalled:

As a result of the reduction in weight by fifty tons, the lack of a side wind and with wet rails, the train resistance was significantly reduced and the 05 reached 195 kph much faster than usual. At this speed a howling at the chimney started up. It sounded like a ship’s hooter and indicated a very high boiler performance. An additional circumstance egged our crew on. In Hamburg, they had learned from our passengers that one of the diesel-electric railcars had reached the 200 kph barrier between Stendal and Hanover. Till then, no diesel had run as fast as the 05, so our crew was rather displeased.

The 05 was now racing faster and faster; no one was thinking about broken springs and tyres. The pressure gauge read 20 atmospheres [294 psi]. There was sufficient water in the boiler. The driver, Oscar Langhans, asked if he could link up a few cogs. After a short while, the speedometer needle touched its stop [200 kph]. Everything went much faster than usual. In the train, meanwhile, people had also recognized that something special was going on. When the speed of 200 kph was reached, the dynamometer car gave a long honk, a signal to the crew up front. Since speedometer readings are never fully accurate, the crew maintained the speed for a while. Not at any price did we want to stand there at 199.5 kph.

Being in the cab of a 200 ton steam engine [the weight with tender] racing at 200 kph is not comfortable . . . the crew’s nerves were on edge. Even so, or perhaps because of this reason, our fireman, Ernst Hohne, performed an Indian dance with his broom in the cab.

The driver would have been mostly concerned with the view of the road ahead. German main-line signals at the time were spaced at three-quarter-mile intervals, but even with an emergency brake application, 05 002 needed 0.85 miles to stop from 180 kph (112 mph). But the test runs with the streamlined 4-6-4 were useful, not least because they prompted significant improvements in locomotive, and train, brakes. Mallard’s own record run down Stoke Bank on 3 July 1938 was described by the LNER as the result of a high-speed brake test using quick-service application valves, combined with an attempt on the world record.

That 05 002’s world-record run was an exercise in propaganda is made clear by the fact that senior members of the government, including Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, and his deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, were on board, along with Wolff, Wagner, and the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s head of testing, Professor Hans Nordmann. A trip two days earlier – one of four very high-speed return journeys made between Berlin and Hamburg with 05 002 that week – was laid on specially for senior German military officers. However hard the Deutsche Reichsbahn tried before the war to maintain a strictly technocratic stance in its dealings with the Nazi state, it was impossible to remain anything like detached.

None of the high-speed runs affected 05 002’s performance. On 30 May, the record-breaker took the British party from the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, including Stanier and Cecil J. Allen, on a run from Berlin to Hamburg and back with a three-coach, 150 ton train. Allen reported that 250 miles of the journey had been reeled off at a mean speed of 91 mph, with much ground covered at three-figure speeds, including a maximum of 118 mph. On the return journey, 05 002 sprinted away from Wittenberge with the alacrity of a modern electric – the train was very light – covering the 70.1 miles to a signal stop fourteen miles west of Berlin in 48 minutes and 32 seconds, at an average of 86.7 mph. There was no doubt, Allen wrote, that ‘the engine could travel for indefinite distances at 100 mph and could obtain considerably higher speeds when necessary’. It certainly could. Given the sheer number of times 05 002 reached 110 mph and more on level track and went on to average 124.5 mph over some distance, it might well be right to call Wolff’s locomotive the fastest steam engine in the world.

What was equally impressive is that on regular services between Hamburg and Berlin, with up to six coaches, the 05s could very nearly equal the timing of the lightweight, two-car Fliegender Hamburger. A third 05 was commissioned from Borsig, but this was an experimental cab-forward locomotive designed to burn pulverized coal. To increase the maximum speed of express trains generally from 120 to 140 kph (74.5 to 87 mph), and even 150 kph (93 mph), Wagner had fifty-five streamlined, three-cylinder 01s built from 1939. Classified 01.10, these looked like smaller versions of the 05s; while sixty 03.10s – streamlined, three-cylinder light Pacifics – followed closely on their heels. Three cylinders promised smoother running at speed and lower track ‘hammer blow’, while the streamlining saved power, and hence fuel, at speed. More of both classes were to have been built, but by then Germany had plunged Europe into the most destructive war the world has ever known.

When Germany emerged from the war, those 01.10s and 03.10s that had survived were stripped of their streamlined casing and, looking much like their unadorned, two-cylinder siblings, and working on identical passenger duties, could still be seen hard at work until the mid-1970s. As for the 05s, they were de-streamlined in 1950 at the Krauss Maffei works by Adolf Wolff himself. With boiler pressure reduced to 235 psi, these handsome 4-6-4s lost some of their edge and were, in any case, limited to a modest 140 kph. They did, however, work the longest regular express services on the new Deutsche Bundesbahn, the 703 kilometre route from Hamburg via Cologne and Frankfurt. But as they were not standard locomotives – the blessing or curse of Richard Wagner – the 05s were withdrawn in 1958, despite having a good many years left in them. Very sadly, 05 002 was scrapped, although her sister, 05 001, was fully restored to her original condition in 1963 – Adolf Wolff witnessed the work – and is now on display in the Nuremberg transport museum. In 2011, Mallard was shipped from her home at the Railway Museum in York to meet 05 001 at Nuremberg as part of a seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of 05 002’s world-record run.

There had been one other successful attempt at a steam rival to the latest high-speed German diesels. This was the remarkable Henschel-Wegmann Train, produced by the Henschel works in Kassel and the local coachbuilders, Wegmann, a firm that also made tanks for the military in both world wars (and once again when production of the Leopard 1 began in 1965). The idea of a two-car, push-pull, high-speed, streamlined steam express train, which was, in essence, a steam multiple-unit, had been proposed to Wagner and the Deutsche Reichsbahn by Henschel’s manager, Karl Imfeld, in April 1933. The following February, Dr Friedrich Fuchs, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s chief mechanical engineer, went to visit Imfeld. The answer was yes, but Fuchs insisted on a four-coach train.

The result, unveiled in May 1935, was a streamlined, if slightly bulbous, 4-6-4 tank engine blurred into the four coaches, including an observation car, fitted with roller bearings and disc brakes, trailing behind it. First shown to the public during the centenary celebrations held for the German railways between July and October 1935 – Hitler was one of the many visitors – the train began service on a very tight 65 mph schedule over the 176 kilometres between Berlin and Dresden the following summer. The 1 hour and 40 minute timing cut 28 minutes from the fastest existing schedule; in 2012, the fastest train between the two cities took 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Even more impressive was the fact that the train made two return journeys each day. The solitary two-cylinder class 61 4-6-4T was well up to the job. Beneath its voluminous dress, it was a well-proportioned, free-steaming locomotive, with a boiler pressure of 294 psi, which ran at 160 kph (99.5 mph) in everyday service and up to 175 kph (109 mph) when required; on test, 61 001 reached 185 kph, or approximately 115 mph, a world record for a tank engine. This was no Thomas. When the locomotive returned to Henschel for a major overhaul, it was replaced by 01 and 03 Pacifics. Although the streamlined Dresden service ceased to run in August 1939 as Germany prepared for war, 61 001 was returned to traffic in 1948, based at Bebra, close to Kassel. Badly damaged in an accident at Munster in November 1951, she was taken out of service and scrapped six years later.

A second and sleeker class 61 joined 61 001 in 1939. With three-cylinders and a bigger water tank and coal bunker, 61 002 only just made it into passenger service in the summer of 1939. Fate, however, was kinder to 61 002. In 1961, she was converted at Meiningen works by the Deutsches Reichsbahn into a semi-streamlined, three-cylinder tender locomotive, with larger cylinders and a combustion-chamber boiler, while retaining her 2.3 m (7 ft 6½ in) driving wheels (the largest fitted to a Pacific), designed to test new coaching stock at high speeds. Fitted with a highly efficient Giesl ejector exhaust, 18 201, as she was now numbered, was rated at 2,120 ihp, with a maximum speed of 180 kph. On test in 1972, this elegant green engine steamed up to 182.4 kph, or about 113 mph, making her the fastest post-war steam locomotive on record, beating the record set by A4 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley in 1959 by just 1 mph. Since 1980, 18 201 has worked special trains and in 2012, owned by Dampf-Plus, she is still very much in action and, on occasion, runs at very high speed.

High-speed trains were glamorous, much feted, and greatly admired. But, as trains grew heavier throughout the 1930s, what operating departments required most of all was power: reliable, consistent, readily available power. So, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s final streamliners were a pair of mighty three-cylinder 4-8-4s, the 06 class, crafted by Krupp in 1939. No other 4-8-4s were built in Germany. The locomotives were 26.5 m (87 feet) long and weighed 142 tons (a Stanier LMS Coronation was 70 feet long and weighed 105 tons). Rated at 2,761 ihp, they were designed to pull 650 ton trains on the level at 120 kph (74.5 mph), with a maximum of 140 kph (87 mph). Hugely impressive to look at, the 06s, with their long wheelbase, tended to derail on sharp curves. The boilers, meanwhile, developed cracks. Doubtless, Krupp and Wagner would have improved the engines if more had been built, but by summer 1939 sheer power was needed, mostly to pull freight trains. The fleet of Pacifics that Wagner and the German manufacturers had built up since 1925 was perfectly adequate to the tasks asked of them by railway management. The 06s survived the war, but were scrapped by the Deutsche Bundesbahn in 1951.

The 06s used the same boiler as the class 45 2-10-2s which, by rights, should have been the mainstay of Deutsche Reichsbahn heavy freight operations from their inception in 1936 and for the next forty years. And yet, just twenty-eight of these impressive-looking, three-cylinder machines were built, an order for 103 being cancelled in 1941. Faster than previous Deutsche Reichsbahn freight locomotives – 90 kph (56 mph) as opposed to 80 kph (50 mph) – and far more powerful, the 45s promised a great deal, but, like the 06s, they suffered from boiler problems, and there was no time, or will, after the invasion of Poland in September 1939 to develop them further. When equipped with new combustion-chamber boilers and mechanical stokers from 1950, the 45s finally showed what they could do. Only five were rebuilt, however, and in 1968 the last three members of the class were made redundant.

As German troops swept across Poland and Hitler began to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Deutsche Reichsbahn was extended ever further east, while more troop trains, trains ferrying tanks and artillery pieces, trains fetching fuel, and trains supplying factories across the newly conquered territories pushed what was a well-run railway to unprecedented limits. With new lines laid quickly, the cry from operators in the east was for simple, strong engines with light axle loads. Fitness for purpose and simplicity truly were the keys to good wartime design. Even Wagner’s powerful and dependable class 44 2-10-0s were too heavy in axle loading and too complex for the rigours of wartime assignments.

Wagner responded with the class 50 2-10-0s, first built in 1939, rugged, two-cylinder machines with an axle loading of just 15.2 tons (anything under 18 tons is light). Weighing 87 tons and allowed to run at 80 kph (50 mph) in both directions, the class 50s were as popular as they were reliable. They were designated Kriegsloks and were among some seven thousand steam locomotives produced in Germany during just two and a half years of brutal conflict. Even so, the first class 50s were considered too complex for the kind of mass production that men like Wagner could never have envisaged in the 1920s. The revised class 50UK (Übergangskriegslokomotive, or transitional war locomotive), with fabricated welded construction replacing steel castings, was the result – yet even this was seen as too complex for the rapid production the government and military demanded. Cue the class 52, an austerity version of the class 50 and the archetypal Kriegslok, a steam locomotive prepared for all-out war as never before.

The class 50, however, continued to be built, with gaps, not just throughout the Second World War, but for a long time afterwards. The final members of the class were built, with modifications to the original design, by the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn at the Lokomotivbau Karl Marx in Babelsberg in 1960, by which time 3,164 had been produced. Class 50s continued in front-line service on the Deutsche Bundesbahn until the end of steam in 1977, and on the Deutsche Reichsbahn until 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These engines were great travellers. Either seized by allied railway engineers or made over as war reparations, the class 50s could be found at work between the 1950s and 1970s in, among other countries, Austria, Poland, Denmark, France, Turkey, the USSR, and Norway, as well as throughout the Balkans. They may have been used for evil ends in the early and mid-1940s, but the steam locomotive is in itself an innocent machine, and the class 50 was much needed and much liked wherever it went.

The class 52 began service just as German expansion eastwards was grinding to a halt. In this sense, they were too late; yet few can doubt that, whatever the job they were asked to do, the locomotives themselves performed reliably and well. Brutes to look at, the class 52s were among the quickest of all steam locomotives to build. Records of exactly how many man-hours were needed to build a complete 52 are uncertain, but the production figures speak for themselves. Between September 1942 and May 1945, more than 6,300 had been put into service. More were built between 1945 and 1950, bringing the total up to what seems to have been 6,719. From 1960, the Deutsche Reichsbahn rebuilt 200 with new boilers, and a total of 290 with Giesl ejector draughting to enable low-grade coal to be burned efficiently.

After the war, the class 52s were dispersed throughout various parts of Europe, although it was somehow strange to see some of the very last of them working for the Polish railways. It was the invasion of Poland that had signalled the start of the Second World War and it was in Poland that the worst of the Nazi extermination camps were sited – and it was the 52s that had brought so many to their deaths there. But as an example of how a machine that was essentially the product of a long craft tradition could be transformed into a unit of mass production, the 52 remains a fascinating locomotive.

A heavier Kriegslok, the two-cylinder class 42, was built in much smaller numbers – 837 in 1943 and 1944, with further examples produced between 1945 and 1949 – to be used where limitations on axle loads were less demanding than on the eastern front. There was, however, a design for a much larger Kriegslok altogether. This was Adolf Wolff’s 1943 proposal for a 2-6-8-0 compound Mallet, a form of articulated locomotive with two engine units beneath the boiler, devised by the Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet. At 27.4 m (90 feet) long and weighing 140 tons, this impressive locomotive would have been a formidable performer, but by the time Wolff was drawing up outline designs the Borsig works had been severely damaged by allied air raids, and as 1944 dawned it was clear to most steam men – if not to Adolf Hitler – that the war was lost and that, as Germany fought an increasingly desperate rearguard action on two fronts, the production of weapons and ammunition would have to take over from that of locomotives.

Gytha and the sons of the Godwin House I

Dublin Danes recruited by King Diarmuid of Leinster would sail wih Harold’s son Godwin, and his brothers Eadmund and Magnus. They were to secure Wessex against the Normans

King William, apparently somewhat overcome by his good fortune, took an extended triumphal leave in Normandy during 1067. Under new, white, sails he set out from Pevensey with booty and an entourage. With this new figurehead thus removed from the kingdom it is not surprising to see other opportunists now stepping forwards. In Herefordshire a thegn known as Eadric the Wild joined forces with a couple of Welsh petty-kings and raided the borders to acquire whatever the Norman mercenaries had not plundered, but with no claims to make on the English Crown. He was simply assuming that nature abhors a vacuum. The standing down of much of the invasion force made it impossible to apprehend him. Meanwhile in the troubled North, earl Copsig (who seems to have ingratiated himself with King William), who had been appointed as the ‘strong man’ required to pacify ever-troublesome Northumbria, proved incapable of the task: he was ambushed and killed. Having thus forfeited legality the area sank (not for the first time) into general lawlessness. Over the waters Eustace of Boulogne was secretly making his own preparations.

Where, in all this, were Odo of Bayeux and William fitzOsbern? Well their task was to secure the Channel coast and to administer the south but they both appear to have been busy enjoying conquests elsewhere for when Eustace slipped across the Channel with his own expeditionary force, Odo was nowhere near his caput of Dover. The panegyrists try to tell us that the people of Dover were so abused by Odo and his hearth-troop that they ‘invited’ Eustace to liberate them, a theme which has supplied so many historians with visions of English nationalism discarding the yoke and shackles of novel oppression, conveniently ignoring Eustace’s French identity! In point of fact when the Boulonnais forces arrived there was no evidence at all of collusion and the remaining Norman/French garrison of Dover put up a spirited defence, aided by Englishmen, then sortied, drove off the attackers and pursued them into the night. As most of the Boulonnais expedition had no knowledge of the area, they were, it seems, easily cornered; some were driven over cliffs and others swamped and drowned as they attempted to re-embark. Count Eustace and some of his hearth-troop escaped, but then he knew the territory: in 1051 he had fallen foul of the townsfolk of Dover, which probably helps explain their eagerness to help the Norman garrison in 1067.4 Here we see no clear ‘nationalist’ distinction between the forces.

It can only be speculation, of course, but my evaluation is that Eustace did not do his homework, he did not prepare. If he landed at Dover he cannot have found it easy to land his destriers and it may be that he was seriously lacking in heavy horse? He was certainly crossing against prevailing winds and currents, making for a very difficult passage, and his fleet cannot have been large or elaborate, otherwise advanced news of its preparation would have spread. Maybe he anticipated Odo’s assistance and a cosmetic siege rather than a battle but he clearly had not remembered the tactical formula which had benefitted Duke William the year before. As a ‘castle’ Dover would have had a strong contingent of crossbowmen as well as a heavy horse garrison. A deadly discharge of quarrels followed by a charge of the heavy horse would easily have broken besieging French infantry, especially if in the open. As to Odo, well he could take the credit either way, for preventing the coup (as happened) or for not opposing it, the garrison was his. As I have speculated elsewhere, it may be that he was in collusion with Eustace, William being out of the way? One possibility for the Bayeux Tapestry is that it was intended to celebrate a joint enterprise by Eustace and Odo. If this was it, failure would account for the Tapestry being quickly hidden away and then lost for some centuries. Odo would have needed to destroy such evidence. Maybe some of the garrison were William’s men, not Odo’s, and so he needed to act with circumspection, only committing himself when the case was certain? Maybe he reckoned without English loyalty to the Crown?

Later in this same year Harold’s mother, Gytha, appeared on the scene with sons of the Godwine house and an Irish mercenary fleet. She had massive estates around Dartmoor and probably felt safe in the West Country, which seems to have been settled by English incomers under a novel security system not unlike the Anglo-Irish ‘plantations’ of Elizabeth I’s reign. If so there would also have been a discontented Damnonian residual population susceptible to promises of loot and revenge against both English and Normans, so Gytha set up her caput at Exeter and there appear to have been rumours of a massacre (said to be of ‘Normans’, if there really were so many of them in residence) early in 1068. Intelligences had by then reached Normandy and in spite of the dangers of the season King William took ship early in December 1067 to be in London during Christmas.

The remnants of Harold’s family had been particularly affected by the defeat at Hastings. With the fall of the king and both his brothers, they had been deprived of their senior representatives. Harold’s sons and heirs were as young and untried as Atheling Edgar. Faced with a stark choice between these boys, the majority of the leading Englishmen had returned not unnaturally to their familiar loyalty to Alfred’s dynasty. Deprived of political influence and military support, Harold’s family were forced to retreat before William’s advance, and seek refuge in their lands in south-west England. All the bright hopes of the beginning of the year had been dashed before its end, but the family were Harold’s heirs and fully intended to make every attempt to restore their fortunes. They also had the resources to do this. Countess Gytha’s offer for the return of Harold’s body provides an indication of the wealth still available to the family.

The family began to construct a basis for their planned return to power in the south-west, beyond William’s reach, probably under the direction of the redoubtable Countess Gytha. They chose Exeter, the fourth largest town in England, as their base. It was a wise choice as a city with direct links by sea to sources of possible support in Ireland and Denmark. In addition, the family held wide lands in the surrounding counties of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall. There they began repairing the town fortifications and securing support among the thegns of the region. They were apparently supported by a remnant of Harold’s huscarls, perhaps those occupied on other duties during the Hastings campaign or survivors of the battle, and these men provided a nucleus of trained soldiers for a new army. The intention of the family was to make a bid for the throne based on the right of an atheling, or king’s son, to succeed his father on the throne. King Harold’s sons, Godwine, the eldest, Edmund and Magnus, were all eligible for the throne on this basis. It has been held that their mother Edith’s marriage more Danico to the then Earl Harold disqualified them from the kingship. However, the succession of Harold ‘Harefoot’, son of Cnut and Aelfgifu of Northampton, in 1035 shows that such descent was not necessarily a disqualification. Not surprisingly, they appear to have had no intention of supporting Atheling Edgar, who had already been put aside by Harold and who had now passed into Norman captivity.

The evidence for a revival by Harold’s family is scarce but not entirely lacking. Countess Gytha seems to have granted land at Warrington in Devon to Abbot Sihtric of Tavistock at this time, perhaps in return for his support. This appears to have been effective, as William of Malmesbury tells us that Sihtric later became a pirate, probably indicating that he joined the raiding fleet of King Harold’s sons. Abbot Ealdred of Abingdon was another supporter of Harold’s family, in breach of an oath of allegiance to King William, and he later travelled abroad with them. The fact that Ealdred supported Harold’s family is confirmed by the abbey’s own chronicle, which connects his opposition to William specifically with that of Countess Gytha. It is even possible that it was Gytha’s advice that the abbey’s thegns listened to when they went armed to join what is termed a gathering of William’s enemies. The Abingdon Chronicle places this latter event with Bishop Aethelwine’s rebellion in 1071, but there is no strict chronological sequence in this source and thus no reason to place it in 1071 rather than 1067 or 1068. Indeed, it is possible that the men of the abbey’s forces were on their way to Exeter when they were intercepted by Norman forces during William’s offensive of winter 1068. Another of the family’s supporters may have been Abbot Saewold of Bath, who fled to Flanders at the same time as they did, taking his valuable library with him. The family must also have rallied others to their cause and recruited support locally from their own lands and possibly former royal estates. It is possible that this scenario provided an occasion for the appropriation by Queen Mathilda of the wide estates of Brihtric, son of Aelfgar, which were situated in the region. If Brihtric had been among Gytha’s supporters at Exeter, William may have ordered the forfeiture of his estates and presented them as a gift to his wife when he met her at Winchester in Easter 1068 for her coronation, just after his campaign against Harold’s family. In addition, Orderic Vitalis records that envoys were sent from Exeter to urge other cities to join its stand and this may have been part of the family’s process of rallying support. They may also have sought aid from Swein of Denmark, but, if so, none was apparently forthcoming.

The opposition to William developed and fostered in this way by Harold’s family during this period was not a national movement. At this stage, the prospect of Godwine, Harold’s son, as king of England did not receive much support outside Harold’s former earldom. Godwine was young, unproven and little known in comparison with his father. The family could probably rely on old loyalties in Wessex to provide them with support, but could not count on such support beyond its borders. Nevertheless, the rebellion in the south-west inspired by Harold’s family was one of the most significant of those which occurred in William’s absence.

The situation in England was very tense and confused by the end of 1067, with widespread unrest but no recognized central authority among the English. King William’s control was limited largely to the south-east, and his soldiers were probably little in evidence outside an area from Kent to Hampshire and from the Channel coast to East Anglia. He himself had been absent since March 1067 and his forces had been left without his direct oversight. This situation allowed many separate rebellions to develop under their own leaders and with differing aims. By the time William returned to England in December 1067, many areas of the country were in open revolt, including Dover, the Welsh Borders and much of Northumbria, as well as the south-west. In most of these areas the uprisings were locally inspired and led by fairly minor local figures and until the return of the captive English leaders from Normandy, it was the rebellion in the south-west which provided the principal rallying point.

The significance of Harold’s family’s stand is made clear by the fact that, despite the wide extent of these rebellions, William on his return chose to strike first against Exeter. He did so almost immediately, undertaking a difficult winter campaign early in 1068. This haste was undoubtedly because William considered this to be the greatest threat to his position. It is likely that William reached this conclusion not simply because it was indeed the most substantial threat he faced, but also because it involved the sons of his dead rival, King Harold. Although Godwine, Edmund and Magnus were still young, they were old enough to lead military forces later in 1068 and therefore already represented a potential menace to William’s still insecure throne. They had refused to submit to William in 1066, unlike Atheling Edgar, and were obviously dangerous threats to the legitimacy of his kingship. Taking these things into account, the reason that William directed his entire army against Exeter in the depth of winter immediately on his return is readily understandable.

Correspondingly, the strength of Exeter’s resistance to William surely indicates something more than Orderic’s statement that it arose from a desire to preserve the laws and customs of the town. This purpose would surely be much better served by a speedy submission and a request for a writ from the new king securing these customs, as in the case of London. The real reason may have been loyalty to King Harold’s family; Countess Gytha was certainly present, if not also his sons, in the town during the siege. The attempts of the citizens to recruit wider support certainly speak of more serious reasons. Whatever the reason, William spent some eighteen days laying siege to the town, and a large part of his army perished in the process. The eighteen-day defence put up by the citizens demonstrates that the English burh was still a very effective defensive structure when properly garrisoned, despite the fashion among some for considering the Norman castle superior. Nevertheless, William’s persistence paid off and the city was forced to submit, according to the Chronicle, ‘because the thegns had betrayed them’. This may indicate that the citizens expected relief or aid from the local thegns which did not come. Alternatively, it may mean that some of the thegns who made up the garrison deserted. John of Worcester portrays the garrison as consisting of the citizens and only some thegns. In either case, this failure probably reflects the political and military inexperience of those directing the defence, possibly Harold’s sons.

Whether King Harold’s sons were actually present in Exeter during the siege, escaping before the surrender as his mother did, or whether they were perhaps among those who failed to bring relief is unknown. John of Worcester mentions Gytha’s escape with ‘many others’, and perhaps this included Harold’s sons and other family, and Abbot Sihtric of Tavistock. Escape by ship down the river Exe seems most likely given the siege conditions on land and Gytha’s subsequent move to Flatholme. William’s swift and decisive action against Exeter had severely undermined the family’s position in the south-west, and his subsequent pursuit into Cornwall compelled them to take flight overseas. Countess Gytha and other ladies, probably including Harold’s daughter, Gytha, and his sister, Gunnhild, went out to the island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel where they were relatively safe but prepared for a quick return. Despite the set-back at Exeter, King Harold’s sons were not yet ready to give up and, perhaps recalling stories of their father’s previous exile, they sailed to Dublin with their huscarls to seek aid from King Diarmait. He still ruled Dublin and commanded its mercenaries, and he welcomed them as he had their father. He and ‘his princes’, perhaps a reference to his son, Murchad, provided them with support, possibly in memory of their father but more likely in return for some of the family treasure. Indeed, part of this treasure, ‘the battle standard of the King of the Saxons’, was presented by King Diarmait to his ally Toirdelbach, King of Munster, that same year. This may have been the standard of the deceased King Edward, perhaps the Dragon of Wessex shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, as King Harold’s own personal banner undoubtedly fell into Norman hands after Hastings.

With Diarmait’s assistance, King Harold’s sons returned unexpectedly from Ireland in the summer of 1068. Their naval force, recruited in Dublin, landed at the mouth of the river Avon and ravaged the surrounding district. They then attempted to take the town of Bristol, perhaps to replace their lost base at Exeter with one closer to their new supporters in Ireland. The citizens of Bristol proved unsympathetic and they were forced to attempt to take it by storm, which suggests that they had a considerable force under their command. The citizens resisted them fiercely, perhaps fearing the same fate as Exeter when William retaliated or simply distrustful of the brothers’ Hiberno-Norse mercenaries. Their assault unsuccessful, the brothers were forced to take what booty they had gathered and move down the coast to Somerset, perhaps near the mouth of the river Parret. There, Godwine held lands at nearby Nettlecombe and Langford Budville, and the Taunton mint could be raided. Again the brothers met with resistance, this time led by Eadnoth the Staller, who had previously served their father but had now submitted to William. In the battle which resulted, many fell on both sides, including Eadnoth and probably one of the king’s sons as only two appear to have returned a year later. The brothers were apparently victorious in this battle but it did not provide the swift breakthrough or accession of support they hoped. William’s decisive action at Exeter had been too effective in cowing English resistance. The surviving brothers, Godwine and perhaps Edmund, though the latter’s name is nowhere recorded, returned to Ireland with their remaining forces and a considerable amount of loot. The reference to spoils in John of Worcester may reflect these events, or perhaps those of the following year as he mentions raids in Devon and Cornwall and Harold’s sons were to raid that area in 1069.

King Harold’s sons were still not prepared to give up their attempts at the restoration of their fortunes in England. In the next year, 1069, at midsummer they secured another large fleet from Dublin, consisting of over sixty ships this time. Orderic says ‘they landed first at Exeter’, and if this is correct and not a confused reference to their possible earlier sojourn there this probably represents an attempt to revive their earlier success. However, the new Norman castle in the town effectively prevented any further rebellion on the part of the citizens. In addition, William’s relatively lenient treatment of their rebellion in 1068 encouraged them not to risk these terms by further insurrection. The brothers then appear to have turned to raid the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall, perhaps in frustration at their failure to rouse Exeter. Domesday Book records lands laid waste there by the Irishmen of their fleet between Kingsbridge Estuary and Bigbury Bay. Similarly, waste recorded in the Lizard peninsula may also be attributable to their activities.

The brothers then rounded Lands End and came ashore in the mouth of the river Taw in north Devon. They laid waste the countryside around Barnstable and moved inland, perhaps again heading for Godwine’s estates at Nettlecombe and Langford Budville near Milverton in Somerset. However, the lack of any opposition so far on this trip appears to have made the brothers incautious, and they were caught out by a large Norman force under Count Brian. In the battle or series of encounters that followed, most of the brothers’ best men were slain, as many as 1,700 according to William of Jumieges and including a number of thegns, and only a small force escaped at nightfall to return to Ireland.

This disaster finally put an end to the immediate attempts by King Harold’s sons to reclaim the English throne. They were unable to recruit further mercenary forces, perhaps because their resources of treasure were running out, but principally because of their lack of success to date, and especially in 1069. It was probably at this time that Countess Gytha and her ladies finally abandoned their refuge on Flatholme and sought refuge at St Omer in Flanders. King Harold’s dynasty had abandoned its hopes of regaining the throne directly and, as circumstances were to prove, finally.

Many have seen the family’s hopes as foolish, and the actions of King Harold’s sons as irrelevant. However, England during the period 1067–9 was in chaos and the whole country seethed with rebellion. During this time, several claimants to the throne competed for support, including Atheling Edgar, Earls Edwin and Morcar, using Harold’s son by Alditha, Swein of Denmark, and William himself. Therefore, it was not unreasonable for King Harold’s sons also to enter this contest, and to feel that they had as good a chance as any of success. The failure even to come near to achieving their aim was due in the main to William’s decisive reaction to the very real threat they posed. His campaign in the south-west decisively nipped their schemes in the bud. Subsequently, they were forced to base themselves abroad and use mercenary troops, making it difficult for them to win any real support in England. Another significant factor was their failure to win the support of their cousin, Swein of Denmark, who was clearly intent on pursuing his own claim to the throne rather than supporting that of his cousins. The fact that many of Harold’s key supporters had fallen at Hastings and that the Normans controlled a large part of the family lands in the south-east severely handicapped them. The brothers inexperience in warfare was also a contributory factor to their failure, although the long defence of Exeter and their victory over Eadnoth suggest this was not decisive. Perhaps if either Gyrth or Leofwine, with their greater authority and experience, had survived the battle at Hastings things might have been different.

The brothers’ bid for the throne was over, but this was not the end of the story. A considerable amount is known about the fate of the remnants of King Harold’s family after their final withdrawal from England in 1069. The elderly Countess Gytha, with Harold’s sister, Gunnhild, probably settled in quiet retirement at St Omer in Flanders, where Count Baldwin VI apparently received them charitably as relatives of his aunt Judith and in spite of their rivalry with his brother-in-law, William of Normandy. Countess Gytha’s remaining treasure may have helped to persuade Baldwin to provide them with refuge. Thereafter, the royal ladies performed good works, and the death of the king’s sister, Gunnhild, was recorded at Bruges in 1087. She bequeathed a psalter with Anglo-Saxon glosses to St Donation’s in Bruges and this book, known as ‘Gunnhild’s Psalter’, was still there in the sixteenth century. She also donated a collection of religious relics to St Donation’s, most notably the mantle of St Bridget. A copy of Aelfric’s works donated to St Bertin’s may, perhaps, have been a legacy of Countess Gytha.

It seems likely that King Harold’s sons escorted these ladies to Flanders, as it would have been rather risky for them to navigate the Norman controlled Channel alone. Although Baldwin’s hospitality was undoubtedly extended to the ladies of Harold’s family, it might seem unlikely that he would also provide refuge for Harold’s sons. After all, he had close ties with King William, and Harold had also been responsible for the death of his aunt Judith’s husband. It is possible that Baldwin intended to use them as a form of insurance should his alliance with William fail. It should be recalled that the Flemish counts had a long history of hostile relations with England, and William, of course, was now King of England. If this assumption is accurate, then the presence of these exiles must have caused King William considerable unease. Indeed, the arrival of this group in Flanders, perhaps in late 1069 or early 1070, may have prompted William to depose Bishop Aethelric of Sussex on 24 May 1070, in case he became a fifth column in support of their return. He was, after all, a relative of the family and based in the ancient family heartland just across the Channel from them. Therefore, it became imperative to remove him for political reasons. It seems likely that this was the reason for Papal concern about this particular deposition, as expressed in a number of later Papal letters. On 16 July 1070 Baldwin VI died and a succession dispute broke out between his infant sons, supported by King William, and his brother, Robert the Frisian. This dispute ended on 22 February 1071 at the battle of Cassel, the victory falling to William’s enemy, Robert, who became the uncontested Count of Flanders. The threat of a descent by Harold’s sons on Sussex from a hostile Flanders may have contributed to the unusual organization of the Norman castellanries in the Sussex rapes.


At first the surviving citizens of Exeter sent a delegation to humbly offer surrender but on arrival William found the walls manned and defiant, explicable if Damnonian elements had united with the Irish invaders. The siege which followed was apparently bitter and bloody but when the Godwine faction circumspectly deserted it came to an end. To their surprise the now helpless citizens were reasonably well treated (it had hardly been their fault) and the King then moved on into Cornwall, a further indication of the ethnic and regional nature of the support obtained by Gytha and her Irish mercenaries. So that is how the English and Norman colonists presumably regained control of their estates in Devon and Cornwall. Disbanding his army, William celebrated Easter at Winchester, distributing those lands now forfeited by Gytha and her followers and also selling Northumbria to a petitioner (Gospatric) for a handsome sum. Already the Crown was in need of ready money having taken so much loot to Normandy in 1067. At Whitsun Mathilde, William’s consort, was crowned Queen in England, a further indication of settled conditions.

Gytha and the sons of the Godwin House II

Gytha, grand-daughter of Gytha, given in wedlock by Svein Estrithsson (on Harold’s behalf) to Valdemar the Grand Prince of Smolensk and Koenungagard (Kiev)

Younger Gytha

It was probably from Flanders, where they had accompanied or followed the ladies of the family, that King Harold’s sons, Godwine and Edmund, journeyed to the court of their cousin, Swein of Denmark, accompanied by their sister, Gytha. This is recorded by Saxo Grammaticus, who, although writing much later, seems to portray a not improbable situation and whose account is perhaps confirmed by two independent sources. The latter record an embassy to Denmark by Godwine the younger, mistakenly identified as Harold’s brother rather than his son, which sought King Swein’s aid against William. The brothers may have hoped that their arrival in Denmark would finally secure Swein’s backing for their restoration. If so, they were swiftly disillusioned, as Swein’s own recent invasions of England had proved fairly disastrous and he was in no hurry to repeat them. Thereafter, Swein’s death in 1074 or 1076 ushered in a period of confusion, which was not fully resolved until well into the next century. The final fate of Godwine and Edmund is unknown, but Gytha, according to later Scandinavian sources, was sent by Swein to marry the Russian Prince of Smolensk, Vladimir Monomakh. The date of this event is unclear but it probably occurred in 1074 or 1075. It has been objected that no Russian source records the name of Vladimir’s first wife and Vladimir’s own testament records her only as the mother of his son, George. However, this is not unusual and many women are unnamed in Russian sources, including Vladimir’s own Byzantine mother, and the fact of the marriage appears to be generally accepted.

Prince Vladimir was then around twenty-one years old and ruler of the city of Smolensk in western Russia. He held an important but not key position in the complex hierarchy of Russian princes. At this time, Russia consisted of a series of principalities each based on a major city and each ruled by a member of the dynasty of St Vladimir. The principalities were arranged in a rough hierarchy with Kiev at the summit, usually ruled by the senior prince. Vladimir probably welcomed his marriage as providing him with a royal connection. It also brought with it an alliance with the Danes, which might prove very useful in dissuading the neighbouring Poles from invading Russia.

The marriage proved fruitful and in 1076 Msistislav, the first of a number of sons, was born to Gytha in Novgorod. Two years later, Vladimir was promoted to the position of Prince of Chernigov, following the expulsion of his cousin, Oleg, from that city. He successfully ruled this, the second city in Russia and an important bastion, for some sixteen years, defending it against a series of attacks by the steppe nomads. Finally, in 1094, he was expelled by Oleg with the aid of nomad allies and he moved to his father’s city of Pereyaslavl. It is likely that Gytha accompanied her husband throughout this period and shared his successes and failures. She appears to have provided him with a large number of children, perhaps as many as eight sons and three daughters. In this respect, Gytha appears to have been as fruitful as her mother, Edith ‘Swan-neck’, and her grandmother and namesake, Gytha.

Gytha’s life as a Russian princess may have been relatively pleasant. Although Russia was in many ways a strange land and very different from her own England, some things were familiar. A testament written by Vladimir himself records a great deal about the family. This relates that Vladimir’s father understood five languages, one of which must have been Norse, since Vladimir’s grandmother was a Swedish princess. This implies that Gytha and her husband both spoke Norse and so were able to converse with ease. In addition, Vladimir was a great warrior and hunter very much in the mould of Harold, Gytha’s own father. He was a devout Christian and a founder of churches in a number of Russian cities. He ruled in a similar fashion to an English king through councils, courts and military force. He was very wealthy even by English standards, and Gytha would have lived in some style. He appears to have had very strong feelings for his family, although these are usually only expressed towards his brothers and sons. Thus he records Gytha’s death, though not her name, and among the advice he offers to his sons is ‘Love your wives, but grant them no power over you’. This perhaps sums up their relationship.

Sadly, Gytha died on 7 May 1107 before her husband attained the pinnacle of his career by becoming Grand Prince of Kiev in 1113. The eldest of her sons, Msistislav, born in Novgorod in 1076, was widely known in the Norse world by her father’s name, Harold. He went on to succeed his father as Grand Prince of Kiev in 1125, ruling the city until his own death in 1132. This Russian Harold, according to Norse sources, had a daughter called Ingibiorg, who later married Cnut Lavard of Denmark and bore him a son who became King Valdemar I of Denmark, from whom the current queens of both Denmark and Great Britain are ultimately descended. In this way, the blood of King Harold Godwineson, runs again in the veins of the rulers of England.

Godwine Family Survival

The Norman-French writers assure us of a conspiracy, so that may well have been the tale told to William by his half-brother Odo, in order to excuse his absence from Dover. Meanwhile the Godwines were certainly sending envoys to the Danes and invitations to other towns to join the insurrection: they needed allies, which in itself tells us they did not have English support. King William imposed a heavy geld on England and set about raising an army. This army also included the English fyrd, so it was an Anglo-Norman army that marched on rebellious Exeter in 1068 in order to save the English settlers of the West Country and a few Norman nobles.

Other members of King Harold’s family also survived the Conquest. Harold, his son by Queen Alditha, born early in 1067 at Chester, and named after his dead father, probably became a pawn in the political struggles against William after 1066. This young Harold was probably used by his uncles, Earls Edwin and Morcar, as a threat to King William in their attempts to secure their own position in England. Although this is not stated in any of the sources, it is probable that when Edwin and Morcar, disappointed with William’s treatment of them, rebelled in 1068 and again in 1069, they used the potent threat of young Harold’s claim to the kingdom against William. This was also probably the reason for the failure of Edwin and Morcar to join the other English rebels until 1071, when it was too late. The others supported Atheling Edgar as king, but the northern earls wanted their young nephew Harold on the throne. The response to this threat was William’s dramatic winter march across the Pennines in 1069–70 to occupy Chester, and finally to crush the two earls in a battle near Stafford. As a result, Harold and his mother fled, probably to Dublin, with which, as a former wife of Gruffydd of Wales, she would have been familiar. Ultimately, the young Harold apparently journeyed to Norway, where William of Malmesbury plausibly suggests that he was well received by Olaf Haraldsson, in return for the merciful treatment he himself had earlier received from King Harold, after Stamford Bridge. Young Harold is next found among the followers of King Magnus Olafsson off the Isle of Anglesey in 1098 when a battle was fought against the Norman earls of Shrewsbury and Chester, during which, by one of history’s ironies, Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was struck from a distance with a fatal arrow. Thereafter, young Harold disappears from the records.

King Harold’s remaining daughter, Gunnhild, seems to have been stranded in England at the time of the Conquest and she is first recorded in the Vita Wulfstani as a nun at Wilton. She was perhaps already there in 1066, as part of her education, like her aunt Queen Edith. Initially, she remained there as a refugee from the Normans, using the protection afforded to those who had taken the veil as her safeguard. She shared her comfortable confinement there with another royal lady, Edith, the daughter of Malcolm and St Margaret of Scotland and the niece of Atheling Edgar. Subsequently, she was probably virtually imprisoned there in order to prevent her posing a threat to King William by marrying a rival and thus transmitting a claim to the throne. Indeed, she became the centre of just such a controversy after King William’s death. In August 1093, in the reign of William Rufus, in her late thirties or forties, Gunnhild was abducted by Alan the Red, Earl of Richmond. She lived with Earl Alan, sinfully according to Anselm, until his death soon after, perhaps in late 1093 or early 1094. Perhaps in an attempt to preserve her freedom, she then sought to marry the dead earl’s brother and successor, Alan the Black.

The main evidence for this episode comes from two letters written to Gunnhild by Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, at some time after his consecration on 4 December 1093. According to the first of these, Gunnhild, who was now living with Alan the Red, claimed she was not bound to her position as a nun because she had never made a formal profession before a bishop, and that a promise made to her of an abbacy had not been honoured. This argument would have been accepted by Archbishop Lanfranc, Anselm’s predecessor, and perhaps provides confirmation of her status as a refugee later forced to remain at Wilton rather than a nun. Anselm accepted these facts, but because of his stricter views he urged her to return to the cloister, although she was no longer a virgin. He suggested that Alan the Red would repudiate her. In spite of its stern message, his letter is written in tenderness to an errant princess and in it Anselm refers to Gunnhild as his ‘dearest and most longed for daughter’. He had already met her, probably when he visited England in 1086, and developed a close platonic relationship with her. In a subsequent letter following Alan the Red’s death, when Gunnhild had taken up with Alan the Black, Anselm predicted that his death also would follow if she remained with him. Anselm was now aware that Gunnhild had worn the veil willingly and, as a result, his second letter is much colder in tone, as he attempts to disgust Gunnhild with the world and compel her to return to the cloister, but it nevertheless remains respectful.

This episode indicates Gunnhild’s continued status and importance despite the passage of nearly thirty years since King Harold’s death and the long campaign of villification directed against the latter. The Breton earls desired links with her, probably to legitimize their usurpation of her mother’s lands in the Midlands. The Norman kings attempted to keep her in seclusion for fear of her potential threat as an heiress, not merely of these lands, but of a kingdom. The head of the English Church behaved with the respect due to her nobility and royal lineage even when offended by her conduct.

Two other relatives of King Harold remain to be considered, both of whom spent most of their lives in prison. Wulfnoth, his younger brother, had been taken hostage as a boy aged around fifteen, and imprisoned in Normandy. He was to suffer greatly, spending the rest of his life in prison. Harold had failed in his attempt to have him released in 1064, and although his release was ordered by a dying King William in 1087, he was instead taken to England by King William II Rufus and imprisoned in Winchester. The latter probably considered his own hold on the English throne too weak to permit Wulfnoth, brother of the last Anglo-Saxon king, to be released to provide a focus of dissent. Therefore, Wulfnoth languished in captivity, produced on occasion for inspection, until his death, an old man of fifty-eight, in 1094 at Winchester.

King Harold’s son Ulf also ended up in Norman custody. It has been suggested that he was another son of Harold and Queen Alditha, perhaps a twin with young Harold, but this seems unlikely and there certainly exists no evidence for it. It is more likely that he was another son of Harold and Edith, and if this is the case he would have been a youth, aged somewhere between thirteen and nineteen in 1066. This makes it more feasible that he could have been captured separately from his brothers, perhaps during the chaotic period immediately after Hastings, and taken to Normandy. Whatever the case, he too languished in prison during William’s reign but was to prove more fortunate than his uncle Wulfnoth. When released in 1087, as part of the dying King William’s amnesty, he fell into the hands of Robert ‘Curthose’, who as Duke of Normandy and excluded from the English throne had no fears about Ulf’s claim. He not only released Ulf, but knighted him as well, after which he also departs from the pages of history.

Thus in spite of the fall of King Harold and his brothers at Hastings, his remaining family, scattered and increasingly powerless as they were, remained a real and dangerous threat to William’s occupation of the English throne. This was particularly the case in the period 1067–8, when they threatened to develop a rival power base in south-west England. A fearful William dealt ruthlessly with this resistance and thereafter, the direct influence of the family gradually declined. However, although King William’s position in England was militarily secure by around 1070 and remained so in spite of further external threats, notably from the Danes in 1086, the legitimacy of his dynasty remained in a sense uncertain. Thus members of King Harold’s family, even those in close custody of one form or another, remained a real threat and possible focus of opposition not only to King William I but also to his son and successor, William II. This surely is testimony to the insecurity of the original Norman claim to the throne and perhaps also to its lack of foundation. Indeed, it was only really in 1100 when William’s younger son, Henry I, married Edith, daughter of St Margaret of Scotland, that the Norman hold on the throne gained wide acceptance among the English. She was a niece of Atheling Edgar of ‘the true royal line of England’, and brought with her the legitimacy bestowed by descent from King Alfred. This legitimacy in the end neither King Harold’s descendants nor his Norman conquerors could match.


After Hastings…

Battle of Hastings, 1066. Reconstruction drawing. Artist Jason Askew. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Location of major events during the Norman conquest of England in 1066

In retrospect the Battle of Hastings was a decisive battle, but on the day after the battle and for weeks, maybe months, afterwards it did not seem so to the victors. We can forget all about them being a race of supermen, they did not possess magical powers, they were ordinary human beings and their horses were (for all their expense) ordinary horses. They had fought a battle which lasted four times as long as it should have done and won it by a fluke just as the sun was going down. Nor should we ignore the English ethic of dying with one’s lord so that in the darkness, with all men so resembling one another, the confusion must have been considerable. Even the fortunate survivors finally lay, like the dead, next to them on the ground.

Somehow they had survived the night free from surprise attack, clustered together in tight, comrade groups for security, probably with little if any food and certainly no clean water. Adrenalin-fuelled by the prospect of death and then by the massacre of their enemies, exhausted by unremitting exertions, sound and wounded alike would have been choking mad with thirst. If there was any beer in the English camp lines of the night before it would have gone to their leaders. For the majority of the dazed survivors the only liquid available was in watercourses running with mud, blood, faeces and urine from men and beasts; the same was true for their mounts. By dawn they would be able to ascertain that no English force remained nearby and so they could safely forage and disperse. By mid-morning large numbers of horses and men would have been far from well.

For the men it would be vomiting and diarrhoea to add to the misery of walking wounded and the bone-weary soldiers, then there were the seriously wounded to attend to and there were thousands of corpses attracting flies, kites, crows and ravens. For the horses their ‘standdown’, even if attended by superhuman handlers, would have brought on azoturia, serious ‘Monday morning sickness’ (ERS) with staggers, blowing and sweating and ‘boarding’ of the big muscles in loins and quarters. Colic would be another major problem, especially if they had been poisoned by water crowfoot, while the shock and stress could well engender incipient strangles, which then becomes contagious. It is doubtful they had anything like the 10 gallons of water required either the day before or the morning after and water shortage and faulty feeding themselves cause ‘unthriftiness’. Many would have wounds and lameness and sprains would have been commonplace. Horsemanship takes second place in a fight for survival and the veterinary ‘bill’ has to be paid after a battle. At least five days of intensive treatment would be required for azoturia, and that is what William allowed.

Nor were the essential heavy horse the only arm incapacitated, the archers and especially the crossbowmen would also have been temporarily out of action. For at least a day there would have been a grisly search among the corpses to retrieve as many missiles as possible, all the more difficult with crossbow bolts (quarrels) because of their high impact. Then would follow the task of creating new ammunition from any heads available. No doubt scouts were desperately seeking news of any enemy, though careful not to get caught in the broken country of the Weald, others would be requisitioning or bringing up supplies from Pevensey. Everyone would be apprehensive: surely if other troops had been marching to join Harold’s army they would now be out there, waiting for the right moment, and they had the advantage of knowing the terrain. Now without sufficient heavy horse or crossbowmen the Norman-French infantry, already badly mauled, would need to face English infantry on their own. Gallopers must have been sent back to the royal stud at Eastbourne for remounts, though they could hardly take the place of the lost and disabled destriers and they would have taken two or three days to come up.

Miraculously no army came, but neither did anyone sue for peace or offer ‘tribute’. What could it mean? Remember, the story that Duke William was seeking his rightful inheritance and that thousands of men joined his cause in righteous indignation is no more than a story. It is a later justification and an invention and, albeit an invention which can be made to fit the events apparently shown on the Bayeux Tapestry, a source that actually has nothing to say about promises of kingship and makes no reference at all to a ‘King William’, remarkable omissions had these been the real causus belli. The truth is that this invasion was a joint-stock venture by avaricious French super-rich lords and it is more than likely that they would have accepted, at this stage, some sort of tribute payment if it was at least the size of the one formerly offered to Cnut. In the absence of either an enemy or an embassy, the expedition was faced with the problem of what to do next.

Duke William of Normandy, Odo of Bayeux (his half-brother bishop) and Count Eustace II of Boulogne were undoubtedly the chief stockholders, the wealthiest among the leaders. Eustace seems happy to have passed all risks over to William together with overall command, the bishop could not challenge either his ‘cloth’ or his brother for command, but between the three of them they seem to have received some critical intelligences. The first of these had been the availability of Pevensey, an impregnable fortress with a port, wharves and harbour roads: we will see as the campaign unfolds just what the other intelligences may have been. Once the surviving destriers had been nursed back to effective strength and remounts brought up the intervening 25 to 30 miles (by circumferential roadways), after five days, the field force moved out eastwards to round up other ports and make for Canterbury. Dover, with its ‘castle’, and Canterbury, with its archbishop, were essential key points by which to threaten London and any remaining English unity of command. Surely there were other English leaders eager to take on this now battered and depleted expedition? One battle does not win a campaign and William, unlike his enemies, had no reinforcements. Therefore he needed to enforce payment through panic.

Should the Franco-Norman-Breton expeditionary force take the risk of advancing, attempting to force a payment of tribute? If so, where should they aim for, London or Winchester? Should they move back to the safety of Pevensey and wait for an embassy? It would be foolhardy indeed to presume a power vacuum with such a rich prize at stake. What William, as the apparent commander-in-chief, required most of all was time, time for his men and mounts to recover, time to begin training the most promising of the remounts. Time would make his forces stronger so the longer the English vacillated, the better. For perhaps a fortnight William garnered his resources in the Hastings district (later renamed as the ‘Rape of Hastings’) of East Sussex, an area replete with supplies not only because of the season (and all harvests now gathered in) but also because it supplied the industrial workforce in the Weald with provisions. However, when they then decided that it had become time to act it also became necessary for them to commit an act of terror, the customary prelude to a territorial campaign. The choice William now made seems instructive.

The invaders actually marched on Romney, just over the border in Kent. We do not know whether some of the force had originally landed there by mistake or whether it had resisted requisitioning but the panegyrist, William of Poitiers, tells us that such was the excuse for making an example of the port. Burning it out also made sure that there was no local chandlery or harbour facility to challenge Pevensey or Rye. Then the question remains, how did Rye escape a similar fate, situated as it then was on the Sussex side of the same lagoon and wetlands ecology occupied by Romney on the Kent (north) side? It looks as though there was an element of reward involved: Rye had perhaps co-operated with the invaders, Romney had not. Strategically, with Romney destroyed, Rye would then have dominated this lagoon just as Pevensey dominated its lagoon. It is therefore not impossible that the men of the Hastings/ Pevensey (Sussex) district had an ancient grudge to settle and so cooperated in this naval attack. Kent now knew what to expect if it opposed the expeditionary army.

Dover was a formidable natural obstacle strengthened by its ‘castle’, which was probably focused on the old Roman Pharos, and we are told that it had a strong garrison but William’s advance now put them into a panic and so this port also capitulated. The army halted and there was looting and burning, there was also a serious outbreak of dysentery, meaning that the sickness had reached crisis point. William’s army had now secured the Channel coastline, a further incentive for reinforcements to join the expedition. Now (if not before) it seems a plan of conquest began to form as an alternative to tribute. It was obviously a plan based not only on strategic acumen but also on reliable intelligences. If Muhammad would not come to the mountain then the mountain must go to Muhammad.

Romney had provided a positive example, Dover an equivocal one (the damage was blamed not on policy but on indiscipline), so when Duke William’s forces moved on Canterbury, the Ecclesiastical heart of England, the citizens sent out an embassy and wisely submitted. The Archdiocese and the Archbishop’s caput were thus secured and the next move was to send a strong flying column to Winchester, now the seat of the dowager Queen Edith. Immediately she and the city’s fathers also submitted, thus providing William with the most eligible pawn in the political power game, one he could set alongside control of the spiritual focus of England and one who had perhaps been the cause of Harold’s visit to France in 1064, Edith. It also provided him with some highly restricted information which was held in this ancient English capital. Who gave this intelligence to him, that we do not know. What was it? It was that Winchester was the heart of the English administration, what we would call the civil service: here at Winchester were the ancient royal records including the fiscal and territorial records of that unique English specie-taxation, the geld. We will discuss this at length later, but I doubt that William or his fellow stock-holders really knew what a treasure they had just secured or the part it was destined to play in William’s lasting achievement. I doubt it because English administration and surveying were pre-eminent and unique in Europe and so not something any Frenchman could possibly comprehend. Once we have dealt with the invasion we will return to this secret information but, for the moment, I suggest William’s concern was for money, tribute from the legendary geld. He had a mercenary army to reward.

The next thrust had to be and was a big one. Leaving the sick and dying to fend for themselves (under the tender mercies of English citizens), the army made for London, the commercial heart of the kingdom. Here was money indeed: when England had paid tribute with geld of £72,000, London had paid a further £10,500. A mere square mile called London was as valuable as 14–15 per cent of England. The Franco-Norman army entered Southwark, then separated from London proper, only to find that the citizens of the city had destroyed London Bridge. Here were the ‘horns of a dilemma’: London must be secured but London must not be destroyed. Its wealth was critical to both sides. Moreover the heart of the City still lay behind massive, ancient walls, impregnable if defended. William pulled back and moved on westwards leaving Southwark in flames. The Southwark Strand, its wharves and warehouses were lost, but the value goods and bullion lay secured within the City. It only remained to arrange the capitulation of the City with its treasures intact.

The Ætheling Edgar had by now been elected by many of the Witan but only a weak sortie was made before the bridge was destroyed. So William had now secured the south coast, contained the Weald and its armaments industry, divorced the Archbishop from his See and from his power and confined Edith so that she could not offer marriage to any challenger. With the ruthlessness of the age, William set about a reign of terror ravaging parts of Sussex and Kent, Hampshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex in order to ‘make the pips squeak’. He stopped briefly at Wallingford, no doubt strengthening that ancient fortress, larger than nearby Oxford and so the key to the river crossing, which in the Burghal Hidage had contained a circuit of 3,300 yards and so 140 acres (by its formula). Here Archbishop Stigand came to make his peace and to renounce any allegiance to the Ætheling. One wonders what was passing through the minds of the expedition’s leaders now, William, Odo, maybe Robert, certainly Eustace? In the words of the Afghan proverb, ‘me and my clan against the tribe, me and my family against the clan, me and my brothers against the family, me against my brothers’.

Swinging north-east, the army now continued with a secure flank to Berkhamsted where there was an English burgh or ‘castle’, probably on the site now covered by the later Norman motte. The Earls Eadwine and Morcar, who should have led the English, apparently deserted London for their own lands in the north of England leaving the citizens and English refugees to defend the boy-king Edgar and their city against this terrifyingly vengeful alliance army. Accepting necessity ‘after most damage had been done’, a delegation of English magnates escorted Edgar to Berkhamstead to submit to Duke William, the French army’s supreme commander. This was a Witan, though never named. What had started as a joint-stock venture, almost certainly for tribute and loot, had become a conquest of a kingdom by default. And so there arose a problem. Edgar had not been crowned and so, in French (though not in English) eyes, could not be King yet there was a kingdom and it required to be governed, defended and administered. It required a ‘strong’ man. Norman sources tell us that the English magnates begged William to become King, the obvious source of stability, but he was not the best, the pre-eminent, candidate in French eyes. Count Eustace II of Boulogne, of the Carolingian line and dynasty, married to the late King Edward’s sister Godgifu, was the man on the ground, King Philip of France, the nominal (if juvenile) overlord to all the joint stock-holders, was the theoretical ‘loyal’ choice.

There clearly followed considerable discussion, William (we are told) hanging back, Eustace in a weak position when faced with Bishop Odo of Bayeux and by Robert of Mortain, both of them William’s brothers. The subordinate commanders and the soldiery wanted their rewards, traditionally handed out by the supreme commander as ‘gold-giver’, so wasn’t a big chief and gold-giver ‘the King’? It would have been foolish for Eustace to protest (especially if his son was Odo’s hostage) but, no doubt, he was given promises of extensive estates and ample treasure. For the English magnates and Witan it was essential to stop the devastation and restore some sort of order and William was the only power, or the only one as yet. Given the recent problems in the north of England, in Harold’s reign and before that in Edward’s, the English needed a protecting army. Quite accidentally, William had pulled out the plum, now he needed to find a good reason to accede to the Crown. Meanwhile he had a major problem: the mercenaries who comprised a good part of his joint forces had to be brought under some sort of control and that required cash.

William’s advance guard seems to have run into resistance from some of the survivors from Hastings who had filled the City, though the ensuing conflict does not appear to have had disastrous results. Immediately the invaders set about building a secure fortification, a ‘castle’, outside the city walls on the east side. William himself seems to have felt secure and to have taken up his residence in Edward’s new palace at Westminster, so his forces were controlling both ends of the City and no doubt his ships were in control on the river. The City was now ‘battened down’ and we have no evidence that William feared its citizens. This last point has relevance to what followed.

On Christmas Day Duke William went to the new Westminster Abbey (St Peter’s) to be crowned by Archbishop Ealdred of York. He went wearing his helmet and a mounted escort stood outside but there does not appear to have been a major military parade, so no especial security against an English attack was deemed necessary. Rather, one suspects, William was taking precautions against his own followers when he wore his helmet? Herein, it seems, lay the root of the trouble that followed for while he was within some of his soldiers began looting and burning the City, which quickly dispersed the crowds in terror. If it seemed a bad omen to all who remained, including King William, what was notable was his respect for and adherence to the traditional and legal ceremony: he took the English Coronation Oath and was acclaimed by all. Now he was not only elected by some sort of field Witan, he was also crowned. God had sanctioned his nomination and succession.

What are we to conclude from the evidence before us? Well the pronationalists have spent two centuries repeating that a shout of acclamation within the Abbey Church caused William’s troops outside to conclude that maquisards were attacking him so, rather than entering and clearing the church, they began to burn down the houses around it, just to teach the English a lesson. Is this logical? Well, fortunately they did not set the City on fire. Let us instead place our evidence together piece by piece. The English had already offered William the Crown so this Coronation ceremony was just that, a ceremony, one designed to impress William’s followers with the fact of kingship. In spite of the City being filled with Englishmen, William had chosen to take up residence at the western end (Westminster Palace) while his troops built a ‘castle’ at the east end of the City. This was not evidence of insecurity. On the river was his fleet. On the south bank Southwark was destroyed. Next, William went to his Coronation wearing a helmet but we are not told of any great assemblage of his forces either inside or outside the Abbey, we are just told there was an escort waiting outside. We should remember that William was a vassal of the King of France and not a free agent and that he had taken some time before accepting the Crown from the English delegation. Maybe his brothers were loyal to him, as yet, but Eustace of Boulogne himself had a better claim to the throne of England and he was also a partner in this enterprise which should have been on behalf of the King of France.

It sounds as though William was apprehensive that someone among his own coterie might attempt to sabotage his coronation, this being rather more likely than an English suicide squad breaking into the Abbey. If such a group of zealots had been feared, where then were the security forces and why did no one clear the Abbey? Let us instead consider that William’s polyglot and heterogeneous army had been in cantonments, in transit and in the field (now) for four months or more and, as yet, remained unrewarded, unpaid. The majority of them were not his tenants, only his hirelings. The royal escort would have been derelict in their duty if they had left the Abbey when William was supposedly under threat and still inside, so we should assume that they held their ground, on parade, ready for action if required. That only leaves us with renegades, mercenaries, ‘making hay while the sun shone’, indulging in the fruits of victory, in looting, murder, rape and arson, now that their commander had been installed as King. One way or another, William’s dangers lay within his own forces, either among dissident elements, envious plotters or, most likely, the presence of too many mercenaries.

Quickly he took steps to pay off his uncertain soldiery and to assure his new subjects of his respect for their laws. Always canny, he took immediate steps to bestow treasure (no doubt from English sources) upon French monasteries and upon the Papacy. In English eyes the fact of victory was confirmation that God had willed it, yet the added confirmation of such piety and gratitude ensured that Mother Church would also discern the hand of the Lord at work in his victory. As for the English, this was the price of peace: they paid a heavy tribute, made their peace and then had to buy back their lands. Eadwine and Morcar made their peace. From the vast real-estate forfeited by landholders who had died at Battle William distributed vast estates, particularly ensuring that Odo of Bayeux and William fitzOsbern held the vulnerable coast and hinterlands from Kent to Hampshire. It reads as though King William was reassured by the quiescence of his new subjects and by their native fatalism and now wished to pay off and disperse his less trustworthy followers.

What of Eustace of Boulogne? He is one of the prominent figures on the Bayeux Tapestry, though apparently libelled by the panegyrists. A very rich man and principal stockholder, controller of much of the cross-Channel trade, he had undoubtedly hoped for at least the Earldom of Kent as recompense for not being King, yet this plum went to Bishop Odo. Eustace was left with extensive estates, probably in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Surrey, and he apparently cared little for them. Keeping a low profile, he waited for King William to go to Pevensey in March; there William discharged many of his ‘knights’ to enjoy their rewards and himself departed for Normandy with a vast treasure and all the suspect English notables as ‘guests’. The kingdom was now left to Odo of Bayeux (at Dover) and William fitzOsbern (in Winchester) and either they were complicit in Eustace’s schemes or they were plain negligent, for Eustace slipped away back home by himself and there he began plotting and preparing.

Poland – Resurrection, 1918–26 Part I

Józef Piłsudski, Chief of State (Naczelnik Państwa) between November 1918 and December 1922

1920 Map of Poland

‘An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose ­political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.’

President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 8 January 1918

The resurrection of Poland simultaneously occurred on both a military and a political dimension, driven in large part by two charismatic revolutionaries. In the military realm, Józef Piłsudski, scion of a wealthy Polish–Lithuanian family, provided the main impetus for the re-creation of an independent Polish Army. In the political realm, Roman Dmowski, product of a Warsaw blue-collar family, worked to develop a sense of Polish nationalism at home and lay the groundwork for international recognition of a Polish state. However, neither Piłsudski nor Dmowski could have achieved much success unless fate had thrown them an unusually fortunate set of international circumstances. As long as Imperial Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary were strong, Poles could not hope to regain their freedom. However, the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 set in motion a sequence of events that would eventually incapacitate all three of Poland’s occupiers.

Both Piłsudski and Dmowski spent their youth in the Russian-occupied region of Poland, but later relocated to the Austrian-occupied region in the decade prior to the outbreak of the First World War. From the beginning, Piłsudski followed the path of violence and hoped to lead another armed insurrection against Russian rule. He rejected any idea of co-operation with the Russians, regarding it as tantamount to collaboration. Consequently, young Piłsudski quickly ran afoul of the Russian police and spent five years in Siberian exile. After his exile, Piłsudski became involved in socialist politics and joined the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna or PPS), while simultaneously engaging in underground revolutionary activities. By 1904, Piłsudski was able to gather some like-minded individuals and formed a paramilitary unit within the PPS. In contrast, Dmowski believed that armed rebellion was doomed to failure and considered some degree of co-operation with the Russians as essential if Poles were ever to achieve any kind of local autonomy. Since the Russians did not look kindly on Poles forming political organizations, Dmowski was forced to found his National Democratic Party (known as endecja) as a covert organization. When revolution in Russia spread to Poland in 1905, Piłsudski and Dmowski found themselves on opposite sides. Dmowski formed a militia that worked with the Russians to suppress the rebellion, which helped to foster permanent enmity with Piłsudski. Furthermore, Piłsudski’s preference for armed rebellion led to a split in the PPS.

Following the failed 1905 Revolution, Piłsudski relocated to Austrian-controlled Kraków with his remaining confederates while Dmowski joined the Russian Duma as a Polish delegate. The Austrians regarded Piłsudski as useful and allowed him to form several small Polish paramilitary organizations, which could be used to conduct sabotage and terrorist-style raids into the Russian-controlled region of Poland. Hauptmann Włodzimierz Zagórski, an ethnic Pole serving in the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, served as primary liaison between the Austrian military and Piłsudski’s paramilitaries. Piłsudski had a tendency to resent professional military officers, since he lacked their training, and his methods seemed more like gangster tactics. In September 1908, Piłsudski led a successful raid near Vilnius which robbed a Russian mail train of about 200,000 rubles; Piłsudski used the funds to expand his covert organizations. Piłsudski’s long-term vision was to create a pool of armed and trained Poles who could be used to eventually fight for Polish independence. However, the Austro-Hungarian Army was not keen on subsidizing international train robberies and thereafter tried to keep Piłsudski on a short leash. Nevertheless, by the time that Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, Piłsudski had a solid cadre of Polish insurgents, which he wanted to march into Poland to instigate an anti-Russian rebellion. Without asking permission from the Austrian authorities, Piłsudski launched his own invasion with 400 troops on 6 August and occupied the city of Kielce a week later. As soon as the Austrians discovered this unauthorized military action, they demanded that Piłsudski’s troops be incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Army; after three weeks of dithering, which he used to gather more recruits, Piłsudski agreed. He began forming the Polish Legions, three brigade-size units that would fight on the Eastern Front in 1914–16. In order to keep close control on Piłsudski, Hauptmann Zagórski was made chief of staff of the Legions.

Poles have tended to exaggerate the actual accomplishments of the Polish Legions, but there is no doubt that Piłsudski was able to amass a cadre of veteran soldiers who would become the backbone of Poland’s armed forces for the next three decades. It is also true that the Legion officers were a picked lot; they were well-educated men who were also intensely patriotic and loyal to Piłsudski. For example, Kazimierz Sosnkowski, chief of staff of the Legions’ 1st Brigade, had been with Piłsudski since his PPS days and was a scholar who could speak seven languages. Władysław Sikorski, a university-trained engineer with a reserve commission in the Austrian Army, played a major role in training the Legions’ nascent officer corps. Another rising star in the Legions was Edward Rydz-Śmigły. Meanwhile, Dmowski worked within the Russian political system, trying – and failing – to gain any concessions to Polish autonomy in return for support in the on-going war.

While agreeing to work with the Austrians, Piłsudski saw this as only a temporary measure and continued his own plans to build a military apparatus that could achieve Polish independence by force. Shortly after agreeing to form the Legions, he established the covert Polish Military Organization (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa or POW), which was intended to conduct subversion and propaganda behind Russian lines in Poland. When the Germans occupied Warsaw in August 1915, the POW came out into the open and formed its first battalion. At this point, Piłsudski hoped to disband the foreign-controlled Legions and expand the POW into a Polish Army under his command. However, neither Germany nor Austria-Hungary were interested in allowing an independent Polish Army and the POW battalion was integrated into the Legions. Although Russia was clearly losing the war by 1916, the Central Powers were also beginning to run out of infantry replacements and decided to seek greater Polish participation by issuing a decree that promised to create a new Kingdom of Poland after the war was won. However, Piłsudski could see that these were empty promises and that Germany would not allow true Polish independence. After the February Revolution in 1917 and the abdication of the tsar, the Germans were eager to transfer troops west to fight the Allies. Piłsudski’s Polish Legions had grown to nearly a corps-size formation and Austria-Hungary agreed to transfer these troops to German command. However, Piłsudski refused to serve under German command, as did many of his troops (the so-called ‘Oath Crisis’), so he was jailed and his troops scattered. Zagórski had urged the legionnaires to take the oath, which blackened his name in the eyes of many of Piłsudski’s acolytes. Other Poles, including Władysław Sikorski, either joined the German-organized Polnische Wehrmacht (Polish Armed Forces) or the Austrian-organized Auxiliary Corps. Before his arrest, Piłsudski appointed Edward Rydz-Śmigły as the new head of the POW, which went underground again.

Meanwhile, Dmowski had recognized that tsarist Russia was losing the war and he went to England and France in 1917 to espouse the idea of Polish autonomy. On 15 August 1917, in France, Dmowski created a new Polish National Committee aimed at rebuilding a Polish state, which included the famed pianist Ignacy Paderewski. Within a month, the French recognized the committee as the legitimate representatives of Poland and promised to help form a Polish volunteer army in France to support the Allies. The Allied governments released expatriate Poles in their own armed forces and encouraged recruitment overseas, particularly in Canada and the United States. Generał Józef Haller, one of the brigade commanders in the Polish Legions, managed to escape to France in July 1918 and he seemed the perfect leader for the Polish expatriate army being formed. Haller’s so-called ‘Blue Army’ was slowly trained and equipped by the French, but did not see any combat on the Western Front until July 1918. When the Armistice was announced in November, Haller had two well-equipped divisions under his command, with three more divisions and a tank regiment forming. The French were also training Polish pilots, in order to form seven aviation squadrons. Haller’s Blue Army was loyal to Dmowski’s Polish National Committee in Paris. Dmowski and Paderewski also helped to steer opinions in the Allied camp towards favouring the restoration of a Polish state after the war was concluded. President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points clearly enunciated this aspiration in January 1918, although there was little discussion about Poland’s potential borders.

While the Allies were defeating Imperial Germany, Piłsudski was cooling his heels in Magdeburg fortress for 16 months, with his deputy, Kazimierz Sosnkowski. When revolution in Germany forced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate, the caretaker government released Piłsudski and allowed him to leave by train for Warsaw. Although the Germans attempted to coerce Piłsudski into making various pledges, he refused to make any concessions. The Regency Council, established by the Germans, held residual civilian authority in Warsaw. Recognizing the need for military advice, the council selected Colonel Tadeusz Rozwadowski, an Austrian-trained artilleryman, to organize an independent Polish military force. When Piłsudski arrived in Warsaw on 10 November 1918, he was met by only a few members of the POW. Nevertheless, the next day Piłsudski managed to browbeat the council into appointing him as commander-in-chief of the Polish armed forces and to dismiss Rozwadowski. He then began forming a national government – making him a de facto military dictator. Aside from his titles, Piłsudski was only able to cobble together a force of about three infantry regiments (9,000 troops) under his command. In contrast, the Ober Ost (German Army in the East) had over 80,000 troops in Poland (mostly from General Erich von Falkenhayn’s 10. Armee, 10th Army), but their military discipline was collapsing. Piłsudski met with the local German commander and negotiated an agreement, whereby the German Army would leave the area within ten days in return for no harassment by the Poles. Piłsudski’s troops eagerly began disarming the evacuating German troops, acquiring large stocks of weaponry and ammunition. A similar process occurred in southern Poland, where Austrian troops were also disarmed. Thus when the Armistice ended the First World War on 11 November 1918, the new Polish republic found itself with two groups claiming to be the legitimate government of Poland: Dmowski’s in Paris and Piłsudski’s in Warsaw. Five days later, Piłsudski announced the re-creation of an independent Polish state, to be known as the Second Republic. Surprisingly, Italy was the first country to recognize independent Poland.

It is important to note that Piłsudski and Dmowski had radically different visions for the new Poland; the former intended to create a socialist-tinged, secular and multi-ethnic state with expanded territorial buffers to help defend against future German and Russian aggressions. In contrast, Dmowski wanted to build a homogenous state based upon a Catholic, ethnic Polish majority. He regarded the inclusion of minorities (Czechs, Germans, Ukrainians, White Russians, Jews) as a dangerous liability who might provide grounds for Poland’s neighbours to seek future border adjustments. These two competing visions were never reconciled in the Second Republic.

As Austrian, German and Russian authority evaporated in eastern Europe, the political situation became extremely fluid. In particular, the German evacuation left a vacuum in the eastern borderlands, which the Poles referred to as Kresy Wschodnie. Ukrainian nationalists seized part of Lwów and proclaimed a republic – which immediately sparked conflict with local Polish militiamen. In Wilno, Lithuanian nationalists were agitating to claim that city for themselves, as well. Czechs and Romanian troops also were mobilizing to seize contested border areas. Meanwhile, the Western Allies – particularly Britain – sought to impose limits upon the new Polish state by proposing the so-called Curzon Line, which would deprive Poland of both Lwów and Wilno. Piłsudski simply ignored this unsolicited proposal and mobilized as many troops as possible to fight for the eastern border regions. However, the Polish Second Republic was in poor shape from the outset, having suffered significant damage to its infrastructure after four years of fighting during the First World War: cities and towns had been looted or burned, industrial production was negligible, the agricultural situation was grim and about 450,000 Poles had died in the war. Before evacuating, the Germans sabotaged much of the rail network in Poland and destroyed 940 train stations. Poland was even stripped of horses, which made it difficult to form cavalry units. Furthermore, there were no arms industries in Poland because the occupying Germans and Russians had not wanted the risk that they might be seized by Polish rebels. Nevertheless, Piłsudski was able to rally just enough troops to relieve the Ukrainian siege of Lwów, but his forces were still too badly outnumbered by the Ukrainian nationalists to achieve more. Yet, Piłsudski and many Polish nationalists – aside from Dmowski’s faction – were committed to recovering Kresy for the Second Republic, ensuring further bloodshed.

In addition to committing forces to secure Galicia from the Ukrainians, Piłsudski also encouraged an anti-German revolt in Poznań, which began in late December 1918. Thousands of ethnic Poles in the disintegrating German Imperial Army defected to the rebels, providing them a solid core of trained soldiers, but there were still enough residual German troops in Pomerania to contest control of the region for six months. The rebels formed a separate Polish military formation known as the Greater Poland Army (Wojska Wielkopolska), which was able to amass nearly 90,000 troops by early 1919. In response, the Germans formed Freikorps and border units (Grenzschutz Ost) to launch vicious counter-attacks against the Polish rebels.

In Warsaw, Piłsudski faced great difficulty in organizing a re-born Polish Army (Wojsko Polskie), which was a hodgepodge force from the beginning. The veteran troops had been trained and fought under Austrian, German and Russian command, so there was no common doctrine. Weapons and equipment came from a variety of sources and there was a persistent shortage of ammunition. Thousands of patriotic volunteers also flocked to the colours, including many Lithuanians. Nevertheless, Piłsudski only had 110,000 troops under his control at the start of 1919, which was inadequate to deal with multiple border conflicts. It was not until March 1919 that the Polish government was sufficiently organized to introduce conscription. However, only 100,000 rifles and 12,000 machine guns were available, so foreign military aid was essential to build a more effective military force.

The year 1919 began badly for the Second Republic. Officers loyal to Dmowski attempted a coup against Piłsudski in Warsaw, but this effort quickly failed. The Czechs took advantage of Piłsudski’s pre-occupation with Galicia and internal politics to seize the Silesian border town of Teschen (Cieszyn), which actually had a Polish majority. In the north-west, German forces recaptured some territory lost to the Greater Poland Army. In Galicia, the Ukrainians went on the offensive and nearly retook Lwów, with the outnumbered Poles hanging on by their finger-nails. General Tadeusz Rozwadowski, Piłsudski’s bête noire, played a major role in the defence of Lwów. Hard-pressed, the Polish garrison in Lwów was forced to employ female troops in the front line. The fighting around Lwów was also noteworthy because local Jews sided with the Ukrainians and even formed armed militia units – which would not be forgotten by the Poles. Further north, the Soviet Red Army occupied Minsk and then began tentative probes towards eastern Poland. However, the Red Army was still heavily committed countering a White Russian offensive in southern Ukraine led by Anton Denikin and could not immediately commit large forces against Poland. Even with this caveat, within three months of its re-creation, Poland found itself involved in three major wars against the Germans, Russians and Ukrainians and two hostile border disputes with the Czechs and Lithuanians. The only saving grace was that the popular Ignacy Paderewski returned to Danzig via a British cruiser and agreed to become Piłsudski’s prime minister and foreign minister, which helped to prevent a Polish civil war between opposing factions. Piłsudski blocked Dmowski’s efforts to join the government and instead insisted that he serve as Poland’s primary delegate at the Versailles peace conference. Dmowski worked assiduously with the French to get Haller’s Blue Army transported to Poland and to secure material assistance for Poland’s war effort. Indeed, Dmowski’s diplomacy quickly provided great benefits for Piłsudski when the first elements of Haller’s 65,000-man Blue Army reached Poland in April 1919. Furthermore, French diplomatic pressure on the Ukrainians helped limit their advance while Polish forces were still outnumbered. Haller’s army was sent directly to Galicia, where it spearheaded a counter-offensive. Ultimately, Piłsudski’s forces emerged victorious and the Ukrainian-Polish War ended in July 1919, with Lwów in Polish hands. Furthermore, the important oil refinery at Drohobycz, south-west of Lwów, would provide the Polish Second Republic with vital hard currency. Likewise, the Greater Poland Army managed to hold on to Pomerania and the region – including the so-called ‘Polish Corridor’ – until the Allies awarded the region to Poland in the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.