Here today for your enjoyment, I present Vol. IV Part I of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History (satires published in Punch magazine in 1842), in which the (fictional) amateur historian Miss Tickletoby gives a unique take on the events of what is perhaps the most famous year in English history – 1066.
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR – HAROLD – WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. Part 1
King Canute, whose adventures at the watering place my young friend Mr. Simcoe described last week in such exquisite verse
(and I am afraid that the doings at watering-places are not often so moral), died soon after, having repented greatly of his sins. It must have been Gravesend, I think, where the King grew so thoughtful.
[Here Miss T. was rather disappointed that nobody laughed at her pun; the fact is, that MISS BUDGE, the usher, had been ordered to do so, but, as usual, missed the point]
Before he died, he made a queer sort of reparation for all the sins, robberies, and murders that he committed: he put his crown on the head of the statue of a saint in Canterbury, and endowed no end of monasteries. And a great satisfaction it must have been to the relatives of the murdered people, to see the King’s crown on the saint’s head; and a great consolation to those who had been robbed, to find the King paid over all their money to the monks.
Some descendants of his succeeded him, about whom there is nothing particular to say, nor about King Edward the Confessor, of the Saxon race, who succeeded to the throne when the Danish family failed, and who was canonized by a Pope two hundred years after his death – his Holiness only knows why.
‘Spooney’, my dears, is a strong term, and one which, by a sensitive female, ought to be employed only occasionally; but SPOONEY, I emphatically repeat [immense sensation
], is the only word to characterise this last of the regular Saxon kings. He spent his time at church, and let his kingdom go to rack and ruin. He had a pretty wife, whom he never had the spirit to go near; and he died, leaving his kingdom to be taken by anyone who could get it.
A strong gallant young fellow, Harold by name, stepped forward, and put the crown on his head, and vowed to wear it like a man. Harold was the son of Earl Godwin that we spoke of in the last lecture, a great resolute fellow, who had been fighting King Edward’s enemies while the King was singing psalms and praying the saints to get rid of them, and turned out with his sword in his hand and a coat of mail on his body, whilst the silly King stayed at home in a hair-shirt, scourging and mortifying his useless old body.
Harold then took the crown (though, to be sure, he had no right to it, for there was a nephew of the King, who ought to have been first served); but he was not allowed to keep undisturbed possession of it for very long, for the fact is, somebody else wanted it. You all know who this was – no other than William, Duke of Normandy, a great and gallant prince (though I must say his mother was no better than she should be*), who had long had a wish to possess the noble realm of England, as soon as the silly old Confessor was no more. Indeed, when Harold was abroad, William had told him as much, making him swear to help in the undertaking. Harold swore, as how could he help it? – for William told him he would have his head off if he didn’t – and then broke his oath on the first opportunity.
*Miss Tickletoby’s rancour against Edward’s treatment of his wife, and her sneer at the Conqueror’s mother, are characteristic of her amiable sex.
Some nine months, then, after Harold had assumed the crown, and just as he had come from killing one of his brothers (they were pretty quarrelsome families, my dears, in those days), who had come to England on a robbing excursion, Harold was informed that the Duke of Normandy had landed with a numerous army of horse, foot, and marines, and proposed, as usual, to stay. Down he went as fast as the coach could carry him (for the Kentish railroad was not then open), and found Duke William at Hastings, where both parties prepared for a fight.
You, my darlings, know the upshot of the battle very well; and though I’m a delicate and sensitive female, and though the Battle of Hastings occurred – let me see; take 1066 from 1842 – exactly seven hundred and seventy-six years ago, yet I can’t help feeling angry to think that those beggarly, murderous Frenchmen should have beaten our honest English as they did. [Cries of “Never mind; we’ve given it ’em since”
]. Yes, my dears, I like that spirit; we have
given it ’em since, as the Duke of Wellington at Badajos, and my late lamented br-r-other, Ensign Samuel T-t-tickletoby, at B-b-bunhill Row, can testify.
[The Lecturer’s voice was here choked with emotion, owing to the early death of the latter lamented hero].
But don’t let us be too eager for military glory, my friends. Look! We are angry because the French beat us eight hundred years ago! And do you suppose they are not angry because we beat them some five-and-twenty years back? Alas! and alas! this is always the way with that fighting; you can’t satisfy both parties with it, and I do heartily hope that one day there’ll be no such thing as a soldier left in all Europe. [A voice, “And no police neither”].