October is full of battle anniversaries and this one is extremely important. The history of this country and, let us not mince matters, of Europe changed on October 14, 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy and his French/Viking army defeated Harold Godwinson and his Anglo-Saxon army. The battle lasted the whole day, which as this article points out, is a long time for mediaeval engagements. Both sides fought valiantly, with the Normans finally securing victory by pretending to retreat.
The article has one of those jocular titles that we have all become used to: Battle of Hastings 950 year anniversary: the 9 things you might not know. Well, the first thing we might not know is that the anniversary falls on Saturday as it does not - it falls on Friday, that is today. The second thing we might not know, though too many people believe it, is that it was the last successful invasion of England. For some reason Henry Tudor's invasion with a French army, bolstered by some traitors and William of Orange bringing over far more Hollanders than expected are always forgotten.
Today, we must think of the Battle of Hastings, its place in the various changes in Europe in the eleventh century, the Viking expansion and the history of England as it emerged from the continuing battle between the Normans and Saxons. Here is another account and a more detailed one. But, perhaps, the best written and most imaginative interpretation of the tale are the first four stories and poems in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill.
Yes, I am talking about the Battle of Lepanto, which took place 445 years ago yesterday. Sorry to have missed the exact anniversary but it is only a semi-significant one. As we can read in the Britannica: "The battle marked the first significant victory for a Christian naval force over a Turkish fleet and the climax of the age of galley warfare in the Mediterranean." The Battle of Salamis may have been as important but others, big though they were, are second-rank.
I wrote about its significance before but find it hard to resist the call of G. K. Chesterton's poetry though he claimed more than either the battle or Don John of Austria had actually achieved. But, really, who cares? This is a poem, not a history book.
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
The story is quite fascinating and puts to pay the notion that somehow politics was a much more gentlemanly affair when it was run by “gentlemen”. The Salisbury/Northcote fight with Churchill was anything but gentlemanly. In the end, Churchill lost not because he was a nicer person but because, seduced by apparent party adulation, he could not envisage anybody outmanoeuvring him as Salisbury did. Lord Randolph Churchill, it seems, believed that he was indispensable – the most dangerous delusion any politician can have.In the end, as we know, Lord Randolph lost the battle because he forgot about Goschen. In 1886 the enfant terrible of the Conservative Party resigned from the Chancellorship, assuming that he was irreplaceable. Lord Salisbury disillusioned him on the subject.