It is a little known fact that the battle of Hastings of 1066 should never have taken place. In fact, the incident happened purely because of the language barrier between the English and the French. Here, published for the first time anywhere in the world, is the real story behind the battle of Hastings and the death of the English King Harold...
In France during the eleventh century one of the national sporting pastimes was a game called “Le Battalle De Conkeur” (“Battling Conkers” in English).
Even though the game was essentially only the same as that played centuries later here by schoolchildren, in France during the eleventh century such was the popularity of the game one’s social standing depended very much on one’s prowess at playing Le Battalle De Conkeur.
In the rules of the game players were allowed to do anything that they could to improve the strength of their conker. Common ways of doing this included the baking of Conkers, the varnishing of the outer skin and the soaking of conkers in some kind of fluid. Incredibly, it was also believed that should a Frenchman’s conkers be soaked in the urine of his mother in law this “souring of his spirit” could somehow weaken the resolve of an opponents conker in battle.
French courts had the power to decree that minor disputes be decided by the outcome of a game of Le Battalle De Conkeur and it was commonly recognised in France that a man with hard conkers would be assured of attracting the attention of young and beautiful Mademoiselles.
For this reason many of the French gentry would wear victorious conkers hanging from their belts akin to a Scotsman’s sporran and the game was treated as a very serious pastime in fact.
France was undoubtedly the best nation at the game in the world during this period but,
as the game was virtually unheard of outside of France, the poor French were unable to delight in their undoubted skill in playing the game.
It was therefore with the idea of widening the appeal of the game, that in 1065 the French national champion, William Leking, decided to write to King Harold the English King in the hope of being invited to demonstrate the game to the English people.
The problem with this plan was that Leking’s mastery of the English language was not at all good and so when in Nov 1065 he wrote to King Harold what he actually said was not in any way what he actually meant.
King Harold of England
I am Leking of Normandy
I am conqueror of France
I will come and teach you a lesson
When I arrive in Battle - Non?
Please respondez vous a. s. a. p.
Well, of course as soon as King Harold saw Leking’s letter he wrote back rather sarcastically...
Dear Leking of France
Bring many men
Then we will see who conquers whom!
Misunderstanding the tone of King Harold’s reply, on receiving this response Leking was delighted and took it to be an invitation to bring as many Le Battalle De Conkeur players with him as he liked when he visited England.
So it was, a year later in 1066, that Leking landed in England. After marching slowly from Pevensey, Leking suddenly caught sight of the massed English forces up on a hill in the distance. King Harold had obviously aligned his men in such a way as to put on a dazzling display of colour and pageantry to welcome him he thought. The men at the front had aligned a beautiful and unbroken line of gleaming shields while those behind were shouting and waving their spears and swords in the air.
Leking couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he assumed it was along the lines of ‘Coooeeeee over here’.
In order to let his new English friends know that he’d seen them, Leking ordered his many mounted men to quicken their horses pace as not to keep King Harold and those keen to learn France’s national sport waiting.
This train of thought foremost in his mind, Leking instructing his best archer to fire an arrow, to which he had attached a copy of the rules of ‘Le Battalle De Conquer’, to near where King Harold appeared to be waiting patiently for him. As fate would have it however as the normally reliable shot drew back his bow, so his horse (frightened by all the noise) shied and the arrow therefore flew much, much higher and further than he had expected it to.
The rest as they say is history...