Amongst the enterprising young rowdies who banded together under Duke William of Normandy to invade Anglo-Saxon England was one tough but fetching feline, Ludmilla. To her we must give praise for her crucial role in the Norman Conquest.
Duke William was not very pleased with Ludmilla during the Channel crossing. It is suspected by some scholars that he banished her to the crow’s nest when she refused to join the warriors in a game of “around-the-deck darts”—as the moving target.
At Hastings, just before the fateful battle with Earl Godwin, we know that Ludmilla curled up and slept alongside her friend, the dwarf Drogo, on the roof of William’s tent. When a bat buzzed the odd couple out of curiosity, Ludmilla let out a loud howl. William, waked from a deep sleep, thought Ludmilla’s shriek was a signal that the enemy had been sighted. He quickly ordered his men to take their assigned battle positions at the base of a near-by hill at Hastings.
When Earl Godwin’s forces still had not arrived a few hours later, William marched his troops up the hill to see if the Anglo-Saxon army was in the neighborhood. No sooner were all the Normans on top when they saw their foes approaching. William knew it was too late to take his men back down the hill so he ordered them to fight where they stood. As a result, the Normans had a relatively easy time of it, since they held the high ground and Earl Godwin’s forces were tired from fighting the Danes.
Ludmilia fought with exceptional valor. Realizing that the cat’s alarm had proven crucial for the Norman victory, William rewarded Ludmilla with her own coat of arms—a bat soaring above a tent with a crescent moon. Had Ludmilla been a tomcat, she would have been elevated to a lordship on the spot, but feminism was still long in the future.
* It is, to be sure, a rather curious argument to say that the Norman Conquest benefitted all humankind—unless we think of the roots of civil liberties and human rights, the remarkable richness and flexibility of the English language, and, for some who understand the game, cricket. However, the Conquest certainly did benefit a great number of Normans and has kept countless historians occupied with its consequences. Therefore, Ludmilla’s story is included here. D.R.S.