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The Jester who Started the Battle of Hastings

Taillefer. A name mostly forgotten by history, but one that belonged to a man - a jester - whose actions would change the course of history forever.

Ivo Taillefer was William, Duke of Normandy's jongleur (jester) and travelled with him to England during the Norman conquest of 1066.

Taillefer's role, as it is with most jesters both then and now, was to keep the morale of William's army high. He was a juggler and minstrel, and so would entertain the troops with comical and often bawdy songs as well as feats of dexterity. Tricks with knives, arrows, and swords would've been common place. But like most jesters of the time, Taillefer was also a professional and highly trained soldier who would serve at the right hand of his Lord. Highly respected by William's army, Taillefer was the opposite of the common notion that a jester was a figure of ridicule and foolishness - Our modern interpretation of what a jester was (and is), is mostly clouded by Victorian imagery.

Having just marched from the North of England, Harold's men were granted five-days rest before battle commenced.

Early on October 14th 1066, a Sunday, Taillefer was bored and so he rode across the battlefield towards King Harold and the English army.

Alone, Taillefer began to taunt Harold's men by riding up and down their frontline juggling his sword and spouting derogatory poetry mostly aimed directly at King Harold.

This angered Harold's men and an English soldier broke the line to challenge Taillefer, but he was quickly dispatched.

Taillefer, still alone, then charged the English line reciting Le Chanson de Roland (the Song of Roland) - The Song of Roland is an epic poem (a Chanson de Geste) written around 1040 that recounts the heroic deeds of Charlemagne's knights and their battle against the Muslim Saracens in Spain. It is a testament to chivalry, honor, and religious fervor.

Taillefer managed to take out at least four more English soldiers before being overwhelmed and killed. Various accounts from the time tell us that Taillefer continued to recite the poem with glee and delight until his last breath.

Taillefer's single act of bravery (lunacy?) was enough to rouse the fighting spirit of William's invading army who, after seeing the death of their beloved brother-in-arms - their jester - charged the English. At around 9am on Sunday 14th October 1066, two days earlier than planned, what would become known as The Battle of Hastings began. And by dawn of that same day, with King Harold slain, William Duke of Normandy earnt his new moniker William the Conqueror.

A few short months later, in December of that year, William was crowned King of England.

As many know, William's fight for supremacy that day was hard won. Harold's men were battle hardened and if they had not been so exhausted history may have reported a different outcome.

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