I was invited to join in a series of games using Saga, the Dark Age skirmish game, that was to be set in post-Hastings England and when asked what side I’d like to be on I said ‘the Normans’ without hesitation. I actually go with the fashionable point of view that the Normans were (and still are) the bad guys, and I always cheer the cowboys in the white hats, but the family name ‘Eyre’ is a Norman name and it was with that in mind when I chose to be the bad guys.The name Eyre comes with this founding legend:“The first of the Eyres came to England with William the Conqueror . In the battle of Hastings (14/10/1066) this Knight, seeing the King unhorsed, and his helmet beat so close to his face that he could not breathe, pulled off his helmet and horsed him again. The King said: ‘Thou shalt hereafter be called Air or Eyre, because thou hast given me the air I breathe.’ After the battle the King called for him and being found with his thigh cut off, he ordered him to be taken care of, and being recovered, he gave him lands in the county of Derby in reward for his services, and the seat he lived in called Hope because he had Hope in the greatest extremity; and the King gave the leg and thigh cut off, in armour, for his crest, which is still the crest of the Eyres.”My ancestor may have had Hope in the greatest extremity,but the good folk of Derbyshire had none. The Normans brought rape, pillage and genocide to England, to the extent they had wiped out the English ruling class within a generation and all the land and wealth was in the hands of
those fighters who came over the sea with William, including Eyre, (or Le Eyr). So I was looking to build a Saga warband based around a peg- legged pyschopath. Getting into the mind of Le Eyr, the Norman Conquerors were a complex bunch. They were firstly filled with the violence, paranoia and ruthlessness of a military force trying to suppress a hostile nation, plus they were driven by greed and avarice to seize as much as they could, with little or no constraints by the law, to then settle permanently in England. They were also driven by God. Their invasion had the blessing of the Pope to crush the English Heretics and oath breakers. By the beliefs of the time, they had God on their side by right of victory at Hastings and William had declared anyone who had sided against him from the time of the Edward the Confessors death to be a traitor. (That’ll be everyone in England then). So Le Eyr, deranged with pain from his severed leg, drunk with absolute power and convinced God is on his side over a traitorous, heretical population, is given lands in a region of England that is still described 600 years later as ‘inhospitable’, ‘a howling wilderness’ and ‘the most desolate, wild and abandoned country in all England’ (1). What a scenario.Unfortunately for Le Eyr, I’ve been re-reading some old comic books, and the villain Torquemarda (2) seems to fit the bill for my ancestor. Maybe Torque’s cry of ‘Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave’ is not fully appropriate in 11th Century England, but I can imagine cries of ‘Repent’ and ‘Death to all Heretics’ to be fitting.