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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Kent

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Myths and Legends
Odo leaving Rochester Castle
© Mary Evans Picture Library
The Norman Conquest: a family affair

Odo, Earl of Kent, is one of the least popular figures in the county’s history. The son of Herluin of Conteville and Herleva of Falaise, Odo was William of Normandy’s half-brother. His exact date of birth is unknown, but was probably around 1035, meaning he was considerably underage when William made him Bishop of Bayeux in 1049 – a political appointment if ever there was one, and an indication towards William’s future habit of “keeping things in the family”.

The Conquest

Odo was involved in the Norman invasion of England right from the start, as a trusted associate of William. He is said to have contributed 100 ships to the invasion fleet, and the Bayeux Tapestry, that most amazing monument to the Norman victory at Hastings in 1066, shows Odo active in battle.

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry
It is believed Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry
© Mary Evans Picture Library
In fact the Tapestry gives Odo a prominent role in the campaign - in one scene before the battle it shows William listening to Odo in council, implying Odo was the architect of the invasion. Whilst this representation is undoubtedly an exaggeration - probably due to the fact that it was Odo himself who commissioned the tapestry – nevertheless, he was certainly an important figure in the conquest.

Success at the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold may have secured William the kingdom, but by no means were the English totally subdued - the spirit of resistance they displayed at Hastings was still very much alive, and the following years were ones of unrest and turmoil, for which Odo was partly responsible.

To deal with this simmering resentment and secure his hold on the new kingdom, William placed his most loyal and trusted associates in strategic positions across the country. In fact, he tried to “keep things in the family” whenever possible, often relying on his relatives to rule in his name, as other Norman dukes and princely families had done before him. And this is how Odo arrived in Kent.

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