G.B. - Legend

Battle, East Sussex

It is said that at the Battle of Hastings, now preserved in the place name Battle, the flag raised by King Harold was painted with a golden dragon. This is almost certainly true, for this dragon appears twice on the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which was embroidered to commemorate this historic fight that so influenced the future history of Britain. This dragon is sometimes called 'The Golden Dragon of Wessex', because it was said to have been carried by Cuthred of Wessex at the battle of Burford in AD 752, yet it appears to have been originally used by Saxon tribes on the Continent. It seems that when the West Saxons invaded Britain in AD 495, they carried a golden dragon as their standard. The dragon appeared on the standards of at least four of William's successors, and in his account of the crusade undertaken by Richard I, the chronicler Ricard of Devizes mentions 'The terrible standard of the dragon...borne in front unfurled'. According to the records, the dragon on the standard of Henry III was made of red silk, 'sparkling all over with gold', its tongue like burning fires, and its eyes made of 'sapphires or some other suitable stones'. It was a dragon of this descent which was unfurled to witness the English victory at Agincourt, though it is not the same dragon which is nowadays mis-called a 'griffin' on the shield of the city of London. There are many myths and legends attached to the Battle of Hastings, almost all of them elaborations. The most famous tells how Richard le Fort, seeing William in danger, threw his own shield in front of him, thereby saving him from being killed. For this reason, it is claimed, Fort was permitted to add to his name 'escue' ('shield'), hence the modern name for the family, as Fortesque. The story is almost certainly apochryphal, though the family's motto is a pun on their name, reading in Latin 'Forte scutum salvus ducum' (A strong shield is the leader's safety).