Mickey and Sherlock owe a lot to 1066

What is the link between Mickey Mouse / Walt Disney, Sherlock Holmes / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the people seated at the table above?

12 August 2016
By Jane Hanks, Emily Commander

Well, according to those in the photo, they all have common ancestors: the army of William the Conqueror who invaded and conquered England in 1066.

The meal they are enjoying is a regular reunion of the living descendants of William and his comrades in arms and this summer they will be holding special celebrations at Dives-sur-Mer in Normandy to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

They say they can trace their lineage back over 38 generations to the families of the 8,000 men from Normandy, Brittany and other parts of northern France who responded to the call from William, Duke of Normandy to cross the Channel and  seize Harold Godwinson’s throne.

Their research has allowed them to add Walt Disney and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among the descendants of the original warriors.

Five years ago 250 of the descendants met for a religious service and medieval banquet and this year at least 450 will arrive from France, the US and UK.

They hope to set up a club to strengthen their ties and will receive a newsletter written by descendant Pascal Boissel, who says he has always been aware of his heritage: “When I was four or five my father took me to the church at Dives-sur-Mer where there is a list of 475 names of the comrades in arms of William the Conqueror, which was placed there by historian, Arcisse de Caumont in 1862. Charters from the 11th century and the Domesday book were used to create the list. “My father showed me my family name inscribed on the stone plaque and it was a matter of pride for him, as it is now for me to be associated with this great historical event.

“Most of the descendants don’t have a written trace of their origins but families have passed on the story, orally through the generations.”

He says many of the original French names became anglicised: with his name Boissel becoming Bushel (both refer to a measurement of wheat).

Walt Disney’s history dates from  two Norman soldiers, Hugues d’Isigny and his son Robert, who sailed with William. They were from Isigny-sur-Mer and after the battle stayed in England where d’Isigny gradually changed to Disney.

It is thought a branch of the family moved to Ireland and then emigrated to America in the 17th century so Walt Disney can be traced back to  11th century France.

Another name on the Dives-sur-Mer list is D’Ouilli and at least three members of this Norman family joined William. Thierry Saint-Joanis, president of the Société Sherlock Holmes de France, told Connexion that he has carried out research which convinces him that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes from this family.

“In his autobiography Memories and Adventures, Sir Arthur writes about his links with Normandy saying ‘The Doyles, Anglo-Norman in origin, were strong Roman Catholics’.

“From my extensive research I am convinced there is no doubt that he had Norman blood.”

For this year’s festivities the Sherlock Holmes society of France has devised a treasure hunt, which takes the great detective back in time to solve a mystery 950 years ago.

One highlight will be a mass held in the Eglise Notre-Dame in Dives-sur-Mer by the bishop of Bayeux with the Anglican vicar from the town of Battle, near Hastings in East Anglia. It will be followed by a procession of the descendants and a medieval banquet.

The event is reuniting wide-flung families and Mr Boissel says it is an honour to be linked with such an important historical event. His daughter will be flying back from Guade­loupe for the festivities – and he is counting on his grandson to be there for the 1,000th anniversary in 2066.

Longboats and Norman raiders ready for battle

THIS year is the 950th anniversary of the Norman Conquest and festivals and services to mark the event will be held on both sides of the Channel.

  Three Normandy towns in particular will be bringing the days of 1066 back to life.

William, Duke of Normandy, landed in Pevensey on September 28, 1066, and the King of England, Harold Godwinson, was killed at the Battle of Hastings on October 14. William was crowned king on Christmas Day.

This month there will be events to mark the time William and his men spent encamped along the banks of the river Dives in Normandy preparing to sail across to England. Records show they were ready to set sail by August 12, only to be delayed by several weeks, either because of weather or the positioning of the English fleet.

The communes of Dives-sur-Mer, Cabourg and Houlgate will host a series of events on August 7, 8 and 9 including a parade, medieval feast, artisanal market, treasure hunt, and the establishment of historically-
accurate Norman and Viking camps.

A church service in Dives-sur-Mer opens the celebrations as the porch of Notre Dame du Saint-Sauveur has a marble plaque with the names of 475 of William the Conqueror’s companions. Since 2011 the commune has collected contact details of descendants of these men, many of whom have visited the church spontaneously from all over the world (see above).

It is hoped 450 of them will gather for a mass on August 7, followed by a heraldic parade and a banquet.

Catering for the 450 guests will be the unenviable task of Fabian Müllers, an archéologue du goût who specialises in historic cuisine and tastes. He taught local people the art of medieval cooking and the banquet’s menu has developed from that.

Preparations for the re-enactment start on August 5, when participants retrace the steps of William’s troops by marching from Touques, Dozulé and Troarn to congregate at Houlgate on August 6.

The next day they will split into groups of Normans and cavalry in Cabourg; logistics in Dives-sur-Mer, while Vikings and ship-builders will remain in Houlgate.

The three encampments on the banks of the river Dives will be organised by re-enactment specialists, including Andy Wilkinson, of the UK firm The Vikings, who is famous for his painstaking reproduction of the final third of the Bayeux Tapestry.

All will be open to the public and people are encouraged to attend in costume – with costumes made earlier this year in Houlgate.

Dives-sur-Mer assistant mayor Christine Le Callonec is eagerly anticipating the celebrations, which will be just part of a number of medieval- themed events across the region.

She said: “1066 does not have the same significance in France as it does in England but it is nonetheless the beginning of a very important story, and a founding event in English and Norman history”.

The festival will be conducted in French but Ms Le Callonec hopes it will still attract English visitors.

Medieval events in Normandy this summer include a festival of medieval games at Falaise on August 13 and 14. There are full details on the 950th anniversary website at tinyurl.com/zwpqh76.

Celebrations will cross the Channel in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings on October 14.

If you, too, want to follow in William the Conqueror’s footsteps by travelling to Kent, for details of the battle re-enactment, visit the Concorde 1066 website at www.concorde1066.co.uk or look at the range of events on english-heritage.org.uk organised by English Heritage.

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