As I travel along the Icknield Way, I think how different things are compared to when I toured the country after the conquest. Then I was one of the heroes of the invasion, William’s court favourite. I became Lord Chief Justice and acted as Regent while William was back in Normandy; I also helped him to suppress the rebellion of the Earls in 1073. And I managed the completion of his precious embroidery, and presided over its consecration in Bayeux.
But there has been no gratitude. Soon after that in 1076 my half-brother – spending too much time in Normandy – stood by and allowed those who were jealous of my success and power to arrest me and put me on trial for defrauding the Crown and the Diocese of Canterbury. It was of course a trumped up charge, borne out of jealousy, particularly from Lanfranc who has been a thorn in my side ever since he was made Archbishop of Canterbury.
Of course they found me guilty because the assembly at Penenden Heath was filled with friends of Lanfranc and other conspirators. They then had the effrontery to take away some of my lands but this has not deterred me from my ambition. My religious status means that I can never become King – maybe that’s why William appointed me Bishop – but I can become the next Pope. With that aim in mind I have extracted all the wealth I can from the properties I own and some that I do not; I am richer than I have ever been. Indeed I have just returned from Durham where I managed to extract from the Cathedral some excellent valuables which will help to fund my future plans. The Cathedral staff put up a fight but, with my knights beside me, they had no chance.
My ambitions are now totally focussed on the Papacy. I have, over the last few years, spent much time in Rome after purchasing one of the best palaces in the City. I have been cultivating my relationship with some of the most influential families over there by lining their pockets. I plan soon to take over a group of knights to show the power at my disposal. William has counselled me not to take this step and to stop my wealth gathering but I ignore him. He may disapprove but I have so much power now that there is little he can do to stop me.
I proceed along Icknield Way with my knights and the rest of my entourage following behind, I look at my map and find that we are quite close to my next stop on my schedule; that very pleasant village of Puttenham which I have visited several times since the invasion. This time I’ll be looking for any valuables in the Church or the Manor House; I don’t expect much but every little helps.
I’m pleased to say that I managed to retain ownership of this part of Hertfordshire after the trial. My faithful follower Anschitil, whom I installed as tenant, has died but his son Roger is now the tenant and responsible to me for managing the village and collecting my taxes. Very soon the project I initiated after the conquest – a book that records the names and assets of each individual in the country – will be completed and I’ll be able to collect even more.
Roger comes out to greet me as we arrive. The village still looks as smart and well-kept as ever; Roger and his late father have done a good job. I am rather surprised that the residents and their families are not out to greet me as normally happens when I enter one of my villages. And Roger is not smiling and welcoming me as he normally would.
I hear the sound of horses hooves and look around to see a posse of armed knights approaching with their swords out. At the front is my brother the king with a determined expression on his face. I look round at my knights and I can see that they have no wish to fight the King’s company; in any case we are well outnumbered.
Roger looks at me and says;
‘I’m sorry Odo; I had no choice but to agree to this.’
William gets off his horse and says quietly to me:
‘Odo. You have brought this on yourself. I warned you several times not to go for the papacy. And your looting of this land goes far beyond what is acceptable, even for my brother. You will be taken to Rouen Castle and imprisoned until I decide what to do with you. There is no point in you resisting. Your days in England are over’
I put up my hands in surrender and two of William’s men put me into a carriage with bars on all sides.
As I am taken away under armed guard, I see that the residents of Puttenham have now come out of their houses. They boo and hiss as the carriage leaves the village. What have I done to deserve this?
Odo was imprisoned in Rouen Castle though he was allowed to keep ownership of his English lands. King William died after falling off his horse in 1087 but before he died he gave Odo a deathbed pardon. However the King’s successor William Rufus was bitterly opposed to Odo who had sided with another contender for the throne, Robert Curthose. After a siege and battle at Rochester Castle, Odo was defeated, his lands were permanently confiscated and he was exiled from England for ever.
Odo then worked in the household of Robert Curthose who had become Duke of Normandy. In 1095 the Pope called for a crusade to recapture Jerusalem and Odo joined Robert on the crusade. But he was not to see Jerusalem recaptured; he died in 1097 at Palermo, Sicily on route to the Holy Land.
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This style of presentation is intended to bring the history of the period to life by combining known historical facts with assumptions and imagination about the thinking behind the actions of this controversial historic figure.
Where there are different versions of the history of the time, we have taken the version that fits most closely to this style of presentation.