bad day? spare a thought for england's first pr man

Who was the first PR man? That's an honour that belongs to a Norman whose role in history is more than  a surprising footnote.

by Dan Slee

Okay, so if you think you're having a bad week just spare a thought for William the Conquerer's PR man.

Taillefer was the bloke's name and he not only had to carry a sword but he had to work weekends too.

In the 11th century public relations was delivered by minstrels. They would sing songs in honour of their masters as well as keep them entertained.

The songs they sung celebrated their masters' deeds and spread a whole host of key messages. Rather like today's PR. Only no PR person had to face what Taillefer had to face.

On the morning of Saturday October 14 1066 at about 9 o'clock Taillefer rode out on his horse near Senlac ridge near Hastings and started to juggle his sword.

Medieval Lives by Terry Jones tells the story of how he juggled he sung he sang.

About 100 yards away from him was the entire English army of King Harold. Seven deep and three quarters of a mile long was King Harold's army who fresh from beating the Danes in Northern England had marched to see off these pesky Normans too. 

Behind him was the Norman army.

What Taillefer was doing by singing was to remind the Norman army of their duty. A kind of 11th century internal comms. With swords. And faced with 8,000 armed Anglo-Saxons about to shout their war cry of 'Ut! Ut!' (out! out!) 

The song he sang that day was the 'Song of Roland.'

This records a famous story of an amazing battle won against the odds and of a heroic death that never would be forgotten.

At the song's end Taillefer turned and attacked the English lines all by himself. He was killed.

By laying down his life, history tells us that the PR minstrel galvanised a worried and uncertain Norman Army who were far from home in a foreign country.

Inspired by his actions and the song the army won a famous battle to defeat King Harold and change the path of history.

So, what was Taillefer's posthumous reward? A starring role in the Bayeux Tapestry? A Norman biopic? Tea towels with his face on? 

Well, actually no. 

As Jones writes: "The Bayeux tapestry, a strip-cartoon account of the high points of the conquest of England, leaves Taillefer out. The hint of cowardice, the leadership of a low-born entertainer - these do not seem to have been themes that attracted Odo, the bishop of Bayeux, the man who commissioned the tapestry."

So, no matter how hard your day spare a thought for Taillefer's role in English history and think yourself blessed your current employer doesn't expect you to die in the execution of that finely crafted PR campaign.

Dan Slee is a co-founder of Comms2point0.

Picture credit