Monday 5 March 2018

Life in the time or Harold Godwinson by G.K. Holloway #History #AngloSaxon @GlynnHolloway

Life in the time or Harold Godwinson
 by G.K. Holloway

Harold Godwinson, from the Bayeux Tape

Is there a time in history you’d like to visit? Is there some historical event at which you’d love to be present, or perhaps, famous people from the past who you’d like to invite to your dinner party? I have a list that’s endless, but of all the people I’d like to meet, Harold Godwinson is top of the list. Anyone who’s read my book, 1066 What Fates Impose, or short story, The Battle of London Bridge,  won’t be surprised by to hear that, but rather than be present at the Battles of Hastings or Stamford Bridge, I’d most like to be present on his ship during the return journey from Normandy in 1064. Why? Because I think Harold would have some very interesting things to say.

Earlier that year a messenger had arrived at the English court informing King Edward that Wulfnoth Godwinson and Haakon Sweinson, Earl Harold’s brother and nephew, had fallen into the hands of Duke William of Normandy. Both had been abducted by William de Jumieges in 1052, when they were young boys. Harold determined to bring them home. And so, sometime in the summer of 1064, Harold set sail for Normandy with a view to securing the release of his kin.

It’s a short sea journey from Bosham, in Sussex, to Normandy. Even in the eleventh century, with a good following wind, the crossing would only entail an overnight sail. When Harold left port it was after waiting out a storm that had raged for two days. After the storm the weather was calm and so there was little chance of more bad weather. There shouldn’t have been a problem crossing the Channel. There wasn’t. It was when Harold’s ship had almost completed its journey that the trouble started. Ships appeared, bore down on him and drove him onto a beach in Ponthieu, where he would become the prisoner of Count Guy, until Duke William had him released. So, before he had even met William, Harold had become indebted to him.

Once in Normandy, as the Duke’s ‘guest’ Harold would, as required by feudal custom, have to stay for forty days. As William’s guest, Harold joined in an expedition into Brittany where he saved the lives of a couple of Norman soldiers.  Two infantrymen had fallen into quicksand and Harold dragged them free. Again, during the Brittany campaign, Harold distinguished himself with his courage and Duke William ‘rewarded’ him for his bravery by knighting him. This sounds like an honour but the downside was Harold thereby became William’s vassal and all that that entailed.

Returning to Normandy from Brittany, Harold was allowed to see his brother and nephew, but only from a distance and at a ceremony where he was to pledge his loyalty to Duke William. Harold was tricked into swearing an oath to help secure the English throne for William. Only then was Harold allowed to return home with his nephew but not his brother.

So, the scene is set. An English earl, subregulus to an aging king, in a country with no real successor to the throne, is heading home after promising to assist a foreign nobleman in his bid to become the next King of England. How would you have felt if you were Harold?

Harold, apparently, was outraged by William’s temerity.  Can you visualize him ranting and raving before finally calming down? Asking the question, ‘what have I done?’ The realisation falling upon him, by trickery, a rival for the throne had recruited him to his side. ‘Why am I so gullible?’ must have been another question that ran through his mind.

I can see him pacing up and down the ship’s deck, muttering to himself, his crew wary of his mood. Eventually, his anger subsides and once he has calmed down and composed himself, he starts thinking things through. Asking himself more questions; ‘What have I done?’ must have given way to, ‘Is the oath valid?’

Then, as he weighs up the situation, a light of hope shines through the darkness. ‘Not to worry; William’s claim must be invalid. How could he possibly succeed Edward? According to Norman law, the right of succession runs down the male line only, through the first born son – primogeniture. William claims the English crown because he is the great nephew of Queen Emma. Obviously, his claim is invalid.’

Harold also knows that according to English law, the king has to be elected by the Witanagemot, or Great Council. If the king should live long enough, Edgar the Atheling would most likely be elected by the Witan.  Should that not be the case, Harold himself is the most likely choice. Harold is reassured by the knowledge that William’s claim that King Edward has named him as his successor can easily be dismissed, as no English King has the right to do this without the formal agreement of the Witan. 
Harold plans to discuss all this with the king. I can see calm settling over him as he decides, ‘William might be something of a problem but nothing I can’t handle. I can discuss this with the king. Time is on our side. What can he do? England is far bigger than Normandy in size and population; William doesn’t even have a navy.’ This knowledge reassures him.

From then on the crossing back to England is a quiet one. After his earlier outburst, Harold is relaxed. He has thought matters through. What appeared to be an enormous problem is really just a snag that can be dealt with in due course.  

As I sit there observing, I know Harold isn’t aware of how events will unfold over the next two years. Three Northumbrians’ with designs of their own will disappear or be found dead. Tostig, Harold’s brother and Earl of Northumbria, will be overthrown in the Northern revolt and sent into exile by the king.  If that wasn’t bad enough, 1066 would begin with the death of King Edward. Later in the year, Harold would find himself married to Edith of Mercia. A hairy star, the harbinger of doom, would appear in the sky and across the Channel; Duke William would prepare an invasion force. All that, and in September, a huge Viking army would invade the North of England.

Harold is having a bad enough day as it is, should I tell him what he has in store?

G K Holloway
After graduating from Coventry University with an honours degree in history and politics, G K Holloway worked in education in and around Bristol, where he now lives with his wife and two children. After reading a biography about Harold Godwinson, he studied the late Anglo Saxon era in detail and visited all of the locations mentioned in the sources. When he had enough material to weave together facts and fiction he produced his novel. 1066 What Fates Impose, is the product of all that research – and some imagination.  A sequel is on its way.

1066 What Fates Impose

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies who will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold. Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny - or does he have to bow to what fates impose?


  1. Such an interesting post. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. A momentous time in our history for sure... three interest groups and plenty of intrigue! Thanks for this.

  3. I went to Hastings for the 940th Anniversary reenactment. Harold's life has always fascinated me. Thank you for your post. I too would love to have known what Harold was thinking on his way back from Normandy.

    1. Hi John, I went to the 940th Anniversary as well. I was amazing. I loved every minute of it. Are you planning on going to any reenactments this year? I am hoping to go to Bosworth again.


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Mary Anne xxx