- m. Ealdgyth, dau. of AEfgar of Mercia.
- Harold 1022?-1066
Active Date: 1062
Field of Interest: Royalty and Society
Occupation: King of the English
Death: On the hill on which Battle Abbey was afterwards built, Chester
Burial: On the sea coast, His Church at Waltham
Spouse: Gruffydd's widow, Ealdgyth or Aldgyth, the sister of Eadwine
Sources: It is impossible to add any facts about Harold's life to the...
Contributor: W. H. (William Hunt)
Harold 1022?-1066, King of the English, son of Earl Godwine (q.v.) and his wife Gytha, was born about 1022, for his parents were married in 1019, and his brother Swegen and possibly his sister Edith or Eadgyth (q.v.) were older than he. In 1045 he appears as Earl of East Anglia (Kemble, Codex Dipl. iv. 106), and when Swegen was banished in the next year, he and his cousin Beorn (q.v.) each received part of his earldom. It seems probable that in his early years Harold was Danish in feeling, as was natural in a son of a Danish lady, the sister-in-law of Cnut. He joined his cousin Beorn in opposing the restoration of Swegen in 1049, and was with the fleet which was sent to Pevensey, but had given up the command of his ship to Beorn before Beorn was murdered by Swegen. After the murder he and the shipmen of London, who were for the most part Danes, buried Beorn's body. When King Eadward quarrelled with Godwine in 1051, Harold joined his father at Beverstone in Gloucestershire, threatened the leaders of the hostile faction who were with the King at Gloucester, and went up with his father to London at Michaelmas. While there he and his father were summoned to appear before the witan. Hearing that his father and all his house were banished, he determined to resist his enemies, and, instead of fleeing with Godwine to Flanders, rode with his brother Leofwine to Bristol, where he intended to take ship for Ireland, and there raise forces. Aldred (q.v.), Bishop of Worcester, was sent from London with a body of men to prevent them from embarking, but either could not or would not overtake them. Harold spent the winter with Dermot, King of Leinster and Dublin, and raised a force consisting, no doubt, of Danes from the Irish coast towns, who would naturally be attracted to a leader of their own race on the mother's side. In the spring he sailed from Dublin with nine ships and landed at Porlock in Somerset, in order to seize on provisions and any other booty. The people of the country gathered to defend their possessions, and a battle took place in which Harold's men were victorious, and thirty "good thegns" and many other Englishmen were slain. He plundered the neighbourhood, carrying off abundance of provisions, many captives, and whatever else came to his hand. Then he sailed round the Land's End, and met his father at Portland. They sailed together to London, taking hostages from the people, and seizing such provisions as they desired. Harold shared in his father's restoration, and was re-established in his earldom, which had, during his banishment, been held by Ã†lfgar (q.v.), son of Leofric. At Easter 1053 he was sitting at the king's table at Winchester when his father was struck with a sudden and fatal illness. On Godwine's death Harold gave up the earldom of East Anglia, and succeeded to that of Wessex, and to all that his father had held, his elder brother, Swegen, having died abroad.
He was now, when not more than thirty-two, the first man in England after the king, and during the remainder of the reign was virtually ruler of at least the southern part of the kingdom. He was tall of stature, handsome, and of great strength, temperate in his habits, making light of toil and bodily privations, generally wise in counsel, and in action industrious and full of vigour. In the administration of justice he was firm and equitable. He was loyal to the king, and never cruel or revengeful to his fellow-countrymen. He undoubtedly loved power, and his schemes to obtain it were at times more politic than noble. He seems to have been sincerely religious, and he was liberal in an enlightened fashion. Many accusations are brought against him in Domesday of having seized ecclesiastical property unjustly (Ellis, Introduction to Domesday, ii. 313; Norman Conquest, i. 548). Such charges were almost matters of course after his death, for all Churchmen whose lands had come into his hands, whether rightly or wrongly, would naturally try to get them back, and the Normans would put the worst construction on all his actions. His stewards, like those of other lords, were no doubt sometimes harsh and unfair. The only charge of spoliation against him which can now be investigated is that he despoiled the Church of Wells (see under Gisa); the story has been much exaggerated, and there is no proof that he acted illegally. It may, however, fairly be held that Harold, like other great men of his day, did not scruple to enrich himself at the expense of religious foundations, and that he was more or less avaricious (cf. Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, ii. 196; Norman Conquest, iii. 632). In speech and manner he was frank and courteous, and would sometimes talk too unreservedly to those whom he counted his friends, though when he chose he could dissemble so craftily as to deceive men as to his real purpose. He was also occasionally rash and heedless, and acted and spoke without due consideration. He was a better and a nobler man than his father, or probably than any other lay Englishman of his time. He was a brave soldier and a skilful general. While Earl he had a mistress named Eadgyth (or Edith) Swan-neck, who was probably the mother of some of his children, and he is described by William of Poitiers (p. 126) as a man of evil life; this may, however, only refer to his relations with Eadgyth, and to his subsequent marriage contract and actual marriage. From the date of his father's death he was the head of the national party, and, half Dane as he was by descent, showed himself worthy of the affection of the English people (for English estimates of his character see Vita Eadwardi, pp. 408-10; A.-S. Chron. Worcester and Abingdon, an. 1065; Flor. Wig. i. 224). He cannot have opposed the influx of Normans which took place during the later years of the reign. At the same time, no attempt was made, as in his father's days, to give them positions which conferred political power (Norman Conquest, ii. 358). The appointment of two Lotharingians to English sees probably proves that in this respect he followed out his father's policy (see under Godwine), while the elevation of Aldred to the see of York may also be taken as pointing to his approval of the system of canonical life observed in Lorraine, which Aldred partially introduced into his Church. It seems unfair to blame him (as in Green, Conquest of England, p. 584) for the continuance of the Canterbury schism. There is reason to believe that he did what he could to obtain the pope's approval of Stigand's appointment, and it was not to be expected that Harold would desert his cause for that of the foreigner Robert, the bitter enemy of his house. At the same time he recognised the fact that Stigand was not a canonical archbishop. His general policy has been characterised as lacking in genius, a "policy of mere national stagnation" (ib. p. 585). Certainly England had no part in continental affairs during the period of his administration.
The probably unjust banishment, in 1055 of Ã†lfgar, Earl of the East Angles, the son of Leofric of Mercia, must have been the work of Harold; it certainly increased his power, for the house of Mercia was a formidable rival of his own. Late in the year Harold was sent from Gloucester with an army against the combined forces of Ã†lfgar and Gruffydd ab Llewelyn (q.v.), the Welsh Prince, who had sacked Hereford and done much damage to the neighbouring country, defeating an army under Ralph the earl. The enemy refused to meet him in the field, and retreated into South Wales. He disbanded the greater part of his forces and fortified Hereford. A truce was made, during which Harold met Ã†lfgar and Gruffydd at Billingsley in Shropshire, and arranged a peace. After a fresh invasion of the Welsh, which took place in 1056, he and Earl Leofric brought about a reconciliation between Gruffydd and the English king. In the course of the next year Eadward the aetheling arrived in England; he had been sent for by the king, who intended to make him his heir. Nevertheless it was contrived that the King should not see him, and the aetheling died soon afterwards. If Harold was then hoping to succeed to the throne, he may well have prevented a meeting between the King and the aetheling (as Lappenberg, ii. 259, thinks he did). But there is no proof that he had then begun to aspire to the succession. In any case there is no ground for the insinuation (Palgrave, Normans and England, iii. 289) that he caused the aetheling's death (Norman Conquest, i. 413). That event must have caused both him and the nation to look upon his succession as at least possible, for no adult male heir of the royal house remained. His position was further strengthened in the following year by the deaths of Leofric of Mercia and Ralph, Earl of Herefordshire, the king's French nephew. In addition to the government of Wessex, he received Ralph's earldom, then a specially important charge, owing to the alliance between Gruffydd and Ã†lfgar, the new Earl of Mercia, who had lately given his daughter Aldgyth (q.v.) in marriage to the Welsh Prince. Against Harold's claim to the succession was the promise which the King had almost certainly made to William of Normandy that he should succeed him, while, on the other hand, it was possible that the king's life might be prolonged until the aetheling's son Edgar or Eadgar (q.v.) had grown up and he might then be chosen as the heir to the crown.
Harold, probably in 1058 (ib. pp. 430, 635), though the date cannot be determined with absolute certainty, made a pilgrimage to Rome, tarrying some time in France, in order to gain a thorough insight into the characters of the French Princes, and acquaint himself with the power which each possessed, so that, should he ever need their assistance during his administration of affairs, he might understand these matters for himself. In this, we are told, he was so successful that the French Princes could never afterwards mislead him (Vita Eadwardi, p. 410). The passage, which is somewhat obscure, scarcely seems to justify the idea that he may have been contemplating French alliances, to counteract any future attempt by Duke William (Norman Conquest, ii. 430, 637). At Rome he was probably received by Benedict X, who is reckoned an anti-pope, and it was no doubt owing to his influence that Benedict sent the archiepiscopal pall to Stigand. He escaped being assaulted by brigands, and returned home with many relics and other sacred treasures. These he gathered for a Church which he was then building at Waltham, a lordship granted to him by the king. At Waltham there was a small Church built by Tofig the Proud in the reign of Cnut, in honour of a wonder-working rood, or crucifix, found at the present Montacute in Somerset. Harold rebuilt this Church on a grander scale, richly endowed it, and instead of making his new foundation monastic, according to the prevailing fashion of the day, placed in it several clerks, or secular priests, whom he formed into a collegiate chapter consisting of a dean and twelve canons, together with various officers. He wished to make his college a place of education, and appointed a chancellor to deliver lectures. Learned men were then scarce in England, and he therefore sent for Adelard of LiÃ¨ge to fill this office (De Inventione Crucis, ed. Stubbs, c. 15). There is a late story which represents Adelard as a physician sent over by the Emperor Henry III to cure the Earl of paralysis. Being unable to effect the cure, Adelard recommended his patient to seek relief from the wonder-working rood of Waltham. The Earl was cured, and out of gratitude for this mercy founded the college and placed Adelard over the school (Vita Haroldi, pp. 155 sq., in Michel, Chroniques Anglo-Normandes). The Church was dedicated in 1060, on 3 May, the festival of the Invention of the Cross, by Cynesige, archbishop of York, in the presence of the King and Queen and of many bishops and nobles. As Harold did not have his Church dedicated by Stigand, it may fairly be assumed that he held him to be an uncanonical archbishop.
Gruffydd having begun his ravages again in 1062, Harold, after attending the midwinter assembly of the witan at Gloucester, where the matter was discussed, rode at the head of a small mounted force to Rhuddlan, where Gruffydd then was. As soon as Gruffydd heard of his coming, he left Rhuddlan, and, though the Earl pursued him closely, succeeded in escaping by sea. Harold's force was not equipped for a winter campaign in a difficult country; he ordered his men to burn Gruffydd's palace and his ships, and returned home at once. On 26 May he began another campaign. He embarked at Bristol, and sailed round the Welsh coast, landed and met his brother Tostig, Earl of Northumberland, who had been ordered by the King to join him with a force partly at least composed of cavalry. Taught by experience, Harold organised his army so as to render it fit for the special character of the war. He caused his infantry to lay aside their heavy arms, and to change their usual tactics of fighting in a close square, and made them wear leathern breast-pieces, fight with the javelin and sword, and live on the food of the country. By this means he was enabled to pursue the Welsh even in the most rocky and wooded districts. He ravaged the land, and put every male whom he found to the sword. The Welsh made a desperate resistance, but were defeated in repeated skirmishes, and found that their natural strongholds no longer afforded them refuge from the enemy. The country was almost depopulated. On the site of each successful engagement the conqueror set up a monument of stone with the inscription, "Here Harold was victorious." Many of these inscribed stones were standing in the reign of Henry II, and Giraldus considered that the peaceful state in which Wales remained during the reigns of the first three Norman kings was due to the terrible chastisement which Harold inflicted (Vita Eadwardi, p. 425; Flor. Wig. i. 222; John of Salisbury, Polycraticus, iv. 16-18; Giraldus Cambrensis, Descriptio Kambriae, ii. 8). All hope of resistance was crushed, and the Welsh dethroned Gruffydd, gave hostages, and promised tribute. In August 1063 the head of Gruffydd and the beak of his ship were sent by the Welsh to Harold, who took them to the king.
The year 1064 was most probably the date of Harold's visit to Normandy (Norman Conquest, iii. 706; St. John, Four Conquests of England, ii. 226). It is said that he went thither by the king's order to tell the Duke that the witan had accepted the king's proposal that the Duke should succeed to the throne (William of Poitiers, pp. 129-30; William of JumiÃ¨ges, vii. 31; Orderic, p. 492), or, according to others, to obtain the return of his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon, who are said to have been sent to the Duke as hostages by Earl Godwine in 1052 (Eadmer, Hist. Nov. i. 5; Symeon, ii. 183), or more probably (Norman Conquest, iii. 219-22) that he sailed from England merely for some purpose of pleasure (Will. Malm. ii. 228; the Bayeux tapestry, which represents him as embarking with dogs and hawks, favours this view). He was wrecked on the coast of Ponthieu, and imprisoned by Count Guy at Beaurain. William demanded his release, and Guy delivered him to the Duke at Eu. He went with William to Rouen, and remained with him as his guest. While there he is said to have promised the Duchess Matilda to marry one of her daughters, and also agreed that his sister, perhaps Ã†lfgifu or Ã†lfgyva, who appears from the tapestry to have been with him, should marry a Norman (Norman Conquest, iii. 227). He marched with the Duke against Conan, count of Brittany, and saved several Norman soldiers from drowning near Mont-Saint-Michel. It seems likely that he also took part in a second expedition (ib. pp. 239, 711). Probably on his return he was knighted by William at Bayeux. There he took an oath to the Duke that he would uphold his cause in England, that he would do his best to procure the duke's succession on the king's death, that he would deliver Dover Castle to the Normans, and that he would marry William's daughter (William of Poitiers, p. 108; Eadmer, u.s.), the Duke promising that with his daughter he would give him half the realm of England (William of JumiÃ¨ges, vii. 31). Harold, who was of course in the duke's power, swore in these, or like terms, on a phylactery called the "bull's-eye," which contained the relics of saints. The story from the "Roman de Rou," that he did not know what the phylactery contained, and that he was horror-struck when, after he had sworn, he was shown the relics, is likely enough, and seems to receive some confirmation from the fact that in the tapestry one of the duke's attendants seems to be making a sign of silence while the earl is touching two chests, one of which evidently represents the "bull's-eye" (on the oath see Freeman, Norman Conquest, iii. 241-54, 677-707).
It was probably on Harold's return to England that he married Gruffydd's widow, Ealdgyth or Aldgyth, the sister of Eadwine, who had succeeded his father Ã†lfgar as Earl of the Mercians. Harold's former love, and the mother of his children, Eadgyth Swan-neck, was still living. The marriage marks a change in his policy. In the earlier years of his power he did what he could to depress the rival house of Mercia; but as the prospect of the succession opened to him he became anxious to secure the support of the Mercian earl. In August 1065 he was engaged in building a house for the King at Portskewet, in the present Monmouthshire, in order that Eadward might there enjoy his favourite pastime of hunting. He made great preparations for this house, and while it was building Caradoc ap Gruffydd, the dispossessed Prince of South Wales, gathered a band, slew many of his workmen, and carried off his goods. This raid was probably connected with a revolt in England which broke out shortly afterwards. In the following October Harold heard that the Northumbrians, weary of the misgovernment of their Earl Tostig and his lieutenants, had risen in revolt, and held an assembly at York, where they decreed the outlawry of Tostig, and elected as their Earl Morkere, the brother of Eadwine of Mercia, and brother-in-law of Harold. After slaying Tostig's men, they marched southwards, and at Northampton were joined by Eadwine with a large force of Mercians and Welshmen. Harold went to Northampton with a message from the king, bidding them lay down their arms, and state their grievances in a meeting of the witan. For answer they charged Harold to say that they desired Morkere for their earl. In a council which Eadward held at Britford in Wiltshire, Tostig declared before the King and his lords that the revolt had been stirred up by the machinations of Harold, and challenged him to deny the charge on oath. This Harold promptly did. The accusation was no doubt untrue; Harold had nothing to gain by such a course. Many messages passed, and he tried hard to bring about a pacification. Finding that no means were taken to crush them, the rebels became more violent. The King was anxious to put down the revolt by force, but Harold was determined to satisfy the insurgents and to have no bloodshed. He overruled the king, and met the rebel forces at Oxford, whither they had advanced while the attempts at negotiation were being carried on. A great assembly at Oxford was held, at which Harold granted all their demands; Tostig was outlawed, and Morkere received the Northumbrian earldom. Harold is said on this occasion to have thought more of the interests of his country than of his brother (Will. Malm. ii. 200); it is urged that he acted as "a statesman and a patriot," while taking the course most likely to forward his future candidature for the kingship (Norman Conquest, ii. 497). On the other hand his first duty as a statesman was surely to enforce order and submission to the government, especially as the insurgents had apparently defied the king, had certainly slain many of their fellow-subjects, and had ruthlessly harried the country in their line of march. He probably shrank from a conflict with his own countrymen, though it was his obvious duty first to punish and prevent the repetition of such deeds of violence and wrong, and then to redress grievances. He was also swayed by selfish considerations. The revolt was evidently the work of the sons of Ã†lfgar, his brothers-in-law, and he was determined before all things to secure their support, and through them the support of the whole northern part of the kingdom, for his candidature on Eadward's death. Yet even so it is doubtful whether he acted "wisely" (ib.). The sons of Ã†lfgar were aiming at a renewal of the old division of the kingdom (ib. p. 486); they were faithless men, their alliance was not to be depended upon, and they were the hereditary enemies of his house. As the probable successor to the crown he would have acted more prudently as regards his own interests if he had taken the opportunity to weaken or destroy their power. The King had summoned the force of his kingdom to crush the insurrection, and Harold could scarcely have doubted on which side victory would lie in actual warfare.
On 5 Jan. 1066 Harold stood by the deathbed of the king, and is said to have listened with fear to his dying prophecy. Eadward stretched out his hand towards the earl, and named him as his successor, bidding him take charge of the queen and the kingdom (Vita Eadwardi, p. 433; A.-S. Chron. 1065, Abingdon, Worcester, Peterborough; Flor. Wig. i. 224). On the day of Eadward's death Harold was chosen King by the nobles of the whole of England. Long afterwards it was said that some wished for the aetheling Eadgar, and that others were inclined to give weight to the claims of William of Normandy, though all alike openly declared for Harold. The next day he was duly crowned, no doubt in Westminster Abbey, by Aldred, archbishop of York (Flor. Wig. u.s.), though the Bayeux tapestry implies, and Norman writers assert, that the coronation was performed by Stigand (William of Poitiers, p. 121; Orderic, p. 492), which would have detracted from the validity of the ceremony. Although he was not a member of the royal house, Harold's kingship rested on a perfectly constitutional basis; he received it by bequest of his predecessor, by election in the national assembly, and by consecration. Norman writers naturally deny or conceal one or more of these facts, asserting that he was not elected (William of Poitiers, u.s.), that he usurped the crown (William of JumiÃ¨ges), or that he was consecrated by stealth and without the consent of the prelates and nobles (Orderic, u.s.). They dwell on the breach of his oath to the Norman duke, and on the sacrilege which this breach implied. He was not, however, a free agent when he took the oath, nor would he have had any right to attempt to force a foreign King on the people, or to place Dover in his power. When he took the oath to the Duke he cannot have meant to keep it, and must have only done so to escape an immediate difficulty. Before many days had passed he received messengers from the duke, who sent to bid him keep his oath, and apparently repeated his offer to give him his daughter in marriage, and with her the rule over a large part of the kingdom (William of JumiÃ¨ges, vii. 31; William of Poitiers, pp. 145-6). Harold refused, declaring, it is said, that he could not take a foreign queen without leave of the witan (Eadmer, Hist. Nov. col. 351), and possibly defending himself by saying that he had sworn under compulsion and without the knowledge of the English people, and that as they had chosen him King it would be base to decline the kingdom (Will. Malm. iii. 238). Soon after his coronation he received tidings that the Northumbrians refused to recognise him as king, and taking Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester with him, he visited York, and persuaded them to acknowledge him (Vita Wlstani, Anglia Sacra, ii. 254). From York he returned to Westminster and there spent Easter, evidently holding a meeting of the witan as earlier kings had done. He and his people knew that the Duke was taking measures to enforce his claim, and men's minds were further disturbed by the appearance on the ninth day after Easter of a comet of great size, which shone for seven nights. Nor was he careless of the impending danger, for he made strenuous efforts for the defence of the country, both by sea and land (Flor. Wig. i. 224). In May he heard that his brother Tostig, who had sailed from Normandy as an ally of the duke, had ravaged the south coast and put in at Sandwich. Harold's preparations were in a forward state; he summoned his land and sea forces, and at once went to Sandwich to meet him. Tostig did not await his coming, and, after having been chased from Lindsey by the earls Eadwine and Morkere, took refuge in Scotland. Harold kept his forces together, sailed to the Isle of Wight, and for four months remained fully prepared to meet an invasion from Normandy. At last on 8 Sept. he was forced to allow his army to return home, for provisions failed (A.-S. Chron. Abingdon, 1066). He rode to London, bidding his fleet meet him there.
While Harold was in London he heard that Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, had invaded the north and landed near York; he had sailed with, it is said, half the fighting men of his kingdom, with a fleet of two hundred ships of war (Heimskringla, iv. 35) and other vessels carrying great treasure, probably three hundred ships in all (A.-S. Chron.; Flor. Wig. i. 226 says more than five hundred). The invaders had landed in Orkney and anchored in the Tyne, where Harold Hardrada was joined by Tostig with a fleet from Scotland, and by a force under an Irish Prince. Thence he sailed southwards, ravaging the coast as he went, and so up the Humber, landing finally at Riccall on the Ouse. The appearance of the fleet in the Tyne is said to have been unexpected; the King had given his whole attention to the defence of the south, and had left the north to be defended by his brothers-in-law Eadwine and Morkere, the earls of Mercia and Northumberland (Norman Conquest, iii. 336). The earls gathered an army and met the invaders at Gate Fulford, two miles to the south of York, on 20 Sept.; they were defeated with great slaughter, and York was surrendered (Flor. Wig.; Symeon, ii. 180). Harold of Norway received hostages from the northern people, who agreed to march with him to invade the south. It is said that when Harold heard the tidings of the invasion he was suffering from a violent pain in the leg, and was much discouraged by the knowledge that the enemy had a larger force than he could muster. He concealed his sufferings, and prayed earnestly through the whole night for the aid of the holy rood of Waltham. In the night the Confessor is said to have appeared to the abbot of Ramsey, and bade him tell the King that he would be victorious, and on receiving this message Harold was miraculously cured (Vita Haroldi, p. 188; Historia Ramesiensis, p. 179; Ailred, col. 404). He marched rapidly northward, pressing on by night as well as day, and reached Tadcaster on the 24th, which was probably the day of the surrender of York. There he met his fleet, and the next day, Monday, encountered the invaders at Stamford Bridge. A glorious account of the battle is given in the "Saga of Harold Hardrada;" unfortunately it is, for the most part, unhistorical. Before the battle the English king, it is said, saw Harold of Norway fall from his horse, and on being told who it was remarked, "He is a tall man and goodly to look upon, but I think that his luck has left him" (Heimskringla, iv. 43). Before the battle Harold sent to Tostig offering him his old earldom of Northumbriae, or a third of the kingdom. Tostig asked what he would give to his ally, the King of Norway. "Seven feet of ground," was Harold's answer, "or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men" (ib. p. 44). Harold is represented as being on horseback, and though he of course fought on foot, he may have been mounted while ordering his army. On the return of the messengers the Norwegian King said "That was but a little man, yet he stands well in his stirrups" (ib. p. 45). The English made a sudden attack on a part of the Norwegian host drawn up on the right bank of the Derwent (Norman Conquest, iii. 370), and forced the enemy to retreat across the river on the main body of the host. For a time the bridge was defended by a single Norwegian warrior, so that Harold could not attack the invaders. When this warrior was slain, by a stratagem (A.-S. Chron.; Henry of Huntingdon, p. 762) the King led his men across. The battle lasted throughout the day, and ended in the victory of the English. Harold Hardrada and Tostig were both slain, and with them a great number of their army. The loss on the English side was heavy, and for several years the place of battle was covered with the bones of the slain (Orderic, p. 500). Harold received the submission of Olaf, the son of the Norwegian king, and the Orkney jarls, who seem to have remained in charge of the fleet at Riccall. He allowed them to depart.
While Harold was holding a feast at York after his victory, tidings reached him, probably on 1 Oct. (Freeman), that William of Normandy had landed with a great host at Pevensey (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 762). William had excited a general feeling in his own favour by dwelling on the sacrilegious scorn with which Harold had treated the relics of the saints at Bayeux. He had proclaimed the English King a usurper and a perjurer, had received recruits from many lands, and had obtained the pope's approval of his enterprise, together with a ring and a consecrated banner. His invasion was to some extent regarded as a kind of crusade; for, besides Harold's alleged sacrilege, the wrongs of Archbishop Robert and the independent character of the English national Church gave him grounds for his appeal to the religious sentiment of western Christendom. On hearing of the invasion Harold held a council of war, and at once marched southwards. Some dissatisfaction is said to have existed among his troops because he had not divided with them the spoils taken at Stamford Bridge (Gesta Regum, ii. 228, iii. 239). Nevertheless the men of every part of southern and eastern England followed his standard. His brothers-in-law, the earls Eadwine and Morkere, refused to help him, and their defection lost him the support of the forces of Northumberland (Flor. Wig.). He reached London probably on the 5th (Freeman), and while his forces were gathering visited his Church at Waltham and prayed before the holy rood. The sacristan declared that as the king lay prostrate before the rood the image of the Crucified bowed its head as though in sorrow (De Inventione, c. 20). Harold sent a message to the duke, calling on him to depart out of England, and declaring that, though King Eadward had certainly promised to make him his heir, he had revoked his promise and left the kingdom to Harold. In return the duke sent a monk of FÃ©camp to the King to represent his claim, and it is said to challenge him to single combat, which is of course an embellishment of the chronicler. In answer Harold appealed to the judgment of God (William of Poitiers, pp. 128-31). According to a less trustworthy source William sent the first message by the monk of FÃ©camp, and Harold threatened to ill-treat his messenger, but was restrained by Gyrth (q.v.), his brother (Roman de Rou, 11891-12029; on these messages see Norman Conquest, iii. 746-52, where the version of Wace is preferred to that of the Conqueror's chaplain). Gyrth is further said to have urged the King not to fight against William in person; he was, Gyrth represented, weary from the late battle; he had sworn to the Duke and should beware of perjury, and it was better that he, as the king, should not run the risk of being slain. Gyrth offered himself to lead the army, and is said to have recommended Harold to ravage the country in order to distress the invader. Harold indignantly rejected this advice (William of JumiÃ‹ges, vii. c. 35; Orderic, p. 500; Will. Malm. iii. 239; Roman de Rou, 12041 sq.).
He marched from London on 12 Oct. at the head of a large army, and took up his position on the hill on which Battle Abbey was afterwards built. This hill is a kind of promontory of the Sussex downs, and is crossed by the road between Hastings and London (see map in Norman Conquest, iii. opp. p. 445); it is called Senlac by Orderic (pp. 501, 502 sq.); the place seems to have had no special name at the time of the battle, and is simply indicated by the English chronicler as Ã«at the hoar apple-treeÃ (A.-S. Chron. Worcester). The spot was about seven miles from the Normans' fortified camp at Hastings, and was well chosen for the purpose of barring the way against an invader, and Harold's plan was to meet the enemy by defensive tactics. He therefore strengthened his position with a ditch and a palisade forming it into a kind of Castle (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 763). When the English saw that they were to fight in a narrow space, and to hold a post instead of making an attack, a considerable number deserted (Flor. Wig.); for a fight of this sort promised little plunder, and required more steadiness than was to be found among untrained levies. Their desertion was probably no loss to Harold; his plan did not demand a very large army; a considerable force seems to have been left, and his housecarls and the personal followers of his brothers and the other trained warriors who formed the strength of his army would not be discouraged by the adoption of a plan of battle specially suited to them (on the English numbers at the battle see Norman Conquest, iii. 447, 752-4). Messages are said to have passed between the Duke and the king, and both sent out spies. On the morning of the next day, Saturday the 14th, the festival of St. Calixtus, the Normans advanced to attack the English position. Harold and all his army fought on foot, according to the national custom. The light-armed or irregular levies, armed with javelins, clubs, or any weapons with which they had been able to furnish themselves, were posted by the King on the wings. The main body, which held the highest part of the hill, was composed of the royal housecarls and other picked troops, most of them more or less soldiers by profession; they were armed with two-handed axes and long or round shields, and were clad in armour. In the centre were planted the Dragon of Wessex and Harold's standard, which bore the image of a fighting man wrought in gold, and studded with gems. Beneath these stood Harold and his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine. All the heavy armed force fought in close order, shield touching shield, so as to present a complete wall to the enemy. The Normans began the attack at 9 a.m., and as the English received it they shouted Ã«God Almighty!Ã and Ã«Holy Cross!Ã probably Harold's special war-cry (Freeman), or cried Ã«Out! Out!Ã as some Norman tried to press within the palisade (Roman de Rou, 13193). The first attack of the Normans failed, and for a time their whole army was in some confusion. In the course of a second attack the Duke pressed close to where the King stood, and slew Gyrth, whose death was followed by that of Leofwine. No great advantage, however, was gained until William, by ordering a pretended flight, tempted the right wing to break its order and pursue. This enabled the Norman cavalry to gain a portion of the hill and engage the English centre without having to charge up the ascent (Freeman). They pressed on the English, who stood so closely that the slain could scarcely fall (William of Poitiers, p. 134). The English were bigger and stronger than the Normans, and swung their battle-axes with deadly effect (ib. p. 133). Harold played the part of a warrior as well as of a general; his strength and valour are freely acknowledged by Norman writers, and it is said no one escaped that came within reach of his arm; one stroke of his battle-axe sufficed to fell both horse and rider (ib. p. 136; Flor. Wig. i. 227; Will. Malm. iii. 243).
Gradually the blows of the English waxed feebler, and their number dwindled, yet Harold still stood his ground. He and those who stood with him continued from time to time to beat back their assailants, and kept unbroken order. As evening came on the Duke bade his archers shoot upwards so that their arrows might fall on the faces of the closely packed body of English (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 763). One of these arrows pierced Harold's eye and brought him to the ground (tapestry; Will. Malm. iii. 242-3). At this moment a charge was made on the English by twenty knights, who had vowed to carry off the king's standard. Several of them were slain, but the rest succeeded in their attempt (Henry of Huntingdon); four of them, Eustace of Boulogne, Ivo, heir of Guy of Ponthieu, Hugh de Montfort, and Walter Giffard the younger, slew the dying king, each giving him a wound, and one hewing off his leg, an unknightly deed, for which the Conqueror turned him out of his service (Guy of Amiens, i. 537 sq.; Will. Malm. iii. 243). On the next day Harold's mother, Gytha, sent to the Conqueror, offering him the weight of the king's body in gold if he would allow her to bury it. He refused, declaring that Harold should be buried on the shore of the land which he sought to guard (Orderic, p. 502; Guy, i. 573 sq.). Search was made for his body by two of the priests of his Church at Waltham, who had watched the fight, but they could not recognise it. Then they fetched Edith Swan-neck, his former love, who recognised the body, not by the face, for that was mangled, but by some marks known only to her (De Inventione, c. 21). By the Conqueror's order William Malet is said to have buried the corpse on the sea coast, and raised above the grave a cairn of stones. On the other hand, it is asserted by good authorities that Harold was buried at Waltham (Will. Malm.; De Inventione; Wace), and it seems fairly certain that this was the case, and that the two stories are to be reconciled by assuming that after his body had been buried by William Malet it was transferred to his Church at Waltham (Norman Conquest, iii. 517-21, 781-4). His body was again translated in the twelfth century, when some alteration was made in the fabric of the Church, and the writer of the Ã«De Inventione CrucisÃ records that he then saw and touched the king's bones. His tomb, which was in front of the high altar, is mentioned by Knighton (c. 2342); it was destroyed at the dissolution of the abbey, but some remains of it were to be seen when Fuller wrote his Ã«History of Waltham AbbeyÃ (p. 259). As early as the date of the writing of the Ã«De InventioneÃ it was believed by some that Harold was not slain in the battle, that he was sorely wounded, but escaped and lived to a great age as a hermit at Chester, and there died (c. 21). The story is noticed by Giraldus Cambrensis (Itin. KambriÃŠ, vi. 140), by Ailred of Rievaulx (c. 394), by Ralph of Coggeshall (p. 1), who says that he lived until the last years of the reign of Henry II, and later writers, and it is given with many embellishments in the Ã«Vita Haroldi,Ã and is the principal subject of that book. Harold's widow, Ealdgyth, was sent by her brothers to Chester for safety about the time of his death (Flor. Wig.); nothing further is known about her (Norman Conquest, iv. 588). Harold had three sons and two daughters, probably by Edith Swan-neck, Godwine, Edmund, and Magnus, who took shelter in Ireland, and in 1066 gathered a fleet manned by Irish Danes, attacked Bristol, fought with Eadnoth the staller (q.v.) in Somerset, and ravaged the coast of Devonshire; two of them repeated their ravages the following year (Flor. Wig.; A.-S. Chron. Worcester; Orderic, p. 513; William of JumiÃ‹ges, vii. 41). The two daughters were Gunhild and Gytha (Norman Conquest, iv. 754-7). Ealdgyth had a son by him, born soon after his death, named Harold (Flor. Wig. i. 276), who took part in the expedition of Magnus Barefoot in 1098 (Will. Malm. iv. 329; Freeman, William Rufus, ii. 134, 169). He also had another son named Ulf, who, it is assumed (Norman Conquest, iv. 765), was a twin with Harold; for this, however, there seems to be no evidence; he may have been a son of Edith Swan-neck, or of some third woman; he was imprisoned by the Conqueror, and not released until William's death. There seems to be no evidence for the theory that the elder children of Harold were borne to him, as Sir H. Ellis and Lappenberg suppose, by some earlier wife than Ealdgyth, and Ã«it seems easier to make them the children of EadgythÃ (ib.).
It is impossible to add any facts about Harold's life to the account contained in Dr. Freeman's Norman Conquest, vols. ii. and iii., though the opinions expressed or implied in this article are not always identical with his; Green in his Conquest of England presents a suggestive, but unduly depreciatory estimate; Palgrave in his Normandy and England is decidedly unfair. See also St. John's Four Conquests of England; Ellis's Introduction to Domesday; Lord Lytton's Harold, though one-sided, is, as far as history goes, a first-rate historical novel; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Rolls Ser.); Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Vita Eadwardi, ed. Luard (Rolls Ser.); William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum (Engl. Hist. Soc.); William of Poitiers and Brevis Relatio, ed. Giles; William of JumiÃ‹ges and Orderic, ed. Duchesne; the Bayeux tapestry, for special value see Norman Conquest, iii. 563-70, plates by Stothard for Soc. Antiq., and may be studied in facsimile in South Kensington Museum; a copy in a needlework executed by ladies was exhibited at Oxford in December 1889; Henry of Huntingdon's Mon. Hist. Brit.; Vita Wlstani, Anglia Sacra, ii.; Ailred or Î”thelred of Rievaulx, ed. Twysden; Eadmer's Historia Novorum, ed. Migne; De Inventione Crucis, ed. Stubbs; Vita Haroldi, a romance of small value, Chroniques Anglo-Normandes, ed. Michel; Wace's Roman de Rou, especially valuable as preserving traditions about the battle of Hastings; Guy of Amiens, De Hastingensi prÃŠlio Mon. Hist. Brit.; BenoÃ“t de Ste. More, of small historical value; Heimskringla, ed. Anderson; Historia Rames. (Rolls Ser.); Giraldus Cambrensis, vi. Itin. KambriÃŠ (Rolls. Ser.)
Contributor: W. H.