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Monday 8 November 2010

Why did Harold Godwineson go to Normandy?

by Helen Hollick

In 1063/4 Earl Harold of Wessex took ship and ended up in Normandy.
On board he had hounds, hawks - gifts obviously.

For some reason he ended up as a prisoner to Guy de Ponthieu- who was then forced to submit to Duke William who apologised profusely to Harold and his men.

Harold then spent several months in Normandy - even going on campaign with William.
But then, he was forced to swear an oath - stating he would support William's claim to the English throne.

We know these events happened because they are in the Bayeux Tapestry.

But we do not know why Harold went to Normandy.

Was he heading elsewhere?
Was his ship blown off course by a storm?
Had he merely set out on a fishing trip?


and this I firmly believe - was he intending to go to Normandy to plead for the release of his brother Wulfnoth and cousin Hakon who had been held hostage since 1052?

One other fact that we do know. Harold returned to England with Hakon.

Over to you.
What do you think?


  1. Didn't know about the hostages...

    It kind of makes sense...

  2. It is probably a little known fact that Harold's younger brother and nephew had been taken to Normandy, probably by Robert de Jumieges when he fled Englad after the return of his arch enemy Godwin from an enforced exile with which Robert had more than a small hand in. Prior to his going, Godwin had to give Edward hostages and they may have been placed in the care of the Archbishop de Jumieges. Robert may have taken the boys to ensure his own safe passage, or plainly out of spite or may have used them to promote Edward's offer to have the Duke of Normandy made his heir. According to one source there were reports of a sword and a ring said to have accompanied them from Edward as gifts for William as surety of his good intentions. Faced with the evidnec of the boys existence in normandy, it makes sense, therefore, to believe that Harold, having had a recent prick of conscience perhaps, went to normandy, against the wishes of Edward (see Andrew Bridgeford's interpretation of the Bayeux tapestry) who knew nothing good would come from it, to secure the release of his brother and nephew. william used the visit to his own ends, taking advantage of Harold's vulnerability to ensure he pledged an oath under duress to him that he would support his claim when the time came. Helen has it spot on in her novel Harold the King and the evidence backs this up.

  3. On this issue, it's very much worth taking a look at this article via Medievalists net which deals with this topic in an intriguing way. (BTW, I tried to post this last night but it seems to have disappeared into the ether).

  4. Thanks for the link RichP - got your comment eventually - thanks for contributing as well Paula & Alfie. Spread the word about this debate blog!

  5. Interesting. I had always thought that it was a state visit to William on a mission from Edward to offer him the crown. I knew he became William's prisoner and had to basically bargain for freedom by swearing of some relics that William would be king. I had not realised that he was captured more or less by accident. That is new info. I take it that I am right that Harold and William hunted and even campaign together in Brittany? The Bayeux Tapestry has images of that.

    Well, I have your book Helen and so I imagine I will learn much in time!

  6. Norman Propaganda Richard. Think about it.
    Who said he was on a mission to offer the crown? The Normans

    Why on earth would Harold have agreed to the idea?

    1. He was effectively running the country - why would he willingly agree to be pushed aside?

    2. The legitimate aethling was Edgar. When Harold went to Normamdy, Edward was in perfect health. Had Edward lived a couple more years, Edgar would have been of a suitable age to be crowned.

    4. England (and especially the Godwins) had no love for Normandy. Back in 1051/2 the Normans had almost caused civil war in England - and all the other earls eventually sided with Godwine, figuring he was better to support rather than the Normans.

    That Harold would willing give England away is nonsense.
    There is no record in the AS chronicles that Edward offered the crown, and anyway, it wasn't up to him, the Witan would have decided. Where are the records to show they were OK with this?

    It makes more sense to assume Harold went to get the hostages back.


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