(original article was written last year - this one extended and re-posted + original comments)
Why did Harold II, King of England, stand the fyrd down in August 1066? (Thus allowing William to march in unopposed in late September).
When King Edward died in January 1066 Harold Godwinesson was crowned king - elected by the English Witan as the only man suitable for the job.
(Anyone who disagrees with that statement: that's another debate, you are more then welcome to submit an article and I will post it)
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Harold was expecting William to come - let's face it, he had his spies and word would have got back to him that Duke William of Normandy was building a fleet and preparing to invade.
All summer Harold had the men of the Southern Fyrd (Wessex, Kent, Hampshire etc) on stand-by; one can imagine the Watch keeping close eye for any sails appearing on the horizon of the English Channel.
But in August, Harold sent the men home.
The argument of "it was harvest" is not acceptable. The women and children left at home were perfectly capable of getting the harvest in while the men-folk were away. Contrary to popular (Victorian?) belief, war did not stop because of the harvest - to use that thinking, war should also stop in spring because of the sowing / lambing / calving, in autumn because of the autumn slaughter - which leaves winter: when fighting was not a good idea because of the cold, wet, dark. Sounds a good method of stopping war to me!
Pity the Saxons / Vikings et al did not adopt it.
Harold was not stupid. he was an extremely capable and experienced commander (which is why he was crowned King, of course).
The only logical reason why would be because he was certain William would not be coming that year.I do not have evidence, just logic, intuition, and listening to what was not said in various primary sources.
|Dives Sur Mer|
William built his fleet at Dives sur Mer - we know he sailed earlier than September (end July, early August). The next we hear, he is at St Valerey and some of his ships are wrecked, men have died. He hushes this up and commandeers other ships to replace those that were lost.
The Norman version is that he met a storm which destroyed his fleet.
So if it was just a storm why try to hide the fact? Why not just say "we'll sail in better weather next time chaps"?
Many of his men were Viking descended & fishermen, therefore, experienced sailors. They'd know full well the dangers of storms, and not be overly bothered by them - not enough for the need of hiding the bad luck of a storm, anyway. (And William had no trouble convincing them to set sail that second time, in September, did he?)
Now, consider the fact that England had a powerful and effective navy and plenty of ships. You can see the fleet as "ghost" ships in the border of the Bayeux tapestry in the Westminster scene where Halley's Comet is depicted. Given the time of year, it is probable that this scene depicts the keels hauled up onto the land to overwinter; i.e. not made ready for sailing - an indication of the season & that Harold had not sent the fleet out yet.
|"ghost" ships in the bottom border|
Given we had an effective & efficient fleet - is it not absurd that Harold would not have ordered a blockade of the Channel? His predecessors - Aethelred, Cnut (and Edward) used blocakade tactics very successfully. Harold grandfather and father were heavily involved with the Fleet - the scyp fyrd) Indeed the Godwinesson's main manor house was specific as a deterrent against ship-borne invasion. Bosham is on the coast near Chichester, in Harold's time it was a bust little harbour. Earl Godwine had the church tower specifically built as a watch tower - not a church tower.
It is therefore inconceivable that Harold had not used his knowledge and available forces to best advantage.
It therefore does not take much logic to work out that William met the English Fleet head on and was turned back with heavy casualties of men and ships. That fact he would want to keep quiet! If Harold had already defeated William - does this not explain why he assumed William would not be coming that summer, and stood the men down.
I concede this was a mistake on Harold's part, which later cost him his life - he underestimated William's determination. Maybe he received exaggerated information. Perhaps he was told that most of William's fleet had been destroyed, whereas in fact many of the ships were only damaged. All credit to Duke William: he re-rallied and tried again - most unexpectedly.
I also wonder - just throwing this in here - as Harold assumed that William would not be coming until 1067, was this why he went north to Stamford Bridge to face his brother Tostig and the invading Hardrada and his men? It's just a thought: if Harold had suspected that William would rally and try again, would he have stayed in the south and sent his brothers north in his stead? As it was, the South was safe.... apparently.
The Normans made no mention of a first (failed) attack and defeat by a blockade - this does not indicate that it didn't happen.
In fact, I think the no mention of it proves that it did!
And as final "evidence": one of the first men William had arrested and imprisoned was the Commander of the Fleet - Eadric the Steersman (who later fled to Scandinavian exile). I wonder why William was so cross with this guy!
A selection of the Previous comments from the original post: Please feel free to add your thoughts!