On this day, January 5th 1066, King Edward,
(later known as the Confessor)
lay dying at Westminster.
Edward died either late on the 5th or in the early hours of the 6th, and Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex was crowned King in the newly built Westminster Abbey, on the 6th January.
Norman propaganda later claimed that he had been crowned in ungodly haste - this is not true. The Earls, Elders, men of the Church and other important people had been gathered at Westminster for the Christmas Court - and because Edward was ending his days. They were, however, anxious to get back to their lands and homes. The next gathering would not have been until the Easter, and so the coronation was undertaken immediately so that the Court could disperse.
It is also a false Norman claim that Stigand crowned Harold. There was an issue as to whether Stigand should be Archbishop of Canterbury or not, and so to avoid any clash of protocol the Ealdred,Archbishop of York, performed the crowning.
Duke William of Normandy believed that he had been promised the Crown. Thus began the final stages that caused the Battle of Hastings in October 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England. Harold II, however, was our legally anointed King, the first to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, and the last English King. He died defending his Kingdom against a usurping tyrant and conquest by a foreign army.
He failed, but he died trying.
Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)
Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)
Westminster - January 1066
The fifth day of January. For the first occasion in many a week the sky had cleared and brightened from the misery of rain into the vivid blue of clear winter sky. There was a nip of frost to the air. The sun was low, eye-dazzling, glittering through the diamond-bright grass and reeds.
Throughout the short hours of daylight Edward’s breath rattled in his chest, incoherent words flowing from his blue-tinged lips. As the sun set, burning gold over the Thames marshes, the temperature dropped to below freezing. Come morning, there would be a white crust riming the edge of the river, the courtyards would be a film of treacherous ice.
Edith was at his feet, attempting to rub some feeling of heat into them. Earl Harold stood, wrapped in his own thoughts, beside the brazier, absently adding more charcoal. By Edward’s bedside stood the King’s personal priest, Robert fitz Wimarch, the Archbishops Stigand and Ealdred and his doctor, Abbot Baldwin.
“I like not this dishumour,” Baldwin muttered, laying his fingers on his king’s feverish temple and shaking his head in resignation. There was nothing more he could do for the dying man.
Stigand bent over the bed, shaking Edward’s shoulder with anxious temerity. “My Lord King, wake up. My Lord, please rouse yourself!”
Edward’s eyelids fluttered, then, for a long moment, he lay still, quite silent, the breath caught in his throat. Suddenly his eyes flashed open and he recognised Stigand leaning over him. His eyes wide and fevered within a skeleton-like translucent face, Edward stared into the startled face of the Archbishop.
“I am for God,” the King croaked. “I have no fear of meeting Him, I look forward to sitting at His feet. Bury me within my mausoleum, now that it is made ready for my coming.”
Stigand nodded. “There is no need to fear death, for you have served God well and you go to an everlasting life from this transitory one.”
“The succession.” Edith hissed. “Quickly man! While he is lucid, ask him of my brother and the succession!”
Harold, remaining beside the brazier with arms folded, had to admit his sister was resolute.
Either Stigand deliberately misunderstood, or had no intention of mentioning Tostig’s enforced exile from England, a subject that could upset the King mortally. The Archbishop held the monarch’s bone-thin fingers and said, “We are here, my Lord Edward. Your beloved wife Edith and Earl Harold be at your side.”
“No, no. Tostig, remind him of Tostig!” Edith brushed Stigand aside and took her husband’s hand earnestly within her own.
Irritated but unable to retaliate, Stigand curtly beckoned Harold to come to the bedside. With reluctance, Harold complied. It did not seem possible that Edward was actually dying, that so much was going to change from this day forward. As a king he had fallen short of expectation, was, Harold had to admit, almost as useless as Æthelred had been, yet unlike his father, the people loved Edward. For his unstinting care and concern for the well-being of the common folk he could not be faulted. In affection, Harold had never felt anything but amicable indifference - neither liking nor disliking him. There were things he admired about Edward, others he despised, but that was so of any man. None save Christ himself was perfect.
Edith glowered at Harold, furious that he had not demanded Edward reinstate their brother as earl, or, in protest at the gross insult to the Godwinessons, gone into exile with him. As they had all those years past when their father stood accused of treason.
Harold had tried explaining to her the difference between the charge against Godwine and that against Tostig, but she had adamantly refused to listen to sense and reason, too wrapped in her own fears and disappointment to recognise the truth. Perhaps a more astute king would have made a move against the trouble brewing in the North before it came to the boil, would have urged caution or removed Tostig from office before it had been too late - but Edward was not a wise man. What was woven could not be unravelled.
Harold sighed with regret for what might have been. He supposed there was room inside the hearts of some men for one area of excellence only. For Edward, it had been in his worship of God and the building of so splendid an abbey. He stared at the sunken face beneath the white, silken beard, the blue eyes that sparkled, not with a zest for life, but from the heat of fever, ðæt wæs göd cyning - he was a good king. Harold sighed again. He could not deny Edward that epitaph, though it was not the full truth. It was not of his fault that he had made errors of judgement along his way, that he had been weak where he ought to have been strong. Edward had not wanted the weighty responsibility of a crown. He should have been an abbot, an archbishop; in that sphere he would have warranted ðæt wæs göd.
“There is much I need say!” Edward rasped. “I would have my household around me.” He glanced fretfully at those few occupants of the room. Harold nodded to fitz Wimarch who went immediately to the door.
They were waiting below, the members of the Council and other men of importance who had served the King. Were waiting for a summons or to hear that their king was no more.
In silence, save for the noise of their boots treading upon the stone stair and brushing through the fresh-spread rushes, they filed in one behind the other to encircle the King’s bed. He had asked to sit up and Robert fitz Wimarch stood behind him, tears blurring his eyes, supporting the frail old man.
“I had a dream,” Edward said, his voice clearer than it had been for many a day. “I saw two monks whom I knew well while I was in Normandy and who passed into God’s safe hands many years ago. They told me of the evils of the men around me, of my earls, my bishops and my clerics. They told me in this dream that unless I warned you to repent and bow your heads in shame before God there would come evil to my kingdom, that the land would be ravaged and torn asunder by the wrath of God.”
“That is indeed a vision of warning, my Lord King.” Stigand said with grave concern, making the sign of the cross as he spoke.
Agreeing, Ealdred of York nodded his head. “There is evil intent in all mankind and unless we humble ourselves before God we shall all face His anger.” He glanced meaningfully at Edith. “Men and women must serve God, and the chosen king, as they are commanded.”
Satisfied that his archbishops could be trusted to do their best to save the tormented souls of men, Edward spoke, with a dignified clarity, the words of the verba novissima, the will declared aloud on the deathbed, naming lands and gifts that were to go to those who had served him well. He spoke of the loyalty that his wife had shown him and said that like a daughter had he loved her. He smiled up at her, begging her not to weep. “I go to God. May He bless and protect you.”
In vain, Edith had attempted to sniffle back the flood of tears, but now gave in to her despair. She had not thought that she had felt anything for Edward, had simply endured his presence, his whining and pathetic weaknesses, but suddenly, now that she was to lose him, Edith realised that she looked upon him, this man who was three and twenty years her senior, as a father. Did she love him? She did not know, but she would miss him. She let the tears fall.
Similar tears were pricking in the eyes of them all. Some fell to their knees, others bowed their heads. Nearly all murmured the prayer of the Lord.
“Sir,” Stigand said softly, again leaning nearer to Edward, who had closed his eyes. “We would know your last wish. Would know who it is you would commend to follow you.”
Edward’s eyes opened. He attempted a weak smile at his Archbishop of Canterbury, fluttered his left hand towards Harold, who took it, absently rubbing his thumb over the taut surface of the proud-standing knuckles.
“My Earl of Wessex.” Tiredness was creeping over Edward; his words came with difficulty. He allowed his eyes to droop closed once more, his hand fall limp within Harold’s. “I commend my wife’s protection to you.”
Energy drained, his body slumped against the supporting arms of fitz Wimarch, the breath catching with an indrawn choke in his chest. The effort of putting thought and speech together had taken everything from him. “Leave, me,” he gasped. “I would make my confession.”
They left Edward’s chamber, quiet and subdued. Another death was a sober reminder that an end must come, eventually, for all who were born and breathed.
Only the King’s doctor and priest remained, and Edith. She knew the rest would go to the Council chamber to discuss the practicalities of her husband’s death - the funeral, the succession. Tears and breath juddered from her. All of it had been so pointless, so utterly and completely pointless! Oh, if only Tostig had not been so damned stupid. If only Harold had supported him. If only Edward were not to die…if only, if only. Where did those pathetically useless words end? If only Edward had been a husband to her, if only she had borne a child…
The murmur of conversation was low within the Council chamber, flickering in unison with the dance of the candle flames. All but a few of the Witan were present. Nine and thirty men. Two Archbishops: Stigand of Canterbury and Ealdred of York. The bishops of London, Hereford, Exeter, Wells, Lichfield and Durham; among the abbots, the houses of Peterborough, Bath and Evesham. Shire reeves and thegns - Ralf, Esgar, Eadnoth, Bondi, Wigod and Æthelnoth among others; the royal clerics, Osbern, Peter and Robert; Regenbald the King’s chancellor…and the five earls of England: Harold, his brothers Leofwine and Gyrth, and Eadwine and Morkere. They talked of the morrow’s expected weather, the succulence of the meat served for dinner, the ship that had so unexpectedly sunk in mid-river that very morning. Anything and everything unrelated to the difficulties that lay ahead in these next few hours and days.
Archbishop Ealdred exchanged a glance with Stigand, who nodded agreement. He stood and cleared his throat. “My lords, gentlemen, we must, however hard it be for us, discuss what we most fervently would have hoped not yet to have to.”
The light talk faded, grim faces turned to him, men settled themselves on benches or stools, a few remained standing.
“It is doubted that Edward will survive this night. It is our duty, our responsibility, to choose the man who is to take up his crown. I put it to you, the Council of England, to decide our next King.” Then Ealdred folded his robes around him and sat.
Those present were suddenly animated; opinions rose and fell like a stick of wood bobbing about on an incoming tide. Only two names were on their lips: Edgar the boy ætheling, and Harold.
The two in question sat quiet, on opposite sides of the chamber: one still asking himself if this was what he wanted; the other, bewildered and blear-eyed from the lateness of the hour. He had never before been summoned to attend the Council. It was not a thing for a boy, this was the world of men, of warlords and leaders. He was not much impressed by it.
Edgar looked from one to another, listened to snatches of the talk. He had been immersed in a game of taefl with his best friend - had been winning. One more move… and they had come, fetched him away, curse it! Sigurd always won at taefl; it had been Edgar’s big moment, his one chance to get even….
For an hour they debated, the hour-candle burning lower as the discussion ebbed and flowed. Occasionally someone would toss out a sharp question to the boy or Harold, seeking opinions, assurance. Edgar answered as well he could, Harold with patient politeness.
Midnight was approaching; servants had come and replaced the hour candle with a new one. The same words passed around and around.
“As I see things,” Archbishop Stigand said, his voice pitched to drown the rattle of debate, “we have talked of but the two contenders. Edgar?” He beckoned the lad forward. He came hesitantly, not much caring for this direct focus of attention for he was a shy boy.
Stigand continued, not noticing the boy’s reluctance. If Edgar were elected king it would make no difference that the lad did not want the title. To be king was a thing ordained and sanctioned by God, personal preference did not come into it. “He is of the blood, but not of age. Second, Harold of Wessex.” Again the Archbishop paused to motion the man forward. “He has ruled England on Edward’s behalf these past many years and has proven himself a wise and capable man. But there is a third possibility. Duke William may claim the crown through the Lady, Queen Emma, and through some misguided impression that Edward once offered him the title.”
Immediately there were mutterings, shaking of heads, tutting. Uneducated foreigners, especially Norman Dukes, it seemed, were unanimously declared as not understanding the civilised ways of the English.
Stigand half smiled, said, “I take it, then, that William is excluded from the voting?”
“That he is!”
“Damned impudence, if you ask me.”
“Does he think we would stoop so low as to elect a king who could not sign his own name?”
The clerk at his table to one side was scribbling hastily, attempting to write down as many of the comments as he could; the records would be rewritten later in neat script, the irrelevancies deleted, the gist of the proceedings tailored to fit the Church-kept - and censored - chronicle.
“Duke William cannot be so easily dismissed,” Harold interrupted. He waited for the babble of voices to quieten. “The Duke will not heed anything said in this room. If he has set his mind on wearing a crown then he will come and attempt to take it, I am certain of that. If he is rejected here in this Council, the question, my lords, will not be if or how or can he attack us, but when.”
“But he may be satisfied knowing a grandson of his was to hold England.” The Chancellor, Regenbald, spoke up. “You are to wed his daughter, does that not adequately relieve the situation?”
Aye, they were all agreed, it did. All except Harold.
He stood beside Stigand, saying nothing more. It was not his place to influence Council, but it was difficult to keep his tongue silent with some of these more inane remarks. Duke William looked at things as if through thick-blown glass, his view distorted to match his own expectations. Besides, to placate William with an alliance of marriage presupposed that Harold would be elected king, and they had not, yet, done so.
The door to the chamber opened, heads turned, speech faded. Abbot Baldwin entered. He had no need to say anything, his expression of grief told his message. Archbishop Ealdred murmured a few words of prayer, joined by Stigand and other holy men. “Amen,” he said. Then he looked up, his gaze sweeping across the room.
“We are agreed then? The King commended his wife, our good Lady Edith, into the care of the Earl of Wessex. It is in my mind that by this he intended for Earl Harold to protect and reign over England.”
There came but one murmur of disapproval: from Morkere, new-made Earl of Northumbria.
“It is in my mind that Earl Harold, once crowned, may go back on his word and restore his brother to favour. I have no intention of relinquishing my earldom.” He spoke plainly, but firmly. His brother, Eadwine, close at his side, nodded. Several thegns and nobles from the northern earldoms agreed also. A bishop too, Harold noticed.
Harold stepped forward, offering his hand to Morkere. “My brother has become a jealous fool. I make no secret of the fact that I would rather have him back in England, where I can keep eye on him, but he will never return to Northumbria. You have my sworn word.”
Morkere did not take the proffered hand. “Is your word good, my Lord Earl? Did you not grant your word - your oath - that you would support William of Normandy in his claim for England?”
An uneasy silence. Harold smiled laconically. Morkere showed signs of becoming a good earl, a worthy man to hold Northumbria.
“That oath,” Harold said, “was taken under duress. I am under no obligation to keep it. I was given the choice of losing my honour or my life and freedom, and that of my men. There are oaths, and oaths, my friend.” He nudged his hand further forward, inviting Morkere to take it, still smiling. “I made that vow to William knowing full well that it was more dishonourable for a lord to endanger the lives of others than to pledge an oath with no intention of keeping it. I make this one to you with a view to the opposite.”
Aware he had to give some other insurance to convince this rightfully suspicious young man, he added, “Within our traditional law there is no dishonour in breaking a promise to a man who is himself dishonourable. To those who are worthy ’tis different.” For a third time he offered his hand. “Take my word, Morkere, Tostig will not have Northumbria while I am able to prevent it. I give that unbreakable vow to a man I call worthy to receive it.”
Morkere was tempted to look at his brother, seek his opinion, but did not. He was his own man, earl in his own right, with his own decisions to make - be they right or wrong.
Decisively, with a single, abrupt nod of his head, gazing steadily into Harold’s eyes, he set his broad hand into the other man’s. “I accept your pledge, my Lord of Wessex.” Corrected himself. “My Lord King.”
There was no need for Morkere to add anything further, for Harold understood the look that accompanied that acceptance from steady, unblinking eyes: God protect you, though, should you break it.
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The winner of Harold the King / I Am the Chosen King ...
was Margaret of http://www.justonemorechapter.com/
was Margaret of http://www.justonemorechapter.com/
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