On 14th October 1066 Harold Godwineson, Harold II, our last English King, died in battle attempting to protect his kingdom and his people from foreign invasion. Subsequent history, written by the conquering Normans, scratched his short - and legitimate - reign from official records or returned entries to his previous title of Earl of Wessex. Kings became numbered from William I, ignoring all previous Saxon names.
For me, Harold II is a hero. He died fighting for freedom, and I honoured him by writing, to the best of my ability, a novel that reflected the people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings.
In memory of Harold II's efforts, I will be posting some excerpts over the next few days.
§ The Hoar-Apple Tree, Sussex - 13th October 1066
Evening descended with one of those soft ripples that is barely noticed. The sky had darkened gradually, so that it was only when night actually fell that it was realised the day had ended. Evening ushered in the autumnal chill, the grass dew wet, the air nipping at fingers and face. Before many nights passed, frost would be sprinkling the bronzed leaves and dying bracken.
Duke William was aware of the English muster. Normandy had scouts who knew their job - had been observed by King Harold’s own scouts. Word would have travelled before the marching army as it left London, two days and sixty-odd miles away, over the northern Weald beyond the densely thicketed forest of Andredsweald. They had marched on foot, most of them - the housecarls, the fyrd - for there were no adequate sound horses, but it did not matter. The walk was not so long from London into Sussex, and surprise and speed were not essential for this coming battle.
By the late afternoon of the thirteenth day of October several thousand men were adding their rough-made encampments to those already gathered on the wind-riddled slope of Caldbec Hill. More were coming: in small groups, pairs, ones and twos. Esegar and Godric, both Shire Reeves, settled their men at campfires after dark; Leofric, Abbot of Peterborough, joined his freemen of the fyrd with those of Abbot Ælfurg of Winchester. The men of Thurkill of Kingston and Eadric the Deacon sank wearily into the huddle of their cloaks, hardly caring that the women were offering them food, such was their weariness. Through the night men came, expecting to have a wait of a day or two, perhaps more, before their weapons and skill would be wanted. Scattered over the hill, a hundred and a hundred campfires mirrored the sparkle of the stars wheeling across the heavens: Orion the Hunter, the Bull, the Bear.
The King’s own tent was pitched within yards of the old tree, which had proved its worth as an easily recognised rallying point. Outside, his two banners fluttered, toyed with by the restless southern wind: the Dragon of Wessex beside the Fighting Man. Nearby stood the command tent of Earls Gyrth and Leofwine with their own banners. Within Harold’s tent, the lamps lit, they were arguing.
“It is senseless for you to fight, brother. If you are killed, what will happen to England? Let me take your place.” Leofwine was vehement, his obstinate stance backed by many of those leaders also present - captains, bishops, thegns….
“And what will happen to England if I did that?” Harold roared back at them, slamming his fist on the table in front of him, making tankards and goblets, maps and the paraphernalia of war bounce. “I was elected king, as Harold the second of that name, elected as the man most worthy to lead our armies. Do I, then, abandon my responsibility at this first hint of danger?”
“But you fought at Stamford Bridge - you have adequately proved your worth.” That was a captain of his housecarls.
“And I shall fight here at Hastings!”
Leofwine swung away from the table, his hands raised. “Is there no reasoning with the man?”
“Happen you could try it more successfully with Duke William?” Gyrth said drily. “Our messenger got nowhere. You might be more persuasive.”
(UK Title) Harold the King
(US Title) I Am The Chosen King
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Previously posted 1066 related articles that may be of interest