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.
§ York - 4th October 1066
(Harold's army has defeated Harald Hardrada, and Tostig - Harold's own brother - at Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire.
Harold has returned to York...
Come the fourth day of the October month, the feasting and merry-making was ended, the men of the fyrd returning to their homes, the noblemen picking up the abruptly severed threads of government. Wounds were healing, life returning to normality. Winter would soon be coming, and there was always much for a man to be doing to ensure the well-being of house place and livestock before the first snows fell.
For himself, Harold had felt little joy in the victory. How could he take pleasure in the slaying of his own brother? A brother who had been fighting in fury against him? He stood in the quiet solitude of the minster, looking down at the tomb. Aye, he was pleased at the splendid achievement of the men who had marched north so quickly, who had fought with exceptional bravery - what king would not be justifiably proud of such heroes? But the fight, for his own heart, was tainted by too much sorrow.
“I trust you are satisfied. Now that you have no one to stand against you.”
Harold raised his head. His sister Edith was standing on the opposite side of the graveplace, her expression one of cool contempt. Her face had thinned these last months; she looked pinched and hag-bound, like a frustrated mean-spirited spinster. An unfulfilled woman who had never found happiness, nor was ever likely to. He ought to feel sorrow for her, but there was no room left within him for anything beyond loathing.
He had not seen Edith since the funeral day - his coronation day - when she had swept from Westminster, taking all she could carry with her to Winchester, the Queen’s city. By right, Winchester ought be Alditha’s, but Harold had not had the opportunity to claim it from his sister. And he knew, were he to do so, he would have another spiteful fight on his hands, the possible spilling of yet more English blood. Edith would never, willingly, give up her dower land to the woman who had replaced her. Regarding her sour, condemning expression, Harold realised, all these years later, why Edward had so hated his mother for her refusal to give up and retire quietly.
“There is no point in my saying that this saddens me,” he answered, gesturing to the grave. “You would not believe me.”
Edith had arrived two days previously, her entourage of five-hundred men sweeping into York, demanding hospitality for the lady within the palace. Morkere, his wounds paining him, his mind occupied with settling the trouble Tostig had stirred, would rather have kicked her backside over the sea with those humiliated Norwegians, but she had been Queen to King Edward and therefore required respect.
She must have been on the road well before the twenty-fifth, the day of battle. Prudently - in case she answered with something he would prefer not to hear - Harold had not asked how she came to be riding to where she expected their brother to be residing. And with her so many men bearing arms and armour. That she had come to aid Tostig did not need to be asked; she had been about to commit treason, but it mattered for naught now. Tostig was dead and she had no champion, her cause was ended and already beginning to moulder beneath this granite slab.
“He was never a favourite brother, Edith, but for all that, he was my brother. Our mother’s son. I had no wish for this. It was not of my doing. His own greed caused it. Not me.”
Edith’s response was to step around the grave and slap Harold’s cheek, the sharp, bare sound ricocheting from the stone walls, echoing across the nave and chancel. Monks gathered in a western chapel glanced up, concerned.
“You did nothing for him!” she screeched. “You betrayed him by making no attempt to regain his earldom, to help him salvage his dignity! And then you pushed him down to his knees by setting Edward’s crown upon your own head - and still you made no effort to help him!” Again she slapped him, the force of her anger and grief thrusting behind the blow.
Harold’s head reeled, a bruise instantly reddening from eye to jaw, but he did not move, said only, with such great sorrow, “He could have had anything he wanted, Edith, had he only asked. Anything, except Northumbria.”
She spat at him, a globule of saliva that landed on his cheek and dribbled into the trail of his moustache. Turning on her heel, she stalked from the minster, her boot heels tap-tapping in her haste. Outside, the sun was shining as if it were midsummer; the weather was most assuredly turned inside out this year. Irritably she called for her mare and was preparing to be boosted into the saddle when the clatter of hooves, coming fast along the road that ran towards the London gate, halted her movement. Edith’s guard, monks, the minster folk, men and women of York, housecarls and soldiers all turned to watch the rider come galloping through the wide-flung gateway, sparks flying from the shoes of his horse as he hauled at the reins. The lathered, sweat-dripping animal came down on one knee; blood oozed from his flanks where the spurs had driven him. The rider flung himself from the saddle and pausing merely to ask the whereabouts of the King, took the steps in one stride and ran into the minster.
Curious, Edith followed him into the shadowed coolness. She watched him run the length of the aisle and stumble to his knees in front of Harold, his lips moving before the King had barely registered his presence. Standing within the doorway, her back to the sunlight, Edith saw Harold’s face drain chalk pale, his hand go to his sword, the fingers clutch tight around it. He asked a few questions, which were answered with equal despatch.
The King nodded his head once and headed for the doorway. He brushed past Edith without seeing her, shouting for his horse. He mounted by vaulting into the saddle and heeled straight into a canter, giving simultaneous command that the officers of his housecarls were to be summoned.
“What is it?” men were asking, perplexed, a little fearful. “What is wrong?”
Ealdred, Archbishop of York, came hurrying, his vestments gathered into his fists so that he might run the faster. He put his hand out to signal Harold to stop. “What has happened, my Lord? What tragedy? What is wrong?”
“We are in dire need of your prayers, my Lord Archbishop,” Harold said quickly, as he hauled the beast to halt. “I must ride south immediately. Duke William has landed his fleet at Pevensey.”
Available on Amazon
(UK Title) Harold the King
(US Title) I Am The Chosen King
Lovely to have met everyone at the annual re-enactment
at Battle, Sussex
at Battle, Sussex
Previously posted 1066 related articles that may be of interest