18 October 2018

1066 - Wasn't There Going To Be A Movie?

last in the series of  all things 1066 

by Robin Jacob: producer

In 2000 I was in my apartment in Manila watching Lion in Winter with the late greats Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn and thought to myself they just don't make movies like that anymore. This thought holds true today even more so than in 2000.

I then began to look at what historical period in British history had not really been covered, and after much research I decided to write a script for 1066.

Now usually if I write   a contemporary script I have the first draft in two weeks but of course that was not to be the case for 1066. Much research was needed for a start.

After six drafts and a few years I arrived at a script I thought was OK. Well it wasn't. Whilst it had the events it did not have the flavour, mood, characters, back story and 'oomph' that I was looking for.
So, I decided to do some more research and came across Harold the King by Helen Hollick. I ordered it online and read it from cover to cover in three days.

Helen had what I needed, the characters and their relationship with others, which was lacking in my draft.
I contacted Helen and asked if I could steal some of her book. 

[Helen: I received an email out of the blue, explaining about a script for a prospective movie and 'could I use some of the information'... I had two thoughts: 1) this is a wind up 2) oh so he wants my research and I get nothing out of it? Don't think so... I followed up, though, to find out of this guy was for real. Turned out he was...]

She thankfully said yes. After a rewrite Helen read through the script and made some very important alterations, additions and rewrites [Helen: adding more of the women's parts etc] which put the script into shape. [Helen: *grin*]

We now had a script of substance, one that was pretty historically accurate given the availability of source material. We tried very hard not to go into the realms of fantasy as is so often done in Hollywood but to stick to the facts as best we could - and the facts are pretty amazing anyway.

Helen's husband, Helen and Robin
The first hurdle that we  walked straight into was the financial crisis that hit almost everyone...  when the UK economy is good, raising funds for movies is a difficult task -  when the economy is in the toilet the task is near impossible.

But a good idea is a good idea, and I have learnt in life never to give up. Having won awards for my documentaries and produced music Multi-platinum and Gold Discs I know how hard it is to bring projects to fruition. 

Helen talking to Mark Lester
Within a few weeks of putting 1066 up on imdb.com I found myself being contacted by many actors and technical crew members wanting to be involved on the project, including Oscar winners.
Those who read the script thought it was good and attached themselves to the project. Many other 'A-listers' approached me either direct or via agents, but without the financing in place I decided not attach anyone else.

I canned four co-producers who were using the high profile of the project to enhance their personal careers rather than working on getting the project done. But this is par for the course in the film industry. We have  great music, good production sketches and a host of experts in various fields from re-enactment, swordsmanship, stunts, Saxon language,etc. We are serious about this movie - I am as passionate about getting it made as Helen is as passionate about getting her novel read.

I started to produce 54mm pewter models as part of the awareness of the project and have sold quite a few. (https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/302881510282)

And at this moment we have the project with a major film production company...We continue to push for the project. It is a great story and a most important one to get out there.

 meanwhile ... you could always read the book...


That's all folks - the end of the 1066 series 
(until next year!)

17 October 2018

1066 Where is Harold Buried?

A series of  all things 1066

One of the great mysteries of 1066. Where is King Harold II buried? 

"William called to one of his lesser commanders, who was making his way obliquely across the sloping, scarred hillside. “Malet! William Malet!”
The man raised his head at the shout, trotted to meet his Duke, listened gravely to his orders. Already he had been charged with the burial of all these dead – the Norman dead, the English could look to their own. Mass graves, he had decided, would be best, pits dug away to the east where the ground appeared softer. Now he had this other grave to dig. By the shore, the Duke said. That would mean a journey back to the coast – as if he had not enough to do this day! But so be it. The Duke had commanded it."

According to Norman records, Duke William commanded that what remained of Harold (his body had been dismembered and his head removed) was to be buried in secret by the coast, overlooking the sea. That is somewhat ambiguous... presumably the Duke of Normandy did not want his rival to become a martyr, or worse still (in his view) a saint - for which part of the ritual required the remains of a body. I reckon William's thinking was 'bury him somewhere obscure without a marker and he will soon be forgot,' then walked off rubbing his hands together in the delight at gaining a royal crown. (I think we have established in previous posts that I have no liking for William!)

Hah, but Bill my boy, the English have long memories!

Edyth Swanneck, Harold's common-law wife of many years (they had at least six children), had to identify his mutilated torso after the great battle, for she was the only one who knew the scars and marks on his body. His mother, Countess Gytha, pleaded with William to exchange her son's remains for their weight in gold. It is unlikely that Edyth would have agreed to such a heartbreaking task unless she believed that the body of her beloved was to have a Christian burial in a suitable place of honour.

The Duke, however, apparently refused Gytha's request... or at least, the whereabouts of King Harold II’s resting place remains, to this day, open to conjecture and personal opinion. 

Option 1) 
He was buried somewhere near the coast at Hastings. 
Frankly, unlikely. These were devout people, and for all his faults, Duke William would have been an honourable man where burying the body of a nobleman was concerned. Burial in consecrated ground would have been essential. The burying in secret is not disputed, it is only the where that has remained secret. I think we can discount anywhere near the Hastings coast though.

Option 2) 
Waltham Abbey, Essex

Waltham Abbey lays stout claim to his body, but, even though I used to live not far from this lovely town - and abbey - I don't think that Harold was buried there. 

The Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross and St Lawrence has been a place of worship since the 7th century, although the present building, with its Norman architecture dates from the early 12th century. To the east of the existing church are traces of an enlargement of the building, begun following the re-foundation of the abbey in 1177. In the Late Middle Ages, Waltham was one of the largest church buildings in England and a major site of pilgrimage. The monastic buildings and the parts of the church east of the crossing were demolished at the dissolution, and the Norman crossing tower and transepts collapsed in 1553. The present-day church consists of the nave of the Norman abbey church, the 14th-century lady chapel and west wall, and a 16th-century west tower, added after the dissolution.

For the theory:
King Edward the Confessor gave the land and previous church building to his earl, Harold Godwinson, who rebuilt, refounded and richly endowed the church, dedicating it to God in 1060; a legend has it that as a young man Harold had been cured of paralysis by Waltham's relic of the Holy Cross. The abbey was, therefore, extremely important to Harold.

There is no reason not to believe that Harold, as King, stopped to pray at Waltham in September/October 1066 on his way south from his victory at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire to meet and fight William of Normandy who had landed on the south coast. Naturally this report centres on Harold going to Waltham to pray - which he undoubtedly did, but holy records are unlikely to also mention that his main reason would have been to visit Edith Swanneck, his (divorced to marry a church-law wife instead) common-law 'mistress'. Edyth lived a short distance away from the abbey at Nazeing. (I'm personally convinced that her home was where the present-day Harold's Park Farm is situated.) 
Incidentally, the battle-cry of the English at Hastings was "Holy Cross". 

William of Malmesbury wrote in the Gesta regum Anglorum in 1125, that William's refusal to accept Gytha's gold meant that Harold's body was handed over without payment, and that it was taken from the battlefield to Waltham for burial. The non-payment is very probable.
This version is supported by the Roman de Rou, written by Wace in the 1160s. 

The final detailed medieval account comes from the Waltham Chronicle, where the author describes how two canons from Waltham, Osgod Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, accompanied Harold to Hastings. After the battle they recovered Harold's body and brought it to Waltham for burial under the nave of the church. This story was related to the author of the Chronicle when he was a boy, by the elderly Sacristan Turketil, who claimed to have himself been a boy at Waltham when Harold arrived en route from Stamford Bridge, and later witnessed the interment of the king. The author himself claims to have seen Harold's body being disinterred and moved twice during the rebuilding work which started in 1090.

In 1177, Waltham became an Augustinian foundation, and the new incumbents published Vita Haroldi ("The Life of Harold") soon afterwards. This records that Harold survived the battle and retired as a hermit to either Chester or Canterbury. (I think we can discount that particular bit of nonsense.) 

In the 18th century, the historian David Hume wrote that Harold had been buried by the high altar in the Norman church and moved to the choir of the later Augustinian abbey. Visitors were shown a stone slab bearing the inscription Hic iacet Haroldus infelix ("Here lies Harold the unfortunate"), although it had been destroyed when that part of the abbey was demolished at the Dissolution.

the marker stone today at Waltham Abbey
An 18th century reference comes from Daniel Defoe’s A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. In his description of Essex, Defoe mentions Waltham Abbey where “the ruins of the abbey remain; and tho’ antiquity is not my proper business, I cou’d not but observe, that King Harold, slain in the great battle in Sussex against William the Conqueror, lies buried here; his body being begg’d by his mother, the Conqueror allow’d it to be carried hither; but no monument was, as I can find, built for him, only a flat grave-stone, on which was engraven, Harold Infoelix.”  *

All of which has no proof about it whatsoever (apart from the existence of the present stone slab!)
I am always very sceptical of monastic claims of burial, especially when they (conveniently) get written at a time when the abbey in question is struggling to survive financially. (Glastonbury and the 'unexpected' finding of King Arthur's tomb is another example.)

No remains of a skeleton has ever been found under the nave, or near where the alter was or... well, anywhere outside of ordinary graves in the graveyard. On the other hand, it does seem odd that Harold was not taken to Waltham... but then Essex is a long way from Sussex, and could such a burial have been kept secret? And anyway there is a far better contender...
Statue of Harold incorporated
into the abbey's walls near
the main entrance door.
Waltham Abbey images
© Cathy Helms
Sorry, I do not believe that Harold was laid to rest at Waltham Abbey.

Option 3) 
Bosham, Sussex

Holy Trinity Church, Bosham
Bede wrote that Bishop Wilfrid, visiting Bosham in 681, found a small monastery with five or six brethren led by Dicul, an Irish monk. The building may have been on or near the site of the present church. Before the Norman Conquest, Bosham Church and its estate were given by King Edward the Confessor to his Norman chaplain Osbern FitzOsbern who retained his position after 1066: he became Bishop of Exeter in 1072 and attached these holdings to the bishopric. Succeeding Bishops of Exeter continued to hold the church and estate of Bosham until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.*

Interesting that Exeter was regarded as The Queen's town - and the surviving member of the Godwine family was the 'Dowager Queen' Edith, Harold's sister, widow to Edward. Much of the land around Exeter and North Devon also belonged to their mother, Gytha.

Roman remains have been found in Bosham, and it is thought the church may be on the site of a Roman basilica. The church is built of rubble with ashlar dressing; it has a tiled roof and a shingled spire. The lower part of the tower of the church, the chancel arch, and the tower arch, are Saxon, and is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry where Harold and his brother, Leofwine can be seen entering the church. Former Bosham resident (alas now passed away) John Pollock proved, beyond doubt, that the depiction on the tapestry was accurate for the time, although the tower has, since 1066, been extensively altered. (John, a wonderful interesting man, personally showed me his proof - I will have to write an article one day!)

The top storey of the tower was added in the 1400s, but in the 10th and 11th centuries the (lower) tower  doubled as a look-out tower during the period of Viking raiding - Bosham was a busy port in the days before the channels to the sea silted up. Cnut had extensive grounds on the opposite shore of the harbour, and gave the land at Bosham to his right-hand man, Earl Godwine, Harold's father. Bosham was, in fact, the Godwine's main place of residence. It is very possible that Harold was born there.

There is a tradition that a daughter of King Cnut (Canute) drowned in the nearby millstream and was buried in the church. A small stone coffin was found near the chancel arch in 1865, but it is not known if there is any definite connection.*

Incidentally, the story of King Cnut turning back the tide. It is probable that this is based on an actual event - Cnut attempting to show that he was not God and that he could not control the tide... the tide comes in very fast at Bosham and it is entirely plausible that this event did actually take place there. John Pollock, after reading my novel, A Hollow Crown/The Forever Queen did in fact prove that the scene I wrote was 100% possible. He did get slightly wet while doing so though.

So: Bosham was the family home. It isn't that far from Hastings. It was (is) on the coast. Holy Trinity church was the family church. Gytha, Harold's mother returned to Bosham after the battle (we know she fled abroad from there soon after.) She would also have had three other bodies to bury: her sons Leofwine and Gyrth and her grandson Hakon, all of whom were killed at Hastings. It is unlikely that she would have buried these anywhere else except at Bosham. Therefore, is it not probable that she also buried her son Harold there?

More evidence:
In 1954, workmen replacing stones under the chancel arch rediscovered the coffin thought to be of King Cnut's daughter, but also found a coffin containing a headless and legless skeleton; the coffin was resealed after examination of the remains by a coroner. 

Waltham Abbey supporters claim that this was Earl Godwine... but this doesn't hold up. Records of the time (1050s) support that Earl Godwine was buried with full honour at Winchester (where Queen Emma and King Cnut were also buried - Godwine served Emma and she resided at Winchester for the last years of her life.) Why would Godwine's grave, if it was at Bosham, be secret? There would be marker stones, a tomb... 

Only important people were buried beneath the sacred place of beneath the chancel arch - daughters of kings and kings. It is very likely that the grave-space was intended for Cnut himself, but his widow, Emma, would have laid him to rest in the more important  Winchester.  Gytha would, of course, have known of this ready-made grave.

Add to that: why on earth would earl Godwine - who died of a seizure - have been buried with his head and one leg missing? Whereas we KNOW that Harold was decapitated and had his leg hacked off... here it is, recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry, very plain to see:

And... there are three anomalies regarding the nave of Holy Trinity - three hollows or holes beneath the nave. What they are, no one knows. To my mind, it is obvious. They are the graves of Leofwine, Gyrth and Hakon.

In 2003, amateur historians sought permission from the consistory court of the Diocese of Chichester to exhume the remains of the torso, in order to confirm if they were those of King Harold. DNA was to be compared with DNA of three people claiming to be his descendants. Permission was refused. It was stated that exhumation should only be carried out on "special and exceptional grounds" or for a "good reason"; the court heard that the three supposed descendants each had different DNA. I was involved with that request. A disappointing result, but perhaps we are not meant to know where Harold rests.

I do, however, think there is a reason for the claim made by Waltham Abbey. It is a little gruesome for our minds today, but I firmly believe that Harold’s heart, and maybe his head, were taken to Waltham for burial, a common practice in those days. His Life and Love at Waltham, his soul resting at peace, at Bosham. 

R.I.P. Harold II
rightful King of England

my apologies: some information taken direct from Wikipedia

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16 October 2018

The Women of 1066 by Helen Hollick

A series of  all things 1066

Rather than write more historical stuff about the women connected with the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, here are some excerpts about each of them from Harold The King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)

Emma of Normandy, Queen of England

Winchester April 1043

Emma, twice married, twice widowed, Dowager Queen of England, watched her only surviving son dance, tripping and prancing with dainty steps among the boisterous twirl of men and women. With the solemnity of the coronation ritual completed, and the pomp of the banquet ended, this evening’s celebration and merry-making came most welcome to the guests here within the King’s Hall at Winchester. A pity that the crowned king had to be Edward.
Emma sipped at her wine to disguise the flare of contempt. Edward, her firstborn son, crowned and anointed this day as King of England. She would have to learn to accept it. She took another sip, savouring the richness of the red grape as it warmed her throat, overcoming the taste of bile that rose from her stomach. Accept it, maybe, but she would never come to like it! Edward was as weak and shallow as his incompetent father, Æthelred, had been. How well had the clerics who wrote the history of these things mocked that name! Æthelred, Noble-Counsel – and how soon into his dithering, floundering reign had that been altered to un-raed, ill-counselled?
A thunder of laughter from the far end of the crowded Hall drew her attention. Godwine’s two eldest sons, Swegn and Harold, stood among a group of young men sharing some, no doubt lewd, jest between them. For all their faults – and where the Earl and his brood were concerned, there were faults a-plenty – they were sons to be proud of. Swegn might be wild, more interested in the pursuit of enjoyment rather than the demands of decision making, but these faults were outweighed by better traits. All Earl Godwine’s sons were strong, courageous and manly, aye, even young Leofwine, who was but seven years of age. Where was the manliness in her son Edward?
Unable to keep her thoughts to herself, Emma spoke to the man sitting beside her, his hand tapping out the merry rhythm-beat of the dance on his knee.
“I have been wife, and queen, to two men who have ruled England.” Her words oozed contempt. “You would have thought one of them could have sired upon me a man worthy to be called son.”
“Harthacnut, your last-born… ” Godwine began, but Emma irritably waved him silent.
“My second husband, Cnut, gave me a child of each sex, both of whom had the constitution and life-span of a mayfly.” Briefly, an expression of regret clouded Emma’s face. To be a queen for over two score years, to rule as regent, survive attempts of murder and the harsh bitterness of exile: such a woman needed to shield her weaknesses from those who would, at the drop of an autumn leaf, oppose her. But Godwine knew Emma well, better perhaps than either of her husbands.

Harthacnut, her youngest son, she had genuinely adored. A boy like his father, wise and disciplined, with a sense of duty and purpose; strong of body and mind. How much had she endured for that lad! And for what? For him to die of a seizure when he was but three and twenty and crowned king for less than two short years.
“The life of the wrong son was ended,” she said softly. Godwine assumed she referred to Harthacnut’s untimely death, winced as she murmured, “It ought have been Edward killed, not Alfred.”
Godwine made no comment to that. Emma had borne two sons to Æthelred: Edward and Alfred, and Alfred was a name that still conjured difficult memories that brought the blood stealing into Godwine’s cheeks. As young men, exiled from England, the brothers had tried and failed in a pathetic attempt to claim their right of succession after Cnut’s death. Captured, the boy Alfred had been placed in Godwine’s care. It had not been good care for the lad had fallen into the murdering clutch of Cnut’s illegitimate son, Harold Harefoot. Imprisoned and cruelly blinded, Alfred had not survived the torture. Ever since, Godwine had carried the blame for that wicked death.
But such was the fate of young men who tried to take by force a crown from the one who was already, rightly or wrongly, wearing it.

Edith Godwinesdoter Harold's sister, and wife to King Edward (the Confessor) and their mother, Countess Gytha

Southwark, London 1044

“But, Mother!” Tears of annoyed frustration were beginning to trickle down Edith’s cheeks. Irritably she brushed at her right eye; weeping, she knew of old, would not get her mother’s sympathy. “Tears are for the tragedies of life, not the minor incidents,” Gytha had often remarked. 
A maidservant entered from the outer Hall carrying a basket containing hanks of spun red-dyed wool. Gytha pointed to the floor beside her loom. “Place it here, Fræda.” The girl bobbed a curtsey and left the chamber through the same door. Edith, sitting hunched and dejected on a stool, was trembling with anger and frustration. 
“I am ashamed before the court, before all England. The King will not allow me to enter into his Hall. Will not allow me through the gates at Thorney…I was turned away, Mother! Not an hour since, turned away!” 
Gytha was standing at her loom, threading stone weights upon the ends of the warp threads. This latest family crisis permitting, she intended to begin a new cloth today; the youngest boys were in desperate need of new tunics – how fast they grew! She dropped a weight, bent to retrieve it, inspecting the ring of stone with care to ensure no crack ran through it. With a sigh she answered her daughter. “Edward has been a bachelor for so many years, child. It must be difficult for him to adjust to the prospect of taking a wife into his bed.” 
A fresh cry rose from Edith’s lips. “He will never take me to his bed, though, will he? Not now! He detests the sight of me, has set me aside. I am shamed. I may as well retire to a convent or drown myself in the Thames!” 
Gytha was losing patience; she had much to do this afternoon. Perhaps it had been a mistake to bring Edith from Wilton? At the nunnery all this delaying of a marriage on Edward’s part would have passed her by. “Two rather extreme solutions, do you not think, daughter?” she responded with mild derision. “If Edward truly no longer wants you, then your father will simply find you an alternative husband.” 
“If there is any man desperate enough. Who would want me now – would take a king’s cast-off as wife?” 
Plenty of men, Gytha mused. Men who would be only too pleased to ride on the back of your father’s position and fortune, regardless of the status of his daughter. But it was an unkind thought and she kept it to herself. 

Edyth Swanneck, common-law wife to Earl Harold 

Nazeing, Essex March 1051

Edyth was certain her heart was to crack into two. Never had she expected this, that Harold would leave her, so hurriedly, without warning. That one day he would perhaps take a noble-born church-law wife was always there as a possibility, but this? Surely it was all nonsense, a misunderstanding? Harold’s letter confirmed otherwise. The King would not listen, would not entertain impartial justice for Godwine or the folk of Dover - exile was the only option, above death for accusation of treason. She knelt beneath the copse of birch trees, the wind rippling the underside of the leaves into dancing waves of silver, closed her eyes, the tears slipping from beneath her wet lashes. 
When Harold had left here less than twenty days past to answer his father’s urgent appeal, he had assured her there was no need for undue concern. “It is all hissing steam from an over-boiling pot,” he had said with an easy, confident laugh. “My father will sort things amicably, you will see.” 

“Mama?” A frightened voice quivered beside her. Edyth looked up, saw her eldest boy standing there, his face sombre, concern etched into his widened eyes. His grandmother Gytha had once said how much he resembled his father at that age of seven years; the same curl of fair hair as Harold, jutting chin and quick, exuberant laugh. 
“Mama?” he asked again, stretching out his hand to touch her cheek. “What is wrong? Are you ill? Shall I fetch someone?” 
Attempting a smile of reassurance, Edyth gathered Goddwin to her. When would the boy see his father again? “No, my honey-sweet, I am not ill.” 
“Is it the babe, then?” Goddwin set his hand lightly on the bulge of his mother’s stomach. “He kicks hard, I can feel him.” 
“He is kicking to tell me that he wants to be out in the beauty of the world, playing in the sunshine with his elder brother.” Edyth kissed her son’s forehead. He was a good boy, quick to learn, slow to cry or whine. Harold was so proud of him, of all their four children. Five, if you counted Alfrytha, who was with God, buried in her cold and lonely grave within the churchyard at Canterbury. Suddenly, afraid, Edyth held the boy tight and close. She would never see her little girl again, as she might never see Harold…no, she must not think like this. Must remain strong and calm. Harold had gone to Ireland to bargain for mercenary help, Godwine to do the same in Flanders. To buy aid in the form of men and arms, to return as soon they might to persuade the King to listen to reason. “Your father has had to leave England for a while,” she explained to her son. “He will return when he can, as soon as he can, but that may not be some long while.” 
Goddwin chewed his lip, his young mind rummaging through the implications. “Why has he had to leave?” 
“Because the King is angry with your grandfather.” Best to answer simply and with the truth. 
“But if the King is angry with Grandfather, why has my father had to go away?” 
Placing a kiss on her fingertips, Edyth laid the caress on to the boy’s lips and set him to his feet. “Because if a son loves his father, it is his duty to be with him in a time of great need.” 
The boy digested her words, then nodded. “My grandfather is lucky to have my father as a son, isn’t he?” 
“Aye. As your father is lucky to have you.” Edyth pushed herself upright. The babe was heavy; she would be glad when this birthing was over. 
Goddwin bent and retrieved the piece of paper, squinting at the writing that he had not yet learnt to decipher well. With it, he picked up an unopened package. Gravely, he gave both to his mother. Rolling the parchment into a scroll, Edyth slid the precious letter into her waist purse, then unthreaded the knots of the string that bound the cloth of the package. 
Inside lay a necklace made of threaded gold bullae and biconical gold beads; at the centre, a gold and garnet cross. It was exquisite. Edyth squatted down so that Goddwin could fasten it around her neck, emotion almost choking her as the tears once again welled up from her heart. A gift, sent with love from Harold. She cupped the crucifix in her hand, closed her eyes. “God protect him,” she prayed, “Please, God protect him.” She could not know it, but Harold had sent the gift with the same prayer, aware that childbirth and all its possible difficulties would soon be upon her. 

Duchess Matilda, wife to Duke William of Normandy

Bruges 1051

Mathilda was aware that tears blotched the face and puffed the eyes, but she cared nothing for her looks or complexion. The uglier the better, then perhaps that hateful, uneducated man would not want her. She lay face down on her bed, arms over her head, sobbing. They would be coming soon, to take her down for her betrothal – she would not go, she would rather die than be forced into marriage with an illiterate bastard-born monster. Her mother had berated her foolishness, a variety of aunts and cousins too. No one seemed to care about her fate; all they were concerned for was how bad it would look if she continued to be so wilful. 
She had at least expected her sister Judith to come to her aid, but she had changed since her own marriage, cared only for Tostig Godwinesson, had treated her younger sister almost with contempt. “We all need to marry, child. Take your fate and make the best of it. You may end up as happily settled as I.” It was all right for Judith, her husband was as besotted with her as she was with him. Duke William did not care a tinker’s dented begging bowl for his prospective bride. 

He had arrived yester-eve, coming by sea direct from England where he had spent ten days with the King, Edward. Dishevelled, smelling of sweat and shipboard tar, he had not bathed or changed before demanding that she be brought to him for inspection – as if she were a horse or hawk that he had purchased unseen from a travelling merchant. The introductions had been frosty and reserved. He had not been over-pleased by her appearance – well, neither was she taken with him. She would never forget, or forgive, those first words that he had exclaimed as she had come down into her father’s Hall. 
“Is it likely that she will grow any taller? Or am I to wed a stunted shrub?” 
Mathilda was dwarfed by his own comparative tallness. William of Normandy stood, stocky and broad-shouldered, at five feet and ten inches; she, slight and more than one whole foot shorter, had answered him with pert anger. “The smallest bush, Sir, can bear the most perfect blooms.” 
 “Then you had better bear a brood of strong sons and prove your worth to me, girl.” With that the Duke had turned away from her to talk with his friend, another odious man who had resided at Flanders this past month, Eustace de Boulogne. 

Mathilda tugged the pillow from beneath her head and hurled it across the room. She would not marry him. Was there no one else to lay claim to her – Swegn Godwinesson was here with his father and brothers, why could he not plead for her? Or the absent brothers who were in Ireland, Harold or Leofwine? Harold had no official wife, would it not grant the family higher strength by taking another of Baldwin’s daughters? Yet perhaps that was being foolish. The Godwines, while not poverty-stricken, were in disgraced exile. Their vehemently proclaimed intention to regain everything the English king had unjustly taken might be nothing more than pride-injured boasting. 
The situation was hopeless. Mathilda leapt from the bed and ran to a small side table, snatched up the fruit knife, short bladed but adequate to open a vein…she laid its edge over her wrist, steeling herself to slash the thing downward…gasped as the door was unexpectedly flung inwards with no warning. He stood there, alone, silhouetted against the smoking torches that illuminated the narrow corridor outside: William, Duke of Normandy. 
“I am told that you refuse to come to your wedding.” 

Her throat ran dry and her hands shook. He had attended to his appearance, his hair shorn up the back of his head in the Norman manner, his chin clean-shaven. Had bathed, changed into clean and elegant robes. Was so much taller and more dominating now he was well groomed. Somewhat frightening, but alluring. 
Mathilda found the courage to stand square before him, her head tilting upwards to meet his narrow stare. “I do not wish to wed you,” she said with bold impertinence, although a high-pitched squeak entered into her voice halfway through the sentence. “I do not like you.”
“I do not like you, but that makes no difference to me.” William entered the small chamber, taking in its comfortable furnishings and the clutter of feminine trinkets with one hasty sweep of his assessing gaze. “You are insulting me with this childish behaviour. Were you a man, you would learn that I do not take insults lightly.” 
“Were I a man, I would have cut you down for the insult you offered me!” 
William laughed at her audacity. Despite what he had said, he liked this girl, she showed courage and determination, qualities he admired. She was also, as they had promised, fair of face. A pity they had not told him of her limitations of stature, but of what consequence was small height? As long as she was capable of breeding him a son or two…He was not a man who was used to being defied, however. Once his mind was made up to something he would have it and he had decided to forge an alliance with Baldwin of Flanders, have the youngest daughter, Mathilda, as his wife. Whether it was her wish or not, and whether the Pope gave or withheld his blessing. 
“You will complete your dressing and accompany me to swear our wedding vows.” William picked up the wimple that Mathilda had flung there and tossed it at her. “Dress yourself and come.” 
Mathilda stamped her foot. How dare this man enter her room when there was no chaperone or servant present? And then order her to do his bidding? “Get out of my chamber!” The fruit knife was in her hand; she raised it and awkwardly lunged for William’s stomach. He merely side-stepped and, chopping with his hand, sent the little blade spinning across the room. 
She fell forward, wincing at the pain in her bruised wrist – and he was bending over her, pulling her to her feet, shaking her as if she were a rat caught by a dog. She tried to strike out, screaming defiance and a simultaneous plea for help. Dodging her flailing legs, he set his arm around her waist and hoisted her across his shoulder. 
“I take it then, that you are content to be wed as you are dressed. So be it. I care nothing for fripperies and niceties. I am here to take you as wife because I require an alliance with your father. And as I have stated, no one defies my will.” 

He marched from the room, descending the narrow stone stairwell two steps at a time. They were all there, gathered below in the Hall, ready to leave her father’s house and walk in procession across the cobbles of the courtyard to the great doors of the cathedral that stood opposite. 
There was laughter and much ribaldry as William, Mathilda cast across his shoulder as if she were a sack of corn, threaded his way through the crowd. Her mother fluttered nervously among her women, but Baldwin ordered her to be still. The Duke knew what he was doing and the Count of Flanders approved wholeheartedly. In truth, he would be content to be rid of his most vexing daughter. 

Alditha, sister to the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria. King Harold's offical-taken church-law wife.

London and York, February 1066

“I have made up my mind as to the problem of satisfying the North,” Harold said after a while to Bishop Wulfstan. “There is one way I can convince those northern nobles that I intend to remain true to my word as their king. I shall forge an alliance with their earl, one that cannot easily be broken.” Turning his head, Harold met the wrinkle-lidded gaze of the Bishop with his keen, clear-sighted eyes. “I shall offer to wed with Morkere’s sister Alditha.” 
Wulfstan pursed his lips, nodded approval. “And you doubt your wisdom? Ah, no, my king, ’tis excellent thinking.” 
Harold returned his attention to the front, studied a bone-thin goose girl herding a gaggle of hissing geese to new grazing on common land. He ordered that someone toss her a coin. A new-minted penny which bore not the head of Edward but of Harold, second of that name. 
“It was not of my thinking,” he admitted to Wulfstan. “my Edyth, when last I saw her, suggested it.” 
Holding his peace for a few paces, the bishop observed, “It takes a brave woman to suggest a suitable new wife for her own common-law husband.” 
Harold made no answer. It took a braver man not to break down and weep as he had clung to such a woman. And Harold had realised, at that instant of saying goodbye to his love, that he was not a brave man. 

Alditha stood with her two brothers on the entrance steps to the Earl’s palace in York. She dipped a deep curtsey as Harold, stiff and cramped after the long hours of riding, dismounted. The townsfolk had waited at the London gate and lined the narrow streets to see their king ride in. Some had cheered his coming but many more stood silent. A few had dared to jeer, cursing the name of his brother, Tostig Godwinesson. The housecarls had made moves to reprimand them for the hostile welcome but, with a sharp word, Harold had forbidden any retaliation. 
“It is not me they show disrespect to, but my brother. I know him better than they and have every sympathy for their ill feeling.” 

“My Lord King.” Earl Morkere stepped forward, bowed and greeted Harold with an embrace. “It pleases me to welcome you to York.” 
Harold returned the embrace then said without a qualm, his hand flicking to the sullen crowd, “It seems not all the folk hereabouts share your enthusiasm for my arrival.” Seeing Morkere’s unease, he added with a broad smile, “I must, then, make an effort to ensure that when I leave, they regret my going.” Gallantly, Harold then turned to the Lady Alditha, kissed her hand and offered her his arm to escort her within doors. 
Morkere exchanged a wry glance with his brother Eadwine before gesturing for Bishop Wulfstan to proceed after Harold. Neither man had missed the radiant smile with which their sister had appraised the king, nor his answering expression of delight. 

“You are as thin as a peasant goose girl we encountered on the journey here,” Harold remarked to her as they walked together. “Shall I cheer you by tossing you a penny with my portrait stamped upon it?” 
“I have no need for pennies or portraits, my lord.” 
“No, indeed, not when you have the man in his very flesh beside you. I do believe I am not as hard or round as coin though. Somewhat of a higher value too, I would say.” 
She smiled at his absurdity. She had, she must secretively admit, missed his company.
“I was surprised not to find you at court when I returned from Normandy,” he said. “Was Edward not kind to you after I had gone? Or were you pining for your brothers – or for your former home as widow of that princling of Wales, perhaps?” 
Since his questioning had been candid, Alditha answered in a similar vein: “I doubt King Edward could have been deliberately unkind to anyone. The ladies were somewhat tedious, and my brother Eadwine’s household suited me better. As for Wales, I have always admired the scenery. ’Tis but a shame the temperament of the people was not always as beautiful.” 
“I think you will find that the new king will be as kind, and that the ladies of his court will not be so glib with their remarks.” Harold halted, placed his finger beneath her chin and tipped her face upwards. “As for Wales, no scenery could match in beauty that which I see before me.” 
She blushed crimson and moved her head away, but almost immediately found her courage and stared back at him. “Kind words, my lord, but words come easy. Sustained kindness that issues from the heart is far harder to find.” 
Harold laid his fingers lightly over hers. In what was almost a whisper for her hearing alone, he said, “That depends, does it not, on who speaks the words and who owns the heart?”