Character Interview: Noor d'Outremer via Anna Belfrage

All this week  I'm interviewing potential new recruits for my imaginary company. I've invited several authors to send along some sui...

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Why did Harold Godwineson go to Normandy - by Helen Hollick

 As we continue our tour of Saxon England, Helen is my guest today on this, the anniversary of the battle of Hastings:

Why did Harold Godwineson go to Normandy?
by Helen Hollick

The Battle of Hastings. 14th October 1066 - probably the most famous date in English history. (Funnily enough, the next most famous is also a '66' - 1666, the Great Fire of London.) The battle came about because Duke William of Normandy considered that he had been promised the throne of England by Edward the Confessor, probably in circa 1052 when the Godwine family were exiled, and Edward was favouring his Norman friends. The Duke, William, was Edward's kindred - his Great Aunt, Queen Emma, was Edward's mother. So, with Edward as yet childless and with no obvious heir to the throne, Bill probably thought he was in with a good chance.

Earl Godwine and his family, one of whom was Harold, Earl of East Anglia, reclaimed their positions of authority and Edward's Norman mates scuttled back to Normandy (where they belonged) with Earl Godwine's youngest son, Wulfnoth, and grandson, Hakon, as hostages.

Now, if Edward had made such a promise it would have been totally void because England, the Anglo-Saxons, did things very differently back then. The king was chosen by the council, the Witan. Elected. Best man for the job. Yes, usually this would have been the eldest son, the aethling, but it would have been highly unlikely that William would have been considered.

Skip forward ten or so years.

In 1063 or '64 Harold, now Earl of Wessex, went to Normandy. We do not know why, but we know (sort of) what happened because the events are recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry (which is actually an embroidery, not a tapestry.)

The Normans, after 1066, claimed that Harold went as an envoy of King Edward (who by now was getting old and frail) and to re-iterate William's role as heir. Again - highly unlikely! Given that his brother and nephew were still being held as hostages, is it not more logical that Harold went to get them back?

Harold boarding a ship bound for Normandy
at his home at Bosham Sussex
- note the steps...

and here's my friend James
sitting on very similar steps
 at Bosham in the 21st century!

Things went awry, however, for his ship was blown off course and he ended up a prisoner of one of William's neighbours, Guy de Ponthieu ... no matter, the Duke, with much indignation, secured Harold's release. From there on, the visit seemed quite congenial, Harold even accompanied William on campaign into Brittany, seeing at first-hand how the Normans fought (and how ruthless William was - he was known as 'Bastard' for both uses of the word.)

Again, we know all this because of the Tapestry, which includes a scene where Harold rescues two men from drowning in the river Cousenon, at  Mont Saint Michel. (The tide  comes in faster than a man can run there...)
Here Harold is rescuing two men
from the river

Eventually, it was time to go home, but William would not allow this until Harold had sworn an oath of allegiance... sworn to support William's claim to England.

Harold was forced to swear
while touching holy relics

The thing is ... William tricked Harold. He was made to swear a holy oath, to swear to God, BUT an oath made under duress is not a binding oath. If Harold hadn't sworn, would he, and his men, ever have seen their freedom again? Add to that, in Anglo-Saxon times a lord would forfeit his honour if he did not protect the men who loyally served him. What was the greater? To swear an unbinding oath under duress, with no choice but to make it, or to swear, falsely, in order to save the freedom - or lives - of your faithful followers?

Harold had no choice. He swore the oath, and did, indeed return to England with his nephew, Hakon.

Wulfnoth was never to see his freedom again. And Hakon died  alongside Harold, at the great battle of Hastings.

History, the year 1066 might have been entirely different if Harold had not gone to Normandy. On the other hand, because he did go, because he accompanied William on campaign, Harold knew exactly what Duke William was like. Knew he was obsessive - and ruthless. Knew that he would have to keep the Norman Duke out of England at all cost -whatever the cost, and whatever he had to do...

Read the entire story:

Harold the King (UK & Australia)
I Am The Chosen King (US & Canada)
(same book - different title)

About Helen:

Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write... 


Amazon Author Page: 


Twitter: @HelenHollick


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  1. October 14th, such a sad day ...

    1. Such a momentous point in history. So much changed because of the outcome of one battle. If Harold had won, or even survived, we probably wouldn't even remember the battle.