Notes to: Harold: This Insane Englishman

Note 01

Master Wace says that, somehow ("I know not how the mischief was occasioned"), Harold went off course, and accidentally ended up in Ponthieu: "A fisherman of that country, who had been in England and had often seen Harold, watched him; and knew him, both by his face; and his speech; and went privily to Guy, the count of Ponthieu, and would speak to no other; and he told the count how he could put a great prize in his way, if he would go with him; and that if he would give him only twenty livres, he should gain a hundred by it, for he would deliver him such a prisoner, as would pay a hundred livres or more for ransom. The count agreed to his terms ..."  Harold was taken prisoner, but managed to get a message through to William: "... and told him of his journey ... and he promised that if the duke would deliver him from his captivity, he would do whatever he wished in return... William thought that if he could get Harold into his keeping, he might turn it to good account ..."
In a version of events, told by William of Malmesbury, Harold had no intention of crossing the Channel at all: "Harold being at his country seat at Boseham [Bosham], went for recreation on board a fishing-boat, and, for the purpose of prolonging his sport, put out to sea; when a sudden tempest arising, he was driven with his companions on the coast of Ponthieu."  Having been captured by Count Guy, Harold bribed someone to take a message to Duke William. In order to ensure William's interest, he had invented the story: "... that he had been sent into Normandy by the king, for the purpose of expressly confirming, in person, the message which had been imperfectly delivered by people of less authority; but that he was detained in fetters by Guy earl of Ponthieu, and could not execute his embassy ..."

Note 02

The Bayeux Tapestry places this curious scene after Harold's first arrival at William's palace and before he and William depart for Brittany. The woman, perhaps a nun, appears to be being molested by a clerk. The caption simply says: "where one clerk and Ælfgifu". The well endowed gentleman in the lower border, mimicking the clerk's actions, seems to emphasise the improper nature of what is occurring. Presumably the meaning of this scandalous scene would have been well understood by a contemporary viewer, but today it is a puzzle.

Note 03

According to Orderic Vitalis, the oath was taken at Rouen. Whilst Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence, in a verse 'Life' of St.Thomas Becket, written (in French) c.1174, says it was in a particular room at Bur-le-Roi (a hunting lodge near Bayeux) that "Rainild was solemnly betrothed to Harold", whilst Harold pledged the loyalty of the English army to "the Bastard". William of Poitiers mentions that Duke William "had wished to increase his [Harold's] power and had betrothed his daughter to him."  Orderic Vitalis claims William had offered Harold half the English kingdom and his daughter, named as Adelaide, when he (William) succeeded Edward. Later, however, Orderic says it was Agatha who had been betrothed to Harold. On the other hand, Master Wace relates how William persuaded Harold "... to deliver up England to him, as soon as king Edward should die; and he was to have Adela, one of William's daughters, for his wife if he would; and to swear to all this if required, William also binding himself to those terms."
In William of Malmesbury's story, Duke William was impressed by Harold's "ability and courage" in Brittany: "... still more to ingratiate himself, he [Harold] of his own accord, confirmed to him [William] by oath the castle of Dover, which was under his jurisdiction, and the kingdom of England, after the death of Edward. Wherefore, honoured both by having his [William's] daughter, then a child, betrothed to him, and by the confirmation of his ample patrimony, he [Harold] was received into the strictest intimacy."
In a version of these events, related by Snorri Sturluson in the 'Heimskringla', it was "one summer" that Harold was sailing to Wales (Bretland) when he was driven off course, to Normandy, by a storm (no mention of Ponthieu). Harold enjoyed William's hospitality, at Rouen, until the following spring (no mention of Brittany or the taking of oaths). Harold, after lengthy consultation with William's wife ("one of the most beautiful women that could be seen"), asked William for his daughter in marriage, and William agreed, "but as she was very young, it was resolved that the wedding should be deferred for some years."

Note 04

A monk of Battle Abbey wrote, c.1115, that Harold, "as many say", swore three oaths on a reliquary called the 'ox-eye' - perhaps the one under Harold's left hand in the Tapestry illustration? Later, Wace incorporated this into his account of Harold's oath: "To receive the oath, he [William] caused a parliament to be called. It is commonly said that it was at Bayeux that he had his great council assembled. He sent for all the holy bodies [i.e relics] thither, and put so many of them together as to fill a whole chest, and then covered them with a pall; but Harold neither saw them, nor knew of their being there; for nought was shewn or told to him about it; and over all was a reliquary, the best that he could select; 'ox-eye', I have heard it called. When Harold placed his hand upon it, the hand trembled, and the flesh quivered; but he swore, and promised upon his oath, to take Adela to wife, and to deliver up England to the duke: and thereunto to do all in his power, according to his might and wit, after the death of Edward, if he should live, so help him God and the holy relics there! Many cried "God grant it!" and when Harold had kissed the saints, and had risen upon his feet, the duke led him up to the chest, and made him stand near it; and took off the chest the pall that had covered it, and shewed Harold upon what holy relics he had sworn; and he was sorely alarmed at the sight."

Note 05

In Eadmer's version of events, it was actually Harold's idea to visit William, against Edward's better judgement, in order to obtain the release of Hakon and Wulfnoth. Eadmer gives these words to Edward: "I will have no part in this; but, not to give the impression of wishing to hinder you, I give you leave to go where you will and to see what you can do. But I have a presentiment that you will only succeed in bringing misfortune upon the whole Kingdom and discredit upon yourself. For I know that the Duke is not so simple as to be at all inclined to give them up to you unless he foresees that in doing so he will secure some great advantage to himself."  Harold's ship is driven ashore at Ponthieu, by a storm, and Harold is taken prisoner. Harold bribes "one of the common people" to tell William that he has been taken prisoner. William secures Harold's release, and Harold tells him the nature of his mission. William says that "years ago", whilst Edward was in exile, "when they were both young" (Edward was actually about 25 years older than William), Edward had promised that, should he ever become king of England: "... he would make over to William the right to succeed him on the throne as his heir. William went on to say this: "If you on your side undertake to support me in this project and further promise that you will make a stronghold at Dover with a well of water for my use and that you will at a time agreed between us send your sister to me that I may give her in marriage to one of my nobles and that you will take my daughter to be your wife, then I will let you have your nephew now at once, and you brother safe and sound when I come to England to be King. And, if ever I am with your support established there as King, I promise that everything you ask of me which can reasonably be granted, you shall have." Then Harold perceived that here was great danger whatever way he turned. He could not see any way of escape without agreeing to all that William wished. So he agreed."  Harold is obliged to swear his agreement on saints' relics. He returns to England with his nephew (whose fate, incidentally, is not known), and reports to King Edward, who, in effect, says I told you so!

Note 06

Snorri Sturluson ('Heimskringla') provides a much more dramatic account. Allowance has to be made for poetic license, but the battle description is not at odds with Florence's record:
"King Harald ... drew up his men. The one arm of this line stood at the outer edge of the river, the other turned up towards the land along a ditch; and there was also a morass, deep, broad, and full of water. The earls ....
Snorri erroneously states that the English earls were "Earl Morukare [Morcar], and his brother, Earl Valthiof [Waltheof]". Of course, Earl Marcar's brother was Earl Edwin. Earl Waltheof was the son of, erstwhile earl of Northumbria, Siward. When Siward died, in 1055, Waltheof was probably still a child, and Tostig became earl of Northumbria. Waltheof's earldom appears to have comprised Huntingdon, Northampton, Bedford and Cambridge (Stenton 'Anglo-Saxon England'). He may have been at Fulford, but his presence is not recorded by English sources.
.... let their army proceed slowly down along the river, with all their troops in line. The king's banner was next the river, where the line was thickest. It was thinnest at the ditch, where also the weakest of the men were. When the earls advanced downwards along the ditch, the arm of the Northmen's line which was at the ditch gave way; and the Englishmen followed, thinking the Northmen would fly. The banner of Earl Morukare advanced then bravely... When King Harald saw that the English array had come to the ditch against him, he ordered the charge to be sounded, and urged on his men. He ordered the banner which was called the Land-ravager to be carried before him, and made so severe an assault that all had to give way before it; and there was a great loss among the men of the earls, and they soon broke into flight, some running up the river, some down, and the most leaping into the ditch, which was so filled with dead that the Norsemen could go dry-foot over the fen. There Earl Morukare fell. So says Stein Herdison:
"The gallant Harald drove along,
Flying but fighting, the whole throng.
At last, confused, they could not fight,
And the whole body took to flight.
Up from the river's silent stream
At once rose desperate splash and scream;
But they who stood like men this fray
Round Morukare's body lay."....
Stein Herdison must have been mistaken! Morcar may have been wounded but he was certainly not dead.
.... This song was composed by Stein Herdison about Olaf, son of King Harald; and he speaks of Olaf being in this battle with King Harald, his father. These things are also spoken of in the song called "Harald's Stave":
"Earl Valthiof's men
Lay in the fen,
By sword down hewed,
So thickly strewed,
That Norsemen say
They paved a way
Across the fen
For the brave Norsemen."
Earl Valthiof, and the people who escaped, fled up to the castle of York; and there the greatest loss of men had been."

Note 07

The Norse record of events is somewhat awry. Harald Hardrada is said to have returned to his ships, on Sunday evening, in high spirits, having achieved the surrender of York without having to fight for it. Snorri Sturluson, in the 'Heimskringla':
"The same evening, after sunset, King Harald Godwinson came from the south to the castle with a numerous army, and rode into the city with the good-will and consent of the people of the castle."
Harold Godwinesson arrived at Tadcaster, not York, on Sunday.
On Monday morning, after breakfast, Harald Hardrada prepared to march to York, to appoint the officers who would govern the town. He divided his army - two thirds would march to York, the other third would remain with the ships ("for watching the ships, remained behind the king's son Olaf; the earls of Orkney, Paul and Erlend; and also Eystein Orre"). The Norwegians were blissfully unaware of Harold Godwinesson's proximity:
"The weather was uncommonly fine, and it was hot sunshine. The men therefore laid aside their armour, and went on the land only with their shields, helmets and spears, and girt with swords; and many had also arrows and bows, and all were very merry. "
As they approached York, they became aware of an approaching army:
"... they saw a cloud of dust as from horses' feet, and under it shining shields and bright armour ... and the nearer this force came the greater it appeared, and their shining arms were to the sight like glancing ice."
The army turns out to be Harold Godwinesson's English forces ("an immense army, both of cavalry and infantry").
This is incorrect. Harold Godwinesson surprised Harald Hardrada's forces at Stamford Bridge, where they were awaiting hostages from the whole district.
Harald Hardrada sends to the ships for reinforcements, and begins to arrange his troops for battle. There follows an unlikely episode during which Tostig declines his brother's inducements to abandon Harald Hardrada.
"Now the battle began. The Englishmen made a hot assault upon the Northmen, who sustained it bravely. It was no easy matter for the English to ride against the Northmen on account of their spears; therefore they rode in a circle around them. And the fight at first was but loose and light, as long as the Northmen kept their order of battle; for although the English rode hard against the Northmen, they gave way again immediately, as they could do nothing against them. Now when the Northmen thought they perceived that the enemy were making but weak assaults, they set after them, and would drive them into flight; but when they had broken their shield-rampart the Englishmen rode up from all sides, and threw arrows and spears on them....
Though not completely impossible, it was not the usual English practice to use cavalry tactics. Master Wace notes: "The English were not skilled in jousting or in bearing arms on horseback. They held axes and pikes and did battle with such weapons ..."  It looks suspiciously as if Icelandic historians, Snorri particularly, borrowed details from the forthcoming battle of Hastings, to liven up their accounts of Stamford Bridge, which they actually knew little about.
.... Now when King Harald Sigurdson [i.e. Harald Hardrada] saw this, he went into the fray where the greatest crash of weapons was, and there was a sharp conflict, in which many people fell on both sides. King Harald then was in a rage, and ran out in front of the array, and hewed down with both hands; so that neither helmet nor armour could withstand him, and all who were nearest gave way before him. It was then very near with the English that they had taken to flight... King Harald Sigurdson was hit by an arrow in the windpipe, and that was his death-wound....
The moment of Harald's fatal wounding, portrayed by, Norwegian artist, Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892).
Later, Snorri mentions: "One year after King Harald's fall his body was transported from England north to Nidaros [Trondheim], and was buried in Mary church, which he had built."  According to another Norse source ('Morkinskinna'), it was fetched by Tostig's son, Skúli.
.... He fell, and all who had advanced with him, except those who retired with the banner. There was afterwards the warmest conflict, and Earl Toste [Tostig] had taken charge of the king's banner."
During a lull in the fighting, Harold offers peace to Tostig and the remaining Norwegians. The offer is roundly rejected by the Norwegians, and battle is rejoined. Strangely, Snorri makes no mention that Tostig was killed shortly after, though other Norse sources ('Morkinskinna', 'Fagrskinna') do.
"Eystein Orre came up at this moment from the ships with the men who followed him, and all were clad in armour. Then Eystein got King Harald's banner Land-ravager; and now was, for the third time, one of the sharpest of conflicts, in which many Englishmen fell, and they were near to taking flight. This conflict is called Orre's storm. Eystein and his men had hastened so fast from the ships that they were quite exhausted, and scarcely fit to fight before they came into the battle; but afterwards they became so furious, that they did not guard themselves with their shields as long as they could stand upright. At last they threw off their coats of ringmail, and then the Englishmen could easily lay their blows at them; and many fell from weariness, and died without a wound. Thus almost all the chief men fell among the Norway people. This happened towards evening; and then it went, as one might expect, that all had not the same fate, for many fled, and were lucky enough to escape in various ways; and darkness fell before the slaughter was altogether ended... Olaf Haraldson had not gone on land with the others, and when he heard of his father's fall he made ready to sail away with the men who remained."