|San José State University|
& Tornado Alley
King Harold of England
It was the year 1066 and the old King of England, Edward the Confessor, was dying. He had no sons and Earl Tostig, the son of his adviser, Earl Godwine, was to inherit the throne. But Tostig was not there at the King's death bed. Instead another son of the adviser, Harold, was with the King. The King in his dying moments said something to Harold. After the King died Harold said to the others in the room that he called upon them to witness that the King in his dying moments had left the throne to him. The old King had spent 30 years of his life in Normandy and probably had promised the throne of England to Duke William of Normandy. Edward had occupied the throne but his adviser, Earl Godwine of Wessex, wielded effective power. Edward married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwine, but was not pleased with the prospect of his throne passing to the family line of Godwine.
Harold assumed the throne and commenced to rule. Earl Tostig, when he heard of his brother's usurpation of the throne, sought the aid of his friend, King Harald of Norway. (It is awkward to tell the story when two of the principal characters have almost the same name. It is Harold with an "o" as the King of England and Harald with an "a" as the King of Norway.)
King Harald was an interesting figure. When he was 15 years old his half-brother Olaf was king of Norway. In a battle against some of his rebellious knights (local chieftains) King Olaf was killed. The rebellious knights had elicited the help of King Canute of Denmark and England, who then added Norway to his realm. Harald, who had fought by the side of his brother, immediately had to flee for his life. He fled to the city of Kiev in what is now the Ukraine, which was ruled by his cousin, Jaroslav. There Harald grew to adulthood. He aspired to marry Elizabeth, the daughter of his cousin Jaroslav, but he was not a suitable match for a princess of Kiev because he did not have his own kingdom. Rejected and dejected Harald left Kiev to become a mercenary in the service of the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. There he became renowned as a valiant warrior and crafty general. He acquired treasures, which he sent back to Kiev for safekeeping. Along the way he also became a poet. One of his poems was:
In the mists
Of the moonless bay
Our dragon ships
Lurk at anchor
Awaiting the dawn
While on shore
In cozy homes
Wives in nightgowns
Croon love songs
By the firesides
To their husbands.
Harald's craftiness is indicated by the following incident. On a campaign with other Byzantine generals there sometimes arose disputes as to who had the choice of prime camp sites. Harald and a Byzantine general decided to let chance determine who got the prime sites. At one camp site overlooking the sea Harald and the other general were each to put marks on pieces of broken pottery which were placed on the ground. Someone not knowing which pieces were whose would pick one of the pieces. The mark on the chosen piece would determine the winner. Before he marked his pottery piece Harald asked the other general what mark he was going to use. Harald said this so that he would not choose the same mark. The pieces were marked and the designated selector was brought to make a selection. But when the selector picked up a piece Harald grabbed it before it could be turned over and announce that he had won and threw the piece in the sea. When the other general asked why he did that and how would they know that Harald had won. In reply Harald told them to look at the remaining piece and see that it had the general's mark on it.
After piling up a fortune Harald returned to Kiev. He then made a deal with his nephew Magnus who had by then become the King of Norway. Harald would share half of his treasure with Magnus if Magnus would share the throne with him. Magnus agreed. Later Magnus died and Harald was left as the sole king. Harald became known as Harald Hardraade (hard ruler); i.e., the ruthless.
When Earl Tostig came to him Harald raised an army and led them in a fleet of ships to attack England. They landed in Northumbria in the north of England and marched south. Harold, the King of England, marched north with an army to do battle.
Before the battle an armored knight rode into the camp of Harald and Tostig. he said he had a message from King Harold for Earl Tostig. The message was that if Tostig would end his insurrection King Harold would share one third his kingdom with him. Earl Tostig asked what would his friend, King Harald, get. The knight said King Harold was very explicit on this matter. King Harald was to get seven feet of good English earth; seven feet because he was so much taller than most. After the knight left King Harald asked who was that little guy who spoke so well. Earl Tostig said that was King Harold himself. Harald asked why Tostig had not told them so that they could have taken Harold prisoner. Tostig said that Harold was still his brother and that he would rather die himself than be the cause of his brother's death.
The battle was joined the next day and King Harold of England was victorious. King Harald of Norway was killed. King Harold, basking in the glow of victory, marched his army south to meet the challenge of the other invader, William of Normandy. who claimed the throne of England. Had Harold not been so confident after his victory over the Norwegian army he might not have marched his army without rest to Hastings. He could have stopped in London and added ten thousand more to his army in a few days. He could have but he didn't and his army was defeated by the Normans. Harold himself was killed.
The Normans took over the country and imposed French as the language of the country. English was suppressed for three hundred years. All was calamity.
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