Friday, December 18, 2009

How did King Harold die at the Battle of Hastings

A recent article is challenging the notion that the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson was killed by an arrow to the eye during the famous Battle of Hastings. The battle, fought in 1066, was a pivotal moment in England's history, ushering in an era of Norman rule.

In an article for The Historian, a publication by the Historical Association, Chris Dennis argues that Harold Godwinson was actually hacked to death by a group of knights that may have included William the Conqueror.

The traditional view is that Harold was killed by an arrow that struck his face or eye. The scene is part of the Bayeux Tapestry, and is found in chronicle accounts as early as 1080.

But Dennis points to other works, such as Bishop Guy of Amiens' Song of the Battle of Hastings, written one year after the battle, and a 12th century work by a historian named Wace, which state that during the critical part of the battle, William assembled several knights and charged at the Anglo-Saxon king.  When they reached Harold, they hacked him to death.

Dennis explains that the story of the arrow in the eye may actually have been deliberate propaganda put out by King William's court: "For Duke William, it was a convenient way for the king to have met his end. If Harold had been killed by a fateful arrow, his death could be directly attributed to the will of God."

Furthermore, because Harold had been crowned and anointed in a church ceremony, his reign had the officially blessing of the Catholic church and the Papacy, so their were legal problems over whether or not William was a legitimate ruler. "The new king did want to be implicated in Harold's violent end," writes Dennis, "nor could he afford to undermine the legitimacy of his own accession by admitting responsibility for an anointed king's death."

Chris Dennis is currently completing his PhD at Cardiff University.

Click here to read the article The strange death of King Harold II: Propaganda and the problem of legitimacy in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings 

Click here to go to our Featured section on the Bayeux Tapestry