Cover image for Harold and William : the battle for England, A.D. 1064-1066
Harold and William : the battle for England, A.D. 1064-1066
Patterson, Benton Rain, 1929-
First Cooper Square Press edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Cooper Square Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 209 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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DA154.85 .P38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This text dramatically resurrects the bitter and bloody battle between William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex. The author writes of this significant historical event from both Norman and Anglo-Saxon points of view, and the book is based on over forty sources.

Author Notes

Benton Rain Patterson is an emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he lives.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The scant surviving evidence concerning the prelude to the Battle of Hastings, such as the famous Bayeux Tapestry, is heavily biased toward the cause of the victor, Duke William of Normandy. Seeking to tilt the case, not just to balance it, retired journalist Patterson elaborates with imagination and conjecture Harold's claim on the throne vacated by the death of Edward the Confessor in early 1066. The Witan, the national council, was in charge of deciding who would be Edward's successor, and Harold, earl of Wessex, was the best and most logical choice. However, William claimed that the Confessor promised him the succession and that it was communicated in a 1064 oath by Harold personally (a claim that is impossible to verify). Patterson's ensuing narrative, replete with clanking chain mail and swinging battle-axes, vibrantly imagines the course of the ensuing military events. This is unabashed Harold advocacy, but the upfront bias is no impediment to a lively rendering. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

The most famous year in English history, 1066 witnessed the epic confrontation between William, Duke of Normandy, and King Harold, who, killed by the invading Normans during the Battle of Hastings, would be the last Anglo-Saxon ruler of England. An emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Florida, Patterson is unabashedly pro-Harold: "The wrong side, the wrong cause, the wrong man won." Indeed, Patterson refers to William as "the Bastard," and often highlights the Norman's brutality. This anti-William bias, however, doesn't stop Patterson from weaving a highly entertaining narrative. In 1064, England's King Edward sent Harold, who was then earl of Wessex, to Normandy to meet with Duke William. On his way, Harold was kidnapped and held for ransom. William paid the ransom, and Harold then swore an oath to support the duke in his bid to become king of England after Edward's death. Harold would later claim that he swore this oath under duress. For his part, William would call Harold a liar. In January 1066, King Edward died, naming Harold his successor. Upon hearing the news, an outraged William immediately began preparing for an invasion of England. Meanwhile, King Harold's own brother Tostig, with the aid of the king of Norway, led an armed rebellion against the new king. Harold crushed Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Three days later, William landed his invasion force near Hastings. Harold marched his exhausted army south to meet the Norman foe. Patterson does an excellent job describing the back-and-forth struggle of the bloody battle in this highly accessible work of popular history. 30 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Royal Mission SUMMER 1064 IN THE SUMMER OF THE YEAR 1064, on a day unnoticed by the chroniclers of great events, Harold Godwinson, the second most important man in all of England, boarded a ship and embarked on a mission that would ultimately change his nation forever and would influence world history for many centuries.     Still robust at about age forty-three, father of three teen-age sons and two younger daughters, Harold, as his father had been, was earl of Wessex, the most prominent and prosperous of the jurisdictions into which England was divided. Next to King Edward, Harold was England's richest and most powerful man. He was the nation's chief general and mightiest defender, a valorous soldier, a bold politician, and a capable administrator, distinguished and respected, by many beloved. He was also brother-in-law to the king, Queen Edith being his sister.     The point of his departure likely was Bosham Manor, his home, which had been his father's before him and which stood overlooking the waters of Chichester harbor. Here his private fleet was based, sheltered in the same coves and inlets that had harbored a Roman fleet six centuries earlier, when England was still Britannia and Rome was its master, before the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, Harold's forebears.     Like most of the other vessels which lay on wooden rollers on the sloping, muddy bank, awaiting their next plunge into the sea, the ship in which Harold would sail was built like a drakkar , the longboat of the Vikings, with pointed prow and stern and a lapstrake hull, deckless and exposed to weather and waves, seventy feet or so in length, eighteen feet or so in the beam, propelled by either oars or sail. In its elaborately carved stem and stern-post were iron rings through which its crewmen passed ropes to draw the vessel out of and into the water.     With Harold aboard, the two dozen or more rowers, on the shipmaster's command, took to their oars and began driving the ship through the harbor waters, their powerful strokes carrying the vessel out of the creek-fed inlet above which stood Bosham Manor, then past a succession of other inlets and bays, past thatched cottages rising along the reedy shore and huts perched atop stilts at the water's edge. Having entered the harbor's wider waters, the vessel swung south, gliding past the harbor's low-lying sheltering island and into the Solent, the strait leading to the open sea. The crew now shipped their dripping, sixteen-foot-long oars and raised on the vessel's single mast a yard from which draped a square woollen sail emblazoned with a huge, painted figure of the dragon of Wessex, emblem of the earl of Wessex.     Standing in the bow or in the ship's stern, Harold could watch as in the distance the spire of Selsey cathedral rose on his port side. The landmarks here were familiar to him. As a boy he had learned to sail in these waters off the Isle of Wight and his father's fleet, which as a young man Harold had commanded, had been based here. Soon, he knew, the ship would pass within sight of the low bluffs of Selsey Bill and after that, the Channel proper--and all its perils--would lie dead ahead.     The ship's course was south-southeast from the cape of Selsey Bill. The vessel's helmsman would be steering for a point slightly west of the mouth of the River Seine, a deliberate course intended to allow for the effects of the Channel's currents and shifting winds. The ship would be traversing more than seventy miles of open sea, then would sail into the wide, outstretched arms of the Bay of the Seine. Making about four to four-and-a-half knots, it would take about twenty-two hours to reach the safety of the Seine estuary. More than one-third of the voyage would be made in darkness. As England's second most important person, Harold was, in the minds of many of his countrymen, the best and most logical choice to succeed the aging, ailing, and heirless King Edward. Yet, inexplicably, Harold was the person King Edward had chosen to send to Normandy to solicit a successor. Edward's affinity for Normans, conspicuous since the beginning of his reign, had given England some bad experiences and a bitter bellyful of Normans. Looking across the Channel for someone to reign in England was not a popular move.     Besides, Edward had no right to solicit a successor. Making kings was properly the business of the witan, the national council. According to practice, it was the witan that would decide who would be Edward's successor. By soliciting William, Edward was usurping the witan's authority, which was not his only fault.     Neither he nor the nation would have been placed in the position of seeking a successor if Edward, when younger, had done what kings were supposed to do: produce an heir. There would be no impending succession crisis if only Edward had performed like a normal man with his wife and given the nation an atheling, a prince who would have become the rightful and accepted heir to the throne. No one, of course, actually knew what went on--or perhaps didn't go on--between Edward and Queen Edith behind closed doors, but there was much speculation. Some guessed that Edward was impotent. Others believed he was a misogynist, perversely affected by his mother's treatment of him as a child. A great many put him down for a homosexual. Many others claimed that he was too exquisitely spiritual to engage in sexual relations of any kind; he was simply above it all.     In any case, his want of an heir had created a crisis that grew greater as the king grew steadily older. According to traditional accounts, Harold's ship, some hours into its voyage, was overtaken by a storm that came blasting in from the ocean beyond Land's End, its fierce winds driving the ship eastward toward the North Sea.     Finally the storm relented, and when daylight returned, Harold and his shipmaster doubtless began looking for a recognizable landmark, something that would identify Cape de la Heve, on the north side of the Bay of the Seine. Around the cape to the south would lie the Seine estuary. Nothing they saw confirmed their hopes, however. They had been swept past the Normandy coast.     Now occurs one of the most critical gaps in the story. What apparently happened was that the ship was beached near the mouth of the River Somme and Harold and the ship's company were soon captured or fell into a situation in which their capture was imminent.     In all probability Harold was not abjectly defenseless. He likely was accompanied by a bodyguard composed of professional soldiers, housecarls. Each would be armed with a broad-bladed, double-edged sword carried in a scabbard at the waist. In one hand each would carry a kite-shaped shield and in the other a lance that could be thrown or thrust with equal deadliness. Over their tunics they wore hauberks, skirted coats of mail that extended below the knees, like metallic nightshirts. The hauberk was slit up to the crotch, front and back, to allow free movement and to protect the legs while on horseback, and most were hooded, the mail hood fitting close to the head and neck and over the chin, leaving only the face, from mouth to eyes, uncovered. Over their mail hoods they wore steel helmets with noseguards.     The ship's crew, who were seafaring soldiers rather than mere sailors, might also be equipped with coats of mail and were likely armed like infantry, with swords or long-handled battle axes and equipped with round shields made of wood and leather. Together, bodyguard and crew, they would have made a small but nevertheless daunting force, unless faced by overwhelming numbers, which they apparently were. Guy de Ponthieu was count of Ponthieu, the county that lay just beyond Normandy's northeastern frontier. Guy had become count eleven years earlier after his brother, Enguerrand, who was leading an army against Duke William of Normandy at the time, had been killed, along with many of his men, in an ambush by William's troops. Enguerrand had picked the wrong side of a fight between William and the French king, Henry I, who, eager to depose William or at least to curtail his power, had persuaded a number of counts from northern France to combine forces with his own army and simultaneously attack Normandy from both east and west.     After his brother's death, Guy had quickly taken Enguerrand's place not only as count of Ponthieu but as an ally of King Henry in the continuing campaign against Duke William, which was becoming a losing battle. In February of the next year, 1054, forces loyal to William devastated the armies of Henry's allies in a particularly bloody battle at the town of Mortemer in Normandy. The defeat was so enormous that King Henry lost heart and withdrew from Normandy. Guy managed to avoid being slaughtered with his troops, but became a prisoner of war. In an uncharacteristic act of mercy, William spared Guy. He sent him home and let him remain count of Ponthieu, lord of his own land but beholden to Duke William, a situation that Guy must have deeply resented.     It seems incredible that Guy would have moved against Harold knowing who he was and discovering that Harold was traveling as the representative of the king of England on a mission to Duke William of Normandy, Guy's overlord. A more reasonable possibility is that Guy managed to corner Harold and his men, not knowing that his quarry was King Edward's personal envoy to the duke of Normandy, but soon to find out. William, the seventh duke of Normandy, was the son of Duke Robert, called Robert the Devil because of his hellish behavior, which had included summoning to his quarters Arletta the tanner's daughter. She, Bathsheba-like, had provoked his lust while he watched her bathing in a creek near Falaise, a town in western Normandy. William was the result of her response.     Duke Robert died mysteriously (poisoned, some said) in Turkey while on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in July 1035. On Robert's death William became duke of Normandy at age eight. He also became, and remained throughout his childhood, the target of kidnappers, assassins, and other conspirators who coveted his title, wealth, and potential power. Those whose own titles, wealth, and power depended on the dead duke's heir being preserved in his office protected him, sometimes effecting dramatic rescues at the last minute before the plotters struck.     As a child in 1035 he was warned of a plot to murder him while he was staying in Valognes. He climbed onto a horse in the dead of night and rode through the darkness fill he reached Ryes, where he found food and shelter in the home of a peasant family, then rode on to the safety of Falaise. At the battle of Val-es-Dunes, near Caen, in 1047, as a nineteen-year-old supported by troops of the French king, William confronted the forces of a group of rebellious barons and boldly charged a renowned knight, driving his sword through the knight's mail and into his breastbone, killing him and, according to the legend, turning the tide of the battle.     Through it all, William developed into a tough and artful survivor, ruthless in putting down challengers, crushing enemies, and exacting submission. In the year 1064 he was thirty-six years old, an imposing figure, with a barrel chest, heavy belly, and thick arms, and strong as a bull, if looks were any indicator.     His grandfather's sister, Emma, had married England's King Ethelred the Unready. Ethelred and Emma became the parents of King Edward. Duke William's father and King Edward's mother were first cousins, making Edward and William cousins once removed.     William had commonly been called the Bastard, even by some of his subjects, but not openly since the affair at Alencon, a town on Normandy's western frontier. There a rebellious crowd taunted him with the word and William, then in his twenties, had his soldiers round up members of the crowd and had their hands and feet hacked off. After that, the term fell into disuse in Normandy.     On a summer day in 1064 Duke William reacted to a new piece of unpleasantness. Somehow Harold or someone acting in Harold's behalf had apparently managed to get word of his predicament past Count Guy's troops and into the ears of someone in Normandy who relayed the news to the duke. A rider on horseback, even an Englishman not familiar with that part of the world, would have been able to follow the Channel coast southwestward until he came to the Normandy border, formed by the River Bresle, perhaps no more than twenty-five miles from the spot where Harold was besieged, or about thirty-five miles from Guy's castle at Beaurain, if indeed Guy had already seized Harold. Across the River Bresle, on the south bank, the rider would find the city of Eu, a Norman stronghold. From there a courier could be quickly dispatched to report the alarming news to William.     William was apparently outraged. He sent word demanding that Guy hand over Harold and his men inside Norman territory, probably to make certain that it was Count Guy himself who safely escorted the Englishmen out of Ponthieu. William chose Eu as the place where Harold would be turned over to him.     Eu was the nearest Norman city, and it had other significance. It was the citadel of Robert, count of Eu, one of the duke's most powerful supporters and his cousin as well. Robert's father and William's grandfather, Duke Richard II, were brothers. It was Robert of Eu who, with his army, had caught the French king's forces by surprise and inflicted on them the overwhelming defeat at Mortemer. That was when Robert's soldiers had taken Count Guy prisoner, and Robert then had turned Guy over to the duke.     The duke and Count Robert were close. Fourteen years earlier, when William married tiny Matilda, daughter of the count of Flanders, Robert had hosted the wedding ceremony and the festivities in his grand old castle at Eu. The castle was set like a brilliant jewel in a lush private park, surrounded by magnificent beech trees and overlooking the winding River Bresle as it coursed through that ancient city near the sea.     William, with an armed troop of cavalry, went himself to receive Harold when Guy turned him over. Guy had a valid case to make to the duke. Under the law, Guy was entitled to collect a forfeit--very much like a ransom--when seafarers were shipwrecked on his shores. William recognized Guy's right. A ship need not be ruined, even disabled, for it to be considered a shipwreck under the law. Merely being forced ashore in a storm was enough. Among the unknown facts is whether ransom was paid to Guy and if so, by whom--Harold or William. It is probable that it was paid and that William paid it. In any event--but particularly if William had ransomed him--Harold, doubtless with a keen sense of medieval honor, now felt obligated to William, despite an intense dislike for him as the prince of Normans and as Edward's choice as his successor.     Once the business with Guy was done, William would eventually get around to discovering from Harold what King Edward's message to him was. Harold would probably report on the king's health, telling the duke that Edward was well but not so strong, and he would also tell William that Edward had sent him to put a question to the duke. King Edward would like to discover the depth of the duke's interest in succeeding to the throne of England. William perhaps was surprised. Edward had already promised him the throne some thirteen years earlier, according to William. He informed Harold that he, William, had accepted Edward's promise then and that he was holding Edward to it now. As far as he was concerned, his succession to England's throne was, in the language of the Normans, un fait accompli . Excerpted from Harold and William by Benton Rain Patterson. Copyright © 2001 by Benton Rain Patterson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.