Written by Vladimir Moss



     The rule of St. Edward the Confessor brought with it peace and prosperity to England - but a drastic decline in the moral condition of the people. Like Tsar Nicholas II, Edward presided over an unprecedented expansion of the Church’s influence, which spread from England to Scandinavia, which was evangelized by English missionaries; and in 1066 there were probably over 10,000 churches and chapels for a population of 1.5 million, with 400 churches in Kent alone.[1] But, again like Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, the departure of King Edward, betrayed by many of his subjects, ushered in the fall of the nation and the triumph of the Antichrist.

     Thus Edmer of Canterbury wrote of the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, that they lived "in all the glory of the world, with gold and silver and various elegant clothes, and beds with precious hangings. They had all sorts of musical instruments, which they liked playing, and horses, dogs and hawks, with which they were wont to walk. They lived, indeed, more like earls than monks."[2]

     Again, "several years before the arrival of the Normans," wrote the Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury, "love of literature and religion had decayed. The clergy, content with little learning, could scarcely stammer out the words of the sacraments; a person who understood grammar was an object of wonder and astonishment. The monks mocked the Rule by their fine clothes and wide variety of foods. The nobility, devoted to luxury and lechery, did not go to church in the morning like Christians, but merely, a casual manner, attended Mattins and the Liturgy, hurried through by some priest, in their own chambers amidst the caresses of their wives. The common people, left unprotected, were prey to the powerful, who amassed fortunes by seizing their property or selling them to foreigners (although by nature this people is more inclined to self-accumulation of wealth)... Drinking bouts were a universal practice, occupying entire nights as well as days... The vices attendant on drunkenness, which enervate the human mind, resulted."[3]

     William mentions that there were some good clergy and laymen. Nevertheless, even allowing for some exaggeration, the general picture of moral and spiritual decline is clear.


     If the curse of God on a sinful people was the ultimate cause of the tragedy, the proximate causes are to be sought in the lust for power of England's external enemies, and in particular Duke William of Normandy and the Pope of Rome.

     Duke William claimed that the kingdom of England had been bequeathed to him by King Edward. However, it was to his brother-in-law, Earl Harold of Wessex, not William, that the childless king had bequeathed the kingdom on his deathbed, and this election was confirmed by the Witan, or Council of the leading men, immediately after King Edward’s death. However, William pointed to three facts in defence of his claim and in rejection of Harold’s.

     First, there was the murder of Prince Alfred in 1036, which almost everybody ascribed to Earl Godwin, the father of Harold. However, Harold could not be blamed for the sin of his father, although that is precisely what William of Poitiers did. And there is ample evidence that King Edward had trusted Harold in a way that he had never trusted his father.

     Secondly, there was the uncanonical position of Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury, who had been banned by the Pope and who, according to the Norman sources (but not according to the English) had crowned and anointed Harold as king.[4] William made out that the English Church, as well as being led by an uncanonical archbishop, was in caesaropapist submission to a usurper king.

      The irony is that William's own archbishop, Maurilius, had been uncanonically appointed by the Duke, who exerted a more caesaropapist control over his Church than any European ruler before him. But the Pope was prepared to overlook this indiscretion (and the other indiscretion of his uncanonical marriage) in exchange for his military support against the Byzantine empire and England. Thus from 1059 the Normans were given the Pope's blessing to conquer the Greek-speaking possessions of the empire in Southern Italy in the name of St. Peter. And when that conquest was completed, they went on to invade Greece (in the 1080s), and then, during the First Crusade, the Near East, where they established the Norman kingdom of Antioch. For the Normans were the Bolsheviks of eleventh-century Europe, the military right arm of the totalitarian revolution that began in Rome in 1054.

     Thirdly, and most seriously in the eyes of eleventh-century Europeans, Harold had broken the oath of fealty that he had taken to William in 1064. Now all the evidence suggests that this oath was taken under duress, which invalidated it according to the first law in the Code of King Alfred the Great. [5] Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that this sin weakened his position…


     When Harold was crowned king, William sent a formal protest to him, which was rejected. William now set about preparing to invade England and depose Harold. Having won the support of his nobles and clergy for his plans, he turned to Abbot Lanfranc of Bec for advice as to whether the Pope would support him.

     One of his arguments would have been Harold’s perjury, and therefore his unsuitability to be king from the Church’s point of view. Also, as Patterson writes, “William perhaps would add to his list of allegations: Harold was a man of flagrantly corrupt morals, a fornicator who had brought children into the world without the benefit of a church-sanctioned marriage; he lived openly with a woman [Edith Swan Neck] who was not his wife; he lived in disdain for and in rebellion against the church’s requirements for a Christian family. Surely the Pope did not wish to have such a man as king of England.

     “Furthermore, William may have claimed, Stigand, the archbishop – or so-called archbishop – who supposedly heard King Edward designate Harold as his successor, was no more than Harold’s family retainer. He was a fraudulent archbishop, illegally appointed while Robert of Jumièges, who was lawfully appointed, still held the office but was forced out of England by Harold and his father. Stigand was appointed solely at the demand of Harold’s family, William might have claimed, in order to have him serve Harold’s family’s ends. The duke might have asked whether Stigand was an example of the church appointments Harold could be expected to make? Could the Pope be willing to place into the hands of a morally corrupt self-server the future of the church in England? 

     “Lanfranc, familiar with the church’s affairs, might have offered some ammunition of his own. Harold and his brothers had persisted in supporting Stigand even though he was under a cloud of suspicion. Harold and his brothers had consistently resisted the reforms that Rome had asked the church in England to make…”[6] 

     The result of this meeting was that, as Professor Douglas writes, “at some undetermined date within the first eight months of 1066 [William] appealed to the papacy, and a mission was sent under the leadership of Gilbert, archdeacon of Lisieux, to ask for judgement in the duke’s favour from Alexander II. No records of the case as it was heard in Rome have survived, nor is there any evidence that Harold Godwineson was ever summoned to appear in his own defence. On the other hand, the arguments used by the duke’s representatives may be confidently surmised. Foremost among them must have been an insistence on Harold’s oath, and its violation when the earl seized the throne. Something may also have been alleged against the house of Godwine by reference to the murder of the atheling Alfred in 1036, and to the counter-revolution of 1052. The duke could, moreover, point to the recent and notable ecclesiastical revival in the province of Rouen, and claim that he had done much to foster it. For these reasons, the reforming papacy might legitimately look for some advantage in any victory which William might obtain over Harold. Thus was the duke of Normandy enabled to appear as the armed agent of ecclesiastical reform against a prince who through his association with Stigand had identified himself with conditions which were being denounced by the reforming party in the Church. Archdeacon Hildebrand, therefore, came vigorously to the support of Duke William, and Alexander II was led publicly to proclaim his approval of Duke William’s enterprise.”[7] 

     Frank McLynn argues that Harold’s alleged perjury was “irrelevant because, even if Harold did actually swear the most mighty oath on the most sacred relics, this neither bound Edward in his bequest nor the witan in its ratification; whatever Harold said or did not say, it had no binding power in the matter of the succession.”[8]

     In any case, it was the argument concerning Stigand’s uncanonicity “that most interested Alexander. William pitched his appeal to the papacy largely on his putative role as the leader of the religious and ecclesiastical reform movement in Normandy and as a man who could clean the Augean stables of church corruption in England; this weighed heavily with Alexander, who, as his joust with Harald Hardrada in 1061 demonstrated, thought the churches of northern Europe far too remote from papal control. It was the abiding dream of the new ‘reformist’ papacy to be universally accepted as the arbiter of thrones and their succession; William’s homage therefore constituted a valuable precedent. Not surprisingly, Alexander gave the proposed invasion of England his blessing.

     “Some have wondered why Harold did not send his own embassy to Rome. Almost certainly, the answer is that he thought it a waste of time on two grounds: the method of electing a king in England had nothing to do with the pope and was not a proper area for his intervention; and, in any case, the pope was now the creature of the Normans in southern Italy and would ultimately do what they ordered him to do. Harold was right: Alexander II blessed all the Norman marauding expeditions of the 1060s.

     “But although papal sanction for William’s ‘enterprise of England’ was morally worthless, it was both a great propaganda and diplomatic triumph for the Normans. It was a propaganda victory because it allowed William to pose as the leader of crusaders in a holy war, obfuscating and mystifying the base, materialistic motives of his followers and mercenaries. It also gave the Normans a great psychological boost, for they could perceive themselves as God’s elect, and it is significant that none of William’s inner circle entertained doubts about the ultimate success of the English venture.

     “Normandy now seemed the spearhead of a confident Christianity, on the offensive for the first time in centuries, whereas earlier [Western] Christendom had been beleaguered by Vikings to the north, Hungarians to the east and Islam to the south. It was no accident that, with Hungary and Scandinavia recently Christianized, the Normans were the vanguard in the first Crusade, properly so called, against the Islamic heathens in the Holy Land.”[9]

     This wider potential gain from an alliance with William seems to have been the pope’s main motive for his blessing of the invasion. Harold’s perjury and Stigand’s uncanonicity were useful excuses, but no more. After all, papal legates had sat with Stigand at a council in 1062, before the invasion, and again at Winchester, after the invasion, in 1070; and he had consecrated Remigius as Bishop of Dorchester in 1067. Alexander clearly overlooked these minor misdemeanours. But the chance of gaining control over the Churches both of Normandy and England if William won, and of a fruitful long-term partnership in the East – that was another matter.[10 

     However, it is unlikely that William obtained the support of other major European powers for his invasion of England, as William of Poitiers claims. “It is highly unlikely, for example,” writes Ian Walker, “that Swein of Denmark gave his backing to William’s enterprise. He would be more likely to welcome Harold’s accession since the latter might favour aiding his Danish cousin against his Norwegian enemies, as had his father Earl Godwine. It should be noted here that Swein had just emerged from a long and bloody war with Norway and was fearful of further trouble. In this context, William of Poitiers contradicts himself when he later speaks of the Danes sending troops to assist Harold against the Normans. This contradiction somewhat undermines our confidence in the further claim made by Poitiers that the Emperor Henry IV provided his own endorsement for William’s claim. This seems unlikely. Henry IV or his regents, since he was still in his minority, had many other concerns and the contemporary Annals of Corvey compiled in that royal monastery in Saxony were to describe William in 1066 as removing the ‘legitimate’ King of England (Harold) and seizing his kingdom. What these diplomatic ‘successes’ described by Poitiers seem to represent is nothing more than the fact that neither Swein nor Henry IV were in a position to interfere directly in William’s plans.”[11]

     Hildebrand was almost certainly reminding William of his support for him at this point when he wrote, on April 24, 1080: “I believe it is known to you, most excellent son, how great was the love I ever bore you, even before I ascended the papal throne, and how active I have shown myself in your affairs; above all how diligently I laboured for your advancement to royal rank. In consequence I suffered dire calumny through certain brethren insinuating that by such partisanship I gave sanction for the perpetration of great slaughter. But God was witness to my conscience that I did so with a right mind, trusting in God’s grace and, not in vain, in the virtues you possessed.”[12 

     “Gilbert returned to Rouen,” writes Patterson, “bearing not only the great good news [of William’s victory] but the papal banner, white with a red cross, which the Pope had given him to present to Duke William, allowing the duke to go to war beneath the symbol of the church’s authorisation. 

     “Gilbert also carried to the duke another gift from the Pope, a heavy gold ring blessed by the holy father and containing, in a tiny compartment covered by the hinged, engraved top of the ring, one of the most sacred relics the Pope could give, an enormously powerful token of divine favour to be borne by the duke into battle – a hair believed to be from the holy head of St. Peter himself…”[13]

     William’s receiving the papal banner was an important propaganda victory. As Peter Rex writes, “There was a developing policy of bestowing such banners on those whose activities the papacy wished to enforce. Benedict IX, as early as 1043, had sent to Emperor Henry III, as an endorsement of his campaign against the Hungarians, a Vexillum ex beati Petri parte. During the expedition of Pope Leo IX against the Normans in the Papal States in1053, to defend the Church’s territories against their savagery, he had fought under the banner of St. Peter. This was part of a trend towards [the] increasing use of force, a kind of papal militarism according to some, which included the sending of papal legates and the bestowal of papal approval for military action in support of the papacy. Robert Guiscard was given a banner by Nicholas II in 1059, and others had gone to the Patarine leader Erlembald of Milan and to Roger of Sicily in 1063. Even the leaders of the Barbastro campaign in Spain had received one in 1064, so the gift of a banner to Duke William was by no means a singular event. The trend eventually culminated in the launching of the First Crusade. It was associated with a warlike rhetoric which referred to supporters of the papacy as ‘Militia of St. Peter’; the faithful were regarded as soldiers in the service of St. Peter. The arrival of the Reform Party at Rome had been the turning point; they stood for the idea of holy war and sought put it into practice.”[14]

     So at the beginning of 1066 Duke William began to gather a vast army from all round Western Europe in preparation for what became, in effect, the first crusade of the heretical Papacy against the Orthodox Church. 

     What would have happened if William had lost the case in Rome? John Hudson speculates that “the reformers in the papacy, who had backed William in his quest for the English throne, might have lost their momentum. Normandy would have been greatly weakened…”[15]

     The papacy, too, would have been weakened, dependent as it was on its Norman allies; which raises the intriguing possibility that the whole course of European history might have changed radically for the better, with a possible turning away of the papacy from the anti-Byzantine course and back towards its roots in Orthodox Christianity. And so the dramatic story of that fateful year of 1066 was to decide the destiny of the Western Christian peoples for centuries to come. For if the English had defeated the Normans, it is likely not only that the Norman conquests in the rest of Europe would never have taken place, but also that the power of the heretical papacy would have gone into sharp decline, enabling the forces of true Romanity to recover.

     But Divine Providence judged otherwise. For their sins, the Western peoples were counted unworthy of the pearl beyond price, Holy Orthodoxy, which they had bought with such self-sacrificial enthusiasm so many centuries before.


     The anonymous biographer writes that King Harold was handsome, graceful and strong in body; and although he is implicitly critical of Harold’s behaviour in 1065 during the Northumbrian rebellion (probably reflecting the views of Queen Edith), he nevertheless calls him wise, patient, merciful, courageous, temperate and prudent in character. That he was both strong and courageous is witnessed not only by his highly successful military career but also by his pulling two men out of the quicksand during his stay with William in 1064.

     The fact that he was admired by most Englishmen is shown by his ascending the throne without opposition, although he was not the strongest candidate by hereditary right.[16] A Waltham chronicler, writing after King Harold’s death, wrote that he was elected unanimously; “for there was no one in the land more knowledgeable, more vigorous in arms, wiser in the laws of the land or more highly regarded for his prowess of every kind”.[17] Only after his death did anyone put forward the candidacy of Prince Edgar, the grandson of King Aethelred – and that only half-heartedly. Thus on the English side there was general agreement that, in spite of his broken oath, Harold was the best man to lead the country.

     Harold was both hated and admired by the Normans. Thus William of Poitiers admitted that he was warlike and courageous. And Ordericus Vitalis, writing some 70 years after the conquest, says that Harold "was much admired for his great stature and elegance, for his bodily strength, for his quick-wittedness and verbal facility, his sense of humour and his honest bearing." Whatever his personal sins before he became king, he appears to have tried hard to atone for them once he ascended the throne. Perhaps under the influence of Bishop Wulfstan, he put away his mistress and the mother of six of his children, the beautiful Edith “Swan-neck”, and entered into lawful marriage with the sister of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Alditha.[18] Then, as Florence of Worcester writes, he "immediately began to abolish unjust laws and to make good ones; to patronize churches and monasteries; to pay particular reverence to bishops, abbots, monks and clerics; and to show himself pious, humble and affable to all good men. But he treated malefactors with great severity, and gave general orders to his earls, ealdormen, sheriffs and thegns to imprison all thieves, robbers and disturbances of the kingdom. He laboured in his own person by sea and by land for the protection of his realm."[19] 

     Although there had been no open opposition to his consecration as king, one source indicates that “the Northumbrians, a great and turbulent folk, were not ready to submit”, just as they had not been ready to submit to King Edward.[20] Harold needed to be sure that he had the support of the turbulent North. So early in the year he enlisted the aid of Bishop Wulfstan on a peacemaking mission to Northumbria.

     “For the fame of [Wulfstan’s] holiness,” writes William of Malmesbury, “had so found a way to the remotest tribes, that it was believed that he could quell the most stubborn insolence. And so it came to pass. For those tribes, untameable by the sword, and haughty from generation to generation, yet for the reverence they bore to the Bishop, easily yielded allegiance to Harold. And they would have continued in that way, had not Tostig, as I have said, turned them aside from it. Wulfstan, good, gentle, and kindly though he was, spake not smooth things to the sinners, but rebuked their vices, and threatened them with evil to come. If they were still rebellious, he warned them plainly, they should pay the penalty in suffering. Never did his human wisdom or his gift of prophecy deceive him. Many things to come, both on that journey and at other times, did he foretell. Moreover he spake plainly to Harold of the calamities which should befall him and all England if he should not bethink himself to correct their wicked ways. For in those days the English were for the most part evil livers; and in peace and the abundance of pleasant things luxury flourished.”[21]

     In the spring and summer, as Halley's comet blazed across the sky (it was seen as far East as Poland), the two armies massed on opposite sides of the Channel. While William built a vast fleet to take his men across the Channel, King Harold kept his men under arms and at a high degree of alert all along the southern English coast. By September, William was ready…

     However, adverse winds kept him in French ports. King Harold, meanwhile, was forced to let his men go home to bring in the harvest. The English coast was now dangerously exposed…

     Pierre Bouet has argued that it was not only adverse winds that kept William in the French ports, but a secret agreement with the Norwegian King Harald.

     Professor François Neveux explains: “This wait [on the French coast] was not in fact due to chance, and a very satisfactory explanation has been provided recently by Pierre Bouet. William demonstrated a keen sense of strategy, and even a certain Machiavellian cunning. He was not unaware that Harold’s army was waiting for him on the beaches. An immediate landing would have led to a bloodbath. But Harold could not keep his troops conscripted indefinitely, especially not the fyrd, which was composed of local peasants. William had calculated correctly: on 8 September, Harold discharged his fleet and part of his army and withdrew to London, leaving the coast undefended. He was presumably convinced that William had delayed the invasion until the following spring. But William was still waiting, because he knew that another invasion of England was just then under way.

     “We have no knowledge of the relations between William and the King of Norway. Had they negotiated a division of the Kingdom of England? It is not impossible. What is quite likely is that the two pretenders to the throne had made contact. The intermediary may have been Tostig, who had broken with his brother Harold and was now cooperating with his worst enemies, including the King of Norway. We know that Tostig travelled between Norway and Flanders several times during this period, and may also have visited Normandy. Such journeys by sea could have been quite rapid, and information circulated freely between the English Channel and the North Sea. Harald and William were both sly old foxes. Although united against Harold, they were rivals for the kingdom. A joint attack was in both their interests, as it would force Harold to divide his forces. They also knew that whoever attacked first would be at a disadvantage, because Harold’s troops would still be fresh. In this game, William had a significant trump card: the climate of Normandy allowed him to wait longer than his partner and rival. In fact, Harold Hardrada did attack first.”[22]


     King Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded Northumbria with the aid of the English King Harold's exiled brother Tostig, According to the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, as the Norwegian Harald was preparing to invade England, he dreamed that he was in Trondheim and met there his half-brother, St. Olaf. And Olaf told him that he had won many victories and died in holiness because he had stayed in Norway. But now he feared that he, Harald, would meet his death, "and wolves will rend your body; God is not to blame." Snorri wrote that "many other dreams and portents were reported at the time, and most of them were ominous."[23]

     After defeating Earls Edwin and Morcar at Gate Fulford on September 20, the Norwegian king triumphantly entered York, whose citizens (mainly of Scandinavian extraction) not only surrendered to him but agreed to march south with him against Harold.[24] This betrayal, in the same city in which, 760 years before, St. Constantine the Great, had been proclaimed emperor by the Roman legions, was probably decisive in sealing the fate of Orthodox England. It may also be the reason why it was precisely Northumbria that suffered most from William the Conqueror’s ravages in 1066-1070…

     However, on September 25, after an amazingly rapid forced march from London, the English King Harold arrived in York, and then almost immediately hurried on to Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegians and rebel English and Flemish mercenaries were encamped. After a long battle in which both sides suffered huge losses, the Norwegian army was destroyed and both Harald Hardrada and Tostig were killed. The English King Harold entered York in triumph.

     The 'C' manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ends on this high point; but Divine Providence decreed that "the end was not yet".

     Harriet Harvey Wood writes: “If it had not been for what happened so soon afterwards, Stamford Bridge would be remembered as a battle of the highest significance in its own right. The death of Harald Hardrada, the legendary and most feared warrior of his time, and the destruction of his army, marked the end of the Viking age that had influenced so much of Europe, from Byzantium to the Atlantic. It also marked the end of centuries of assault on England; although there were to be sporadic and local attacks thereafter, mainly from Sweyn Estrithson, there would be nothing on the scale of what had gone before. Under any circumstances, it was a remarkable achievement for the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, one that the bones of Alfred, Edward the Elder and Aethelred would have saluted; in the peculiar circumstances of 1066, it was astonishing. But it was not achieved without damage. The Norwegian army may have been virtually destroyed, but they took many Englishmen with them. Between the men lost by Edwin and Morcar at Gate Fulford and those killed and wounded at Stamford Bridge, the fighting strength of the kingdom was much diminished…”[25]

     On October 1, while he was celebrating his victory in York, King Harold heard that William, having set out from France on September 27, had landed at Pevensey on the south coast. Although, from a military point of view, he would probably have done better to rest and gather together a large force from all round the country while drawing William further away from his base, thereby stretching his lines of communication, Harold decided to employ the same tactics of forced marches and a lightning strike that had worked so well against the Norwegians. So he marched his men back down to London.

     On the way he stopped at Waltham, a monastery he had founded and endowed to house the greatest holy object of the English Church - the Black Cross of Waltham. Several years before, this Cross had been discovered in the earth in response to a Divine revelation to a humble priest of Montacute in Somerset. It was placed on a cart drawn by oxen, but the oxen refused to move until the name "Waltham" was pronounced. Then the oxen moved, without any direction from men, straight towards Waltham, which was many miles away on the other side of the country. On the way, 66 miracles of healing were accomplished on sick people who venerated it, until it came to rest at the spot where King Harold built his monastery.[26]

     Only a few days before, on his way to York, King Harold had stopped at the monastery and was praying in front of the Black Cross when he received a message from Abbot Aethelwine of Ramsey. King Edward the Confessor had appeared to him that night and told him of Harold's affliction of both body and spirit - his anxiety for the safety of his kingdom, and the violent pain which had suddenly seized his leg. Then he said that through his intercession God had granted Harold the victory and healing from his pain. Cheered by this message, Harold received both the healing and the victory.[27]

     But it was a different story on the way back south. Harold "went into the church of the Holy Cross and placed the relics which he had in his capella on the altar, and made a vow that if the Lord granted him success in the war he would confer on the church a mass of treasures and a great number of clerics to serve God there and that he himself would serve God as His bought slave. The clergy, therefore, who accompanied him, together with a procession which went before, came to the doors of the church where he was lying prostrate, his arms outstretched in the form of a cross in front of the Holy Cross, praying to the Crucified One.

     “An extraordinary miracle then took place. For the image of the Crucifixion, which before had been erect looking upward, when it saw the king humble himself to the ground, lowered its face as if sad. The wood indeed knew the future! The sacristan Turkill claimed that he himself had seen this and intimated it to many while he was collecting and storing away the gifts which the king had placed on the altar. I received this from his mouth, and from the assertion of many bystanders who saw the head of the image erect. But no one except Turkill saw its bending down. When they saw this bad omen, overcome with great sorrow, they sent the senior and most distinguished brothers of the church, Osegood Cnoppe and Ailric Childemaister, in the company to the battle, so that when the outcome was known they might take care of the bodies of the king and those of his men who were devoted to the Church, and, if the future would have it so, bring back their corpses..."[28]


     On October 5, Harold was back in London with his exhausted army. Common sense dictated that he stay there until the levies he had summoned arrived; but instead, to the puzzlement of commentators from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries, he pushed on by a forced march of fifty to sixty miles south, with little rest and no reinforcements. What was the reason for this crucial tactical blunder?[29]

     David Howarth has argued convincingly that the reason was that Harold now, for the first time, heard (from an envoy of William's) that he and his followers had been excommunicated by the Pope and that William was fighting with the pope's blessing and under a papal banner, with a tooth of St. Peter encrusted in gold around his neck. "This meant that he was not merely defying William, he was defying the Pope. It was doubtful whether the Church, the army and the people would support him in that defiance: at best, they would be bewildered and half-hearted. Therefore, since a battle had to be fought, it must be fought at once, without a day's delay, before the news leaked out. After that, if the battle was won, would be time to debate the Pope's decision, explain that the trial had been a travesty, query it, appeal against it, or simply continue to defy it...

     "... This had become a private matter of conscience. There was one higher appeal, to the judgement of God Himself, and Harold could only surrender himself to that judgement: 'May the Lord now decide between Harold and me'. He had been challenged to meet for the final decision and he could not evade it; in order that God might declare His judgement, he was obliged to accept the challenge in person.

     "He left London in the evening of 12 October. A few friends with him who knew what had happened and still believed in him: Gyrth and his brother Leofwine, his nephew Hakon whom he had rescued from Normandy, two canons from Waltham already nervous at the miracle they had seen, two aged and respected abbots who carried chain mail above their habits, and - perhaps at a distance - Edith Svanneshals, the mother of his sons. He led the army, who did not know, the remains of his house-carls and whatever men of the fyrd had already gathered in London. The northern earls had been expected with contingents, but they had not come and he could not wait. He rode across London Bridge again and this time down the Dover road to Rochester, and then by the minor Roman road that plunged south through the Andredeswald - the forest now yellow with autumn and the road already covered with fallen leaves. The men of Kent and Sussex were summoned to meet at an ancient apple tree that stood at the junction of the tracks outside the enclave of Hastings. Harold reached that meeting place late on Friday 13, ready to face his judgement; and even while the army was forming for battle, if one may further believe the Roman de Rou, the terrible rumour was starting to spread that the King was excommunicated and the same fate hung over any man who fought for him."[30 

     The only military advantage Harold might have gained from his tactics - that of surprise - was lost: William had been informed of his movements. And so it was William who, early on the morning of October 14, "came upon him unexpectedly before his army was set in order. Nevertheless the king fought against him most resolutely with those men who wished to stand by him, and there was great slaughter on both sides. King Harold was slain, and Leofwine, his brother, and Earl Gurth, his brother, and many good men. The French had possession of the place of slaughter, as God granted them because of the nation's sins..." [31]

     As William of Malmesbury said, the English "were few in numbers, but brave in the extreme". Even the Normans admitted that the battle had been close. But God judged in favour of the Normans “because of the nation’s sins”.

     Why did the chronicler say: "with those men who wished to stand by him"? Because many did not wish to stay with him when they learned of the Pope's anathema. And yet many others stayed, including several churchmen. Why did they stay, knowing that they might lose, not only their bodies, but also, if the anathema was true - their eternal souls? Very few probably knew about the schism of 1054 between Rome and the East, or about the theological arguments - over the Filioque, over unleavened bread at the Liturgy, over the supposed universal jurisdiction of the Pope - that led to the schism. Still fewer, if any, could have come to the firm conclusion that Rome was wrong and Constantinople was right. That Harold had perjured himself in coming to the throne was generally accepted - and yet they stayed with him.

     In following Harold, the English who fought and died at Hastings were following their hearts rather than their heads. Their hearts told them that, whatever the sins of the king and the nation, he was still their king and this was still their nation. Surely God would not want them to desert these at the time of their greatest need, in a life-and-death struggle against a merciless invader? Perhaps they remembered the words of Archbishop Wulfstan of York: "By what means shall peace and comfort come to God's servants and God's poor, but through Christ and through a Christian king?"[32] Almost certainly they were drawn by a grace-filled feeling of loyalty to the Lord's Anointed; for the English were exceptional in their continuing veneration for the monarchy, which in other parts had been destroyed by the papacy.[33]


     After Hastings, William could claim that God had decided between him and Harold in his favour. And yet even his Norman bishops were not so sure. Thus in a conciliar enactment of 1070, Bishop Erminfrid of Sion, the papal legate, led them in imposing penances on all of William's men who had taken part in the battle - in spite of the fact that they had fought with the Pope's blessing!  

     The doyen of Anglo-Saxon historians, Sir Frank Stenton, calls this “a remarkable episode”![34]

     William's actions just after the battle were unprecedentedly cruel and impious, even by the not very civilized standards of the time. Thus he refused to give the body of King Harold, which had been hideously mutilated by the Normans, to his mother for burial, although she offered him the weight of the body in gold. Eventually, the monks of Waltham, with the help of Harold's former mistress, Edith "Swan-neck", found the body and buried it, as was thought, in Waltham.

     However, there is now compelling evidence that the mutilated remains discovered in a splendid coffin in Godwin's family church at Bosham on April 7, 1954 are in fact the body of the last Orthodox king of England.

     In fact, two royal coffins were found on that date. One was found to contain the bones of a daughter of King Cnut, who had drowned at a young age. The other, "magnificently furnished" coffin contained the bones of a middle-aged man, but with no head and with several of the bones fractured. It was supposed that these were the bones of Earl Godwin, the father of King Harold.

     For several years no further attention was paid to this discovery. Recently, however, a local historian, John Pollock, has re-examined all the evidence relating to the bones in the second coffin and has come to the conclusion that they belong to none other than King Harold himself. Pollock points out, first, that they could not belong to Earl Godwin, because, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Godwin was buried in Winchester, not Bosham. Secondly, the bones are in a severely mutilated state, which does not accord with what we know about Godwin's death. However, this does accord with what we know about King Harold, for he was savagely hacked to pieces by four knights at Hastings. As the earliest account of the battle that we have, by Guy, Bishop of Amiens, says: "With the point of his lance the first (William) pierced Harold's shield and then penetrated his chest, drenching the ground with his blood, which poured out in torrents. With his sword the second (Eustace) cut off his head, just below where his helmet protected him. The third (Hugh) disembowelled him with his javelin. The fourth (Walter Giffard) hacked off his leg at the thigh and hurled it far away. Struck down in this way, the dead body lay on the ground." Moreover, the Bayeux Tapestry clearly shows the sword of one of the knights cutting into the king's left thigh - and one of the bones in the coffin is precisely a fractured left thigh bone. Thirdly, although the sources say that Harold was buried in the monastery he founded at Waltham, his body has never been found there or anywhere else. However, the most authoritative of the sources, William of Poitiers, addresses the dead Harold thus: "Now you lie there in your grave by the sea: by generations yet unborn of English and Normans you will ever be accursed..." The church at Bosham is both by the sea and not far from the field of battle...

     Therefore the grieving monks who are said to have buried King Harold's body at Waltham, could in fact have buried it in his own, family church by the sea at Bosham. Or, more likely, William himself buried it at Bosham, since the church passed into his possession, and he is said to have ordered its burial “on the sea-shore”. But this was done in secret, because the Normans did not want any public veneration of the king they hated so much, and the Church could not tolerate pilgrimages to the grave of this, the last powerful enemy of the "reformed Papacy" in the West. And so the rumour spread that Harold had survived the battle and had become a secret hermit in the north - a rumour that we can only now reject with near-certainty.[35]

     It took another three and a half years for William to subdue the whole of England. In that period great numbers died from war or starvation, especially in the north. Domesday Book reports complete devastation in Yorkshire. The English churches were destroyed, their relics desecrated, and all the bishops removed (with the exception one, Wulfstan of Worcester), being replaced by continentals. Most English land was confiscated and given to the conquerors, who held their possessions as fiefs of the king, thereby creating a new form of despotism, the feudal monarchy. In time, all the traditions of Orthodox England, including its language, were destroyed. Orthodox England had fallen to the Antichrist…

     Bishop Aethelwine of Durham solemnly curse the papist invaders of his country. He joined the famous rebel Hereward the Wake at Ely but was captured and died of hunger in prison at Abingdon, was not the only bishop to defy the papists. His brother Aethelric, who had retired as Bishop of Durham in 1056 to make way for his brother, was brought from Peterborough, condemned for "piracy" and imprisoned in Westminster Abbey. There he lived for two more years "in voluntary poverty and a wealth of tears"[36], and was never reconciled with William. He died on October 15, 1072, was buried in the chapel of St. Nicholas, and was very soon considered a saint, miracles being wrought at his tomb.[37]

     For "those who had known him when living," writes William of Malmesbury, "transmitted his memory to their children, and to this day [c. 1120] neither visitors nor supplicants are wanting at his tomb."[38]

     The last English rebel, Earl Waltheof of Northumbria, was executed at Winchester on May 31, 1076, just as he finished praying: “... and lead us not into temptation.” “And then, goes the story, in the hearing of all, the head, in a clear voice, finished the prayer, ‘But deliver us from evil. Amen.’” He was buried at Crowland, and according to Abbot Wulfketyl of Crowland many miracles took place at his tomb, including the rejoining of his head to his body.[39] However, veneration of him as a saint was not permitted by the Norman authorities: Abbot Wulketyl was tried for idolatry (!) before a council in London, defrocked, and banished to Glastonbury...[40]

     Only in the diaspora did English identity and English traditions survive. Most of the nobility fled – some to Scotland, some to Scandinavia. In 1075 350 boatloads of warriors led by Earl Siward of Gloucester fled to Constantinople, where they entered the army of the Byzantine Emperor, who gave them land in the Crimea and the Azov area, and a basilica in the City (whose ruins can still be seen). None fled to the traditional haunt of English exiles, Old Rome.. 

     King Harold’s daughter Gytha fled to Kiev, where she was married to Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh, bearing him six children. These included St. Mstislav, Great Prince of Kiev from 1125 to 1132, who was called “Harold” after his grandfather in Scandinavia. In this way the blood of the anointed English Orthodox kings was united to that of the Third Rome of Russia...


January 30 / February 12, 2018.

St. Bathilde, Queen of France.


[1]Loyn, H.R. Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest, London: Longmans, 1970, p. 254; G. Ward, Archaeologica Cantiana, vol. XLV, p. 89.

[2]Edmer, Life of St. Dunstan; quoted in Antonia Gransden, "1066 and All That Revisited", History, September, 1988, p. 48.

[3]William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, slightly modified from the translation in Gransden, op. cit.

[4]See Ian Walker, Harold. The Last Anglo-Saxon King, Sutton Publishing, 2006, p. 138. According to Benton Rain Patterson (Harold & William: The Battle for England 1064-1066, Stroud: Tempus, 2002, pp. 60-62), both Stigand and Aldred were present at thecoronation, but it was Aldred who poured the chrism on the new king’s head. Nicholas Brooks (The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, Leicester University Press, 1996, p. 307) also believes that Aldred carried out the ceremony. Geoffrey Hindley points out that on the Bayeux Tapestry Stigand“stands to one side of the enthroned King Harold, not wearing his pallium but displaying it to thespectator. Evidently he had not conducted the coronation” (A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons, London:Robinson, 2006, p. 335).

[5]Michael Wood, In Search of the Dark Ages, London: Penguin books, 1994, p. 53.

[6]Patterson, op. cit., p. 80.

[7]Douglas, William the Conqueror, p. 187.

[8]McLynn, 1066: The Year of the Three Battles, London: Jonathan Cape, 1998, p. 182.

[9]McLynn, op. cit., pp. 182-183. The word “crusade” is not inapt in this context. As Fr. John Romanides writes, “William landed on the shores of Britain carrying the papal banner at the head of what was essentially the army of the first Crusade” (“Fr. John Romanides on Robin Hood and Orthodoxy”).

[10] Walker, Harold. The Last Anglo-Saxon King, Sutton Publishing, 2006, pp. 167-169.

[11] Walker, op. cit., p. 167.

[12]Hildebrand, in Harriet Harvey Wood, The Battle of Hastings, London: Atlantic Books, 2008, p. 139.

[13]Patterson, op. cit., p. 99.

[14] Rex, The Last English King, Stroud, 2008, p. 211.

[15]Hudson, “The Norman Conquest”, BBC History Magazine, vol. 4, 1, January, 2003, p. 23.

[16]English tradition did not insist that the king should be the nearest male kin. At the Council of Chelsea in 787 it was decreed that “kings are to be lawfully chosen by the priests and elders of the people, and are not to be those begotten in adultery or incest”. Paul Hill writes: “What mattered more to the succession [than being the eldest son of the king] was the nomination by the existing monarch of his heir and the military and political strength of those brave enough to challenge him. The support of the Witan, or High Council of the country, was also a considerable bonus for any prospective candidate” (The Road to Hastings, Stroud: Tempus, 2005, p. 13).

[17]Quoted in Wood, op. cit., p. 46.

[18]On Harold’s “marriage”, more Danico, to Edith, and in general on his personal life and character, see Walker, op. cit., chapter 8.

[19]Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; translated in D.C. Douglas & G.W. Greenway (eds.) English Historical Documents, London: Eyre & Spottiswood, vol. II, p. 212.

[20]William of Malmesbury, Vita Wulstani, p. 33.

[21]William of Malmesbury, Vita Wulstani, p. 34.

[22]Neveux, A Brief History of the Normans, London: Constable & Robinson, 2008, pp. 134-135.

[23]Sturluson, King Harald's Saga, 82; translated by Magnusson & Palsson, Harmondsworth: Penguin books, 1966. Harald of Norway was married to the Kievan princess Elizabeth - another example of the extensive links between the Varangians of Russia and other parts of North-West Europe.

[24]R. Allen Brown, The Normans and the Norman Conquest, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1985, p. 135.

[25]Wood, op. cit., p. 157.

[26]The story is recounted in the twelfth-century manuscript, De Inventione Crucis, translated in V. Moss, Saints of Anglo-Saxon England, Seattle, volume III, pp. 55-66.

[27]Vita Haroldi, chapter 10.

[28]De Inventione Crucis, chapter 21.

[29]For the view that this was not in fact a blunder, see Walker, op. cit., pp. 169-174.

[30] Howarth, 1066: The Year of the Conquest, Milton Keynes: Robin Clark, 1977, pp. 164-165. Patterson (op. cit., pp. 158-159) confirms the story of the excommunication, adding that it was conveyed to Harold by the English-speaking monk Hugh Margot of Fecamp abbey.

[31]The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, D, 1066.

[32] Wulfstan, The Institutes of Polity, 2; translated in Michael Swanton (ed.) Anglo-Saxon Prose, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993, p. 188.

[33] "Indeed," writes Loyn, "the pre-eminence of the monarchy, for all the political vicissitudes involving changes of dynasty, is the outstanding feature that strikes the careful student of eleventh-century England" (op. cit., p. 214).

[34]Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 653. See also J.E. Cross, "The Ethic of War in Old English", in Peter Clemoes & Kathleen Hughes (eds.), England before the Conquest, Cambridge University Press, 1971, p. 282.

[35]Pollock, Haroldus Rex, Bosham: Penny Royal Publications, 1996. In 2003 a petition that the remains be exhumed so that their identity could be established through scientific means, including DNA testing, was rejected by the Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester. See

[36]William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, III, 131.

[37]Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, D, 1073; E, 1072.

[38]William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, III, 131.

[39]William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; Scott, op. cit., p. 204.

[40]For a more detailed history of the English resistance to the Norman-papist invasion, see Peter Rex, The English Resistance: The Underground War against the Normans, Stroud: Tempus, 2004.

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