A new take on 1066 and all that - courtesy of the MoD
New information has been released about the Battle of Hastings that may interest historians...
Tuesday 16 February 1999
Not that it changes our ideas on the result of the battle. That has never been in doubt. We all know it was Normandy 1 England 0. But the suggestion now is that Harold may also have been on the winning side - that King Harold and Duke William may have been in collusion over the result.
This highly controversial allegation all centres on the rather mysterious trip that Harold took some time earlier to Normandy, where he became the unwilling "guest" of Duke William. The story has always been that as a young man Prince Harold was shipwrecked off the Normandy coast and taken into protective custody by William, who then got Harold to sign over to him the succession to the throne of England. However, when Harold returned to England he conveniently forgot all about this, became king in due course when Edward the Confessor died and eventually had to face William's campaign to secure what he claimed to be the rightful Norman claim to the English throne.
But the new papers released by the MoD suggest that in fact Harold's mysterious flight to Normandy may have been in the form of a peace mission, to get a negotiated settlement in secret with Duke William so as to avoid the long-drawn-out war that seemed inevitable as soon as the English throne was vacated. It seems rash to us now, for a highly placed Saxon prince to make such a sortie into enemy territory; indeed many people have said that Harold may have been slightly unhinged...
A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington - hold on a moment, hold on there! Is this all genuine, what you're saying ? Or is it, as I suspect, just a rather scatty attempt to draw a parallel between Rudolf Hess's flight to Scotland and Harold's trip to Normandy?
Yes, that's what I had in mind.
The same reader writes: Well, what on earth's the point of that? How on earth can you find any similarity between Rudolf Hess and King Harold I of England?
He wasn't King Harold I. He was King Harold II.
Forget your cheap debating tricks. Just say what on earth the link is between Harold and Hess!
Well, I thought I would somewhat satirically make the point that the British Government is so obsessed with secrecy that by the time it reveals details about anything, it's no longer of any interest. There are still details about the Hess adventure which are being kept secret even now, 50 years later. So I thought, wouldn't it be odd if they were still keeping things secret about the Battle of Hastings?
The same reader: Like what?
That's just what I was telling you when you interrupted.
Reader: Sorry. I'll keep stumm.
Thank you. Well, Harold decided that he should have given William the throne after all, and in a fit of remorse he decided to let William win the Battle of Hastings.
By stabbing himself in the eye.
Harold committed suicide by stabbing himself in the eye?!
According to these papers which the MoD won't yet release, yes.
Blimey O'Riley... Incidentally, who was Harold I, then?
Oh, he was the illegitimate son of King Canute. He was king briefly from 1037 to 1040, but died suddenly just as his legitimate half-brother Hardicanute was landing with an army to claim his throne. Everyone hated King Hardicanute but luckily he died two years later, after getting convulsions at a drinking- party.
How do you know all this?
It's all in the Ministry of Defence Book of Great Parties. Any more questions?
Yes. What would have happened if Harold II had won the Battle of Hastings? After all, he was a great general. He had already gone up north and smashed the Norwegian invasion force. He had invaded Wales to punish the Welsh king Gruffudd for invading England, and not only killed Gruffudd but married his widow. It wasn't likely that he'd lose to William, was it?
Mmm. But if Hastings had gone to the wrong result, Harold might have offered William a rematch.
Is that a satirical reference to Arsenal's unprecedented offer to replay Sheffield United?
It may be. But unfortunately, as the notes for this article will now be locked away for 50 years, nobody will know till then.
Or indeed care.
Or, indeed, as you so rightly say, care.
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