The year is 1064 or early 1065 [scene 1]. The elderly king of England, seated on his finely made chair, is in a secret conference with two men. One of them is his brother-in-law, Earl Harold of Wessex; the other is unknown. The pale, full-bearded old king, known to history as Edward 'the Confessor', is a large, stooping figure in a long green robe. Now in his sixties, he has reigned over England for more than twenty years. The country is prosperous; its government, for the times, is sophisticated and efficient. The ability of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy to collect a nationwide tax is elsewhere unparalleled, and no doubt envied, in the other halls of European power. All, however, is not well. In twenty years of marriage Edward has failed to produce a single heir and this failure has inevitably caused an aura of uncertainty to hang over the delicate matter of the succession.
The low and muffled talk at that meeting would have proceeded against a very different background had Edward ever fathered a son; but his marriage with Edith, Earl Harold'ssister, had been completely barren.1 It was one of those political unions which kings are often constrained to make. In this case the political imperative in the 1040s had dictated an alliance with the powerful Godwin family, without whose support he would have found it difficult to rule England. We cannot know the true cause of Edward's childlessness - the secrets of the royal bed remain discreetly curtained off to history - but it is certainly not difficult to identify strains which may have affected the conjugal life of the royal couple. Long before they were married, before Edward was even king, a terrible crime had taken place which had touched Edward deeply. In 1036 his younger brother Alfred had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a rival faction during a period of uncertainty that had followed the death of King Canute - when, as now, there had been no single indisputable heir to the throne. Edward long suspected that Queen Edith's father, Earl Godwin, had been a party to the crime, but Godwin was the most powerful man in the nation and the case against him had never been proved. On Edward's accession in 1042 he had had little choice but to work with Godwin, to accept Godwin's oily hand of friendship and to harness his power as best he could for the governance of the country. He may even have married Earl Godwin's daughter on an optimistic note. The marriage was, after all, a potent alliance of blue blood and raw power; but it was not an amorous success and Edward soon regretted it.
He had made one abortive attempt to break free of the bonds, both political and matrimonial, that bound him to the Godwin family. In 1051 he acted with unexpected resolve and contrived to send Godwin and his sons into exile, and his unloved queen to a nunnery. The following year the Godwins returned. They were armed, angry and amply supported. The king's soldiers, fearing outright civil war, were reluctant to fight and Edward backed down. Godwin was restored to power; Edith returned to the royal household; and from that moment the king's authority was fatally weakened. Against this political and familial background, it is not entirely surprising that no children were ever born to Edward and Edith. When Earl Godwin died in 1053, having collapsed at an Easter feast given in the king's own hall, his mantle as England'sleading earl was inherited by the queen's senior brother, Earl Harold of Wessex.
Now, as they meet in that secret huddled gathering that opens the story of the Bayeux Tapestry, more than ten years have passed, ten years since Harold first stepped into his father'sshoes. In those ten years he has consolidated his position as by far the most important nobleman in the nation. Neither before nor since has any one noble ever been quite so predominant. With his brothers Tostig, Gyrth and Leofwine also holding key earldoms, and his sister Edith as queen, Harold's family appears, at least while it remains united, a more formidable entity than ever. Harold, then, is a man of stature, a sprightly, moustachioed figure in his forties, elegant of physique, noble in his bearing and enormously wealthy. To his friends he is handsome, open-hearted and clever. To his enemies he is beginning to be feared for his battle-hardened qualities as a war leader. Recently he has been campaigning on the king's behalf in Wales where King Gruffydd had been a thorn in England's side. Aided by Welsh rebels, Harold returned to England in triumph at the end of 1063, presenting the unfortunate Gruffydd's head to King Edward in person.2 Earl Harold has proved himself a worthy successor to his father's legacy and he has formed what, at the very least, seems to be a satisfactory working relationship with the king. From cool beginnings, the two men seem to have warmed to each other over the years.
The old king stoops forward as if speaking to Harold in a low voice; their forefingers touch. It is almost as if we are there, in this wispy opening scene, eavesdropping on history at one of its pivotal moments. Frustratingly, the inscription above tells us no more than that this is King Edward EDWARD REX - and the woollen figures meet in enigmatic silence. We must also remember that the Bayeux Tapestry was made ten or so years later. Like all historical sources, it has its own perspective and the temptation must be resisted of assuming that the events were recorded as they happened, like a film on a camcorder. What remains certain is that this meeting took place and its outcome set in motion a chain of events that changed history.
At the time when Harold and Edward met there were several men who potentially had an interest in the English throne. Royal succession in Anglo-Saxon England did not solely depend on who had the closest blood kinship to the king, though this was undoubtedly a persuasive factor. The king retained discretion during his life to nominate an heir from among his eligible relatives; and it was also the custom that the heir should be approved by the Witan, a council of the great and powerful in the land.3 The question of inheritance was thus inherently fluid; and sometimes legal theory, such as it was, went entirely out of the window, and 'might' counted more than 'right', as when earlier in the century the country was conquered by the Danes under Swein Fork-Beard and was ruled, most famously, by his son King Canute (1016-35).
The Danish conquest had lasted little longer than Canute'slifetime; but it had shown foreigners what was possible: England was vulnerable. Nowhere was Danish success more envied than in the kindred land of Norway. King Harald of Norway's claim to the English throne was little more than a slender pretext based on an ambiguous treaty in the 1030s, but this mattered not to a man whose very raison d'etre was war and the warrior's way.4 The story of his life was already the stuff of saga.5 The nickname they gave him - 'Hardrada', the Hard Ruler - was an advertisement indeed, considering that it distinguished him as noteworthy even among the Vikings themselves. In his youth Harald had left Norway to fight as an axe-wielding mercenary in the Mediterranean lands for the army of the Byzantine empire. He quickly gained the reputation of being the most formidable warrior of his age. A coin was even minted in his honour. Then, one night in 1043, Harald of Norway hoodwinked the emperor and slipped out of Constantinople in a fleet of ships laden with an enormous treasure. He muscled his way back into Norway and by 1047 he had succeeded his nephew Magnus as the sole king of the country. He would have turned his attentions to England earlier had he not been embroiled in a long war with Denmark. In 1062 he defeated the Danes in battle and in 1064 he finally made peace with them at Gota. This last intelligence may not yet have reached England but its importance was paramount. Now that the Hard Ruler had a free hand it would take little to encourage him to turn his attentions to England where the incumbent king had failed to produce an heir of his own loins and men looked to the future with uncertain eyes.
Across the more even waters of the English Channel lay another potential claimant, Duke William of Normandy, a more unlikely one, perhaps, and something of an unknown quantity.6 The Danish invasion of England fifty years earlier had forced Edward and his siblings into exile in Normandy, the homeland of their mother Emma. Edward's exile was long and listless. He spent almost half his life in Normandy, becoming in the process as much Norman as English, before peace ably, and somewhat unexpectedly, being invited to return and ascend the English throne in 1042 on the death of Hartha-canute, Canute's last surviving son. It was out of gratitude for his long Norman asylum that Edward chose to nominate Duke William, a distant cousin, as his own successor to the crown of England. That, at least, is what the Norman sources tell us; the English sources are entirely silent on the matter. Although the Norman accounts were written after the Conquest, and contain several untrustworthy embellishments, it is very probable that at some stage Edward did dangle the prospect of the English crown in front of William. The subsequent course of history is scarcely understandable if that were not the case. Edward may have dropped hints to this effect while still in exile, when Duke William was no more than a boy, and if the matter was ever taken up with greater formality after he became king, it was probably during that brief year in 1051-2 when Edward broke free of Earl Godwin. There is evidence in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that in 1051 'Earl William' paid a visit to England 'from beyond the sea', though for what purpose it is not stated.7 The problem for William was that in 1052 the Godwins had been restored to power and they were implacably opposed to a Norman succession. Moreover at various times Edward seems to have made similar promises, or half-promises, to others; how seriously they were meant to be taken was a moot point. By the early 1060s Englishmen could be forgiven for regarding Duke William of Normandy to be the least of their worries. The real danger of invasion had always come from Scandinavia. Although the Normans were the descendants of Vikings, they had, for the most part, dismantled their warships 150 years earlier. By 1064 the prospect of a seaborne invasion from the duchy of Normandy seemed on the whole rather remote.
There had been another development, too. Following the restoration of the Godwins, King Edward was prevailed upon to prefer an authentic prince of the Anglo-Saxon line, a prince who, unlike that Norman duke, could command general support among the people. According to English custom, the king was perfectly entitled to do this. He was entitled to revoke whatever promise he had made to William, or to anyone else. What mattered was his last wish before dying. It must have been clear by the 1050s that the marriage with Edith was going to be barren but far away in eastern Europe there was, so it was said, a half-nephew of the king who was still alive and who might be persuaded to return. The same Danish whirlwind that in 1016 had forced Edward into his Norman exile had propelled a second branch of the family to distant Hungary in equal fear for their lives. That branch was now represented by another Edward, known to the English as Edward the Exile. The Exile was indeed still alive; he had grown up in Hungary, married a local princess and, better still, he was now a father. The quest to find him began in the year 1054. It took three years of diplomatic soundings, patient negotiation and perilous journeys across the face of Europe but finally, in the spring of 1057, the difficult project to bring the Exile home came to fruition. When his longship docked on the southern coast, the exiled prince gingerly placed his first foot on England's shore. Behind him followed his exotic wife Agatha and three little children, and strong men carrying his great chests of Hungarian treasure. The England he stepped on to was a strange land and it was inhabited by a people he did not understand; for he had been no more than a babe in arms when hastily carried away from these same shores forty years earlier. His return had been long, slow and reluctant. It was duty, more than enthusiasm, that brought him back; but what mattered was that he had arrived at last, and there was now a new optimism in the air that the problem of the English succession could peaceably and lawfully be resolved. A few days later Edward the Exile dropped dead.
'We do not know for what cause it was arranged that he might not see his relative King Edward. Alas! that was a cruel fate, and harmful to this nation, that he so quickly ended his life.'8 In these sad words, the writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1057 laments the tragic turn of events, hinting darkly at foul play - poison slipped, perhaps, into Edward the Exile's food or drinking cup, even before he had met with his older namesake. The circumstances of this sudden death are undeniably suspicious but it is impossible to discern on whose behalf the murderer (if murder it was) was working. With the Exile dead, the hope of many now rested on the immature shoulders of his son Edgar, a toddler recently carried across a continent and now inextricably caught up in the vicious power games of the adult world. It was decided that Edgar should be taken into the care of the royal household. Such fostering of children in the household of a superior lord was not unusual; but in this case it was also hoped, no doubt, that it would protect the little princeling from further danger. Edgar was brought up under the direction of Queen Edith and he was given the title ofÆtheling showing that he was considered to be throne worthy.
To the improbable trio of Harald of Norway, William of Normandy and little Edgar of England could be added the name of a fourth contender for the English throne: Harold Godwinson himself. Though related by marriage to the Danish royals through his mother Gytha, Earl Harold had no blood link to his brother-in-law the king. What he had in abundance, however, was wealth, power and supporters. An uncharitable view would take Harold as scheming to seize the main prize all along, for he must have realised that it might one day fall within his grasp. That view would probably be wrong. It is not supported in the threads of the tapestry, where, if we observe closely, we see a more sympathetic portrait of the man. The Bayeux Tapestry is far from a work of Norman propaganda and in its threads it is often silently more revealing than the slippery post-Conquest apologetics of William of Poitiers. Harold comes across as essentially well meaning, a man racked by dilemma, one who, when he does become king, only does so at the behest of others and in a procedure that is depicted, in its fundamentals, as scrupulously legal. At the time of his meeting with Edward, Harold's policy must have been to favour the succession of young Edgar. Harold seems to have been involved in, and may even have been one of the prime movers of, the project to bring the Exile home.9 The Exile was dead; but his line continued. If little Edgar succeeded to the throne whilst still a minor, Harold was well placed to rule as regent. In that capacity he could further consolidate himself as the real power behind the throne. What is more, in the longer term, another chance beckoned to ally the blood of the Godwins to England's royal line. Earl Harold, though well known for having an eye for the ladies, was not yet married. His father's scheme had drawn a blank but if Harold were able, in due course, to marry off a lawful daughter to Edgar, success might at last be achieved. All this he may have planned; events were to take a different and more rapid course.
Others were watching and waiting too. No one, at this stage, could rule out a challenge from King Swein Estrithsson of Denmark. He was a kinsman of Canute, as well as a cousin of Earl Harold. Like Duke William of Normandy he claimed that Edward had promised him the throne.10 Across the Straits of Dover, a mysterious and neglected figure, Count Eustace II of Boulogne, was also biding his time. Eustace is the shadowy Frenchman whom the tapestry depicts as a hero by William's side at the Battle of Hastings.
The meeting has concluded. It seems that a decision has been made and the conferees have departed in a swirl of tunics. Few know exactly what has been said. At once a tight-lipped Harold rides to the southern coast whence he will put to sea. In the turbulent years that followed men speculated about what had really been said. To William of Poitiers and the Normans it was simple: Edward had not wavered for a moment in his choice of William and he was now sending Earl Harold on a formal embassy to Normandy to confirm to the worthy duke his happy status as the next king of England.11 This story, of course, suited the Normans; but it contains much that is questionable. Since contrary winds drove Harold on to unexpected shores and, as we shall see, into another adventure entirely, his original purpose remains mysterious. Several factors undermine the Norman case. It is highly improbable that Edward had the ability to order Harold to support the Norman succession. Harold was simply too powerful and the whole course of events, ever since the restoration of the Godwins in 1052, strongly suggests that Harold and his family were opposed to William succeeding. Nor is there any independent evidence that Edward himself continued to favour William. On the contrary, he seems to have changed his mind. A very great deal of time and effort had been expended in persuading the exiled branch of the family to return and there was now in England a young prince who was being brought up at the royal court and who had an undeniably superior blood-claim to the throne.
What is more, King Edward had, or at least had until recently, a French nephew whose blood-claim was also superior to William's. Edward's late sister Godgifu, exiled like him in France, had entered into a first marriage with Drogo, the count of the Vexin (she later married Eustace of Boulogne). In the 1060s their son Walter, Edward's full nephew, was count of Maine, a territory lying on the southern borders of Normandy. Walter could have considered himself a prime contender for the English throne but he did not fare well at the hands of Duke William. In 1063 the Norman duke took advantage of a slender pretext, marched into Maine and conquered it. Not long afterwards Walter and his wife Biota died in Norman custody; it was widely rumoured (according to Orderic Vitalis) that they were poisoned.12 These events were alarming. They would hardly have endeared Duke William of Normandy any further in King Edward's world-weary heart.
If the Norman account is rejected, what really did happen at that secret meeting between Harold and Edward in 1064 or early 1065? Some forty or fifty years later an English monk named Eadmer, working in the serenity of his turn-of-the-century cloister at Canterbury, wrote his own History of Recent Events in England (Historia Novorum Anglia).Eadmer's work is an unjustly neglected source. He tells a quite different story from that told by the Normans, and it is one that would have been too dangerous to record in any explicit way earlier. According to Eadmer, in 1052 a brother and nephew of Harold, Wulfnoth and Hakon by name, had been handed over to Edward by Earl Godwin as hostages for his future good conduct; this, apparently, was part of the settlement reached between Godwin and Edward when the former returned from his brief exile in the years 1051-2. Shortly afterwards Edward had the hostages transported to his cousin Duke William of Normandy for safe custody.13 Godwin died the following year and it could well be said that the purpose of Wulfnoth and Hakon's detention had long expired. But they were still there, more than ten years later, wasting away their lives as captives in a foreign land. Their plight must have touched Earl Harold's heart, for Eadmer tells us that Harold wanted to go to Normandy in order to meet with Duke William and negotiate the release of his brother and nephew. Before leaving, Harold quite properly came to King Edward to tell him of his plans, and it would be this precise meeting that we can see in the tapestry's opening scene. Edward was not impressed by what he heard. Far from sending Harold to Normandy, Eadmer tell us that the king positively warned him not to go. 'I will have no part in this,' he is supposed to have said, 'but not to give the impression of wishing to hinder you, I give you leave to go where you will and to see what you can do. But I have a feeling that you will only succeed in bringing misfortune on yourself and the whole Kingdom. For I know that the Duke is not so simple as to be at all inclined to give [Wulfnoth and Hakon] up . . . unless he foresees that in doing so he will gain some great advantage for himself.'14
There is nothing in the tapestry's opening scene which is in contradiction to this radically different account. It seems that the master artist has audaciously designed an image that could please both sides. Puffing Normans, gorged on the spoils of conquest, could pass up and down the tapestry and see what they expected to see - that Edward, of course, favoured William all along and that near the end of his life he was sending perfidious Harold to Normandy to confirm just this. The English, or those who knew, would see a different tale - they would be reminded by the silent meeting of those little woollen figures that in his old age King Edward did not think much of Duke William at all; that on that fateful day he was, in fact, advising Harold to stay away from Normandy; but that Harold nevertheless chose to make the journey at considerable risk to himself, in the hope of obtaining the release of his captive kinsmen.15
All that the tapestry explicitly shows is that Harold left the secret meeting and rode with his men to the southern coast. The old village of Bosham makes a secluded harbour; it lies within the safety of an inlet, where the sea has poked itself like a fat finger into the underbelly of Sussex, and it is from here that many a Channel crossing leaves from the safe edge of land. We see Harold riding there, at the head of his men;a pack of collared hunting dogs runs ahead of the party in pursuit of two hares. Perched on Harold's left hand, as he rides, is a handsome hawk, colourfully embroidered out of red, yellow and green yarn. Hunting was the favourite pastime of the nobility and one of Harold's great passions was to hunt with trained birds; it is attested by a later source that he possessed several manuscript books on falconry.16
Harold and a companion now arrive at the door of Bosham church [scene 3]. Here they will pray before crossing the sea, as was the custom when ships were insecure and the weather far from predictable. The artist provides us with a view of the church that, at first sight, we might ignore for its lack of proportion and apparently childlike qualities, but it merits closer inspection. It is in fact a composite view that encompasses the building's internal and external features in one and the same picture. The parish church of Bosham is the first touchable link between the tapestry's story and the present day. It still stands where it did, almost 1,000 years later, scarcely beyond the lick of waves and overcircled by the callinggulls. Generations of seafarers have come and gone. The church has been extended and altered many times but the eleventh-century interior arch, which divides the nave from the chancel, is still to be seen; it is, in the words of a recent observer, 'one of the noblest spans in early English architecture'.17 The Anglo-Saxon church at Bosham was not on a par with the great architectural marvels that were being built on the continent of Europe but it nevertheless impressed our artist. This, to him, was modern architecture and he included the great horseshoe of an arch at the centre of his composition, giving it the same proportions in wool as it has in real stone.18
Harold stepped under this arch. He stood by these stones; he saw them as we can see them; and his cheeks were touched by the same chill air. Forty years earlier Bosham may have been the scene of a tragedy touching the family of King Canute, an accident if the story is true, though the medieval mind would have discerned the hand of providence in all such matters. Canute had a home in Bosham (it may have been here that he tried to command the incoming tide to turn, but that is another, and possibly apocryphal, story19). One day it is said that Canute's little daughter, aged about eight, fell into the mill stream behind the church and was drowned. It was long said by local people that she lay buried in the church. The truth of this tradition was dramatically supported in 1865 when excavations by the right foot of the chancel arch unearthed a stone coffin dating from the time of Canute.20 They broke open the lid and inside they found the remains of a female child of about eight years. If there is any truth in the story, Canute's poor little daughter could easily have been a contemporary of Harold; perhaps he knew and played with her as a child, for Bosham had been one of the principal residences of his father Godwin, and Godwin was a protege and friend of Canute. As Harold stood there that day, it would not have been inappropriate for him to muse on his own mortality.
Now we see Harold and his men feasting in the upper storey of his Bosham manor [scene 4]. Drinking cups and horns are brought to lips; there is animated conversation. Standing on the steps outside, a man informs the party that the ship is ready. It is a dragon-headed ship, typical of its time; and like the familiar Viking longship, it may be propelled by oars or a large rectangular sail. Harold wades out to the vessel, his tunic hitched up to his waist, his bare feet and legs exposed to the cold sea. Once more his favoured hawk sits on his raised left hand; the hunting animals are brought on board. Another barelegged man wades through the shallows, carrying a large dog in his arms; a third makes his way with oars or poles. A party of some dozen men are now aboard. The mast is raised, the anchor pulled in and the men, singing perhaps, row the ship into deeper waters. Thus begins the secret journey of Harold Godwinson, the first of four journeys back and forth across the woollen sea stitched by our embroiderers.
It is not long before the wind picks up. Sheltered from the spray behind closely packed shields, the men on board begin to cast anxious glances. The hours progress; the ship must have rocked and creaked. The wind has become stronger and it is not clear that it is taking them in the right direction. ET VELIS VENTO PLENIS VENIT IN TERRA WIDONIS COMITIS (and with the wind full in his sails he came to the land of Count Guy). In these enigmatic words the tapestry tells us that Harold's ship was being driven towards the French county of Ponthieu, sandwiched between Normandy to the south and Boulogne and Flanders to the north. Ponthieu is decidedly not where Harold intended to go; for like many medieval nobles Guy, the youthful count of Ponthieu, had a penchant for taking captives and holding them for ransom. At this point an Englishman has climbed to the top of the mast and, with his hand cupped over his eyes he spots the line of land ahead; a man on deck is holding a great anchor at the ready. They make landfall, possibly at the mouth of the River Maye, and Harold steps out into the shallow waters of Ponthieu.21 He must be ignorant of the danger, or else he would have quickly departed to a less hostile strand.
According to a much later account, a fisherman of Ponthieu, who had been to England, saw Harold step ashore and immediately recognised him. He then rushed breathlessly to Count Guy, knowing that Earl Harold's unexpected arrival would be of interest to his avaricious lord.22 Something like this must have happened; but the tapestry, for its part, telescopes events by showing the English party confronted by Guy and his men immediately as they land [scene 6]. Either way, Harold is about to fall into the unwelcoming hands of Count Guy of Ponthieu. Earl Harold now sees the danger. From somewhere he draws a dagger but he is quickly overpowered by one of Guy's men. The count himself now approaches with the rest of his soldiers. They are on horseback and all have swords, lances and kite-shaped shields. Harold's mission was peaceful and he is accompanied by only a handful of men. They have few arms and no horses, only hawks and hunting hounds. There is no escape.
It was the harsh custom in Ponthieu, dating from the time of Emperor Charlemagne, that the count was entitled to hold as captive any person driven on to his shores, as well as ships and chattels.23 A shipwrecked noble could be ransomed for a large sum; ransom was good business. When you are the count of Ponthieu, idly wondering what to do next, and the richest man in England is suddenly tossed upon your shores, as lost and helpless as a piece of wreckage, it is like winning the lottery ten times over. The Norman writer William of Poitiers hinted that the people of Ponthieu were wreckers. 'Certain Gallic peoples,' he interjected into his own version of the story, 'have been led through avarice to adopt a cunning practice, which is barbarous and utterly removed from Christian justice. They lay ambushes for the powerful and wealthy, thrust them into prison, and torture and humiliate them. When they have reduced them almost to the point of death, they turn them out, usually ransomed at a very high price.'24 It is unlikely that Harold was deliberately lured to Ponthieu. As the tapestry implies, it was the strong wind that landed him there. What is clear is that he was now at the mercy of Count Guy, a man notorious for his greed. At best, Harold might be treated well but ransomed for an enormous sum, and it might take months, or even years, to raise. At worst, he could be the victim of the kind of sadistic excess that William of Poitiers described, and he would be bound and shackled, and thrown into a dark prison.
The Harold that we see in the tapestry's threads is no doubt confused and angry. His mission has gone disastrously wrong even before it has started. In the eleventh-century view, the invisible hand of God was everywhere controlling events and, like all men of his time, he would have taken his misfortune to be divine punishment and racked his conscience to remember quite what he had done wrong. Had he neglected his God? Surely he had prayed before the journey, as any good Christian should, and in his time he had given profusely to the Church. Some of his dealings had been a little shady, and some of the churches and abbeys of England had complaints against him, but no more than they might have against any great noble;and besides, in the eyes of the Almighty this was as nothing, he would have thought, when compared to the magnificence of his benefactions to Waltham.25 At Waltham's Holy Cross he was once cured of an illness and in gratitude he had transformed the modest church built by Tofig the Proud into a splendid college for canons. He had lavished vast sums on the building; he had donated as many as sixty priceless relics. Brilliant gold furnishings shone brightly through the haze of incense in every corner of the candlelit edifice; the altar he provided was itself a sight to behold, made of marble and supported in front by golden statues of the twelve apostles, and at the back by radiant golden lions; and the gold that decorated one chasuble alone weighed seventeen pounds. Were these gifts not enough in the eyes of the Lord? How could such glittering piety be rewarded thus? How could it be that the greatest living Englishman, whose estates stretched from Cornwall to Yorkshire, who could hunt and roam almost as freely as he pleased, who prided himself on his understanding of the strategies of foreign princes, how could it be that he, Earl Harold, was now held as a miserable captive in this foreign place?
He was far from the love of his life, Edith the Fair; far from his sister Edith the Queen; far from his brothers, loyal Gyrth and Leofwine and the hot-headed Tostig and the lesser earls who might take advantage of his absence; far from old King Edward and the little Ædwardi and all the people in England who depended on his protection; far from England itself at this uncertain time; and if he had come with the intention of rescuing his long-lost kinsmen, Wulfnoth and Hakon, he was just as far from finding them as well. Harold of Wessex was the helpless prisoner of an obscure French count. Somehow he would have to get away - and fast.