FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 12 October 2016

King Harold The Great: What Might Have Been If The English Had Won At Hastings

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Charles West, University of Sheffield and Alyxandra Mattison, University of Sheffield

We may not know exactly how England’s King Harold died at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 - was he cut down by swords or was it that fateful arrow? - but die he certainly did, in spite of fanciful later rumours that he fled and became a hermit.

But what if it had been Duke William’s lifeless body stretched out on English soil, not Harold’s? History would obviously have been very different - but not necessarily in the ways that might seem obvious.

Harold’s ascent to the English throne as Harold II had taken place just a few months before he met his fate. But his coronation in January 1066 was the result of years of careful planning that put him in pole position on King Edward the Confessor’s death, even though he was not related by blood.

Yet the new king had hardly begun to enjoy the fruits of his strategems when he was faced by enemy invasion: the seasoned Viking warrior Harald Hardrada landed in the north, marching in collaboration with Harold’s rebel brother Tostig. No sooner had Harold won a stunning victory at Stamford Bridge, which left both Hardrada and Tostig dead, than news reached the English king of a second invasion, this time in the south, by the Norman Duke William “the Bastard". Harold raced from Yorkshire to Sussex to meet the challenge and the armies clashed at a site known to this day as Battle.

William’s defeat, and death, was certainly a plausible outcome of his invasion. After all, Hastings was an unusually long-lasting and hard-fought battle. Our sources give the impression of two evenly-matched armies, each composed of several thousand soldiers, and of a whole day’s fighting that inflicted heavy casualties on both sides.

Hastings: a bloody mess, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Shutterstock

Historians have made much of the Normans’ supposed military advantages - notably their use of sophisticated cavalry tactics - but Harold was an experienced general commanding battle-hardened soldiers. And unlike William, he could have expected reinforcements had he only managed to make it through to evening, as further Saxon troops arrived from Yorkshire.

The Norman duke, on the other hand, was at the end of a very long and uncertain supply chain, isolated in hostile territory. Anything less than a knockout blow at Hastings could have been fatal to his plans, and perhaps to him, too.

On the cusp of glory

Had Harold survived and won, he would probably be celebrated today as one of England’s greatest warrior kings, on a par with Richard Lionheart and Edward I, and indeed Æthelstan - we would probably pay much more attention to the earlier English kings without the artificial break provided by the Conquest. He would have defeated mighty enemies in pitched battles at opposite ends of the country within weeks of each other: quite a feat. Indeed, we might well be talking of King Harold the Great, and perhaps of the great dynasty of the Godwinsons.

And yet we might know much less about the England that Harold would have ruled. After all, the single greatest store of information about 11th-century England, Domesday Book, was a conqueror’s book, made to record the victor’s winnings, and preserved as a powerful symbol of that conquest. Without Domesday Book, which has no serious parallel in continental evidence at this date, many English villages and towns could have languished in obscurity for another century or longer.

King Harold II at court, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Shutterstock

So Harold’s England would be less visible to historians. If, of course, an England had survived to be ruled over at all. One of the most striking characteristics of pre-Conquest England are its deep political divisions. It was these divisions that had paved the way for Harald Hardrada’s invasion in the north, allied with powerful English rebels including Tostig - and it was these divisions that had created the circumstances for William’s invasion, too, ultimately a byproduct of the rivalry between Harold’s family and King Edward the Confessor.

King Harold II after Hastings would have been rich, but he would still have faced dangerous enemies and rivals - not least the young Edgar. Edgar’s family claim to the throne - he was the grandson of the earlier king, Edmund II Ironside, and so a direct descendant of Alfred the Great - was far stronger than Harold’s. There would have been more crises to come after Hastings.

One of the merits of counterfactual history is to remind us that things could have been different: it challenges our assumptions and prejudices. Now, the thriving of medieval England seems obvious, but at the time of the conquest, contemporary France had torn itself apart in what has become known as the Feudal Revolution.

A similar fate could have awaited an English king after the shortlived triumphs of 1066: civil war, fragmentation, and the localisation of power. King William, by contrast, had a blank slate and could start (almost) from scratch, creating a new aristocracy that owed everything to him. So it’s not the least of the ironies of William’s Norman Conquest that it perhaps helped to save the country that it also brought to its knees.

The ConversationCharles West, Reader in Medieval History, University of Sheffield and Alyxandra Mattison, Doctoral Researcher in Medieval Archaeology, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Ships
Comments on Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’, Part II
News Blog
New Seasonal Outlook Updates from NOAA and JAMSTEC - Let's Compare Them.
Infographic Of The Day: Driving Into A Battery Powered Future
Earthquake Risk - Location Matters
Investor Alert: Be On The Lookout For Investment Scams Related To Hurricane Matthew
Lost In Translation: Five Common English Phrases You May Be Using Incorrectly
The Size And Scope Of Samsung's Business
Immigration Is The Top Worry For Britons
People Killed By Russian Airstrikes In Syria
Have You Taken These 4 Simple Steps To Improve Your Trading?
14 October 2016: ECRI's WLI Growth Index Insignificantly Declines
Mom Breaks Down In Tears When Son With Autism Meets Service Dog
Rail Week Ending 15 October 2016 Paints A Negative Economic View
What Is The New Normal For U.S. Growth?
Investing Blog
FinTech Is Taking A Bite Out Of Banks
Options Early Assignment - Should You Worry?
Opinion Blog
US 2016 Election: Will US-China Relations Change
Prop. 51 Versus A State-Owned Bank: How California Can Save $10 Billion On A $9 Billion Loan
Precious Metals Blog
How Will The Election Outcome Impact Precious Metals?
Live Markets
21Oct2016 Market Close: Major US Indexes Close Flat On Low Volume, Crude Prices Resume Climb, US Dollar Stabilizes In Mid 98 Handle, Yes, Most Investors Are Worried Which Way This Market Will Go
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved