Harold – The Last Elected King

How it came about


This has been a long journey.  The thought first arose in embryo around 2012-13.

Philip had asked me to research and draw up an outline for a large scale Community Play for Hastings in 2015. I said “That’s a pity that it isn’t for 2016”


“That’s the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. We should link all three Battle sites that happened in 1066”

And it gelled. I researched all other topics in Hastings (we had already begun to form the small scale agitprop piece, “Half a Cod a Day”putting the Small Boat Hastings Fishermen’s case for relaxing fishing quotas).

It was Phil who saidwhat’s really amazing, is the speed of that Journey North, winning a battle, then the journey South to another.

I began to trace both journeys, work out mathematically, daily travel times, and therefore likely overnight stopping off points.

I looked at maps of Roman roads, which would probably have formed the skeleton of major “highways”.

Others have done some research, some have walked possible routes, but there’s nothing definitiveno hard facts. That’s a boon for the playwright, as it allows the fragments found to spark the imagination. What route might the army have takenand where could they have spent the nights? They’d need to stop for food and proper rest on a hard forced march like this.

The former Archaeology Officer for Lincoln, for instance, let me know Harold had a personal House, a Lodge in Lincoln. I came across a map of all Harold’s personal land holdings, he owned about 1000 acres centred on LincolnWaltham Cross was definite, York obviously for setting out. Westminster, recorded. Staff in the Doncaster museum told us of the Hadrada Silver coin, and researchers at Peterborough Cathedral passed on details of the involvement of the clergy there.

To cut a long story short, we realised the journey was as important as the Battle.

I was also glad to discover that Harold was an Elected King, admittedly by the Witan. The Last Elected King.

Because, that meant it wasn’t a story just about two, or three Kings having a struggle for power.

It was about the people of this country having a say.

That’s why we have told the fragmented story through the  eyes of ordinary people.

After standing  guard all over the summertraditionally the invasion seasonmost of the Fyrd, the civilian militia, had fulfilled their 60 day commitment. They could have legally said No! On the whole, most didn’t.

All sources available have been consulted on the history. Wherever accounts varied, it has either gone with the majority verdict of modern and intervening historians;  to the English versions (as History tends to be written/re-written by the victors, the Normans); or in the case of York, to eye witness accounts from Thjodolf the Poetin the Norse version in  King Harald’s Saga (Harald Hadrada of Norway that is).

On another note: These three, Harold of England; Harald Hadrada of Norway; and Duke William were the most feared, or respected European Warriors of their day.

“One of Harold’s Husscarls is equal to three of our Norwegian warriors”.

They led their troops into Battle. In Harald Hadrada’s case, he made up poems during the battle.

How much more negotiating for peace would happen in this modern world, if modern leaders were expected to be in the front line of any invading troops or bombing missions?

Harold offered peace before, during and after the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

He sought peacebut not at all costs.

Brian Abbott