Norman Conquest Timeline
Waltham Abbey, 6 October 1066
While Harold's army is marching on to London, the King himself has stopped off at Waltham Abbey where he often withdraws to think and pray. He built it as a shrine for the Holy Rood, a stone figure of Christ on the cross, encased in silver unearthed nearby, which is said to have cured him of paralysis as an infant. From here he has entered into furious diplomatic negotiations with William of Normandy. Messengers have been racing back and forth between Harold's Essex headquarters and William's camp in Hastings. But the negotiations foundered earlier today and war now seems inevitable.
A preliminary mission to William undertaken by Robert fitz Wimarc had already failed. He warned that Harold was approaching with superior forces, but a bellicose William replied that, although he had 60,000 men, he would be just as eager to fight if he only had 10,000.
Two days later Harold sent a monk with a message. When he met William, the Duke claimed to be his own steward and told the monk that he must hear the message before conveying it to his master. He then promised the monk an audience with the Duke the following day. This gave William and his advisers the night to discuss the message and frame a reply. According to Harold's chaplain, the King's message first pointed out that William had come to England uninvited. It went on to say that Harold "recalls that King Edward first appointed you as his heir, and he remembers he was himself sent to Normandy to assure you of the succession. But he also knows that the same King, his Lord, bestowed on him the kingdom of England when he was dying. Ever since the time when the blessed Augustine" - who brought Christianity to England in 597 - "came to these shores, it has been the unbroken custom of the English to treat a deathbed request as inviolable. With justice, therefore, he bids you go back to your country with your followers. Otherwise he will break the pact of friendship he made with you in Normandy. And he leaves the choice entirely to you. "In the reply recently received, William restated his claim to the throne and reminded Harold of his oath. "I am ready to submit my case against Harold's for judgement either by the law of Normandy or the law of England, whichever he chooses," he says. Otherwise William proposed settling the matter in single combat between the two of them.
Under Norman law, William may have a right to the throne by blood. But Harold is adamant that who sits on the throne of England is a matter for English law. The feeling in the English camp is that William's mercenary army is hardly likely to return home empty handed because of a court ruling. Nor would they go if Harold defeated William in single combat. Earlier today Harold sent the monk back to William with the blunt rejoinder: "We march to battle. With the Lord as arbiter of the kingdom, the rightful claimant will appear. The holy hand of the Lord will deal justly."
Article by Nigel Cawthorne