Norman Conquest Timeline
AN ALTERNATIVE STRATEGY
London, 9 October 1066
King Harold's younger brother Gyrth stepped into the invasion crisis today with a bold suggestion. Although he agrees with the King that they must move swiftly against the Normans, Gyrth says Harold should stay out of the battle. And he volunteers to fight in his place.
According to sources inside the court, Gyrth has three reasons for offering to take his brother's place on the battlefield. All of them seem good in the opinion of this correspondent. Firstly, Harold is too exhausted to go into battle again so soon. In a matter of weeks he has undertaken two 200-mile forced marches and fought a fierce battle against King Harald Hardrada of Norway and his own brother Tostig. The slaughter of these two leaders and huge numbers of their men were followed by a long round of peace talks with Hardrada's son and the re-organisation of government in the north.
Secondly, while Harold is bound by an oath of fealty to William of Normandy, Gyrth is not. Although this may not have a psychological effect on Harold, the oath that Harold swore to William during his trip to Normandy just two years ago is widely known among both Norman and English troops and could have an effect on the outcome of the battle.
While it could be said that Harold is fighting William out of self-interest, to hold on to the crown, the same cannot be said of Gyrth. He is just another Englishman fighting to expel the invaders from his country's shores. As the son of one Earl of Wessex and the brother of another - Harold failed to renounce the title when he was crowned King of England - it is only natural that he should fight to regain the corner of the earldom that William has seized. And he can command a loyal following among the people of Wessex. Thirdly, if Harold loses the battle against William and is killed, the kingdom is lost. If Gyrth fights and loses, Harold could raise another army and take on William again. And if he wins, all will be well.
Gyrth has even suggested a fail-safe strategy. When he and the bulk of the army moves against William, Harold should implement a scorched earth policy behind them. He should block roads and burn crops and villages. That way, if William did beat Gyrth, the Norman army would find itself starving in a wasted countryside as winter draws in. Unable to reinforce, the survivors could be picked off easily by Harold in the spring.
Many see this as a sensible strategy, but the headstrong Harold has rejected it. He says he has taken an oath to defend the people of England and he cannot in honour stay behind when an English army goes to fight the invader. He is a tried and tested military leader with a great victory behind him. Harold says he has beaten the Vikings - and before that the Welsh - with a sudden swift attack that takes the enemy completely by surprise. He is confident that the same tactic will work again.
Article by Nigel Cawthorne