Did King Harold Survive the Battle of Hastings?


King Harold, shot in the eye

The team of surveyors who found the body of Richard III is hoping they’re on a roll. Their next mission is to prove that King Harold II survived the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and lived to a ripe old age in a monastery.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold–last king of the Anglo-Saxons–shot in the eye with an arrow. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, possibly written shortly after the battle, adds that he was set upon by four knights and dismembered.

Norman propaganda! some say. (Hey, watch it! Those are my ancestors you’re talking about.)

Stratascan–a geological survey company that found Richard III buried under a parking lot–is going to look for Harold at Waltham Abbey Church in Essex, where he lived another 40 years as a hermit after the battle before dying in his 80s of natural causes. The story is found in the 12th century Vita Haroldi.

It’s not an absurd theory. William left Harold’s sons alive and even freed them upon his death, and it wouldn’t be unusual for a victor’s history to say one thing while the defeated tell another story. In this case, the English version of the story is certainly far less probable, but not impossible.

“We have the Norman story put through the Bayeux Tapestry – the English story is a different one,” said [amateur historian Peter] Burke, 64. “You put things together and it begins to build a picture that is quite solid. If everything backs you up in history, you should look at it. You shouldn’t just leave it,” he said.

Mr Burke, who is a stonemason and fiction author, said that he was “absolutely convinced” that the scan would find King Harold’s body and he has funded the search with £2,000 of his own money.

He will lead the scan to a site near the east wall where there are thought to be some symbol markings. This site is roughly 15 yards away from King Harold’s reputed tomb at the High Altar.

English Heritage granted permission for a ground-penetrating radar to scan the area. Debbie Priddy, the inspector of ancient monuments in the East of England, said they “were happy to give consent for this work which involves no disturbance to the nationally important archaeological remains of the abbey church”.

If the scan does provide evidence, excavation may still be a while off due to the consecrated nature of the site. English Heritage would need to advise the Secretary of State to consent to excavation, in an effort to “conserve archaeological remains for future generations”.

“I’m very hopeful we will find something,” said Mr Burke. “I’ve always thought you should question things. You shouldn’t just take history at face value. [The Battle of Hastings] is one of the biggest events in English history. Whether it will go as far as rewriting history books, I suppose they’ll have to,” he said.

Although Mr Burke said that he expected criticism over the search, members of the Waltham Abbey Historical Society have said the king’s remains are unlikely to be found because the site has been frequently disturbed for building works.