What were the reasons behind Harold's visit to Normandy and How was the Visit Significant?

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What were the reasons behind Harold’s visit to Normandy and How was the Visit Significant?

Approaching the year 1064 Harold Godwinson had established himself with great power, authority and had great potential to excel as earl of Wessex and possibly achieve what no Godwin had done in history, the Crown and title of King of England. As Walker quotes “Harold was at the height of his power and influence. A successful military commander and the leading noble in England, and with the demise of Earl Aelfgan he had no real rivals… However an episode occurred about this time which was ultimately to land to his downfall.” To great controversy between historians Harold went on a voyage and found himself ending up in Normandy. How and why is even today a huge debate and is explained in many forms by Poitier’s and Walker etc. The debate is ultimately down to the reason of there not being any Anglo-Saxon recording of this event and therefore we as historians are left to retrieve as much realistic evidence from the Norman sources, as biased as they may seem. Was Harold merely entertaining himself with a little recreational Fishing off the coast of England and just happened to end up in William’s quarters... Even more convincing is the story which many Norman’s claim to be true, which assumed Harold’s main objective was to deliver an oath to William to promise Edward’s throne to him. Or was he there to salvage what he could of his family’s great oath to their own and bring back his brother and nephew whom were still being held as hostage by William. In addition the historians have also been led to believe that Harold had just kicked off his diplomatic tour of Europe trying to gain support for his claim for greatness. The possibilities seem endless as to the reasons why Harold found himself in Normandy in 1064. In addition with this the event in itself had extreme significance on the forthcoming history of Harold and William as well as Britain and Normandy.

The Norman chronicles which the historians of today were having to rely on were hugely in favour of the assumption that Harold was carrying out an order by his king Edward. “Harold on this occasion had been commanded by the confessor to proceed to Normandy in order formally to confirm in the presence of William the grant of the succession to the English throne which had previously been made by the King to the Duke.” (Douglas). Harold doubtlessly had little liking for this task but it was claimed that it would have been unwise to disobey the King’s orders and a lot of personal experience could have been gained out of the visit. This account which is the subject of the three earliest accounts which have survived may come across as a possible solution to the reasoning behind Harold’s voyage, however modern day historians have become too familiar to biased Norman sources and have built up several reasons as to why this would appear false. Firstly Edward did not appear to have any contact with William since they last met when William was but fourteen years of age and too young and inexperienced too even consider offering him the throne. So why he sent Harold to swear an oath that he wanted his throne to be controlled by someone he had no knowledge of is oblivious to me. Secondly William had just previously been on a conquest in Maine which had resulted in the death of the nephew of Edward. This was not the right incentive for Edward to then offer him the throne. In addition with this Edward was supposedly on his death bead and therefore had to send Harold at that time. However Anglo-Saxon Chronicles had revealed that Edward was healthy and active therefore calling on the Earl of Wessex to carry out such a duty would have seemed odd. This story was a significant reason why the Norman’s and particularly William were outraged at why Harold later became King. They were led to believe by Robert of Jumieges that William had been promised the throne by Edward himself during the crisis of 1051 and 1052 hence the reason why William still held on to the two hostages who were close relations to Harold. However unknown to William was the fact that Robert of Jumieges had fled to Normandy for fear of his life because of his ill treatment of Godwin and merely offered the hostages and delivered the false claim in the hoping that when William went to Britain for his kinship he would be reinstated as Archbishop of Canterbury.

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A controversial debate however would not be a debate if there wasn’t any little less convincing stories which added to the confusion of the event. William of Malmesbury suggested that Harold in fact had absolutely no intention of visiting Normandy and was purely on a fishing trip off the coast of Britain, when horrible storms and high gales swept the fishing boat to the shore of Normandy. Exaggerated? Or just stupid? The evidence supporting this assumption relies heavily on the Bayeaux tapestry where in one of the scenes there is a picture of a fishing pole. It is also ...

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