Today I am bringing you some extracts from a remarkable new book which is being rushed out for the Christmas market, called " The Day Harold Was Shot! ". It is a collection of genuine historical first-hand memories of how people heard the news that King Harold of England had been shot at the Battle of Hastings.
Ulf Wulfstayne, peasant : ‘I'll never forget it. I was doing tillage in the fields when this churl rushed up to me and said, “Have you heard the news ? King Harold's been killed!” And I said, “King Harold of where?” And he said, “King Harold of England!” And I said, “I thought King Ethelred was the king of England”. And he said, “No, you idiot, he died years ago”. And I said, “Oh. So the new bloke's dead already, is he?” And he said, “Yes”. That's how fast news travelled in those days. '
Wolf Oilstayne, villein: ‘Dumbstruck, Absolutely dumbstruck. I was poleaxed. Our new leader, from whom we expected so much. Dead. With an arrow through his eye. What a stupid way to die. I remember exactly where I was, to this day, when I heard that Harold had been shot. I was standing on the wapentake that belonged to old Edgar the Unsteady, who had a bit of a drink problem, and Ethanol my neighbour rushed up to me and said: “Harold's been shot!” And I said, “Oh my God, where's he been shot?” And he said, “In the eye”, and I said, “No, where was he shot?” and he said “In Hastings”, because we Saxons always liked a bit of a joke. So I said, “Hastings? Where's that?” Because geography travelled very slowly in those days, you know. And he said, “Well, you take the old coast road from London out along by Sheerness, and you keep going for about a fortnight right along the seashore, and you come to Hastings”. It's a long way to go just to get an arrow in your eye.’
Dame Ethel Smythe of Mercia, Saxon do-gooder: ‘I had always fought hard for bow-and-arrow control laws, you know. You won't believe how many people were killed unnecessarily by arrows in the old days. Anyone could go out and buy an arrow! Well actually, they could go to the nearest yew tree and cut one ! So when I heard that King Harold had been shot through the eye with one, I thought, “Ah ha! Now they will bring in anti-arrow legislation! Or at least make the wearing of safety helmets obligatory!” But of course they didn't, and not thirty years later William Rufus was shot dead by an arrow and serve him jolly well right. I can remember to this day where I was when I heard that William Rufus has been shot...'
King Macbeth of Scotland: ‘I'm afraid I can't remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, but I can remember exactly what I thought when I heard that Harold had been shot. I thought, “Hold on - England beaten at home by the Normans! That's England out of the European Cup, then, unless they can scrape an away victory by two clear battles against the Holy Roman Empire! No chance!” So I declared a national holiday in Scotland.’
Wilf Sinkstayne, Saxon local government planning officer: ‘I heard about Harold's death during working hours, so of course I didn't allow myself to react until we had finished work for the day and I was in my own free time, and then I thought, “Good! Now at last perhaps we'll have someone in charge who will approve my plan for a nation-wide survey of England!” See, it was absolutely hopeless in those days trying to get any forward planning done, because nobody knew how big England was, or who owned what, or anything, and even the roads were old Roman highways running downhill very fast, so I had this big idea for what I called a Doomsday Survey, of course the idea was stolen later on and I got none of the credit, but that's local government planning for you...’
Dirk Beaugarde, Norman artist: ‘I was the official war artist for the Norman troops at the Battle of Hastings. Count William always liked to have a painting of his battles afterwards, and I had been covering his campaigns for twenty years. Of course, later he got into tapestry in a big way and had these gangs of women do the Bayeux thingy. Personally I can't stand that modern stuff but that's probably just me. Anyway, I was sketching away during the Battle and afterwards King William, as he was by then, came to me and said: “Got any footage on how Harold died?”. And I was about to say: “Non, je regrette...” when I realised that without knowing it I had actually drawn the moment when the arrow hit Harold! Extraordinary. Do you know, this grainy black and white drawing is the only actual visual recording of the death of Harold! Amazing...'
The Independent Wednesday November 24 1993