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The Mercian Connection, Harold Godwineson’s Ambitions, Diplomacy and Channel-crossing, 1056–1066

The Mercian Connection, Harold Godwineson’s Ambitions, Diplomacy and Channel-crossing, 1056–1066

By AD F. J. Van Kempen

History, Vol. 94:313 (2009)

Abstract: It is supposed that the Vita Ædwardi contains some information about Harold’s dealings with William of Normandy in 1064. This article links these covert references with William of Poitiers’ statements about Harold’s diplomatic activities in France. The combination turns out to be fruitful. Harold’s Channel-crossing was meant as a tour of diplomacy to win support for his candidacy for the throne of the English. This statement has implications for the sequence of events. Harold’s expedition was a mere continuation of his diplomacy in the Midlands earlier in 1064, when he concluded a cunning deal with the rulers of Mercia.

Part of the secret arrangement was the acquisition of Northumbria, so far ruled by his self-willed brother Tostig. Harold’s unintended landfall in Ponthieu and captivity in Normandy set many things in motion. His explaining-away of his presence on the continent and his fabrications about a state mission revived William’s latent interest in the English succession. After his return to England, Harold’s extenuation of his inglorious, illegitimate promises to William did raise suspicion about the true nature of his Channelcrossing. Eventually, the full facts of his Mercian connection were revealed, resulting in Queen Edith’s and Tostig’s desperate moves to prevent the take-over in Northumbria.

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