King Edward, Earl Harold and Duke William
Perjury, Trickery or Coercion?
In 1053 to avert a civil war between King Edward and Earl Godwine, Bishop Stigand had negotiated the return of Godwine’s land, but Godwine had to give hostages in return. The hostages were Harold’s brother Wulfnoth and his cousin. Edward influenced by his Norman councilors, sent the hostages to Duke William of Normandy for safekeeping. After his fathers death, Harold sought to release his brother and his cousin from Duke William clutches. King Edward entreated Harold not to go, as he might easily be tricked by the wily Duke William, but Harold was determined to help his family if he could and set out from Bosham on the fateful voyage.
While making the sea crossing to Flanders from where he hoped to initiate negotiations, Harold's ship was driven ashore at Ponthieu in Normandy. Harold was captured and handed over to William. While a “guest” of William, Harold was encouraged to accept William’s daughter as his wife and to supposedly accept William as his lord. The chronicler William of Poitier reports that Duke William staged an event in Bonnville where as “freely" Harold swore an oath of fealty to William. Duke William had concealed a tub of religious relics at the ceremony to seal the "agreement”. While it is likely this piece of theatre took place, there is some doubt over whether the oath was freely sworn and therefore not binding.
In his Roman de Rou, the Norman historian Wace, does present the standard Norman assertion that King Edward had sent Harold to Normandy to ensure that England would be passed to Duke William on Edward’s death. However, and to Wace’s credit, he does include the hostage freeing scenario and adds that he has see written evidence to support both scenarios and is unable to determine which is true. This is all the more impressive due to the fact that Wace’s sponsor, Henry II, had commissioned the Roman de Rou to help justify the Norman right to rule England.