I have to say I thought the TT Special programme on the subject of the siting of the Battle of Hastings was somewhat thought provoking.
Though I wasn't overly convinced with some of the arguments to why Harold did or didn't get slain in certain places.
The idea that the actual battle probably took place away from the traditional site seemed quite plausible, a well thought out and argued case. However I couldn't quite get around the apparent stumbling block that supposed that Harold had to be at the frontline of the engagement. Indeed Harold had a reputation for being known to have fought at the bloody business end where battles where concerned but at Hastings his reputation wasn't at risk as so much as was his life.
The key objective for William, at the battle, was to kill Harold.William had come the England to be crowned king, as was his perceived right, and so to bring about this aim it would have been imperative to slay the pretender on the throne as swiftly as could be achieved.
If we look at the Bayeux Tapestry it seems clear that William's antics shortly after landing were provocative, as well as being time wasters, so as to entice Harold to be on the offensive, rather than William having to take on well defendable sites further into Harold's heartland. William wanted to fight Harold on the field of battle where weaponry and tactics had a greater significance than assaulting or besieging a stronghold. William also, I suspect, wanted a quick win so he could get on with the business of administering the lands which he believed were already lawfully his own. William could not afford to have Harold to play avoidance tactics by which Harold would still be officially king even though he might be absent from court and the heart of the realm. Harold had to go and at all cost too! I would imagine that William may have been taking a calculated risk in hoping that Harold would hurredly advance towards William's army, from the North, with
a lesser strength army as he might have if he was well prepared. I would imagine that Wiliam would have also been cautious towards what size of army Harold would deploy considering that Harold was on home ground and didn't have the restrictions posed by a maritime crossing.
When we look at the Tapestry do we interpret its meaning and function different from what perhaps it was originally supposed to represent? Our traditonal history lessons from our school days would say it was a made to commemorate the early days of the Norman Conquest and in particular the victory of arms at the Battle of Hastings. The Tapestry and the Battle go hand in hand. It seems as if all the other sections of the Tapestry are treated as merely consequential events supportive to the great event of defeating the English in battle.I am wondering if our imperialistic educational upbringing, that tradtionally teaches us that history is primarily made up of kings, queens, wars and battles, distracts us from the true message of the Tapestry and that the Battle scenes are purely consequential to the greater storylne
If we make conjecture that the missing final scenes of the Tapestry are of the Coronation of William the overall message of the Tapestry is one that states the legitimacy of William to be King of England and especially over the pretender Harold. The Tapestry as a contemporary work and not a record of an historical event would have been a powerful means to convey the message of William right to rule rather than a whole pile of text. Remember William, along with his mates from Normandy, spoke and wrote in a foreign language to most of the inhabitants of the newly conquered territories, this would have even inlcuded most of the 'educated' classes too! It would have been much easier to explain, in picture form with simple latin annotations, than trying to explain it without common a tongue. It would also look good as well as be a permament reminder when tacked to a wall in a prominent position at court.It is just Norman propaganda making out that William is
the rightful king, as seen on TV or as in this case on a Tapestry, and the other guy Harold was merely an upstart and a bad one too!
If we return to the battle it would seem reasonable that if William's venture was primarily to oust Harold, by foul or fair means though foul was upmost on the cards, and with Harold still feeling a wee bit guilty over having broken his oath with William I doubt Harold would really want to be anywhere within arrowshot of the enemy let alone the jabbing distance of any hostile sword.So on this occasion prudence would have told Harold that staying well out of harm's way ought to be order of the day. William was out hunting a fox and he was the fox! Whilst William would wish to clear the field of as many Saxon nobles as could fit on a lance, Harold, and any of his family that might wish contest the throne, would be top of the hit list. As with most medieval battles, and to think of it most battles generally, killing peasants was merely a distraction from the main event which in this case was to succeed in regime change.
Hence we could see a logcal reason why Harold's place of death might not the same place as all the carnage. I would like to believe that after a rousing speech to his followers, prior to the battle, they would all have realised the all important purpose of defending king and country, though I imagine in Harold's view it was all king and stuff the country.
So if we look at the witnessed timeline of events of the battle, both in historical texts and in the graphical representation (i.e. the Tapestry), and add in the fact that Harold was leading from the rear, a popular stance often taken by military commanders who have since been embued with the very slightest sense of ones personal longevity, it would seem plausible that he had retreated to a safer position as the battle turned against him, or seemed to be going that way. If Harold, not only as king in person but also as 'the crown', was in danger it would have been appropriate for him along with his entourage to locate to place out of harms way whilst the engagement continued and with the possibility of withdrawal from the battle without hindrance from outflanking hostile forces. Hence the location of his apparent death makes quite a bit of sense as it would have enabled an overall sense of the progress of events at a safe distance, enabled the king to be
protected,with prior warning, to some degree from outflanking and provided a means of escape
Also at one point in the battle the Norman cavalry feined a retreat causing some the Saxon line to follow this could be indicative that Harold wasn't actually present in the line and orders were being committed by lesser nobles within the shield wall in Harold's absence and so in this case deviated from the overall strategy without concent.
However the final phase of the battle with the collapse of the Saxon shield wall, some outflanking and the highly mobile nature of the Norman cavalry breaking through the Saxon line, and no doubt an awful lot of confusion would have put Harold in imminent peril iespecially if he hadn't the means to escape by horse. The Norman cavalry routing the Saxon line would have left open an undefended stretch between the main body of the Saxon army and the small detachment of huscarls of Harold's entourage.If Harold, as a means of maintaining his known postion and so contact with his nobles, displayed his standard quite prominent to the battlefield it would have also become a focus for the Norman cavalry breaking throught the Saxon line and any in particular ordered to specifically seek out Harold. I am unaware of whether William had deployed regicides within his army but considering that his main aim was likely to be removal of the one living obstacle to his
ambition I could see it quite likey that some of his men were given the task of seeking out and killing Harold.
If Harold's eventual demise was at a rallying point where his last and most loyal nobles fought to their death, some way behind the original line, being hunted down by regicidal Norman cavalry one thing we ought to be clear about is that there would have been little or no chance of any Norman archers or crossbowmen being within range of Harold's eye.