King Harold’s Grave

Harold, the last Saxon King of England was killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066. His body was later supposedly identified by Harold’s mistress, Edith Swan-neck by “secret marks”.

After his death, Duke William of Normandy refused Gytha, Harold’s mother permission to claim his body with payment by gold.

William of Malmesbury wrote in the Gesta regum Anglorum in 1125, that the refusal to accept Gytha’s gold simply meant that Harold’s body was handed over without payment, and that it was taken from the battlefield to Waltham for burial. This version is supported by the Roman de Rou, written by Wace in the 1160s.

The final and most detailed medieval account comes from the Waltham Chronicle. The author describes how two canons from Waltham, Osgod Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, accompanied Harold from Waltham to Hastings.

After the battle, they asked permission to recover Harold’s body and from Hastings the body was brought to Waltham and buried under the floor of the church.

This story was related to the author of the Chronicle when he was a boy, by the elderly Sacristan Turketil, who claimed to have himself been a boy at Waltham when Harold arrived en route from Stamford Bridge, and later witnessed the interment of the king. The author himself claims to have seen Harold’s body being disinterred and moved twice during the rebuilding work which started in 1090.

Harold certainly had a special connection to Waltham. Legend says that having been cured of paralysis after praying at the Holy Cross (a black crucifix, found at Montacute in Somerset) and St Lawrence at Waltham Abbey church, Harold had it extended and bestowed land and gifts. In 1066, after he defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge near York, he diverted his march south to Hastings so that he could pray at Waltham for another victory.

Whether he really is buried at Waltham is speculation, Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, thought to have been written only months after the battle, says that he was buried under a cliff top cairn.

In the 18th century, the historian David Hume wrote that Harold had been buried by the high altar in the Norman church at Waltham and moved to the choir of the later Augustinian abbey, albeit there’s no credible evidence to support this either.

Today, the proposed location of the high altar and suggested former resting place is marked by a stone and memorial to the Saxon King.

Both stones bear an inscription – one reads: “This stone marks the position of the high altar behind which King Harold is said to have been buried in 1066.” – The other says: “Harold King of England OBVT 1066.” (Following excavations in the late 80s and early 90s, it is now thought that the two marker stones don’t actually lie within the wall’s of Harold’s church).

More recently, Stratascan (surveyors involved in the discovery of Richard III) carried out archaeological surveys of the church grounds. They discovered an unmarked grave that historian Peter Burke proposes is actually Harold’s resting place close to an ancient wall with markings and applied for permission to exhume the burial.

To date, no further information on their research has been published since their initial announcement.

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