William of Poitiers Gesta Willelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum

About the same time, Edward, king of the English, who had already appointed William as his heir, and who held him in the same affection as a brother or son, gave more serious evidence of his intentions than before. He decided to anticipate the implacable decree of death, whose approaching hour this man, who aspired to heaven by the saintliness of his life, now felt. In order to confirm his promise by an oath, Edward sent to William Harold, the most prominent of his subjects in wealth, honour and power, and whose brother and nephew had already been given as hostages to ensure this succession. This was a measure of the utmost wisdom because its authenticity and authority would restrain the dissensions among the whole English nation, if - as might be expected from the vagaries and perfidity of their behaviour - they had tried to rebel against it.

Harold, as he was on his voyage to carry out this mission, and had already escaped the dangers of the crossing, landed in Ponthieu, where he fell into the hands of count Guy. He and his attendants were captured and thrown into prison, a misadventure which a man of his standing would willingly have exchanged for shipwreck.For the lure of gain has led certain nations in Gaul into an accursed practice, barbarous and totally foreign to Christian justice. They set ambushes for rich or powerful men, throw them into prison, and submit them to outrages and tortures. Overcome with misfortunes, and almost on the point of death, they are only released on the payment of a huge [sum of money].

Duke Willaim, informed of the fate of the man who had been sent to him, hastily dispatched an embassy and snatched him from prison by prayers and threats, and went to meet him with due honour. Guy behaved well: without being persuaded to do so by the lure of gain or the constraint of force, he led him in person to the castle of Eu, and presented to the duke a man whom he could freely have tortured, killed or sold. As a suitable reward, William gave him vast and rich lands, and added large sums of money as well. As for Harold, William brought him into Rouen, the capital of his principality, with all honour; here his varied hospitality and attention restored and made joyful the men who had suffered such hardship on the way. William doubtless congratulated himself on having a guest of such distinction, an ambassador from his relation and dear friend: he hoped that he would be a faithful mediator between himself and the English, for whom he was second only to the king.

At a gathering at Bonneville, Harold took an oath of faithfulness to him according to the sacred rite of the Christians. And, as hightly respected men of the utmost sincerity have related, who were witness es to the event, in the last item in the oath that was drawn up, he pronounced, clearly and of his own free will, these words: that he would be the agent of duke William at the court of king Edward for as long as the king lived; that he would try with all his authority and power, to ensure for him the possession of the kingdom of England on Edward's death: and that meanwhile, he would hand over the castle of Dover, fortified under his direction and his own expense, to a garrison of the duke's knights; that he would deliver, at the same time, in various places in the kingdom, other castles to be fortified in the duke's orders; and that he would also provide abundantly for the provisioning of the garrisons. The duke, having recieved Harold as his vassal, and before he had taken this oath, conferred on him, at his request, all the lands he held, with full powers. For it was feared that Edward, who was already ill, would not live much longer. After this, because he knew that harold was bold and eager for new glory, he provided him and his company with weapons, armour and the finest horses, and took them with him to fight in Brittany. He treated him as a guest and ambassador, but now made him almost one of his companions, in order to strengthen the ties between them by doing him honour. For Brittany had treacherously begun an armed rebellion against Normandy.


When he returned to his quarters, the duke, having detained his very dear guest Harold for some time, sent him home loaded with presents, worthy of the rank of the two of them, both of him on whose behalf he had been sent and of him whose honour he had thus increased. In addition, one of the two hostages, his nephew returned with him, freed as a mark of respect to his person.


Suddenly news came that England had lost its king, Edward, and that Harold had been crowned in his place. This foolish Englishman did not await a public election, but on the day of mourning when the good king was buried and the whole nation lamented, he broke his oath and siezed the crown by acclamation, thanks to the support of some iniquitous partisans. He recieved an unholy consecration at the hands of Stigand, who had been deprived of the office of priest by the just zeal and papal anathema.


With admirable prudence, William ordered the provision of ships, arms, men and supplies, and all other things necessary for war; almost all of Normandy was devoted to the task, and it would take too long to describe the preparations in detail. Equally, he made arrangements for the government and security of Normandy in his absence. Numerous soldiers from outside the dutchy arrived to offer their help, partly motivated by the famed generosity of the duke, but all fully confident in the justice of his cause.


The next day, seated amidst his magnates, he had the monk summoned, and said: 'I am William, by grace of God prince of the Normans. What you told me yeaterday, please repeat in the presence of these men.' The messenger said:'This is the message that king Harold sends to you. You have invaded his lands, whether from self-confidence or boldness, he does not know. He remembers that King Edward at first resolved to make you heir to the knigdom of England and that he himself gave you his pledge in Normandy. Equally, he knows that this kingdom belongs to him by right, because the same king, his lord, gave it to him on his deathbed. Now, since the time when Saint Augustine came to this land, the common custom of this nation is that a donation made by a dying man is held as valid. He therefore asks you and your men to leave the land which is his by right. Otherwise he will break the oath of friendship and the articles which he confirmed to you in Normandy, and the responsibility will be entirely yours.'