After Hastings

Harold’s defeat of William the (Would-be) Conqueror at Hastings starts a cascade of events, which soon lead to a conflict with the Roman church. Before long, the deepening conflict threatens to engulf the entire Christian world—and even those beyond it.


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The victory of King Harold over William the (Would-be) Conqueror at Hastings in 1066 sets in motion an ever-expanding cascade of events—beginning with a conflict with the Papacy. Rome’s envoy to England, the papal legate Hildebrand, refuses to recognize Harold’s right to the island kingdom’s throne.

Harold didn’t back down from William, and he’s not going to back down now. He brings to England a Scottish monk, Colum-cille, setting underway a renaissance of the Celtic Church that hasn’t been seen since the Synod of Whitby.

As Colum-cille creates in England a church with a decreased importance for clergy and an increase emphasis on monasteries, Harold must deal with a Grand Alliance put together by the Papacy. The English earls and clergy are split between those who support Harold and those who are unhappy with his decision—and far from the island, Harold tries to form his own alliances with the Moors in Spain and the Byzantine Empire.

What next? It would have been so much simpler if William had won at Hastings like he was supposed to.

Cold January winds whipped around the palace at Winchester, howling as they moved over and through holes and crevices in the massive structure. Inside, Harold relaxed in front of a blazing fire, listened to the otherworldly howls, and breathed a sigh of relief. He was finally putting his realm back into order after the invasions of the previous year. Hardraada lay in a mass grave with Harold’s traitorous brother, Tostig, and the dead of his army, the only land which he was able to claim after his raid in the North. William the Bastard sat at his capital, Rouen, too weakened after his defeat at Hastings to pose any sort of threat to England for many years to come. Harold had already replaced the earls who had been killed at Stamford and Senlac Field in Hastings with his own men. Following his reconciliation with his final continental enemy, Harold and England could look forward to a time of peace which would be reminiscent of the reign of Cnut in the early years of the century.

A knock on the door interrupted Harold’s thoughts. The king put his goblet of mead down on the table next to his chair and glanced at his friend, Aethelwine. Aethelwine motioned for a slave to open the door and shifted his leg closer to the fire. He had suffered a leg wound at Hastings, and although it had healed properly, the cold weather tended to exacerbate his condition.

The slave opened the door to reveal one of the palace pages. The young boy, it took Harold a few moments to come up with the name Eadwine, bowed quickly to the king and Aethelwine, before entering the room when Harold nodded in his direction.

“The papal legate, Hildebrand, has arrived in Winchester and requests an audience with you at your earliest convenience.”

“Already! Damn, he made good time from Dover.” Harold scowled at Aethelwine before turning back to the messenger. “Has His Holiness finally agreed to recognize my right to rule the English?” Harold asked, perhaps a bit too sharply.

The page showed no reaction to the king’s surliness. By now, most of the king’s entourage knew that Harold had no love for the pope, who, three months after William was soundly defeated, still refused to drop his backing of the Frenchman.

“I could not say. The legate merely sent a message saying he was here and requested an audience with you.”

Harold turned to Aethelwine, who had returned to his seat across the table. “Do we wish to have the papal legate interrupt our evening of relaxation?”

“I would imagine that this Hildebrand would wish to rest himself after the long journey from Rome. I hardly want to have some foreigner yammering at me in Italian or Latin tonight.”

As Aethelwine finished speaking, the eerie howl of the wind dropped abruptly to punctuate his sentence with a sudden silence. Eadwine looked toward the room’s windows and quickly crossed himself. Harold simply ignored the lack of wind and continued, filling the silence with his voice.

“Aethelwine, my friend, you have a good point. We’ve been relaxing here this evening. All Hildebrand is likely to do is take up some of our time to tell us that His Holiness has come to his senses and wishes to recognize my right to be king in the land which elected me and which I defended from not one, but two invasions. Since he will hardly be in an antagonistic mood, there is no reason we should hurry to see him.” Harold turned to face the young page. “Tell the legate that we hope he had a safe and swift journey and we wish him a comfortable and relaxing stay in England. Extend my invitation to Hildebrand to attend my anniversary banquet tomorrow. He can help us revel and, at the same time, keep his priestly eye on us all to make sure we don’t overindulge and go against the precepts of the Church.” Harold’s chuckle held just a touch of scorn. “After you deliver this message to the legate, find my brother and have him join us.”

Eadwine quickly bowed his head to Harold and slipped out the door, carefully closing the stout portal behind him. As the iron latch fell into place, the slave lifted a pitcher to refill the king’s now empty goblet.

The two men sipped at their drinks in silence for a few minutes as the howl of the wind picked up once again. Finally, Harold stood up and walked to the window. The wind blew his long hair around his face as it created knots which Harold knew would be painful to force out. The cold air caused the king to shiver, but it was also invigorating, and Harold stood by the window for a few more minutes before walking over to the fireplace. Cold and hot formed a nice contrast, he thought, as he warmed his hands and arms.

Turning his back to the fire, he faced Aethelwine, Harold’s face betraying only business. “What do we know about this Hildebrand?”

“He is a trusted councilor to Pope Alexander. In some unclear way, Hildebrand was instrumental in Alexander’s election. I also understand that he is reform minded and views the church in England and the empire as being horribly corrupt. I’ve heard rumors that he disagreed with Alexander when the pope sent the papal banner to William when the bastard rode against us last October, although I’m not entirely convinced of that.”

At that mention of William’s name, Harold felt his blood begin to rise. The Frenchman believed that two promises made to him, one by Edward and one by Harold, although under duress, constituted a rightful claim to the throne of England, despite that the witanangemot, the elective council, declared in favor of Harold. William, however, had dropped his claim, something the pope had so far refused to do. Harold calmed himself. With the pope’s acquiescence, the last of  Harold’s foreign enemies will have accepted his claim to the English throne.

“Assuming we are correct and the pope has finally agreed to recognize us, how far do you think we’ll be able to push Hildebrand?”

“I didn’t say he was favorable to you, merely that I had heard he disagreed with Alexander over sending the papal banner to William, not William’s right to England. From everything I’ve heard, Hildebrand is canny and won’t be willing to give you anything he can avoid.”

“Will I be able to threaten Hildebrand into making concessions?”

“Again, what I know of the man is only through hearsay, but I don’t think so. Alexander hasn’t had a rival since Honorius was anathematized two years ago. Even the Germans dropped him after 1065. If you threaten to support him instead of Alexander, the only company you’ll have is the archbishop of Canterbury, and I hardly think Hildebrand will take that threat seriously enough to make even a few small concessions.”

Harold nodded, “You’re right. I suppose the pope’s recognition will be enough to content me this Twelfth Night.”

As Harold and Aethelwine drank from their goblets, a sharp rapping on the door cut through the whistling howl of the wind. The slave opened the door to reveal Leofwine, Harold’s brother.

Leofwine was a tall man for a Saxon, and let his hair grow long in the back. His chin was beardless, in the style currently worn by the English, but he sported a neatly trimmed moustache over his lip. His deep blue eyes tended to draw the attention of everyone, no matter where he went.

Leofwine took long strides across the room to help himself to some mead and pulled a chair close to the fire. He dropped into the chair, took a long drink of mead and turned to his brother. Despite sitting by the fire, Leofwine retained the cloak he wore over his regular clothing. “Damn this cold weather. It’s bad enough with the cold and damp in the spring and autumn, but these English winters are made by the devil himself.”

Unlike Harold, who loved the cold and damp of his kingdom, Leofwine longed for a warmth which never came to England. Already, the two brothers had discussed the possibility of Leofwine making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem once Harold was secure on the throne, possibly even stopping to visit the pope in Italy as Harold’s representative. Harold knew that Leofwine was already making plans to leave in the late spring. Although Leofwine had little, if any, call for religion, Harold knew his brother saw the pilgrimage as a means of escaping England’s harsh environment for the warmer, drier climate of the Holy Land.

“Come, my brother, your blood is just thin.” Although they hadn’t been particularly close before Harold became king, they had learned to be friends in the aftermath of Hastings. At one time, they had only been two among six brothers. Now, three of their brothers lay dead and Wulfnoth, the remaining, youngest brother, was either dead or a prisoner of William of Normandy. Their ability to joke together had not come easily, but now that they had found it, they both relished having a surviving, and loyal, brother.

“My blood may be thin, but at least it is all still inside my body. To surviving!” Leofwine raised his goblet and emptied the golden mead into his throat. Instead of rising from his chair, Leofwine hooked his foot around the leg of the table and dragged it across to where he sat by the fire. When it was almost in his reach, Harold leapt up from his chair and grabbed the pitcher of mead from the tabletop to refill his own and Aethelwine’s goblets. From the heft of the pitcher when Harold handed it to Leofwine, the earl could tell that he was left with only the dregs.

“BOY!” Leofwine’s deep bass voice drowned out the howl of the wind and the slave jumped to his side. “Fetch us more mead.”

The boy hurried from the room. Leofwine allowed a small smile to form on his mouth before he turned to Harold. “Now, what was so important you had to drag me away from my comfortable fire so I could be blessed by your comfortable fire? Aethelwine is here, so it isn’t just a lack of company.”

Harold walked back to where Leofwine sat and handed his brother his own filled goblet. “We’ve received word that the papal legate, Hildebrand, has arrived at Winchester this evening.”

“Already! He only landed at Dover a few days ago. He must have had fast horses, and even then he couldn’t have dawdled.”

“How he did it is immaterial. The point is, he is here already. I’ve sent word that he shall attend tomorrow’s celebration.”

“That will certainly put a cap on your anniversary. Having the pope, himself, recognize you as king, as he should have done last Epiphany.” Leofwine’s smile suddenly flagged. “Who else knows Hildebrand is here?”

“As far as I know, just the three of us, Hildebrand and his retinue, any of the servants who have taken care of the legate’s baggage, the townspeople who are billeting the group, anyone the servants have gossiped with, and anyone else in Winchester I imagine. Leofwine, this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we can keep secret.”

“No, I suppose not, but I would prefer not to advertise anything until after the legate has announced the pope’s recognition.”

Aethelwine spoke for the first time since Leofwine had entered the room. “Perhaps we can arrange for Hildebrand and his retinue to be put in some empty apartments here in the castle. Although everyone will know they are here, they won’t be parading around Winchester to remind everyone of the fact.”

“An excellent suggestion!” Leofwine banged his goblet down on the table, splashing mead across the tabletop as well as his arm. “At the same time as it keeps Hildebrand from the public eye, it will demonstrate the proper honor to the legate and the pope.”

“See that it is done.”

Leofwine walked to the door and opened it to find the slave standing in front of it with a large pitcher of mead. While the slave placed the pitcher on the table, Harold bellowed for Eadwine to get his steward. When the man arrived, Harold told him to find Hildebrand a place within the castle and arrange to move the legate and his entourage into the keep immediately. Turning back to his brother and Aethelwine, Harold raised the pitcher in a toast. “And now to finalize tomorrow’s celebrations.”

Harold’s banquet hall had been decked out in red and gold for the event. Large tapestries hung from the walls, depicting the three Magi presenting the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Christ. Interspersed with these were carved and painted wooden images of the great English saints: Edmund the Martyr, his body pierced with innumerable arrows; Alban, whose head lay on the ground while his executioner’s eyes fell from his head; and Oswald of Northumbria, raising his ever-youthful hand against the pagan forces of Paenda.

The sounds of conversation mixed with music and song as small bands of minstrels made their way around the vast hall. Men and women in colorful robes also wandered around the tables, trying to find others who could be of some service to them. The king sat at his table, raised on a dais above the rest of the hall, permitting his guests to come and congratulate him on the end of his troublesome first year as monarch of England. Every now and again, Harold caught sight of the queen, Edith, circulating among the crowd, not seeming to care for her husband’s party. The queen seemed to spend most of her time on the arm of Earl Morkere, her brother. Harold didn’t mind the queen’s inattentiveness. She had served her purpose in bringing about secure relations with Morkere and the North. Besides, Harold still had his mistress, Ealdgytha Svannehals, when he required a more amorous relationship.

One long table sat empty, awaiting the arrival of Hildebrand and his entourage. The legate had responded to his invitation by indicating he desired to arrive after the banquet had started. Harold had thought it odd, but figured Hildebrand wanted to make a big entrance. No matter how much the Church preached humility, its prelates always wanted more aggrandizement.

When the steward rang a bell, the nobles and clergymen moved to find their way back to their seats. Before the last of them sat down, servers were already entering the Great Hall, bearing huge platters of roast meats, pies, and vegetables. The smell of fennel and aniseed filled the hall, mixed with the ever-present smell of the noblemen. Before the trays were brought to the tables, the servants paraded them past first the steward and then the king, to gain approval.

As the guests were served, they fell on their meals, without waiting for anyone else to have food before they began eating. Although conversation had practically ceased with the arrival of the food, it was replaced by the din of the assembled noblemen cutting and chewing their food. At one end of the hall, all the minstrels had assembled and began to work together fill the hall with music. In this they were aided by the shape of the stone walls and ceiling, the hanging tapestries only slightly damping the music.

At the head table, the king carefully carved strips of meat and, spearing them with the tip of his knife, fastidiously raised them to his lips. To his right, Leofwine had cut his meat into cubes and was busy popping them into his mouth with greasy fingers, subsequently wiped on his tunic. Occasionally one of the brothers would mutter something to the other, frequently a snide comment about one of Harold’s guests. Their conversation was trivial in all matters, never once touching on Harold’s forthcoming meeting with the papal emissary.

The banquet had been underway just long enough for the main course to be served when the massive doors to the hall were opened. Following a herald’s cry, Alexander’s ambassador, Hildebrand, entered the hall. The slight man, along with his well dressed entourage, walked directly from the door to Harold’s place at the table, positioning themselves in front of the sovereign.

“Milord, permit me to present myself to you. I am Archdeacon Hildebrand, in service to His Holiness Pope Alexander. His Holiness has sent me from Rome to take care of business which has grown out of the unpleasantness with which you were involved a few months ago.” The pope’s ambassador was a swarthy man with a large nose and dark eyes. His countenance reminded Harold that only a few generations earlier this man’s ancestors were said to have been Jews. Since that time, one of his cousins had sat on the seat of Saint Peter and this man was considered by many to be the power behind Alexander. Some even were speaking of him as the next pope.

Harold leaned back in his chair and flashed a smile at Leofwine. The king’s brother returned the smile with a quick wink.

Hildebrand paused and waited for the king’s permission to continue. Sensing the upcoming victory, Harold waited a few moments before granting the papal legate approval. When Hildebrand seemed on the verge of fidgeting, the king nodded his acquiescence. As the emissary began to speak, his retainers moved closer to him, as if preparing to fend off an attack.

“Pope Alexander wishes it to be known that the person who refers to himself as Harold Godwinsson, sometime known as King Harold of England, second of that name, sits upon the throne which, by right and God’s will, belongs to Duke William of Normandy.”

With this opening speech, all other sounds in the room ceased. The constant noise of conversation vanished. The sounds of knives cutting and teeth rending halted as every ear tried to hear the words that Hildebrand had uttered. As if realizing he now had the entire room as an audience, Hildebrand continued his message in a quieter voice.

“Said Harold’s crimes are numerous. He has conspired to keep the throne from its rightful owner. He has broken his oath to support William of Normandy’s claim to the throne of England. He has rejected the arbitration of Pope Alexander. He has supported the irregular appointment of Stigand to the see of Canterbury. Furthermore, until such time as the aforesaid Harold relinquishes any and all claim to the throne of England he shall remain under the ban of excommunication.

“His Holiness also takes this opportunity to reinforce the ban of excommunication which has been pronounced on the person of Stigand, who calls himself archbishop of Canterbury against the wishes of the Holy See, Saint Peter, and Jesus Christ.

“Finally, should any person in the realm of England or abroad lay finger on the emissaries of the most holy Pope Alexander, said person shall also be placed under the ban of excommunication, neither able to receive the confession or holy unction, their prayers to God unheard.

In nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiriti Sanctus.”

When the echoes of the archdeacon’s voice died away, silence reigned in the banquet hall. Harold, his jaw slack, stared at the cleric. Around the king, his brother and advisors stood agape, wondering what Harold’s response to his humiliation might be. The papal party, however, simply turned its back and began to walk from the room. When they had crossed halfway to the large, double oaken doors, Harold regained his composure.

“I am the rightful king of England,” his light baritone voice called after the retreating group. “Tell your master that England belongs in Saxon hands, not the grip of the continental bastard. Harold Godwinsson is the rightful king of England. I was crowned by the witanangemot, not the Bastard. I never swore any allegiance to him.”

The majority of Harold’s speech fell only on the ears of his subjects, for Hildebrand and his entourage had already left the hall to make their way back to the guest quarters which had been set aside for them. On the dais, Leofwine rested a hand on Harold’s shoulder and stooped to whisper into his brother’s ear.

“Be calm, Harold. The pope just wants to be able to negotiate from a position of power. This excommunication means nothing. Once you make a few concessions to the papacy, Hildebrand will retract the ban and announce Alexander’s support of your claim to England instead of the bastard’s. You would do the same thing if you were in his position.”

Harold rubbed the back of his neck and rose from his chair. He motioned to his brother and Leofwine turned to the stilled crowd. “I apologize, but other business calls my brother’s attention. Please, continue your revelry. Harold, the rightful King of England, crowned by Archbishop Ealdred of York, asks that you make merry in his absence.”

Leofwine followed the king from the banquet hall and the two men walked from the building which housed the public rooms to Harold’s private apartment. Overhead, a half moon lit the night sky. For some reason, it reminded Harold of the star which had appeared in the heavens to presage good fortune for the Saxons and the defeat of their enemies less than a year earlier. The king pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders in an attempt to ward off the cold as the two brothers hurried in silence the short distance to the private residence.

Inside the main room, a large fire was burning, casting an orange glow around the room. Leofwine stood close to the hearth, extending his hands to the flames. Harold merely shrugged out of his cloak and took a goblet of ale from the slave who poured it. When Leofwine rejected Harold’s offer of a drink for himself, the king turned the conversation to his humiliation.

“I had expected, when we defeated the bastard, that the pope would accept my right to the crown as elected by the witanangemot. Instead, he continues to support the foreigner on the basis of Edward’s promise, which should carry little weight according to our traditions.

“We have been fighting the French menace ever since Edward started to bring his foreigners here more than fifteen years ago. Before we fought these Frenchmen, we fought their Danish forefathers. For the first time since Aethelred fled the country in front of Svegn, England can be ruled by the Saxons. His Holiness, however, sees us as children who can not rule ourselves but must be looked after by some nanny whose ancestors were no more than bandits when our own predecessors were kings nearly to rival Charlemagne.”

Leofwine played with the ends of his moustache as his brother bellowed in his anger. Harold had focused entirely on the pope’s attack on the monarchy and failed to think about the other, lesser attack. Leofwine allowed his brother to continue his tirade for a while longer before he tried to calm his brother down.

“Harold, put down your drink. It’s time for us to talk productively, instead of cursing the pope.” Leofwine forced a goblet of mead from the king’s hands and continued. “In there, I told you that this is just the pope’s bargaining position. He’ll make concessions, I assure you. Despite his attack on you, his real concern is the state of the Church in England, which he sees as being different from the Church on the continent, and Stigand. Last year, you demonstrated that you did not particularly like the archbishop of Canterbury when you were crowned by Ealdred.

“I’ll send a letter to the pope for you. We’ll explain that the Church in England has been following continental practices since the time of the blessed Dunstan, nearly a century past. We can also offer Stigand as a sacrifice.”

Harold stared into the half‑empty wine goblet. “And after we rid ourselves of Stigand, who will the pope replace him with? I refuse to permit that Frenchman from Auxerre to try to take the seat at Canterbury.”

“We can ask that His Holiness find a Saxon to represent him as primate of England. Surely there must be one Saxon cleric who Alexander will trust.”

“See to it then.” Harold strode through the door to his apartment leaving his brother alone in the room. Leofwine pulled on his cloak and went out into the wintery night to find a clerk who would be able to write the letter to the pope.

Leofwine and the clerk worked on the epistle until the candles had burned low in their holders. Frequently, Leofwine would halt in his dictation to have the clerk read back a portion of the missive. When at last the ink had been sanded dry and the letter could safely be rolled, Leofwine excused the exhausted cleric. With letter in hand, Leofwine went to the apartments of the papal legate.

Hildebrand only kept him waiting a few moments before he agreed to see the earl.

“It is good of you to see me so late. I have brought a letter from my brother to His Holiness. We offer a compromise in hopes that the pope will see fit to lift his ban against my brother.” Leofwine handed the vellum to Hildebrand. With a raise of his eyebrow, the legate unrolled the sheet and began to read in a deep voice.

“From Harold, by grace of God and the consent of the witanangemot of England king of the English, to His Holiness, Lord Alexander, by divine permission Pope, second of that name since Saint Peter, we give greetings and hope all is well.

“For as long as memory serves, the king of the English has been selected by the noblemen of England acting with the guidance of Supreme Counsel. In the present time, these men form the witanangemot, in the past they formed the bretwalda. Such an arrangement has functioned since before the time when your most holy and revered predecessor Gregory sent the saintly Augustine to convert our forefathers from their heathen errors. This saintly Augustine and the holy Gregory blessed the manner in which the Saxons selected our monarch and promised not to interfere, for as the historian Bede tells us, Pope Gregory saw that the Angles had good customs which should be used by Augustine.

“While in recent times, King Edward, who departed this world one year ago, selected a man to succeed him to the crown, such a practice has never been used by the English and goes against all our custom. We beseech you, therefore, to accept the judgment of Pope Gregory and the apostle to the Angles and accept Harold as the rightfully appointed and anointed king of the English.

“Your accusation that the English have turned from the proper path of God is also untrue. Although we followed strange custom when Augustine arrived on our shore, he and his men taught us the proper way of worship. The old ways were put to rest after a meeting held at the monastery of Whitby, and although the English may have lapsed since that time, the holy Dunstan, formerly archbishop of the see of Canterbury, moved to correct the English in all ways and reformed the wayward Church in England.

“To one of your demands, we do acquiesce. We submit that the removal of the irregularly elected archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, shall occur at such time as a replacement shall be appointed. Since the current difficulties stem from the appointment of a French foreigner to the see of Saint Augustine, we would ask that a native of English soil be nominated and submit these names which we are sure will meet with the approval of the canons of Canterbury. First our cousin Æthelric, who was once before nominated for the archbishopric and whose declension set off the current troubles or second Sihtric, who is currently the abbot of the monastery at Tavistock.

“We commend this letter to your courier the archdeacon Hildebrand, along with a gift of Peter’s pence to demonstrate our desire to remain within the good graces of Your Holiness.

” † Haroldus, rex Angliae”

Hildebrand rolled the letter carefully, wrapping the scroll with a strip of vellum and placing his seal over the seam. One of his attendants carried the vellum to Leofwine to have him add the royal seal next to the papal signature.

“I will see that your offer is made to His Holiness, although I can not promise, or predict, what his words will be.”

“Thank you.” Leofwine fiddled with his moustache to hide his nervousness. “We can only hope that the pope will agree with our pleas. Now, I bid you good night.” Leofwine turned quickly and exited into the chill January air. A light snow had begun to fall and he hurried back to his rooms where, he hoped, a roaring fire would already be waiting for him.

When Leofwine appeared in the banquet hall the next morning, Harold informed him that the papal party had already left for the continent, under royal protection. Leofwine related to Harold the contents of his letter and the two men arranged for the names of Æthelric and Sihtric to be officially sent to Canterbury. Both men knew that Stigand would raise a fuss and that Æthelric was too old to finally assume the duties which had first been offered him fifteen years earlier. Sihtric would be the next archbishop of Canterbury.

Harold reached out his hand to touch the peasant’s head. Thin wisps of gray hair tickled the palm of the king’s hand as a shower of disturbed hair fell to mix in with the general dirt and mud on the floor in front of the king’s throne. Harold quietly commanded Sana hic homo. Having received the king’s touch and blessing, the man shuffled, with the aid of a royal servant, toward the audience chamber’s door.

Aethelwine stood next to Harold for support as the king performed the single duty of kingship he found most disagreeable. King Edward had been able to cure certain diseases with just a touch of his hand and a blessing. According to Leofwine, some of the kings of the French had claimed the same power. Aethelwine had suggested that Harold continue the ritual healing which Edward had started in England. Although Harold had originally balked at the suggestion, he eventually agreed. However, he forced Aethelwine’s presence whenever the diseased masses were brought into his proximity.

Each time one of the dirty peasants left, having felt the light touch of Harold’s hand on his brow, another, equally filthy, replaced him to receive blessing. Harold found himself thinking that he must rule over the most diseased kingdom in all of Christendom.

“How many more of these wretches must I touch,” Harold murmured to Aethelwine in Latin.

“You are past the majority of them. Perhaps another dozen or so.”

“Have you been able to ascertain whether this is doing any good. Have any of the blisters and boils vanished since I’ve been touching the awful things?”

“Just this morning, I received word from a small town in the Danelaw, called Wilavustone, or some such, that a smith who received your touch at Nottingham six months ago was fully recovered and once again as healthy as if he had never been ill. The locals are praising your name for your intervention.”

“Well, then, all is not lost.”

As they spoke, Harold continued to touch the supplicants who took his foreign conversation with Aethelwine to be the blessing they believed he was offering to God and Saint Edward the Martyr. Harold was suddenly jolted back to reality when the last person in line replied to his Latin with a Latin comment of his own.

Omnia est perit, meus rex.”

Harold looked down from the throne and found Stigand standing on the floor before the dais. The archbishop’s anger painted his face a crimson red from the base of his neck to the back of his tonsure. The blond fringe of hair which encircled his head stood out, practically white against the deep hue of his skin. Harold shifted on his throne, restlessly, hoping that his page would have enough sense to find Leofwine, who could handle the angry archbishop.

“I have heard vicious rumors that you intend to remove me from the archiepiscopate which I have held for fifteen years. I was canonically elected during the reign of your holy predecessor to my position to replace Robert of Jumièges. He was the criminal and should not have been made the archbishop. The pope, himself, Benedict, the tenth to bear that that name, sent me the pallium, which I wear to this day. There is no reason to try to find somebody to replace me, God’s representative to England.”

Before Harold could say anything, Aethelwine interrupted. “Pope Benedict. I understand he finds his seclusion at Sant’Agnese in Rome to be very quiet. My lord Archbishop, it has been eight years since Benedict renounced the Roman see, and seven years since he was deposed and degraded by a papal synod.”

“A mock court led by Pope Benedict’s accuser, this very same Hildebrand who is now trying to remove another duly elected and consecrated archbishop. As well as the rightful king of this island.”

“The issue here is not the propriety of the king’s position, rather the position you are in.”

Stigand addressed his response to Harold. “The bishop of Rome does not care for the propriety of things in England. Even your twin defeats over Hardraada and the Bastard could not convince this so-called pope of your right to rule. He only cares that he control everything. He is no more God’s representative on Earth than your father was, despite your father’s name.”

Leofwine appeared, much to Harold’s relief. Although the king did not have a problem running the day to day affairs of the kingdom, or even the occasional crisis, Harold found it more and more difficult to stand up to the archbishop. Stigand always knew how to put Harold on the defensive. Whatever could Godwin have seen in the man to place him in the most powerful ecclesiastical position in the kingdom? Of course, Stigand had given Edward many of the same problems that Harold was having with him. The king couldn’t help but think that if he had let Stigand crown him instead of breaking tradition to be crowned by the archbishop of York, his relationship with Stigand might be more smooth. Nevertheless, Stigand would be offered to Alexander as the sacrificial lamb so Harold could retain his throne, solving two problems at once.

“Those are harsh words. Do you perhaps have some anti‑pope you would like to see on Saint Peter’s Throne? I understand Honorius, living in Parma, still entertains the desire to sit in the Vatican. Or perhaps you would like to see your older friend, Benedict, return to his see. How does it feel to know that two of the popes who recognized you are still alive? To which one do you give precedence?” Leofwine smiled a wolf’s grin at the archbishop. The king’s brother stood, smiling, hoping, and waiting for Stigand to give him the arrow to fire his last shot at the archbishop.

“There is nothing wrong with Honorius’s claim to Rome. He was elected and then ousted after a proper election. If any should be called an anti‑pope it should be the vulture who had to be installed by the same French troops who tried to invade our country but six months ago.”

Leofwine turned his smile, now victorious, toward the assembled earls. “Of course, Stigand champions the cause of the anti‑pope of Parma. Was it not by the hands of a previous anti‑pope that this ‘archbishop’ of Canterbury received his own pallium?”

“All accepted Benedict as pope until the very same Hildebrand, who declared our king an excommunicate, placed Benedict in prison.”

Harold sat back on his throne. Although he couldn’t be said to enjoy the wordplay between his brother and the archbishop, he was pleased that his younger brother was strong enough to attack the obstinate primate.

Leofwine turned to glare at the irate churchman. “Benedict’s election was as legal as William’s claim to the English throne. Furthermore, Alexander’s excommunication of you is only the last in a line of five popes who have called a ban upon you,” Leofwine smirked maliciously at the archbishop, “or is he the sixth? Once the pope responds to our letter, my brother will be confirmed as the rightful king of England and England will finally be under the guidance of a properly elected archbishop.” Leofwine spun away from the now speechless archbishop, in effect dismissing him as finished business and not worthy of Leofwine’s continuing attention.

The archbishop’s face was a deeper hue of red than Harold had thought possible. The king imagined that he could see the blood throbbing in the primate’s temples, his veins a dark purple against the archbishop’s vermilion countenance. Two of Stigand’s retainers rushed forward to guide the archbishop from the room. Once they passed outside the hall, Harold heard loud shouts from the hall. The king turned to Leofwine and raised an eyebrow in query.

“I took the liberty of arranging for the detainment of the archbishop once I was informed that he had received word of our offer to the pope. I thought that he might cause a problem for you.”

Harold paused for a second. Leofwine’s actions seemed to push the king past some undefined point, like Caesar crossing the Rubicon on his push to Rome, Harold could no longer turn back. Stigand had been sacrificed to the Papacy and would have to be dealt with. Leofwine’s comment comparing Benedict to William worried the king. If Stigand should get free and form an alliance with William. . . . Harold shook the thought from his head. William was a pious enough bastard that he would not wish to endanger his eternal soul by forming an alliance with the outcast clergyman. Still, Stigand would simply have to spend the rest of his life in prison.

1 review for After Hastings

  1. Joseph Arnaud

    This book very much hit my sweet spot, a pure alternate history in Saxon England but spiralling out through Europe following the consequences of Williams defeat at Normandy. It works well to introduce its cast of character and to introduce concepts and conflicts of the period even to readers not familiar with the period. I devoured the book in an afternoon and will keep an eye out for anything else the author writes.

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