Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Harold Godwinsson At Waltham Abbey

There are three stories I know about the burial of King Harold Godwinsson.

1. He was buried in Bosham near Chichester- where there was a royal palace.

2. He was buried on a Sussex beach or cliff- where he could stand guard over the country he died defending.

3. He was badly wounded at Hastings, was smuggled off the battlefield, healed by a Saracen woman and then lived out a long life, traipsing round Europe, looking, unsuccessfully, for political and military support, returned to England disguised as a hermit, died at Chester and was buried under the high altar of Waltham Abbey, Essex, of which he'd been an enthusaistic and generous patron.

I don't suppose there's much of Harold's church left at Waltham. The existing building is mostly Anglo Norman and looks like this...

Restoration work was carried out by William Burges, one of the most confident and full-bloodied Victorian architects. The east end
is entirely his- and so is the ceiling, painted with the signs of the zodiac. Old meets new in the image below. Opinions vary as to the success of the conjunction, but whatever you think of Burges, you can't ignore him.

Here almost everything you can see is Anglo-Norman. Lovely!

Waltham is a little shame-faced about its claims to Harold- as if it knows it's bluffing. An unprepossessing stone- now in the middle of  lawn because the east end of the abbey church was demolished at the Reformation- marks the supposed site of his burial. I was reading the other day that there was a proposal to dig for him, but it doesn't look as if anyone is really bothered.

This is Harold's "grave marker". Not very impressive, is it?

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