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Earl Godwine had great plans for his children. But he didn't understand his sons. And they barely understood each other.
This is England in the days of Edward the Confessor, when Godwine and his sons tower over the other great families. Harold emerges as the power behind the throne and would soon become king. Tostig rules the north as Earl of Northumbria. They control all the earldoms except one.
What could go wrong?
We see tumultuous events of the mid-11th c. through the eyes of Godwine's sons. Harold's story is all about Harold, but his brothers see things differently. Their remarks are tinged sometimes with admiration, sometimes with skepticism. Alas, Harold’s rise in fortune is not blameless and sometimes those closest to him must pay the price of his fame.
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Once William and Matilda were seated, the Duke pointed to the table in the center of the hall. "Go, my friend, and take your place by the Bible."
My heart went out to Harold as he calmly stepped down and put his hand on the Bible. I knew how uncomfortable he was, but one could never tell to look at his face. He gazed at William impassively.
"My friends and nobles," said William, getting up and pacing before the assembly. "Earl Harold would return to England, despite my protests. But ere he leaves, I have asked him to swear an oath, before my assembled Lords." He turned to face Harold, who had already broken into a sweat. No mention of an oath was ever made in my presence.
"I would have you swear, my Lord Harold, that you will espouse my daughter Adeliza as soon as she is of marriageable age."
That was all right; he had offered to do so. After a moment, Harold said, "I swear."
"Secondly, I would have you swear to give up to me, this day, your castle at Dover, so that I may garrison it with Norman soldiers." The corner of William's mouth turned up into an almost unnoticeable sneer. He must have known this was impossible. Even if he would, Harold had not the power to give up a royal castle.
Harold looked up at the ceiling, sighing. "To this also I swear," he said evenly.
"And thirdly, lastly, I would have you be my man in England and uphold my claim to the throne of my friend King Edward upon his demise. In return for this, I swear to give you all the highest honors in England, and allow you to retain your earldom."
So William hadn't given up on his design for the English Crown. I was glad I had warned my brother. He stood silent for a long while. I don't think anyone really expected Harold to keep this promise. But if he didn't, he would damned as an oath breaker.
"Swear," shouted William, filling the room with his voice.
I hated Duke William at this moment, with all my heart. Shaking his head, my brother obeyed. "I swear," he said quietly.
"Speak the words, Harold."
"I swear to be your man in England and speak up in your support. Now let me go."
Harold started to walk toward me when William called "Wait" in a harsh voice. My brother stopped and waited.
Suddenly, Duke William summoned a man forward who was sitting next to Count Alain le Rouge. "Walter, pull the linen from the table, and bid your countryman to come forward."
Harold walked slowly back to the table. I know he was dreading a wretched surprise.
Hands shaking, that other man obeyed then turned away, burying his face in the cloth. My poor brother sank to one knee. William turned triumphantly to the assembly.
"See the holy relics of the Saints of Normandy," William blared. "Earl Harold has sworn his oath on their bones. Take heed, all of you!"