King Harold and Waltham Abbey

In the early 1060s Waltham belonged to Earl Harold Godwinsson brother-in-law and right hand man of King Edward the Confessor.

During a military campaign against the Welsh Harold had been stricken by some form of paralysis. He was only cured after prayers were said for him at Waltham. Harold rebuilt the church and established a college of secular canons in thanks for his recovery.

When King Edward died the Witan or Great Council chose Harold to be king. This angered Duke William of Normandy who felt Harold had broken a sacred promise made several years earlier to support his claim to the throne. He made preparations to invade England and win his crown.

Harold also faced opposition from Harald Hardrada king of Norway.

Hardrada invaded the north of England and seized York with the support of Harold’s brother Tostig. Harold hastened northwards and defeated the invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Receiving news that William had landed in Sussex Harold marched his weary men south pausing at his church in Waltham to pray for victory.

On the 14 th October 1066 Harold and William faced each other just outside Hastings. According to the Bayeux Tapestry Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow. Allegedly his body was so badly mutilated that only his common-law wife Edith was able to find it on the battlefield.

The body was brought to the church at Waltham and entombed to the west of the High Altar. The memorial stone now in the churchyard is incorrect as it marks a site behind the high altar. Only a canonised saint would in fact be buried here.

Harold’s body was moved in the 17th Century and his remains lost in a fire. The legend and speculation surrounding his burial continue to this day.

With thanks to the late Dinah Dean.