Alternative History


A New England?

Work begins on the castles required to house the Witan host, and commanders are put in place. They are generally competent and ambitious men, who are not as well born as they might be. Amongst them are Edric the Wild, who is to command the naval garrison at Dover, and Hereward the Wake, who had distinguished himself in guerrilla actions against Harald Hardrada's supply lines prior to the battle of Stamford bridge, who will command the garrison at Ely.

Harold's meritocratic instincts are not limited to his Anglo-Saxon supporters, to Maelcun's amazement he is named commander of Maiden castle. This decision appears to be an attempt to win favour with the substantial British speaking population of the area. In "The History of the Britons in England" Maelcun leaves us with a tantalising glimpse of the dying "Doorweal" dialect, comparing this "broken country speech" with his own, more refined, West Devon dialect, and the "pure language of the Kernow-welsh". It is the only direct evidence we have for the pockets of British speech which survived for centuries after the Saxon conquest.

Rumours of invasion from Scandinavia grow throughout the summer, but it doesn't happen.

War in Normandy

Civil war breaks out between supporters of the infant Duke Robert and those of William's second son William. William's partisans call on Sweyn, King of Denmark to support their claim, based on Robert's supposed illegitimacy. They are promised Dieppe and Cherbourg as bounty. The young king of France sends an army to support his vassal Robert. At the battle of Rouen the Danes and their Norman allies inflict a heavy defeat on the French. France is forced to cede them Dieppe, Cherbourg and Northern Cotentin, and the Channel Islands. The French recognise William as Duke, and take Robert to paris.


The Church of England

The church in England continues under the control of Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury. The fact that both the king and the leader of the church have been excommunicated means that Rome has no influence whatsoever in Britain, given the peripheral nature of Scottish and Welsh Christianity. The term "Church of England" is used in the Peterborough chronicle for the first time, indicating the beginning of the separate identity within the English church.

The two branches of the Clan Harold

The birth of the future King Edgar Haroldson ("the wise") means that Harold now has three legitimate heirs (the infant twins Harold and Ulf) and three more semi-legitimate ones (Harold Godwine, Edmund and Magnus). The latter are his children by Ealdgyth Swan-neck, to whom Harold is still married under Danish law. A further son, Gyrth Haroldson, would be born in 1070. Perhaps it is this slightly overcrowded situation that leads the King to send Harold Godwine and Edmund to Dublin as "ambassadors" to his ally Murchad mac Diarmata. This is to have disastrous consequences for the alliance.


Harold Godwine MacHarold and Edmund MacHarold

The twin brothers Harold Godwine and Edmund are 20 year old warriors looking to cement their place in the brutal world of 11th century Britain. The twins are, unlike their five year-old brothers, non-identical. Indeed their appearance and personalities are as different as night and day. The elder twin, Harold Godwine, is stocky and dark haired like his grandfather Godwin. He shares Godwin´s cunning, brute strength and capacity for cold calculation. Edmund is fair haired and taller and leaner than Harold Godwine. Many comment on the strong physical resemblance between father and son. Like King Harold Edmund is quick to anger but he is much quicker to forgive. He is literate and can read Latin and Norman French. Both brothers spent time in Ireland as children, during the power struggles that characterized the reign of Edward the confessor, and were raised by an Irish nurse. Both brothers speak fluent Irish, and Edmund is also capable of reading the Celtic script. In Ireland they are known as "The MacHarolds" a name that has caught on in England, in order to distinguish them from Harold´s more recent scions. Maelcun of Exeter would later write "Edmund MacHarold was the most perfect lord. A scholarly compassionate man who loved his people and never betrayed his friends. He was a new Arthur sent by god to govern a perfect kingdom. Unfortunately god erred, and sent him to England."

They are both aware that their supposed illegitimacy will be no bar to claiming the crown if they can build a strong enough power base. However, they are aware that the field is very crowded. The Witan is certain to select the next king from the Godwin clan, but there is no shortage of suitable candidates. Harold´s brothers Leofwine and Gyrth are powerful Earls, though fiercely loyal to their brother they would have good claims to the throne on his death. Primogeniture counts for nothing so their brother Magnus MacHarold and King Harold´s three young sons, Ulf Haroldson, Harold Haroldson and Edgar Haroldson may develop into challengers. The apprenticeship in Ireland is a chance to gain experience and reputation as warriors. Along with the backing of a foreign ruler, which would sit well alongside their Danish connections.

The Invasion of Dublin

In the summer of 1069 King Magnus of Southern Norway launches an attack on the Kingdom of Dublin. The records now existing of the event are sketchy but it appears to have been in response to the growing power of Denmark in France and the Baltic. Norway is in the process of redirecting its energies away from the conquest of England towards a North Atlantic empire. In a battle near Dun Laoghere Murchad mac Diarmata is killed. Both MacHarold twins fight in the battle but escape with a retinue of Irish warriors. From Dun Laoghere they travel by boat to the isle of Man where they declare Harold Godwine MacHarold king, under the overlordship of King Harold of England. The island had previously been under the control of the King of Dublin and it appears that no local opposition was forthcoming. The garrison was immediately strengthened from Meols, from where Ceanneth Dhu and a contingent of Witan troops were dispatched. King Harold´s newest domain is an area of mixed Irish and Scandinavian speech with a strong maritime tradition. In time it will cement England´s contacts with the North Atlantic world in general, and Iceland and Greenland in particular.

The siege of Dieppe

Phillip the first comes of age on his 16th birthday in Feb of this year. He has been educated thoroughly in the arts of war and is well prepared for what those around him have assured him is his divinely ordered role, the restoration of French power in Normandy. It is commonly believed that when William of Normandy achieves maturity he will swear allegiance to the King of Denmark, citing the faithlessness of the King of France in recognising his supposedly illegitimate brother Robert as Duke. The Danes are unworried by the niceties of feudal homage, but they realise that if their power is to grow in France they need to play by local rules.

In April news arrives in Paris that William (known as "Rufus" for his red hair) has sworn homage to the king of Denmark in Rouen, and, with the impetuousness of youth, Phillip decides that the hour has arrived to drive the Danes from Normandy. With his vassal Robert of Flanders, brother of the aging duke Baldwin, he sacks Rouen, meeting little resistance from the still decimated Norman nobility. He traps William in the Danish fortress of Dieppe. and gives siege throughout June and July.

On the fourth of August Earl Swein of Cherbourg arrives by sea, with a force containing Duke Hoel of Brittany and a large contingent of Breton Knights. Hoel has judged the weakness of the French crown's power in northern France and decided that he has the chance to strike out on his own as the ruler of an independent Brittany.

The two armies meet at Hautot, just outside Dieppe, the French heavy cavalry is more than matched by the Bretons, and the Danish infantry is far superior to its French equivalent, but fewer in number. The battle is won when a sally from Dieppe overruns the French rearguard, leaving the French surrounded. In the slaughter that follows the French army is annihilated near the village which now bears the Norman name "Masakr".

Phillip is killed and few of the French escape.

Northern France after Dieppe

Duke Hoel of Brittany immediately declares himself Prince Hoel I of Brittany, but he will be remembered by history as Hoel Brezhoneg. Brittany extends as far south as St-Jean des Monts and he añso controls Avranches and Mont St Michel in the North. At this date areas of eastern Brittany are still French speaking, but the nobility are Breton speakers. On the Eastern border is Danish Normandy and the County of Anjou. Anjou is undergoing a civil war between two rival Counts, Geoffrey and Fulk.

Normandy is protected by Danish troops, and many are named to "vacant" titles, generally those left vacant by the disastrous invasion of England or formerly held by "Duke" Robert´s supporters. The only access to the sea still controlled by the French is through Flanders, but the sea is controlled by Denmark and the rich land is raided constantly by Danish and English pirates (the former under official protection).

The new King of France is Hugh II, 13 years old and subject to his mother´s regency.


The England of Harold II

By 1070 Harold's rule was effectively consolidated. In that year Edgar Ethling died, meaning he had outlived all the possible contenders for his throne, and he signed both the Treaty of Whitby, which cemented his alliance with Scotland (settling the question of Cumberland, which would remain Scottish) and the "Letter to My Brother King" which avoided war with Norway over the Isle of Man. He had extended the Realm with the fortunate and largely costless annexation of the Isle of Man, and had increased the military strength of the Nation, by creating a permanent force which would deter invaders. The creation of the Witan host also reduced the dependency of the King on his earls, and limited their opportunities for rebellion.

The need to fund the increased military presence in England had wide-ranging political and economic effects. England's major trading commodity was Wool, a low value product. Harold took control of wool exports and imported skilled weavers from war riven Flanders. He determined only to export high-quality cloth, via a state mercantile enterprise controlled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand. Trade was often conducted via Jewish middlemen originating from both Christian and Muslim Iberia, or from the North German cities. This traffic served to develop the cash economy throughout England, though particularly in the south, where large quantities of gold were flowing through London, Dover and Ipswich. Crucially these ports were all within the territory of Harold's younger brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine.

The institution of the Fyrd was also evolving. Initially a defensive militia which could be summoned by the king for a fixed period in times of crisis, Harold made an offer in 1071 to exempt any man from military Fyrd summonings for two years, in exchange for 15 days paid service on public works. These largely consisted of roads and improvements on the Witan Castles, or weapon-making for skilled craftsmen.

Trading with Iceland and Greenland

The conquest of Man is perhaps one of the most important events in pre-revolutionary English history. What is not often recognised is that it was only made so by the energy and ambition of one of the traditional villains of our National story, Harold Godwine MacHarold.

By 1070 HGM must have been cursing his good fortune. He may have been a King by the age of 22, but he was the King of an Island which had a few thousand souls resident, and a long history of being invaded. He also must have suspected that his father was keeping him deliberately distant from the centre of power in Wessex.

However, contrary to his reputation, HGM did not scheme and murder his way back to prominence on the mainland. He looked at the situation of his new kingdom and realised there was money to be made. And money could buy men, and men could take land, and land equalled power. He used the islands strategic position at he crossroads of the Irish sea to set up a trading fleet, all revenues paid to the Kingdom of Man, and personal property of the King. Within two years Scandinavian settlers who had settled on Man had visited Iceland and brought back Walrus Ivory. Breton, Norman and even Basque and Iberian Arab sailors were soon visiting Man to buy this precious commodity. With contact with Greenland, an even better supply of furs and Ivory was secured. Wisely HGM paid a generous annual tribute to the royal exchequer.

A permanent Manx representative settled at Ostfold in 1077 (the eastern settlement) policing trading relations, with a possible view to excluding any other buyers of Greenland produce. An Ivory carving industry (often producing Chess sets for the fabulously wealthy) had taken root in Douglas by 1080.

And Harold Godwin MacHarold had become very wealthy and very powerful.

The birth of the Cornish legal system

As with his brother, Harold II continuously maintained Edmund MacHarold far from the centres of power. And similarly to his brother Edmund turned this to his advantage, with equally long-lasting effects. He was named Duke of Cornwall in 1073, after three years as an emissary at the court of Hoel of Brittany. He fought as a mounted Knight at the battle of Dieppe and Married a Breton Noblewoman, some believe that this angered his father. After 3 years Edmund was named Earl of Cornwall, as part of Harold's division of his personal lands between his sons.

Cornwall was at this time a British speaking region which had never been fully integrated into Wessex. King Ine's laws, which imposed different penalties for crimes according to whether the victim was a Briton or a Saxon, were still in place. The laws relating to Britons could be changed by the local Earl, but those relating to Saxons could not. Edmund, who understood Cornish due to its similarity with Breton, redefined the law to classify all those crossing the Tamar as Britons, thus ending legal discrimination. He also allowed evidence in Cornish in courts, and set up a translation service to promulgate his own and the king's decrees in the local language.

He dispossessed the Saxon lords who controlled the Tin trade and copied his brothers mercantile experiment, trading with Brittany, the Isle of Man, Ireland and even Hispania. However, unlike his brother he invested these gains in infrastructure and development, road building, improved mining techniques, shipbuilding and churches. He also funded scholars to translate Latin texts into Cornish, and record British legends, especially those about Arthur. Supervising this process was Maelcun of Exeter, who became his close friend, recording his deeds in History of the Britons in England:

"Never were the Britons so well governed as by this Saxon, who gave us equal laws, then gave us better laws. He judged not through whim as Vortigern, nor through Ordeal as Alfred but through reason as Solomon."

In 1075 he took part in a punitive expedition against the pirates of Lewis in the Hebrides. They had been raiding Manx and English shipping, with the tacit approval of the Earl of Orkney. The Lewismen were badly beaten and Earl Erland's brother was captured. He was retained as hostage in England for ten years to ensure safe passage for the English fleet. He later rose, bizarrely to the Rank of Earl, albeit only of the Isle of Wight.

Diplomatic relations in the "Golden Decade"

By 1070 Harold II had a fearsome reputation as a General. He had fought many victorious campaigns in Wales as a youth and had cemented that reputation with his brutal victories over William the Bastard and Harald Hardrada in 1066. His military reforms meant that the invasion of England was a proposition too daunting for any of his Scandinavian rivals to contemplate.

Harold's reign resulted in the consolidation of trade and diplomatic relations with Scandinavia and the northern world. As an excommunicate Harold could officially enjoy no diplomatic, religious or trade relationships with christian powers (a papal bull to that effect had been issued in 1067), however the Kings of Sweden, Scotland, Norway and Denmark knew that they had no choice but to deal with this powerful Lord of a rejuvenated Kingdom. The christian subjects of France, the Kingdoms of Hispania, and the Holy Roman Empire (where the papacy had more influence) were effectively prohibited from trade and diplomatic relations with England, but Jewish traders from Germany and Iberia were under no such ban. One side effect of this prohibition was the establishment of Jewish communities in London, Ipswich, Canterbury, Dover and Penzance.

The only military confrontations to arise in this era of peace were over the Isle of Man trade routes. In 1070 Harald of Norway and Dublin was threatening to invade the Isle of Man, formerly part of the Kingdom of Dublin which he had recently invaded. Harold II wrote his "letter to my brother King" which recognised Harald as King of all Norway (which was at that time divided between Harald and his brother) and of Dublin (to the disgust of the sons of Murchad, the former King, who were at that time fighting to reclaim their father's inheritance) whilst maintaining in no uncertain terms that the Isle of Man would be English in perpetuity. This placated Harald with just the right level of threat and flattery, and may have contributed to his fatal decision to invade Norway in 1072 leading to the reunification of Norway, Harald's death and the loss of Dublin. Unfortunately for Harold this earned him the enmity of Domnall mac Murchada mac Diarmata, the next King of Dublin, who raided the Isle of Man in 1074, to no great effect.

The other conflict was with the Lewis pirates who acted on behalf of Erland of Orkney. This problem was resolved in 1076 by Edmund MacHarold, who was probably selected for the mission to avoid a further extension of Harold Godwine MacHarold's power.

During this period Harold, through Edmund MacHarold, courted the rising power of Prince Hoel of Brittany, meaning that Breton merchants largely ignored the prohibitions on trade with England.

See also