King Harald Hardrada of Norway (1015-1066) is my 29th great grandfather. King Harold Godwinsson of England (1022-1066) is my 30th great grandfather. I guess that makes them related to each other in some way, although they probably didn’t know it. On September 25th, 1066 they spent the day together, trying to kill each other with great bloody axes, and sharp two-edged swords. One finally succeeded.
Harald Hardrada knew that he was from a royal house from a very early age. He was one of the few survivors of a civil war where one royal house killed off the other royal house. Harald was fifteen, on the losing side, and badly wounded. He fled across the mountains into Sweden, then across the Baltic to Finland. Still fearing for his life he went up river into Lithuania and Russia. He was heading to the Viking settlement in Kiev, Ukraine. The Prince of Kiev, from the tribe of Rus, would hire him as a mercenary. He was young and still needed healing but it wasn’t bad work. After a few years he realized he was risking his life for very little money, so with the Prince’s permission he headed downriver, across the Black Sea and hit the city of Constantinople.
There were two impressive cities in the western world, Rome and Constantinople. Roman had fallen on bad times but Constantinople was still a walled beauty. Harald volunteered to be in the Varangian Guard. The Emperor did not trust his own guards. He created a personal guard filled with Northmen, bearded, blonde and red-haired giants (you had to be at least 6-6). Harald fit in well and prospered. He did so well that he started sending boat loads of silver and gold back upriver to the Prince for safe keeping.
As time went on Harald rose up in the ranks and finally became Captain of the Varingian Guards. They were so effective that Harald became second in command of the Imperial Army. He became well versed in modern warfare and piled up victory after victory. But what he really wanted was to go back to Norway, seek his revenge, and become king.
There came a time when the emperor became jealous of his Varingian Captain. This was not good, the emperor had a habit of throwing people into his dungeon, but blinding them first. Harald had developed an escape plan. He had two Viking longboats ready to leave at a moments notice, he gathered his friends and left in the middle of the night.
The city had walls, but the harbor, called the Golden Horn, had a large chain pulled tight across. It was for protection and for tax gathering for shipping. Harald couldn’t lower it, but he had a plan. In the middle of the harbor the heavy chain dipped a few inches under the water. Harald planned to row very fast, directly at the point where the chain dipped. Just as the boat reached the chain. Harald had his men run to the rear of the boat, the bow rose up out of the water and the boat slid to a stop on the chain. Then the men ran to the front, and just like a titter-totter, the boat went over the chain. The second boat had a problem, when the men ran forward the boat broke in half and sank. They lost some weapons but rescued the men.
Harald was resourceful and used the gold that he had saved to equip a large army. He went back to Norway, fought, won, and became king. Eventually he had designs upon Demark, Sweden, and maybe even England. Canute was a Dane, and he had became the English king. Canute had died and the English still hadn’t decide who would be king. Harald put men on 300 ships and decided to be first in line for the English throne. He even had the English king’s brother fighting with him. Harald landed just south of Scotland and headed for the city of York. It was quickly taken and the officials of the city asked for a day’s time in order to gather the payment for losing. The Vikings took off their armor and relaxed by the river.
The next day there was a cloud of dust coming from the road. It was the English King Harold Godwinsson with his army of thousands. The Vikings rushed to put on their armor and barely had time to organize a shield wall. It was a bloody hand to hand battle, looking very much like a a Game of Thrones war. The Norwegian King Harald always fought from the front, but this time he took an arrow in the neck. With their leader dying, the Vikings turned to run for the safety of their boats. Not very many of them made it.
King Harold had won, but it was a costly victory. It was estimated that 2/3rds of his highly trained knights, the House Carl’s, had been killed. His army had marched all the way from London and they were exhausted. Within days of his victory he received word that a Norman army had crossed the English Channel and he had to march done south to meet them at a town called Hastings. It was not going to be a great month. On October 14th King Harold died due an arrow piercing his eye. I lost both of my grandfathers within two weeks. And William the Bastard, took advantage of the weakened English army, he fought and ended up being called William the Conquorer. And the English kings spoke French for the next 400 years. After that they spoke German.
By the way, the brother of the English King Harold that fought with the Vikings, he was also my 29th great grandfather, I lost a lot of relatives in a short time,
Side note: Conan the Barbarian was partly based upon King Harald Hardrada. And one of my best friends in high school was a Godwin with English roots.