Holy Bones



Most of the writers of the time tell the strange story of Harold and the holy bones it is an excellent example of a propaganda war!

Did Harold make a promise to Duke William, and if so, what promise did he make?  Norman writers were certain they knew what Harold had promised.  Saxon writers looked at things differently.

Study these three Sources, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


Harold's lie:

A short comment on the BBC website

Another short comment by Mr Field


This very difficult article by WR Lethaby suggests that, for the makers of the tapestry, Harold's lie was the central event in the whole story.


1  Harold's holy promise

The Bayeux tapestry (made about 1067-70) tells the story of the Holy Bones in picture form.

According to the tapestry, King Edward sent Harold Godwinson on a mission to Normandy in 1064.  Harold set sail, but was shipwrecked in a storm.  He was captured and imprisoned by a local nobleman.

William, the Duke of Normandy, rescued Harold.  Harold stayed with William.  He saved two Norman soldiers from the quicksand.  He fell in love with William's daughter.

Then the tapestry shows this picture.  The Latin words at the top mean: 'Where Harold makes an oath to Duke William' (an oath is a solemn promise).  Harold is shown touching boxes in which were kept the holy bones of Christian saints.


2  The Deeds of William of Normandy

This was written by William of Poitiers, in about 1071:

Harold was taken to the town of Rouen, in France.  Everybody was very happy ...

There, Harold promised to be loyal to Duke William.  He promised to do everything he could to help the Duke become king of England.

Harold swore on the holy bones in a proper church service.  The most truthful men were there, and they say that he made the promise of his own free will.


3  Harold Godwinson the lifesaver

This was written by Eadmer, a Saxon (died about 1126).

William kept Harold with him in France for many days.

During that time he told him what he wanted.  He said: `If you promise to help me become king ... you can marry my daughter ... and I will give you everything you ask for.'


Harold saw that he was in danger.  He could not see any way of escape unless he agreed to everything William wanted.  So he agreed.


To make sure of the promise, William had bones of the saints brought and he made Harold swear his oath on them.